It’s that time of the year again, when the weather becomes a little bit warmer, the days longer, and we begin to consider willingly spending more time outdoors. Walks to school/work etc don’t really come under the same heading. In the Spring you see a rake of shops and garden centres selling all the accessories so you can grow your own flowers or food. Nowadays it’s obviously seen as a bit of a fashion statement because there are plenty of stylish items that look brilliant on sale too (they wouldn’t last jig-time in my house).
You’ll (as always) see a big increase in my pictures taken outdoors while working at the allotment and this being our 6th year of growing our own food I thought it was the right time to chat a bit about the allotment.
We grow most of our food at the allotment, it’s 10 metres x 20 metres in size with a large polytunnel. The allotment scheme is located on some very claggy ground near the sea so we choose to do most of our growing in raised beds which we’ve filled with well-rotted manure and expired strawberry compost from a local farmer. If we grew directly into the ground it would be much harder to work and I wouldn’t have the handy edges on the raised beds to lean on when working. The raised beds also help us plan out (and rotate) our planting from year to year. Around the raised beds we have large pea gravel which helps with the drainage and stops us getting our feet wet. I did say the land was claggy…this means drainage can often be an issue.
WHY SO BIG?
This is a very large space to work on. On their own, one person would struggle to work this amount of land without putting in at least 2 hours per day. My husband and I work the land together, we are also located right beside my father-in-law who also has the same size allotment with a similar layout. The first year we moved into this allotment scheme (it’s not our first allotment) we grew mainly in the polytunnel and in a few raised beds. Every year since we put in more work and increased the number of raised beds, the gravel paths, the compost bins, and more. So it’s not as if we took on a 200 sq metre plot and decided we had to fill it straight away. We created more growing space as we became more knowledgeable.
WHAT DO WE GROW?
The easiest way to put this is that there is very little we don’t grow. For example, even with a polytunnel we can’t grow bananas, but we can grow many vegetables and fruits that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Irish food such as melons and peaches. We also won’t grow many conventional potatoes this year, not because we can’t but because we are smack bang in the middle of the “market garden basket” of Ireland, and we can source these locally with ease. I am growing some unusual heritage potatoes though.
WHAT ABOUT THE PIGS?
We rear free range pigs for the table as part of a syndicate, probably the only one in Ireland. The pigs are also kept at the allotment scheme but not on individual plots. If you’re interested in reading a little bit more about that please click here.
WHAT’S THIS ABOUT BEES?
Yes we keep bees but not at the allotment. My father-in-law’s garden is home to the bee hives and we do very well from their hard work. The honey tastes incredible and we use it raw. I find it brilliant to treat hayfever symptoms and colds. It is a real treat. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have told anybody we kept bees because the honey is in so much demand!
ARE WE SELF SUFFICIENT?
The answer is no, we’re not. Realistically I can’t ever see us becoming self sufficient. We live in a conventional estate house, it’s mid-terrace, and we use energy off the grid, mains water, and waste, also certain things are hard to grow without having lots of space. We don’t have as much space as a farm for example, which we’d need to grow our own grains and oils. We only have so much time in the week to work at the allotment and this is the happy marriage of a family that grows their own food alongside full time jobs, school, and other commitments.
DO WE SAVE MONEY?
Everybody asks this question!
I can’t put a price on the value that growing our own food brings to our family. From the kids spending hours outdoors playing, learning how to grow their own food and rear animals (which are life skills), eating fresh food straight from the plot that has been grown as organically as possible, to my husband and I learning to work together as a team, it’s all added value. Seeds cost very little; a packet of 1,500 lettuce seeds cost €1.49 in my local Lidl. We got the spent compost for free, the manure for the cost of hiring a tractor & trailer to collect it, the raised beds are made from old scaffolding planks.
The biggest investment in growing your own food is time.
If I balance it up at the end of the year then renting the allotment, and all the financial investment, balances off against the money we save on fruit, vegetables, pork, and honey. It’s not like-for-like you see because buying organically grown fruit and vegetables, raw local honey, and free range antibiotic-free pork would be far more expensive on a conventional grocery bill. This way we get to eat extremely well on a budget.
That’s not really what it’s about though. Growing our own food has become the norm for us and we wouldn’t have it any other way.