Mindful allotmenteer

My tagline on both my blog and Instagram account is “mindful allotmenteer”. For those who do not know what I mean by this, I thought it would be useful to give an explanation.

Mindfulness has become quite popular over the last 10 years, in both secular and spiritual terms. If you haven’t heard of it before, a simple explanation is to be in the present moment, and to have total awareness without judging what we are thinking or feeling.

I learned the practice of mindfulness from the local Buddhist community in Leeds. However, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to do this (I’m not). It is a practice of being completely present. There is a misconception that to be mindful is to be happy. This isn’t accurate. It is to have an awareness of self, that is even when the present moment is unpleasant or painful. This is in the knowledge that it will not last, feelings and thoughts are transient and will pass. This also occurs when the experience is perceived as pleasant. However, this gives us the opportunity to practice gratitude.

Like many, I am a busy person. Probably too busy. I’m a wife, a mother and I have a stressful job which can be emotionally draining. I also have other volunteer roles and study commitments. I sometimes felt like a hamster on a wheel. Constantly going from one role to another. However, the allotment gives me some space. It isn’t about growing food or saving money (which are huge benefits). Being at the allotment is a totally mindful and sensory experience. Someone asked me the other day if I found the allotment to be therapeutic, the answer would be a wholehearted “yes”. I don’t think that it is just being at the plot, I feel equally at peace when I’m in my greenhouse, or planting things in the garden. It is one of the activities that keeps me well, a true example of self-care.

I often find that if I need some help to wind down or to put my working day behind me, spending some time checking on my plants or getting my hands dirty is grounding. When I first began trying “mindfulness” I often felt quite distracted and found myself struggling to “quieten my mind. However, as gardening and allotmenteering is a sensory pastime, I find it easier to focus on these senses and experience the moment. I’ll give you some examples of what I mean (I’m not sure that I’m getting this across very well!).

Being aware of…….

The change of temperature as I walk into the greenhouse.

The smell of the tomato plants as I walk past them and prune them.

The sound of bird song.

Watching the bumblebees who seem to be so big and fluffy that their wings look too small to keep them in the air.

Watching the sunflowers over the day as they track the sun.

The sensation of putting my hands I the soil.

Watching the whole plot look vibrant after a rain shower.

Feeling the leaves crunch under my feet as Autumn gets underway.

Podding fresh peas and eating them on the plot.

The smell of sweetpeas.

The feel of stinging nettles when I haven’t put gloves on.

Marvelling every single time I see seeds germinating.

Feeling the sun, rain or freezing cold on my skin.

The smell of freshly harvested carrots.

The taste of sweetcorn cooked within 10 minutes of harvest.

Watching the cheeky robin who is trying steal worms when my back is turned after preparing a bed for planting.

Watching my children as they engage with growing veggies and the squeals of excitement when they have harvested them.

Weeding, Weeding and more weeding.

I would encourage anyone to try it. Enjoy the moment.

All the best Tx

Clearing the plot- weeds, weeds and more weeds!

It’s really exciting when you’re offered an allotment. However, it can be quite daunting if the plot has been without a tenant for a while. Clearing a plot that has become overgrown can be hard work but incredibly satisfying. The way to tackle it will depend on what you have to work with. Some plots have good basic structures such as raised beds, a green house or shed and perhaps some perennial plants. Others will be full of junk, broken glass and perennial weeds. It will also depend on the time of year that you get your plot. We acquired ours at the end of September and towards the end of the “growing season”. As there wasn’t a huge amount that we could put in the ground at that time, we decided to concentrate on clearing and planning the plot.

This is how our plot looked when we took it on. No fence, just weeds.

I did quite a lot of research on how to go about clearing it. Some older resources suggested using glyphosate on the whole plot to kill weeds. Even our allotment secretary suggested this; it didn’t sit well with me. I had a chat with my husband and we both quickly came to the conclusion that we didn’t like the idea of using chemicals on the plot for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we didn’t want them near our children. Secondly, we also felt a responsibility to try to protect the environment of our plot. I’m not particularly bothered about the research regarding the “safety” of glyphosate. Lots of chemicals have previously been thought of as safe and later discredited. However, that is not to say that I haven’t used chemicals either. Since we acquired our plot I have made some small applications on hogweed.

