Can you Dig It?
PUBLISHED: 16:22 13 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013
In this March issue we look at the growing trend across Cornwall in allotments. Not only is it great in this climate to grow your own vegetables and fruit, but there is a real sense of community among allotmenteers too
Can You Dig It?
Traditionally considered a pastime for those in urban areas with smaller town gardens, a somewhat unusual but increasingly common sight in Cornwall is the allotment. Louise Danks finds out more
Allotments enjoyed their heyday throughout the 1950s and '60s. This legacy was left after the war and continued up until 1970. The decline in numbers of allotments coincided with the rise of the supermarket, which brought with it affordable and easily obtainable fresh fruit and veg. It's estimated that the UK lost around 500,000 plots between 1970 and the mid-1990s. Thankfully that trend is being reversed and the interest in allotment gardening is enjoying a resurgence.
The popularity of 'growing your own' can be attributed to a number of factors. There are the health benefits of not only eating fresh produce and knowing exactly how it has been cultivated but also the physical benefit of getting out there in the fresh air and actually doing some exercise. "The rise of allotment sites in rural areas is amazing; it was only three years ago that I was having conversations about allotment closures, now there is a UK-wide waiting list of around 300,000. It's not unusual for me to visit an allotment site and see the whole family working away, which is a very different notion to that of the elderly gentleman with a cloth cap," says Allan Cavill, the South West Regional Representative for the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. "The credit crunch, better awareness of healthy eating and media interest have all contributed to the renewed popularity of the allotment."
You can't fail to have noticed the meteoric rise of the Chyanhall Allotments at Treluswell, best seen from the main Truro to Falmouth road. David and Kay Hicks have been just as amazed by the speed of uptake of their allotments. After celebrating their first anniversary they have more than 40 people on the waiting list, and that's after filling 120 plots over 10 acres. Each plot is a standard 30ft x 90ft and costs 100 a year or around 2 a week.
The sense of community is overwhelming and also something that was high on Kay and David's list of reasons to create this allotment site. The social life at Chyanhall Allotments is growing almost as quickly as the crops; there are regular dinners, a group website and plans for an allotment association. Kay and David are full of ideas and it's obviously appreciated by their merry band of allotmenteers, just as George the donkey appreciates the digestive biscuits he's fed by the gardeners!
Tom Studd and Claire Braithwaite live in a newly built house with a small garden, they are first-time allotment owners and in a matter of weeks have licked their plot into shape. They spent Christmas collecting seaweed and double digging in preparation for the growing season ahead. The couple love spending time outdoors and having a big space to enjoy. Tom describes the allotment as "amazingly friendly, everyone is so kind and willing to help out, even lending tools!" He jokes that "you need to be a plumber, carpenter and mason as well as a gardener but it's surprisingly addictive."
Another couple who are enjoying more space are Boysie and Annette Nesbitt who have always grown vegetables but have never had an allotment before. Their plans for the year ahead are very impressive but Boysie has a few words of wisdom for all gardeners. "You have to take a chance with gardening, don't be disappointed with the failures."
At the end of a secluded farm lane in Burras near Helston, flanked by low granite stone hedges, is a smaller, privately owned allotment site (with a handful of vacancies if you're quick), where you'll receive a warm welcome from Victoria and Lewis King and their children, as well as a number of four-legged and feathered friends. What this busy couple lack in acreage, they more than make up for in passion and innovation. They are dedicated to becoming self-sufficient, with big plans to produce their own wind and solar power. Lewis has recently completed a course in bee-keeping so that's his project for the year ahead. Even Minnie the pony gets in on the act - she's used to strip-graze and fertilise the ground.
"We decided to start running allotments here and are delighted to see the land being used to its full potential, and love the fact that the children realise that food doesn't magically appear shrink-wrapped on a supermarket shelf. We've met like-minded, lovely characters; it's like having neighbourhood watch but in a very gentle way!" explains Victoria.
As if running her own business and Lewis working full-time isn't enough, their smallholding has also become the home of The Cornish Garlic Company, the first plantings of which are growing well. Victoria has had a large amount of interest in the crop and is very excited about the harvest.
There is an undeniably strong family atmosphere around this allotment site, the children are involved with feeding the chickens and deciding what to grow as the days lengthen and the soil warms up. Eight-year-old Sorrell reels off the list of vegetables she intends to grow this year with all the confidence of a seasoned professional.
Taking on an allotment is a big commitment, but the biggest revelation, walking around the plots and speaking to various gardeners, is that it's about more than just producing food. This may have been the reason for making that first phone call or asking around to find out about the nearest allotment, but in no time at all this pastime becomes important on a personal level. It's great for the local community, the landowner and the allotmenteers themselves; there can't be another leisure pursuit with quite as many plus points.
For further information contact your local authority. Check out the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners' website at www.nsalg.org.uk. To join the waiting list at Chyanhall Allotments, call Kay on (01872 863517 or contact Victoria King at The Cornish Garlic Company on (01209 832283.?