If you follow me on instagram, are a regular reader of my blog, you would have heard me mention my work bestie Andy. How can I not spout on about him, without him I’d starve. Ok, that’s a tad dramatic but he does keep me well stocked with fresh produce from his allotment. “You should write a blog about planting your own food” Andy suggested one lunch time. “I don’t plant my own food” I retorted but I know a man who does…
So Andy, what made you decide to get an allotment?
It was during a period when I was separated, living alone, unemployed, had the spare time and thought I would try growing some stuff. I had no money and my head was all over the place. Living next to an allotment, the opportunity was there. Interestingly, my ex-wife had an allotment but I never spent time there as was always either at work or fishing.
Did you have any previous experience of growing fruit and veg?
As a child I planted flowers in the garden but never any food.
How did you learn the basics?
I grew up on a farm and growing estate where they grew fruit and vegetable. I wasn’t involved with growing it but earnt pocket money in the summer holidays by harvesting. You tend to pick it up as you go along. I’d watch Gardener’s World on TV, speak to fellow growers at the allotment. There was a large Sicilian population at the allotments who were experts in growing tomatoes, aubergines, broad beans, cardooms. And one of my best friend’s is a horticulturist, gardener.
Did you find it helped with finances and your health?
It was less about saving money. You’ll never buy fruit and vegetables as fresh and good quality as what you grow yourself. It provided a way of me structuring my time, space to clear my head. It was a distraction, filled my time and provided a sense of future rather than past, especially relating to seasons and planting what you will harvest down the line.
What sort of meals do you prepare?
Steamed vegetables to contain the quality and flavour and serve as a side, salads, stews, roasted vegetables, tomato sauces.
So you started with one allotment, how many do you have now and how did it grow?
Eight now; I’ve expanded by taking on over grown land, unused, derelict allotments. I planted oak trees, grew my own Christmas trees.
This must be a considerable amount of work?
As long as you stay on top of it you can get away with a day or two a week. The secret is to stay on top of it not let it get on top of you. Use your hoe to never let your weeds seed.
What do you use to fertilise the soil?
I dig in horse manure from the next door stable. I have an arrangement with the stable as it saves them wheeling it back to their heap when they can tip it over the fence. I then fork it into my heap. Leave it to rot down and it turns into a good compost. I compost all my vegetable leaves and use in my soil.
Do you need pesticides?
No I’m totally organic, I use no pesticides. I would never be certified organic because of using fertilisier such as horse manure which isn’t certified organic. However, I use no chemicals, which in my opinion would make me more organic than the organic farms who have a permitted list of chemicals that they can use. I prefer to not pollute the land, environment and it’s better for nature. It’s much better to let nature achieve a healthy balance for example ladybirds munch aphids which eat your plants.
What are the wider benefits of having an allotment?
It helps with nature, no pollution, the environment, global environment, it helps reduce the carbon footprint; no air miles on my food, and very little packaging. When the asparagus is in season, as you know, you’ll never get asparagus like that in the shops. An apple picked fresh from the tree or a tomato from the vine. There is a sense of pride with producing your own food. The wellness of what I eat, money can’t buy.
What are the disadvantages?
It’s a lot of time and effort, it doesn’t necessarily save you money if you costed the time that you spent working on the allotment. If every edible item that you grow is not picked or eaten it then leaves you with the dilemma of whether you have effectively contributed to food waste.
What do you do with the food that you don’t use?
I give any surplus to friends, neighbours, colleagues, family. I want others to have good quality food, it makes me feel happy to give others pleasure and see them enjoy my produce.
Would you consider running an allotment commercially?
No, it’s in the allotment rules not to sell what you grow. Anyway, it’s not worth it with the cost of the market stall, or premises, transport, extra time in selling it, tax.
Would you recommend starting an allotment?
Definitely, its very healthy mentally and physically being in the fresh air, greenery. It has a calming, therapeutic effect and makes you happier. If you are a foodie like us, you’ll really appreciate eating the food that you grow. You’d struggle to match the quality even if you went to Harrods and spent millions on fresh produce. You get all the natural sugars before they turn to starch.
What are your thoughts is having an allotment wasteless or wasteful? Is there a marked difference in homegrown produce; having just munched on Andy’s apple I vote yes! Is getting an allotment something that you would consider? Hit me up with your thoughts and if you have any more questions for Andy! Who by the way told me that Robin Day asked questions on Question Time quicker than I do; I think he’s showing his age 😉