Another suggestion was to cut the weeds down and go “no dig”. This has been made popular by Charles Dowding in recent years. The number of weeds are reduced as compost is piled onto the growing area and you literally plant into the compost. This is simplifying the process of no dig which has huge benefits for soil health. I liked the idea of this but in practical terms we couldn’t financially afford to bring in well rotted manure and compost to cover all of the growing areas that we needed. But watch this space, we haven’t ruled out no dig in the future.

We finally decided to clear the weeds and cover the ground until we were ready to dig the following Spring. It can be really easy to become overwhelmed by the weeds. Its important to not get too disheartened and try to balance expectations about them. I think its more about living with and managing them. Invest in a Dutch hoe, and make weeding a regular part of the allotment routine. I wonder if one of the reasons that people give up their plots is because they underestimate the weeds.

The weed whacker made light work of clearing the plot.
Plastic down, ready for Winter

Have a look at what weeds you have. Many annual weeds can be easily pulled and if they haven’t gone to seed, you can put them on the compost heap. We used a weed whacker to clear the perennial weeds such as brambles and dock then covered the whole space with heavy duty plastic sheeting to block out the light and smother anything that was remaining. Some “weeds” are very beneficial to attracting and supporting insects and you may want to dedicate some space for them.

My main tip would be, don’t uncover the ground again until you are ready to use it. 2 1/2 years since we started work on the allotment, we have only just removed the last of the black plastic cover. When an area is not being used, we then cover again. It stops and controls weeds and saves us unnecessary work. Once the plastic was down, we could sit back get out the seed catalogues and plan the plot.

If you’re about to clear your plot, good luck. Take is steady and remember that it will all be worth it in the end.

All the best T x

How we found our plot

Since the lock down of the nation due to Covid-19, there’s been lots reported in the press about the increase of applications for allotment plots and of people starting to grow their own vegetables in their gardens. Michael Gove announced soon after lockdown that visiting allotments would be allowed as “allocated exercise” as long as social distancing was maintained. With initial concerns about social isolation and potential food shortages, it’s easy to see why allotmenteering and growing your own food was attractive. This made me think back to when and why we got our allotment plot.

My parents had an allotment when I was a child. I loved it and can still remember picking and eating rhubarb on the plot. I wanted my own children to have the opportunity of experiencing childhood on an allotment. I suppose I had thought “One day, when I retire…” but why wait until retirement? In 2017, a friend at work was the final push. She was working full time had two young children and still managed to keep an allotment. She would tell me about how her children had helped her to pick the vegetables for their evening meal and ate strawberries straight from the plant. I was sold.

I started to investigate how to get my hands on a plot. Allotments in England are generally owned and run by the local authority, parish council or by private owners. The allotments within my geographical patch are owned by the council. I set up an online account and I found out quite quickly that there were 20+ people ahead of me on the waiting list and that I was to expect to wait for over a year until I got offered a plot. A year! I’m aware that for some areas of the country the list can be over 10 years. However, I knew that there were vacant plots on the allotment site that I wanted. I found that a local charity had researched all of the allotments within the district and that the vacant plots on my allotment were not currently being offered due to them being overgrown and not having a secured boundary with fencing.

I emailed the council asking if I was willing to clear the land myself and put up a fence, would they allow me to become a tenant. They emailed back and said yes. Result! I arranged a time to meet the head of parks and estates who brought his tape measure and said “How much land would you like”. We had a look at the land. It was slightly sloping but had full sun. The soil appeared dark and crumbly. There was a variety of weeds both annual and perennial but nothing too concerning. I felt so excited and decided to take a double plot which equates to approximately 20m x 25m. I thought that this would give me plenty of space to play with. I was willing to work hard and was looking forward to planning out my plot. In September 2017 I got my key and was free to get cracking clearing the plot. I think that is where I will leave it. Next post I will tell you about how we cleared the plot and prepared the ground.

