First Thoughts On Having An Allotment
I spent my first afternoon at the allotment yesterday and it surprised me, in ways that I didn’t expect. I expected a patch of bare earth, in the midst of lots of other patches to be perhaps the definition of unsurprising, but I was wrong. It proved to be really quite magical, in very different ways to the garden.
The biggest difference was an immediate feeling of being part of something bigger than myself, membership of a private club, a community, working together for each others benefit and the broader benefit of their families and locality. It had a cafe like feel to it, lots of strangers who nod, greet each other, pass a few friendly words and then work on their own, but not alone.
It was a place where perfection isn’t welcome, in fact making use of whatever can be found lying around is actively encouraged, fences made of old pallets, sheds from rusting sheets of corrugated iron, paths from broken slabs, all manor of life’s debris put back into active use. None of the allotments that I saw looked like gardens, you’d be proud to display as an adjunct to your home, they were fundamentally, working places. That’s not to say that they didn’t often brim with the pride of their owners, but that pride came less from a perfection of form, rather from the blood, sweat and tears, the graft, that had forced their allotment from scrub land, into a productive oasis.
Then there was the isolation from distraction, the comforts of home are only a 5 minute bike ride away, going south, there’s a fantastic cafe a few minutes north, but the isolation is invigorating. There’s a feeling of being self contained, I had my little rickety shed, full of tools, a bench, my own resources, and the land. That’s it, a wonderful sense of purpose came over me, no distractions pulled at me, there was a purity of experience that I normally only enjoy while hiking. Working on the allotment was better than hiking though in important ways, hiking has little/no impact on the world, working on the allotment for an afternoon is a constructive act, At the end of the day I’ve made progress and I can see the evidence, it will still be there tomorrow (if the slugs haven’t eaten it).
So that’s the end of my first day. The door no longer hangs off the shed and it’s secure and full of tools. The paths are no longer covered with rotting apples and my first – of three – compost bins is almost made. I’m going back today to finish the bins, by the end of the weekend the ground will be clear and the first compost bin will be full. There’s a couple of more weeks needed to build the raised beds and the cold frames, before April and the planting begins.
I’m creating a little haven, a place where I can come and work hard, where rough easy, non-intellectual work is rewarded, where I can sit and relax and survey what I’ve achieved and munch on my own fruit and veg, part of a community, but able to do as I please. I’m hoping it will be the perfect complement to my hiking, cycling and swimming (and canoeing soon), to my reading and DIY, to my cafe time and my time with friends and family. According to the books, a large allotment like mine will need an average of two afternoon’s a week of work, over a year. That’s just enough to keep me out of mischief.
I love a project to get stuck into and my favourite kind of project is to build something, there’s certainly plenty of building to do over the next month and then as the project comes to an end it morphs into something that needs to be tended and cared for, a kind of surrogate bunch of kids, to complement my real ones, as they gradually fly the nest over the next few months. I might even get chickens if I can convince myself that they won’t tie me down too much and I’m looking forward to showing off my progress and to introducing my grandchildren to gardening too.
The guy that had this allotment before me had it for an impressive 58 years, it doesn’t show though, it looks today much as he must have found it all those years ago. But it’s inspiring non-the-less, I’m inheriting a persons life’s work in the quality of the soil, and maybe, if it works out for me, it will be a life’s work for me too, a second career.
The great thing is though that despite all of it’s potential benefits it will be easy to give up if it doesn’t work out. Even though I’m going to invest close to a thousand pounds in it over the next couple of years (raised beds, sheds, chicken run etc) that’s not much more than a decent holiday and I’m convinced I will find that time as rewarding or at least instructive, as a holiday ever could be. If I do pass it on, I will be gifting something special to a new enthusiastic owner and that will have it’s own reward.