When I moved into my house 7 years ago I decided to get an allotment. I knew nothing about gardening really, but really liked the idea of growing my own food. What I didn’t know was that our area is set on clay soil which is hard work to dig. What I also wasn’t aware of was underneath the black plastic on my new plot was tons and tons of bramble, bind weed, couch grass and mares tail. If you don’t know what these things are, just note that they are sheer hell for gardeners. A quick scour of allotment forums and you will see endless posts of people seeking the answer of how to get rid of mares tail.. the answer is you can’t! It’s a plant which has existed since prehistoric times and all you can really do is try and keep on top of it so it doesn’t swamp your plot. I bought a few gardening books which described planting seeds in fine ’tilth’ – this is impossible in clay soil! I found my own work around’s to this problem by digging small trenches, adding compost and planting seeds into that. You soon get to learn what works and what doesn’t work!
My allotment when I took it on:
I am a haphazard gardener, I don’t do things in straight, neat measured rows, I don’t spend hours on my plot every week. I do however have a good routine of what grows well on my plot and I know when the best times are to plant things each year. We live on a busy road, with our allotment behind our house, but yet the allotment is a quiet haven of peace and bird song. There is often no-one there, the only noise is the squabbling bird life who often have turf wars in the hedgerows. We are lucky enough to have slow worms and foxes which reside on our allotment too. I often garden bare handed and according to the internet the bacteria in bare soil can make you happier, I’m hopeful this is true as it will make up for the volume of broken finger nails and endless scrubbing post session!
At times I do find it hard to get motivated to go out onto my plot, starting tasks can sometimes be difficult for me, but once I get out there I can pour all of my focus into a particular task and get lots done. I always feel lots better once I’ve been out on my plot as it givens me a break from all the outside noise, it can also be a place of family time including after school picnics whilst I garden. Gardening can also burn calories – an hour or twos digging can burn up to 600 calories which is potentially as good as going to the gym or for a run.
I think sometimes gardening can have a poor image, people see it as an ‘older persons’ occupation. This is simply not the case as there has always been a mix of young and old on our allotment field, with everyone enjoying each other’s company. It can seem daunting to take on your own allotment and the best way forward is to start small. Grow some herbs in window boxes or buy a growbag to grow tomatoes or beans in. Many areas have community gardens or gardening groups which is a great way of getting started and developing social networks if you are struggling with your mental health. There’s nothing more joyful than planting a seed and watching it transform, I recall how excited we all were when we harvested our first crop of radishes!
The final joy of growing your own is taking pleasure in cooking and eating what you have grown. I had a dip in my mental health last year and neglected my plot over the autumn and winter, only setting out there for the first time yesterday. I was amazed that in my absence the veg had continued to grow and survive. I was able to pick parsnips which I turned into soup for 5, kale and leeks which went into a risotto and spring onions which I plan to add to salad or a stir fry this week. It felt like a big step in my progress towards recovery and I was pleased it had sat there waiting patiently for me to get well.
For those based in the Bristol area, as I am, the following links may be helpful:
- Growing support
- Incredible Edible
- Trinity Centre Community Garden
- St Werburghs City Farm
- Windmill Hill City Farm
- Lawrence Weston City Farm
- Feed Bristol
- Simms Hill Shared Harvest