Read on and see how Peter has been faring as a first time allotmenteer!

Edinburgh, May 24th, 2020

The Coronavirus story has made many people think about food and growing food in a different way, whether that’s gardening as something that can still happen during lockdown, or growing some of your own food to help offset disruptions in the food supply chain.

We got an allotment a year ago, after many years on the council’s waiting list.  We were lucky to get one in great condition, having been well looked after for many years by someone who practised the organic “no dig” system that Charles Dowding blogs about.  There were established fruit bushes – redcurrant, blackcurrant, gooseberry, blueberry, summer and autumn raspberry – and things like beds of strawberries, artichokes, even asparagus.

Not having much experience growing crops, we spent the first year watching what was going on, planting some annual crops like peas and beans, courgettes and chard, experimenting with a couple of heritage varieties like Musselburgh leeks and Shetland Black potatoes, and picking what was growing.

We were surprised how productive a fairly small area can be, and we had to make time at short notice to pick, process, preserve, freeze or cook what was growing, because when it’s ready, it’s ready.  The plotholder next door said “Don’t go away in July”, which was about right.  We had to get another freezer, and find new recipes for all the courgettes that just kept on coming.

There were three compost bins full of dark, rich compost, which we used up and then regularly topped up with kitchen veg waste and cardboard, impressed by how efficiently the worms and bugs transformed this unpromising material into new compost.

Now in the second year, we are learning a bit more about what to do.  We have worked out a simple crop rotation system.  We went to a demonstration of pruning fruit bushes, and cut the bushes back as instructed, and the unripe fruit now forming looks very promising.  We learned that pigeons like broccoli (who knew?) and that we need to net it.  We grew plants from seed at home, and planted them out later, when they were a bit bigger and would stand a better chance against the mice and slugs.  And we accepted that although it’s great to have asparagus, it’s going to come in random shapes and sizes rather than the neat, uniform packages in the shops.

It’s been a great experience, and I’d recommend it.  The waiting list is too long, and the council really need to do more to make land available – the mismatch between the land given over to allotments compared to golf is quite staggering, for example.  We should be encouraging more people to grow at least some of their own food, and making it easier for them to do so.

Peter Mountford-Smith