National Allotments Week runs from 6th - 12th August 2012. At Great British Chefs we were keen to learn more about allotment gardening and harvesting your own home grown fruit & veg. Who better than to tell us about the joys of tending an allotment than food blogger & proud allotment owner Food Urchin aka Danny Kingston
Blog post & photography by Food Urchin
I will never forget the day I managed to get a plot at our local allotment. Unlike a lot of people, who have to wait for years and years, eternally creeping up through lists of names struck through with a pencil, I simply answered an ad in the local paper. After a quick conversation on the phone, I soon found myself in the company of friendly old gentleman called Bert, who was the warden of Norfolk Road Allotments. Peering up at me in the sunshine from underneath a battered straw hat, he gave me a quick once over with a squinting, rheumy eye before proceeding to show me around.
Slowly we walked from one end to the other and along the way he gave me the history of the site, pointing out patches of handsome vegetables here and there, commenting on who was doing well and who, in no under certain terms, could do with ‘pulling their fingers out.’ And then we stopped at Bert’s plot and with a wavering, shaky hand, he bent down and plucked a scarlet strawberry from a plant, washed it underneath a nearby tap and handed it over to me. It tasted beautiful.
“You won’t get better than that my boy, straight from the vine and much better than those rubber ones you get from Holland in the shops. So do you fancy a plot then?” he said, smiling and nodding. Somewhat goofy and full of bucolic wonder, I nodded back, dreamily picturing scenes of skipping through daisies and carrots with a watering can and so Bert led me to the particular plot that had been advertised. And that’s when the needle came screeching off the record. For before me lay a seething jungle of towering grass and weeds with a monstrous bramble bush at its centre.
Before I had any chance to remonstrate, Bert simply pressed a key into my palm for the lock on the front gate, wished me the best of luck and then dashed off, moving at a pace a great deal faster than he did on the grand tour. Slack-jawed, I watched him vanish off into the distance before turning back around to face the mess, stunned, like a duck hit on the head.
Clearing that plot was bloody hard work, a whole summer’s worth of sweating, profanity and sore backs in fact but it was worth it as we are now 5 seasons down the line and have a fairly well-presented, abundant and productive plot. The hard work continues; let's not make any illusions here but the rewards of fresh, seasonal produce are so worth the time and effort. I do sometimes wonder if this is psychosomatic but if I were to talk about Charlotte potatoes for instance, dug straight from the ground, then washed and simply boiled, well I would opine their virtues until I went blue in the face. They just taste so much better, so much creamier than their plastic wrapped counterparts. This is why we will gladly slog our guts out.
However, having a busy family and working life to contend with, visits to my allotment aren’t as frequent as I would wish and I tend to take a ram raid approach to things. Sunday mornings at Norfolk Road are often punctuated by the sounds of running footsteps down the path and clattering of forks and spades, peppered with grunts, whispered swearing and happy giggles. Pops and crackles fill the air as seedlings get ripped from eroding, black plastic trays. Wheelbarrows trundle back and forth. Weeds fly up into the air in a frenzy and courgettes, runner beans and gooseberries get stuffed into carrier bags in a blur.
Throughout, in the background, there is a soundtrack of much splashing and laughter, and then screams as a little girl gets admonished for trying to drown her brother in the water butt and then the footsteps and noise disappear back out of the gate. The other, more elderly residents are then left in peace, to continue pottering and scratching around on their immaculate plots. People like Bert. Except that crafty old sod isn’t with us anymore.
All of the photos are from Norfolk Road Allotment’s Open Day which happened on July 21st.
Blog post & photography by Food Urchin
Do you or any of your friends & family have an allotment? Or do you have the space in your own garden for home grown fruit or vegetables? Let us know what you love about gardening over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.