As part of the ‘Season of Creation’ Joe Dolman, writes his Thought for the Week about the joys & challenges of having an allotment.
Before I retired, I had decided that I wanted to have a plot on an allotment. I had to wait for nearly two years before I was able to get one. The secretary of the allotment society took me to see it. I must admit to being a little horrified as it was completely overgrown with mainly thistles and bindweed. I was still excited but realised that there was a lot of work for me to do. I started with my partner to dig and pull up the weeds. Soon there was a huge pile and so we built a compost bin using old palettes that we found abandoned in the street. I didn’t know much about growing fruit and vegetables, only remembering things my mother had told me. I also dipped into a few books on vegetable growing and followed the instructions on packets of seeds. In those early days, I had to learn to be patient and not expect quick results.
I also learnt from some of the people on the allotment which is a community of people from many different ethnic backgrounds and of various ages. We all seem to get on well and we often share our gluts of vegetables or seedlings. Learning to share our excess produce and not competing with one another is so important.
From a personal point of view, I realised that one had to accept the failures as well as the successes. And when something grows well, you feel a sense of joy. When things are attacked by pests or attacked by birds, it can be very frustrating and disappointing. Again, one needs patience and to see catastrophes as part of a learning curve. Often, I expect seeds to germinate almost immediately. Some seeds take longer than others to appear above the soil.
I grow things organically. I don’t use pesticides or weedkillers. One has to accept that your plot isn’t just yours but is home to birds, insects and even the foxes that live nearby. When Eco Church gave us wheat seeds one Sunday before the lockdown, I thought I would volunteer to try and grow some. It took some time for the wheat to show its green self. And then when it grew so tall, people would ask me what I was growing. I told them it was for church, and we were going to mill our own flour to make a harvest loaf. I must admit I felt so proud and happy when I took the bunches of wheat into church. For me, it was a personal achievement. “The valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing for joy” (Psalm 65).
Of course, the weather has played a great part in my success. This year I have been less organised in sowing and planting. Partly I have been discouraged by the lack of rain. Then I think of all the subsistence farmers who cannot afford to be discouraged but must go on if they and their families are to survive. When I lived in Zambia, people relied on the rains to come to water their crops, or the harvests could be poor. With climate change, I may have to think about growing other things. But do subsistence farmers have that luxury?
It is a new challenge. Having an allotment isn’t just about growing things, it gives me time to sit and reflect. It is also a time to enjoy creation. Growing vegetables and fruit and taking note of the seasons. Listening to the crows in the trees and watching the insects hovering are the delights of being there. In the distance you can hear the murmur of the traffic. The city isn’t far away. There is now a new housing development of 700 homes being built at the very edge of the allotment. One wonders if the actual allotment is under threat. Looking back, I realise that going to the plot is also a time to think about so many things large and small. How I feel it is a privilege to be able to be there at all.