(All photos © Jenny Mercer)
I have loved having my allotment over the past 10 years or so since I retired at 60, and during lockdown it’s been my space for respite and recovery. It’s a place for me to get away from the dreariness and despondency of lockdown, long days with long patches of thinking “how can I fill my time?”. Actually I’ve always used my allotment to boost my mood; the only thing that changed during lockdown was that I decided not to plant up my greenhouse in 2020, just in case we were required to abandon visiting our plots (by government edict).
Also in my retirement I have always used my plot for ongoing exercise, in preference to housework, and in addition it has the advantage of being more productive! It’s also an opportunity to be sociable and to be as creative as I can to help wildflowers and wild animals. For me that includes wildlife-friendly veg and flower growing – I mix them together.
When I visit my allotment I generally take a book or magazine with me and a flask of tea. If I need to go shopping in Stony I often buy a newspaper and walk home to my house, by a slightly longer route … visiting my allotment on the way, pausing to read the paper whilst I am there. So as you can see, I’ve used my plot for recreation for a long time before the Coronavirus pandemic.
Usually I have a designated allotment bag by my front door with stuff to take to the plot on my next visit, e.g. vegetable waste for the compost bin, seedlings or seeds and sometimes a tool or two that’s usually kept at home. I frequently push a full wheelbarrow to and fro with potting compost, seedtrays and pots!
I operate a ‘no chemicals’ plot and have developed my own ‘no dig’ allotment project using green manure (especially phacelia) all the year round, and generally after clearing a crop. It stops the weeds and the insects love it. Some would say that the way I treat self-sown Swiss chard and Lambs lettuce are just like a green manure … but hey! they are deliciously edible and free too.
I always have a ‘fallow area’ for wildlife around raspberry canes and/or my strawberry bed with its mulch of straw from last year. I also generally leave just the last few of last year’s un-harvested parsnips and onions which have lovely flower heads and enhance insect life in spring.
Couch grass is a nuisance but I treat it as my rotation task each year; there is always a newly established area that it has invaded. I might put down cardboard to suppress it a bit and then I do have to dig or find a friend to help, as my back can’t stand the strain.
I usually put early potatoes in the former couch grass/newly dug over areas. Then I choose an area for legumes and plant climbing French beans, a few runners and token peas (usually sugar snap, as my grandsons love them for eating on plot). I try sowing roots – just a few carrots and parsnips, plus a few salad crops and most years I grow maize/sweet corn and buy in tomato plants and aubergines if I’m using the greenhouse. In mid-summer I search for brassicas and plant-out purple sprouting broccoli and most years I plant broad beans in the autumn for an early spring crop.
Flowers that I grow on the allotment to attract in the pollinators are self-sown chamomile and feverfew, borage (which grows like the plague but is wonderful for insects), sweet peas, dahlias, gladioli, verbena bonariensis, California poppy and nasturtiums. Oh and cardoons, a giant thistle-like plant that I grow in a dust bin!
I aim to dead head the ‘weed’ flowers before they set seed to keep my neighbours happy. I use hedge clippers and sometimes a high cut with my strimmer to do this but I am very careful if I use the strimmer and often use a rake to clear a bit first to give any small mammals due warning.
Last summer Andy Harding used pheromone traps in amongst the fruit bushes to lure in male clearwings with some good success (see previous article on this website). He says he will be back next year to hunt for more moths in the area of our old apple trees.
I often come across toads when I am working on the allotment and a young hedgehog was found on the site last year. Overhead we often see red kites and buzzards riding the thermals and we had a sighting of two ring-necked parakeets flying across the allotments this January.
During the first lockdown I donated quite a few plants to the Freebies table, near the Orchard. As my plot is so close to the table I often get first pick when other plot holders come over to donate and often they have a socially-distanced chat with me.
So my allotment helps me to keep positive at this difficult time, provides me with physical exercise, lovely organic food, company and the joy of knowing that it benefits wildlife as well.