Talking Allotments with Melvyn Prior

Melvyn Prior sweetcorn

Melvyn Prior from Radio Lincolnshire shares tips for allotments, his love for veggie growing, and how he caught the gardening bug in the first place.

Entering the gate of Melvyn Prior’s allotment on an early summer evening, you are greeted by a dazzling row of sunflowers in full bloom; it seems quite appropriate!

Melvyn has all the sunny warmth and gentle humour in real life as he does on Radio Lincolnshire, so it was a real treat to get a guided tour of his Collingham allotment. Or rather, both his Collingham allotments, which are shared with his friend in the village – there’s a serious amount of veggie growing going on there!

He modestly apologised that it wasn’t as neat and tidy as his Twitter photos made out (haha – there’s social media for you!) but I’d brought along my trowel and gardening gloves, so we set to some weeding, which is where all the best allotment conversations take place anyway!

What first got you into gardening?

I asked Melvyn about what had got him into gardening in the first place, and like so many of us, there was a special person in his childhood who facilitated some early growing experiences: Uncle Roy made space for the young Melvyn to grow tomatoes in his greenhouse. He’d go cycling over there as a boy to tend them, and he still loves that special smell of tomatoes on the vine!

Melvyn points out a nearby allotment looked after by a family with young kids, and recalls them planting potatoes when they first took over the plot, and months later, the moment of absolute magic for those children when they dug them up! The first time you lift potatoes is, for all the world, like digging up buried treasure!

It is still a bit like that for us, as grown up spud growers, to tell the truth, isn’t it?

So – High five! – Uncle Roy! You’re an inspiration, and what you did back then with tomatoes has multiplied into every kind of veggie here on the allotment.

And a lesson to all of us who are lucky enough to have children in our lives: we could be like Uncle Roy and be that person who ignites a young person’s early interest in growing!

What do you love about allotmenting?

“So why is your allotment so important to you now, as an adult?” I ask.

1. Wildlife 

Top of Melvyn’s list is the wildlife. And it is a beauty spot of nature here – peaceful, with the sound of birds and the russell of leaves, a wide arc of sky over the flat field, dazzlingly lush after a spot of rain. Buzzards and wrens are local residents here, and you can often see a barn owl flying over in the twilight.

“I have a small garden at home,” Melvyn offers, as if by way of explanation, but I don’t accept it – I mean, most of us urban dwellers have small gardens, but for most that doesn’t translate into a need for an allotment…

But Melvyn has plenty more reasons to love his plot…

2. Provenance

“I know where my food has come from,” he tells me.

We don’t use any chemicals here.”

3. Taste

“And it tastes so much better: potatoes on the dinner plate half an hour after they are dug from the ground, you can’t beat them!” 

I know that all potato growers will be nodding emphatically at this. Not to mention the broad bean growers.

4. Exercise

The list of benefits continues. “Fitness is as important to me as the food.” 

Though fair to say they both contribute to good health.

5. Challenge

“And the sense of challenge: it’s interesting how some things grow well and others not so much.”

6. Community

“And it’s friendly: people give each other their spare plants.”

He’s had this allotment for a decade and he tells me about when he arrived and there were lots of vacant plots. This caused problems for the other allotment holders, because the weed seeds get blown across the rest of the allotments. 

But it’s full now, and from where I’m standing, all the plots look well maintained. Some are quirkier than others; some are in traditional regimented rows. 

The allotment holders are a mixture of ages – a young couple have recently taken on a nearby plot, another is looked after by a young chap, another has the kids, the next door one with an impressive looking greenhouse is cared for by an experienced and knowledgeable older gardener.

“I’m glad to see younger people using the allotments. I hope that continues.”

Melvyn Prior's Strawberries
Melvyn Prior's Beetroot

Allotment practicalities

It takes longer than you think. Melvyn is down here a couple of times a week for an hour or two, and sometimes comes for a whole week in the summer. Apart from that it’s just as and when.

They don’t do much watering, though, as there’s such a limited supply of water: they have one water butt which they fill from one of the taps on the far side of the site, but the taps can be in high demand. So watering is almost all done with a watering can. It’s much more water-efficient that way. Mostly Melvyn starts seeds off in the greenhouse at home and brings them here as young plants.

And it’s not free: the peppercorn rate for holding the allotment is cheap but there’s the cost of the seeds and a load of manure – foof! – never mind all the time that goes in. And you get a glut of produce just at the time of year when veg prices are cheap in the shops. 

(By the way, if you’re getting a glut from your allotment, and want to share the love, please consider donating your surplus to Mint Lane Cafe, a low cost and pay-as-you-feel cafe at the Involve Centre in Lincoln, which supports positive mental health and combats isolation and loneliness. Ping us a message for more info.

Also – by the way – if you’d like to do seed swaps or get local seeds for a small donation, check out Lincolnshire Organic Gardeners Organisation for loads of seedy opportunities!)

Melvyn’s tips for newbies

Melvyn Prior sweetcorn

I asked Melvyn for his advice to anyone thinking of getting an allotment for the first time:

1. Don’t be daunted by the size of it.

To start with, set yourself a challenge to cultivate a quarter of the area. 

2. Cover what you’re not using

…(which kills the weeds for when you are ready to start on it). And don’t be disheartened when the weeds grow faster than plants!

3. Share an allotment

…if you can. It’s like going to the gym with a friend. You encourage each other to keep going, and both of you get more done. 

I’ve got to say, I’m much preferring the idea of a trip down the allotment over going to the gym right now, as I tap this into my computer! 

Thanks so much for inviting me to your allotment, Melvyn, and for sharing your story!

Gardeners, listen up to BBC Radio Lincolnshire today as it’s Gardening Wednesday!

If you’re interested in getting an allotment in Lincoln, you can apply online. Some sites have a short waiting list, but many have plots available immediately, including – at the time of writing – Long Leys Road and Simon’s Hill.

If you have a brilliant Lincoln allotment that can inspire others (whether it’s brand spanking new this season or loved and tended over generations), please invite me over – I’d love to have a chat over the purple sprouting broccoli, and share your awesomeness on our blog!

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