Allotment gardening and the balance of modern family life

Everyone wants an allotment garden.

There’s been a consistent level of demand for plots for over a decade and although, over the years, there are some peaks and troughs in the number of those eager to grow their own veg, the amount of people on waiting lists across the UK is high. In 2015, one third of councils had a waiting list of 100-400 people.

Head over to Instagram and search for allotment gardening related tags and you will be swamped with a huge and fantastic community of individuals sharing their fruit and vegetable photos. And yes, they include smiling selfies from the plot.

The dominant age range of Instagram users fall between 18 and 44 with the majority of users between the age of 18 and 34.

As you scan the grow your own community on Instagram, you’ll notice this age range is reflected within this group and those regularly sharing their allotment pics are young adults with busy modern family lives – Millennials.

This is fantastic. However, I know how difficult it can be to keep on top of modern life generally – never mind the maintenance of an allotment garden too.

I’ve just spent the last six weeks enjoying the summer holidays with my family. It’s been a tricky time with Ava off school, keeping her entertained and balancing a busy period in work too. Even outside the summer holidays, juggling our work, our chores and maintaining a healthy social life is hard.

This is a matter of both necessity and choice. There are things I have to do and there are things I choose to do. The choices are weighted and I definitely try to choose being on the allotment garden as a part of my life.

It does mean that sometimes I don’t get as much time as I would like to spend on the plot and sometimes things don’t get done and I’m often playing catch up. The benefits of having the allotment in my life still completely outweigh the downsides.

The summer is not quite over, but I’ve begun my reflection on the allotment year a little early.

There are a number of reasons for this.

It’s not been my greatest year on the plot. The Beast from the East forced a late start and some tragic losses early in the year. And the freezing temperature made even some plot preparation a little bit difficult too.

The latter part of spring and the early summer was a promising time though, and although I’m feeling a little disheartened with the garden right now, I had a pretty good supply of produce during this period.

Watering tomatoes in polytunnel

Champion of England peas

IMG_20180614_064936_577.jpg

Harvesting onions

Harvesting beetroot

Purple potatoes

Garlic harvest

Then the heatwave hit. It lasted over 12 weeks and it was an incredibly difficult time. Plants were lost as I couldn’t keep up with the watering – especially in the new polytunnel. And second and third sowings came to nothing because the dry conditions made it very difficult to germinate any seeds. The extreme temperature also made it difficult to do any development work in the allotment garden too.

I’ve also had a busy time in work. And although I have a flexible 9-5 job, I’ve felt so tired and drained. This has impacted on my motivation to get to allotment as often as I would like. The weeds have had a field day and there are empty beds and gaps which are such a waste of space.

There’s also been the school summer holidays and this has meant going away for a week or two. Which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. But it has meant, combined with the issues above, the allotment has been a little unloved in 2018.

Reflection is important with anything you do. It’s an opportunity to think about your experience and assess your way of working and what you’ve done. We all make mistakes. The important thing is to evaluate what went wrong and to decide how you can do things differently. Ultimately, it makes us better at the things we are trying achieve.

Every year I learn something about allotment gardening and how I can make the next year even better.

I’m back and I’m hitting the plot hard over the next few weeks. I’ve some exciting developments to keep me busy and a whole 30 square feet of untouched allotment to turn into something special. I’m also working a new sharpen your spades project which I hope will enable me to share more of my grow your own journey with you. More of that in a few weeks time.

Embrace modern family life. And know that allotment gardening can be such a significant part of it. Just remember, you can’t do everything all of the time. But, that’s part of the fun.

Family Holiday

London, Summer 2018

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15 thoughts on “Allotment gardening and the balance of modern family life

  1. I feel your plot pain! It has been a tricky year so far. I had such big plans for my little veg plot this year, it was going to be a paragon of efficiency and productivity. Not so much, it turned out, for much the same reasons that you give. It’s a little disheartening but I note and agree with your observation that next year will be even better! Good luck with your other project.

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  2. Wise words, Richard. A realistic view of the situation. I think a lot of gardeners (particularly allotmenteers) underestimate the amount of effort and dedication required to achieve success. Growing veg needs sustained effort, and if you let things lapse, the weeds take over pretty quickly! Being retired now, I don’t have the work-life balance issues that you have, but I find that with advancing years energy levels and physical capability decline, so sometimes what would once have been an easy task becomes a big job. I still love the garden and its produce though!

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    1. Thanks Mark. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. It’s been a busy few weeks. I think being realistic is one of the best traits for an allotment holder. Especially when there is the day job, the family life and everything that life throws at us. It’s really important to put it into perspective and never allow the allotment to become a chore – that defies the whole point. They are wonderful things to have when we live in urban environments and they can offer so much providing we learn to be efficient in our practice and in our mindset too.

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  3. Allotments do not seem to be very big. Yet, it seems that those who work them somehow fit more into them that our large gardens sustain. The farm is a full time lifestyle more than a job. The gardens though are not nearly as much work. I think that the ability to grow things in spots where they do better helps. For example, the tomatoes grow on a warm exposes slope where they only need to be watered and weeded. Cool season vegetables can be grown down in the heavier soil where they grow best. It seems like spreading things out makes more work, but it seems to facilitate gardening.

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  4. Great post, we do not have an allotment but a garden we want to improve and started growing veggies and it is hard to juggle it all. Your doing a great job and being realistic about it all

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  5. Like Mark, I’m retired so pressure of time is not acute, but I’m looking to be working my allotment for as long as I can and I see finding ways to minimise the hard work as essential to achieving that. It’s why I started no-dig, for example. Strips of old carpet on the paths between beds controls the weeds where the ground is hard and they’re tough to remove. I move them to where they’re needed. It’s so important to keep the productivity up, when it dips badly people start to think about giving up. When I was working, I really struggled with the plot, without kids to worry about.

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    1. I’m so with you Jim. What I am constantly looking for is ways to make allotment gardening as efficient as possible and I absolutely went no dig for that reason too. It’s completely changed things for me. It’s efficient. It saves so much time. And it’s much more effective to deliver over the winter when often it’s far too wet to dig.

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  6. It’s been a tricky year for us all I think. I gave up sowing or planting out anything during the heat wave as I couldn’t do the twice daily watering that seemed to be needed to stop them keeling over and the watering grew extremely boring after a while. I moved to no dig this year and will be covering paths with wood chip as I will be moving jobs to somewhere slightly further away so can’t spend so much time at the allotment. It’s the one bonus of this year that the no dig system plus lack of rain has meant almost no weeding needed at all!

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  7. I did the same with straw, it kept the moisture in and I have only had to visit every three days to water the greenhouse and harvest. I did the same last year before I took a week away and everything survived, and I returned to relatively little weeding. At £4 a bale it is my one dig, one weed and one mulch method and it works brilliantly. great harvest!

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      1. Thankfully not! compost is out of my price range and promotes weeds, something straw seems to restrict. I chose it as it was cheap and available locally!

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