I spend less than an hour at Ady’s earth-kind allotment on Lincoln’s Wragby Road site, and already feel it is a good place to be!
Imperfect, experimental, and friendly.
A buzzard flies overhead; some teenagers walk past with a friendly hello; the first squashes gleam orange between the sprawling leaves.
“Everyone says hello to each other,” Ady says, pointing out who tends the various nearby plots.
Ady has had the plot for about 12 years, and knows his neighbours: it includes a mixed age range – children and teenagers, adults young and old; women and men; this plot is looked after by an Eastern European couple, that one by an Asian guy.
It’s common for allotment holders to swap plants with each other – or just give away their surplus, which creates a spirit of reciprocity.
“It’s been a good year for weeds!” says Dave, one of his allotment neighbours. He’s a pretty seasoned grower, so I’m already feeling better about my own garden. But a weedy, imperfect plot is also well loved and productive.
“My supermarket loyalty card makes me look like a really unhealthy diet!” Ady laughs, and he reaps plenty of veg and fruit each year.
Gardening through Covid19
Not everyone has weeds – for some people, Covid19 lockdown, social distancing, furlough, etc have meant much more time on the allotment (Jo!).
Everyone’s experience of lockdown is different: Ady has been working from home, like many of us, spending slightly too much time in the same four walls.
Looking after his mental health through the recent circumstances has meant regular running, which becomes a kind of meditative activity, and has taken up much of his free time.
That has meant the plot has been less tended than usual this year. But using the weed control fabric, at least it’s not storing up any problems for next year.
What is a vegan allotment?
So what does it mean to have a vegan allotment, I ask, because – apart from the handful of allotments that have chickens – aren’t all allotments basically vegan?
For Ady, it’s about being wildlife friendly (his plot is completely organic) and trying to live more sustainably.
He comes to the allotment by bike when he can, and hasn’t got too much to carry – lots of people do that. Ideally everyone would have a nearby allotment and never need to drive there.
The nettles are there deliberately – they’re great for butterflies, and also useful for retaining moisture if you use some of them as mulch. Just the leaves, so they don’t root.
The comfrey is there for the bees – bocking 14 variety – and also as a compost accelerator.
Ady doesn’t use manure on the allotment, but makes his own compost. As well as the waste from the allotment, he adds other weeds harvested from waste grounds, and the nettles and comfrey contribute to good rich compost.
Nettles can be used as nitrogen fertiliser as well as water retention, and comfrey is high in potassium and phosphorus, and is great for fertilising fruiting plants like tomatoes and squash.
One time Ady rolled back the weed control fabric and found a little nest of mice, so rolled it back and left it there for another year – there’s plenty of space to grow without disturbing them!
He doesn’t kill any animals, but he does encourage predators like hedgehogs and black beetles.
But – being an organic gardener myself – I have to press him on the question: what about slugs and snails? “I take them for a little walk in a bucket to Greetwell Quarry, with my dog!”
There’s lots of wildlife here – rabbits, foxes, buzzards, wood mice, voles, rats.
Rats? “It’s inevitable. You just have to practice hand hygiene, and use good gloves.” It’s tricky getting good gloves without leather, but Ady recommends these tough, vegan gardening gloves. “And the foxes – you hope – will look after the rabbits.”
Tips for new allotment holders
Use weed control fabric
Buy the highest grade you can afford to keep the weeds down until you can plant. Then peel back a bit at a time and get something growing there straight away. Get some positive results before moving on to the next area.
If you’re new to gardening, start with potatoes, French or runner beans, or courgettes – they grow quickly, crop prolifically and that’s rewarding! Also, growing onion sets are easier than growing them from seed.
Ady gets his weed fabric from ebay, and uses a blow torch to seal the edges. If you use scissors, the edges of the fabric tend to fray.
Also, scaffold netting / debris netting is cheaper than horticultural netting and just as good at keeping hungry critters off – he lifts up the edge to reveal the healthy and un-nibbled young broccoli beneath.
It saves money, reduces waste and is a valuable and empowering skill.
Tomatoes, parsnips and chillis are an easy place to start. Use an old pair of tights to stop flowers from cross pollinating: choose a flower, cover it with the tights and allow it to self pollinate. Full instructions here.
Sometimes it can be better to grow tomatoes at home – a down side of allotments is that there can be a greater risk of blight. That said, there are some very happy looking tomatoes growing here this year!
Squash you have to pollinate by hand: as soon as the flower is open, use a soft paintbrush to pollinate from another on the same plant using a soft paintbrush, and cover it with the tights again.
You can also use the tights to mark the plants you have chosen, so you know which ones have true seed for collection.
Experiment and enjoy!
“Self-teaching is part of the fun!” Ady says with a smile – and he is completely self-taught. He practices a mixture of dig and no-dig, and permaculture is an influence.
Geoff Hamilton’s book are the place to start organic gardening.
There are plenty of internet forums where you can ask for help: Ady started off asking for advice, and 12 years on he finds himslef answering other people’s questions.
“I love to experiment.” For example, last year Ady tried putting nettles into the hole where he planted broccoli (to provide extra nutrients as it breaks down)… It seems to have worked!
What are your allotment plans for the coming year? I ask.
Winter squash is a favourite, purple sprouting broccoli, potatoes. Also horseradish – you chop a bit of the long tap root off and plant it, and it comes back next year.
His favourite is leeks: “The smell of them is so much stronger than supermarket bought leeks. If I take them home in the car, there’s the most wonderful aroma of fresh leeks. It’s a gorgeous smell!”
If you’re interested in getting an allotment in Lincoln, you can apply online via the city council website. Let us know how you get on!
If you have a local allotment that you think could inspire other people, please get in touch – I’d like to hear about it.
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