National Allotments Week 2021
I am surprised and embarrassed to note that the last time I wrote on TFG’s blog was back in January. Where have the last 7 months gone? I will endeavour to post more frequently going forward; however, we all know how life/full-time jobs get in the way so please, bear with…
It’s National Allotments Week this week. According to the National Allotment Society website, the event started in 2002 as a way of raising awareness of allotments and the role they play in helping people to live healthier lifestyles, grow their own food, develop friendships and bolster communities. Until TFG told me, I didn’t even know there was a week that celebrated or highlighted allotments in the UK….you live and learn.
One thing you can depend on your allotment giving you is a healthier lifestyle. In the growing season TFG and I are up there almost every evening during the week and our weekends revolve around it. We spend the best part of a Saturday or Sunday (or both!) up there with the dogs, weeding, tidying, dead-heading, etc. It’s hard work but it is also enjoyable and the sense of satisfaction when your vegetables are cropping and your rather large dahlia collection is in full bloom cannot be beaten. It’s important to look after yourself and take things easy as a bad back does not right itself quickly.
Sustainability and care for the environment is key on any allotment site. As you will be aware, we also have the Jungle and G&T gardens at home – they play a large part in the upkeep and maintenance of the allotment. How so, I hear you ask? We recycle soil from the plant pots at home and take it all to the allotment to enrich our beds. We also take all our garden waste there to be composted. We have a home and allotment ‘circle of life’ to ensure that, as much as we can, we care for our allotment through caring for our exotic plants at home.
There are chicken keepers on the allotments too (something I am a little envious of having been a chicken keeper myself in the past). Any waste that we have which is ‘hen friendly’ can be traded for half a dozen fresh, tasty eggs. The hens get enrichment and nourishment and so do we!
As I have mentioned above, the allotment’s main purpose through toil and hard work is to provide us with food (and fresh dahlia blooms for the home). This year’s plot is different to last year’s in that we sacrificed the main long bed in the middle of the plot for the growing of dahlias – 120+ varieties – it wasn’t a difficult sacrifice to make! That doesn’t mean that we aren’t still growing vegetables. We are cropping courgettes, dwarf french beans, climbing beans, cucumbers, raspberries and gooseberries, to name a few.
The tomato bed is a worry to me. We haven’t cropped a single fruit yet. The weather here has been hot, cold, wet, dry, repeat, ad infinitum. Tomatoes really don’t like that at all. They demand consistency of temperature and watering, and they have had neither. We shall see how they get on but I am not expecting a crop on the scale of 2020. In fact, I am currently considering pulling them all up, it’s that bad.
We have had success with potatoes and, in particular, a lovely variety called ‘Red Duke of York’. We planted a couple of rows and they have done very well for us. They’re not the biggest cropper but what they do produce are nice uniform tubers in a most pleasing magenta pink which, when I look at them, always remind me of nail varnish. I’m sure we will grow this variety again on a larger scale in the future.
Apart from the usual allotment staples of potatoes, tomatoes, sweetcorn, etc, we are also excitedly growing a yacón! The yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is a species of perennial daisy traditionally grown in the northern and central Andes from Colombia to northern Argentina. It’s prized for its crisp, sweet-tasting, tuberous roots. The word yacón means ‘water root’ in the Inca language.
The variety we are trialling is called ‘Inca Red’. Yacón are, to our surprise, tall plants and, as you can see from the image above, quite wide. The plants produce little neon-orange blooms as summer progresses. The large, underground tubers can be eaten raw or cooked. Apparently, the taste is like fresh pear or water-chestnut: we shall report back once we crop the beast! The foliage is green, white and bronze, very angular and makes a real statement in the border – almost ornamental. Hopefully we will have many tubers to dig up. If not, I would still like to grow yacón as a statement plant in its own right. I rather like the idea of a bed devoted to them, I think it would look spectacular.
I would like to end on friendship. If you’re lucky like us, you will have super plot neighbours who become your allotment friends. We are surrounded with a number of very nice people who we look forward to seeing. We compare our crops, we discuss the dismal weather, we chat excitedly about what we are growing, what is working, what isn’t and what we will do differently next year. Not only does this forge and nurture those friendships but it also cements in your own mind that you’re doing it right. If you’re not, you can pick up tips to ensure that mistakes (and we’ve made a few!) can be rectified. It’s all a learning curve. What better way to learn than with lovely people who share a common interest and hobby? I look forward to chatting with our neighbours every time we go to the plot.
And that, Dear Reader, is where we and the dogs are off to now….those dahlia blooms won’t pick themselves!
Happy Gardening One and All!
N.B. if you are interested in taking on an allotment, the National Garden Scheme have thirty-five allotment sites that open their gates, with five coming up through August and September 2021. Visiting an allotment site is a great way to get a feel for what’s involved and start the ideas flowing. Find out more here.