Why now’s the time to get out into your allotment
PUBLISHED: 11:00 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:00 04 May 2020
In this time of lockdown, Melanie Hempsted, a 34-year-old Loughton mum of one, appreciates her Roding Road Allotment plot now more than ever
I’ve had an allotment plot for some years now, but more recently I have become a first time mum to a gorgeous little boy called Henry, who was born in the winter of 2019 and he is without a doubt the best thing I have ever grown! I’ve always had an interest in gardening – my mother encouraged me from a young age through her love for the garden. It’s always been a dream of mine to continue that fondness with my children, to spend time outdoors together teaching them not only about the birds and the bees, but the carrots and the peas.
Having a winter baby hasn’t stopped us. With what seemed like continuous rain for three months, we were grateful for soft soil, but it also brought its own challenges – and weeds! But we got on with it, because after all just 30 minutes of gardening on your allotment can burn 150 calories, so slowly and healthily, I got back to my pre-baby weight. What’s more, a properly managed allotment can produce enough food for a family’s weekly shop, meaning I was losing lbs and saving pounds!
But allotments don’t just churn out carrots and onions, they also breed interesting characters and instil confidence to grow your own and mingle with people you wouldn’t otherwise cross (muddy) paths with. When it comes to labouring on your allotment plot, you can work your veggie patch entirely alone, should you choose, by just employing the right kind of body language, head down, shovel in and crack on. Or it can be a completely sociable activity where you actually don’t get a lot done except enjoying a flask of tea and discussing progress of crops in late frosts and recent weather conditions (all done at the appropriate social distance these days!)
The nature of owning an allotment plot means that you can just dip in and out of these comfortable conversations: it’s a laid-back easy community to be a part of! However, not much allotmenting gets done when Henry makes an appearance – being cooed over in his cute pumpkin hat (he’s an October baby) knitted by one of the local plot owners!
Gone are the stereotypical grandads with overalls on digging up potatoes – now we have a wide range of ages from young couples looking to be more health conscious to families teaching their young children where food comes from. Obviously you still have the elderly gentleman mulling over his root vegetables, but that’s the beauty of allotment life, you pass on your knowledge and your growing tips and, let’s be honest, there probably isn’t a thing he doesn’t know about getting your cabbages in line with not a weed in sight!
Not everyone grows vegetables however. We have a thirsty cider drinking community where apples are the yield. The end of summer and beginning of autumn is prime apple picking season to make the most of your harvest grown solely to be made into the ‘brew it yourself’ sweet stuff! This is always a good time to offer your excess cauliflower and rhubarb in exchange for a small bottle to be enjoyed on a warm summer evening.
Then you have the pioneer growers, the quirky unconventional growers who like to experiment with out-of-the-ordinary produce and grow sputnik vegetables such as kohlrabi or common vegetables in uncommon colours – have you ever tried black and red sweetcorn!? Growing unusual varieties adds excitement and apprehension after tending carefully to a new crop and finally getting to see the big reveal. This can sometimes draw a crowd as you nervously pluck your crop from the ground. One of the best things for me about the allotment is that it is a place of escapism. Having a young baby at home can sometimes feel like you hear the same favourite musical toy on repeat, but to be able to escape the noisy chaos to a place of true peace, in a haven for wildlife, where the birds are singing and the bees are pollinating, you can really connect with nature and truly relax and unwind outdoors, which is a welcome distraction from the daily grind.
Obviously everything in recent times has been dominated by the global pandemic, but spring is here in Britain and the growing season (if not the ecomomy) is in full swing. As a bear once said, you can ‘forget your worries and your strife, look for the bare necessities of life’ and out on the plot you can lose yourself in amongst the perpetual weeding and watering tasks. I’ve found the allotment to be a real lifeline when I’ve felt anxious or worried, which has been quite often recently. And let’s be honest, it puts wholesome old mother nature’s recipes on the table too!
Hopefully this year, if I get the seeds in soon, I may even be able to grow Henry a little pumpkin for his first birthday in October. And hopefully we’ll be able to celebrate the occasion with our nearest and dearest too.