The day we got the plot

All the best T x

We’re back!

So it’s been a little while. A quick update on the allotment inspection; it turned out that the letter that I received wasn’t aimed at me, every plot on the site got one. Slightly annoying but it certainly got me back into the swing of going to the plot.

It’s been a busy and unusual time over the last few months. Our children have been at home since the lockdown and my husband and I have been working from home for the majority of the time. The allotment has saved my sanity. It has been a safe place to escape and enjoy the fresh air. We have also incorporated the allotment into home-schooling (I’ll save the details for another post). We’ve spent loads of time there and it has been wonderful to see the plot evolve. I can understand why there has been such an increase in applications for allotments during the Covid-19 pandemic. The allotment has been a wonderful distraction and occupation.

One of the biggest changes that we have made was to move the greenhouse to our own garden. This has allowed me to give more attention to seedlings, young plants and to try growing a few things that I haven’t tried before such as indoor cucumbers and chillies. It absolutely amazes me how much plants are affected by an increase / decrease in temperature. The peppers and chillies easily sulk when it gets too hot but it’s been very handy to nip outside to open the window or door. I must admit, I’ve been checking on plants several times a day, they’ve become like additional family members.

We’ve also made some changes to the plot (royal we, my husband helped loads). Five additional beds have been created and the fruit bed has increased. I plan for three of the beds to be dedicated for growing cut flowers and I would also like to have a go at growing asparagus. I’ve been looking at adding more perennial vegetables to the allotment and have grown globe artichokes from seed that will soon be ready to plant at the plot. It has been wonderful to have more time than usual to research new projects. We’re usually so busy with work, school and extra-curricular activities that we hardly have time to fully engage with hobbies. I think that taking a little more time for the things that keep us happy, well and balanced like the allotment, will be one of the things that we hope to continue after lock down is over and “normality” (whatever that is) resumes.

I’ve also opened an Instagram account called @aparcelofland which has been good to capture the everyday loveliness of being on the plot. It’s also been great to see so many wonderful accounts which are giving me lots of inspiration.

All the best T x

Start where you are…

This seems like as good a place as any to start my blog. I acquired my allotment in September 2017 and as with all new allotmenteers I had the best of intentions to keep an immaculate plot. I dreamed of a well organised space, free from weeds producing high yields of seasonal fruit and veg. For the first year, we made huge progress clearing the weeds and building beds. We managed to harvest more than enough vegetables for 2-3 families and hardly bought any vegetables over the summer months. Things were progressing well, we loved it, we were living the good life and then…..

We moved house in the early Spring of 2019. This put us on the back foot of the growing season and we have struggled to catch up ever since. Due to time constraints (as we were settling in from our move) we couldn’t give the plot the time it deserved and as a consequence we just seemed to spend all of our time fighting with weeds (see the above photo). It was exhausting, unproductive and soul destroying. In early September 2019, we received a warning letter from the local authority who are the leaseholder of our plot. The letter stated that there had been an inspection. Our plot had been assessed as untidy and if we did not make improvements in the next four weeks, we would be asked to vacate it. Alternatively it was also suggested that we could vacate it voluntarily as there was a “waiting list” of people who wanted a plot. This didn’t particularly concern me but that’s for another blog post.
I felt so upset. I loved my allotment and had truly missed being there regularly as I found it had such a positive benefit on my overall sense of wellbeing. On the other hand I was starting to doubt that I could give it the time that it needed. life can be busy for lots of different reasons. I work and have 2 young children, I think the house move had taken more time and energy than we initially thought it would. The letter gave me an opportunity to reflect. I decided that I wasn’t willing to let the plot go. Well, not without a fight at least.
I think what I am trying to say is that life happens. Whether it’s a house move, a redundancy, a new job role, bereavement etc and the best laid plans often go awry. However, that doesn’t mean that you give up. The letter gave us a push and made us realise how important our allotment is to us. We have been researching and reviewing how to best use our time at the plot to ensure high productivity and keep on top of the weeds. I hope to use the blog to share a little of what has gone before and to document what happens next.

All the best T x