I’ve always loved food: I was taught to bake from a young age and can whip up a mean Sunday roast or Victoria sponge. I come from a farming family so I’ve always felt aware of where food comes from.
I’ve lived in many different places, moving roughly once every six months for the past ten years. I’ve tried to grow what I can in these places, but it’s hard when you know you won’t be there for long before packing up and moving on. I’ve always had a pot or three of herbs on the windowsill, though.
My boyfriend and I bought a boat in 2008 and it was the first time since I was a kid that I’ve settled for a bit and put down some roots — as much as you can when your house floats. I gathered a variety of pots from proper planters to buckets and planted them up with herbs, beetroot, onions and salad leaves. We also planted some round carrots as they worked a lot better for the space we had than traditional shaped carrots.
Unfortunately after a very dry summer and a duck nesting in my onions (which I really didn’t mind as she was very sweet) we realized most things will not grow too well on the hot metal roof of the boat.
We looked around for other options. I was starting to eye up peoples’ front lawns and getting envious of perfectly manicured country cottage vegetable plots in the village. Some of them have chickens and pigs. I’d love chickens and pigs!
When my Granddad died we tried to take on his old veg patch but with both me and my boyfriend working full time and my Grandma’s house being an hour’s drive away this didn’t work either. My visits to my Grandma were spent trying to dig up potatoes through thigh high weeds instead of spending some quality time with my Grandma.
During this time I’d been aware of the website Land Share. People with plots of land can list their land, and others wanting to grow their own can search for land or offer their services. I’d looked at the site occasionally, but it seemed hopeless… then I finally spotted a post that seemed ideal. It was a chance for us to have a plot in a new allotment field. Allotments rarely come up around here. Council waiting lists can be into the hundreds and people can wait for years. This was a private allotment though — so no waiting list!
Around the same time my boyfriend brought home the newsletter from our favorite farm shop advertising growing space. This was the place I’d seen on the land share site! It was meant to be!
We are just coming up to our first year of having the allotment. It’s been hard at times, like when we’re short on time and the British weather is doing its thing. We took on the allotment quite late in the year, so just to get something growing we bought plugs from the garden center. This was how we found out we shared our field with deer. They ate almost a complete row of cabbage overnight! We’ve also had to contend with small birds eating berries, pigeons stealing seedlings, and badgers rooting up veg. Despite all this we’ve not done too badly this year — though our neighbors have given us allotment envy!
We’ve grown several varieties of potatoes thanks to a potato fair at a nearby nursery. We still have purple and red carrots in the ground and striped beetroot was a great hit. I think I have a thing for weird looking vegetables: they certainly brighten up a plate! I found us fruit bushes from an organic fruit farm in the Welsh Valleys. The black currants even gave us a pretty good crop this year.
I’ve got very excited about having the space to grow my favorite Crown Prince squash. Last year I paid £10 for one squash, so to grow my own is fantastic. We didn’t grow nearly enough peas or beans this summer, and we need to plant things with better succession over several weeks as we don’t have a freezer or a particularly large fridge so we can’t really store stuff. We need to be more organized next year, that’s for sure!
I’m so happy we’ve finally got our growing space and I’m looking forward to the next year ahead, being more organized, and trying out even more weird vegetables.