Lesley's Allotment..... (and other short stories)
T'was a winding road that led me to the allotment...
Discovering Forest Gardening
After truly committing to my Spiritual Path, I found that after years of working indoors I needed to take plenty of restorative outdoor time. I did lots of volunteering at a community woodland where we planted over 1200 native trees, yet I kept feeling, “Surely it would be good to be planting more edible species?” As I looked into what could be done I became very inspired by the work of Martin Crawford who has an amazing “Forest Garden” near Dartington, Totnes. He doesn’t have any fixed ideas about native species and has been researching and trial-growing many types of trees and shrubs both native and imported for their suitability to his local climate. Generally they have edible fruits and leaves or make symbiotic contributions to the soil and neighbouring plants, each playing their part in creating a perfect environment for low impact food growing. Its a cornucopia of the unusual and the familiar, from Szechuan pepper trees to bamboos to English garden mint. I drank in every moment of Martin’s courses, like I was a bee feeding from words laced with nectar.
The Openhand Retreat House
When I moved into the Openhand Retreat House just over 2 years ago, I had to feel what was right here. The garden was very much a blank canvas, yet what kind of garden would work here? How would the space be used? It seemed the large lawn would make great break out space for guests on courses. A lovely soft place to lie back and go internal, to feel the cool grass and the warm embrace of Mother Earth. The gradual transformation of the garden is a process of planting and nurturing which is still evolving. You can see much of the story of both gardens (the Openhand Centre is a combined space of two houses and gardens) on our Sacred Garden Blog here:
“No dig” heaven
We also made room for veggie patches, and I went over to study with Charles Dowding, an accomplished “No Dig” grower who lives here in Somerset and makes his living from growing a wonderful array of salad leaves. Charles is a gentle giant and I marvelled at how such a tall person could spend their days bent double, planting and picking for hours at a time. His dedicated work is all done with great enthusiasm and a cheerful smile.
Being inspired by my times with Charles I sewed seeds and also planted out some bought seedlings; having many successes and a few disappointments. I realised that I am totally into “learning by experience” and there was no such thing as “bad” or “wrong” as I was sooo excited to self-realise something by my own actions, the outcome of something “going wrong” - FELT GREAT!!
The highs and the lows
Then the day came when I sat at the table and looked down at my evening meal realising that apart from a drizzle of olive oil; EVERYTHING on my plate was something I’d grown myself! It was a delight to behold! I savoured the moment and hugged my plate. Then in the next moment, I was dumbfounded. I was now over 5o years of age. How could it be possible to have lived my life so far removed from the natural provision of my own food? How had it taken all my life to get to this moment? Surely I should have been doing this since the age of five?
When the time came to harvest my potatoes, from which I’d expected bumper crops, I realised I’d be hard pushed to live on the haul for a fortnight if I was dependant on them alone for nourishment. When I considered the sporadic survival of slugaliscious salad leaves, the caterpillar stripped brassicas, the bolted celeriac's and the disappearing carrots it seemed like I’d put in huge amounts of work for very little reward. Though my morale was rescued a bit by some good beans of several varieties and the carrots did well second time round. The first sowings had sprouted only to be lost to night raiding slugs. The real jewels I recall were the massive crop of tomatoes in the greenhouse; a veritable jungle which became almost impenetrable as both sides grew to meet in the middle! Yet even they were just pipped in my rankings of satisfaction by the harvesting of some really sturdy parsnips in the autumn. I can still remember the disbelief when I scraped away the soil and pulled the first thick root from the planter. An unexpected success that felt like “proper food”, something that would make a hearty meal, in fact several hearty meals as they kept on coming. It was truly wonderful.
Realisation catalyses action
One whole season brought it home to me, that while in a way its easy: you sow seeds, and the seeds grow! In another way, to get a plentiful and consistent harvest over the precious warm months of the year would actually take quite a bit of organisation; a good bit of improvement year on year - and definitely a lot more growing space than we actually have. So having made a short story long….. It was then and there that the feeling arose to seek out an allotment.
This blog is about sharing a journey of growing and the contemplations stirred by that.
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Planting spuds and foraging dandelions last weekend
As I said in my last post, I bought a lot of seed potatoes. I was having a wander locally in February when I realised I didn’t know where I was. In the next moment it turned out I had just come a different way to a useful provisions store in town, but such a new route that I didn’t realise where I was until it popped up in from of me. I went inside and there was a big display of all kinds of varieties of seed potatoes. I laughed at how my higher self could be bring me there without my lower self having a clue what was in the flow. I chose quite a few varieties and was really excited about comparing them when they were ready for tasting.
Once bought you have to leave them to “chit”. This means they grow little sprouts, and then they’re ready to put in the ground. I realised I had so many, plus quite a lot of onions, that it was looking like I would fill my allotment with those alone. Yet there were so many other things I was feeling to plant! Some time before that I was getting my hair cut and mentioned my new allotment to the hairdresser, who said, “Oh, you should have asked me, you could have had mine!”. At the time it didn’t seem relevant, but now it was springing right back to mind. So I went round and spoke to Anita, who showed me a little row of three tiny allotments behind her row of cottages. Hers is watched over by a magnificent old fig tree. She said she didn’t use it and I was welcome to do whatever I like with the patch of land. Perfect! Now I have the Openhand garden, my allotment and Anita’s patch - plenty of room to grow all sorts of yummie veggies!
The great thing about growing is you can ask interested friends to help. Lei helps me a lot by gathering horse manure from some local rescued ponies and Dale helped get my first potatoes in. Ben said he was up for helping get my second batch of spuds into the earth. (Spuds = colloquial English term for potatoes). *smile* So we went down to Anita’s patch together. Ben dug up loads of dandelion roots, (which I will turn into dandelion coffee - delicious) and I followed behind digging trenches for the potatoes. I’m sure Ben’s going to help out with the taste tests in a few months time!
It feels really good to be growing food on what would otherwise be a neglected piece of town centre land.
I hadn't anticipated such a warm reception. Thanks guys!
Yes, I really hear your contemplations Jan. Particularly the preserving and storing side. It would be a whole other level of provision, the art of keeping your harvest in useable form over many months. And of course a certain amount of indoor space and equipment needed even if only a cupboard or set of shelves and recycled jars. Definitely as integral a part as growing if feeding yourselves year round from your land.
I seem to have gone a bit mad with buying seed potatoes this year, looking for that feeling of quantity and satiety, without much spacial awareness of what will fit on the plot!. Yet if they harvest well, the next question is - do I give them away; put them out on the front driveway and ask for donations ; or get some suitable sacks and see how well they store? Maybe a combination of a couple of those!
I love your description of your communal efforts Jan and how the gifts you harvest from that togetherness amount to so much more than just the food. Wonderful sharings *smile*
Lesley... Awesome!...Nuff said
Communal gardening and gathering
Lesley this is a wonderful sharing which resonates so closely where we are with our gardening plots, having come through our first summer of growing our own. Your description of wonder at eating our own harvests, which soon gave way to let down as realization set in about how much food we would actually need to feed ourselves throughout the year - not to mention the preserving and storing needed in a cold room, mirrored our own. It gave me new appreciation for all of our ancestors, especially here in the 'New World' as they made their way across this country of Canada (and the US) to homestead and survive in the harshest of conditions. Miraculous...
Our experience last summer led us towards communal gardening - inviting our small community to join with us to help build more fencing, creating a garden with us that we can all share in the toil and the harvest of. This has opened us up to sharing and loving one another in new and expanded ways. Each of us has something different to contribute - from ideas to muscle to experience with the plants.
What is sown in our garden with kind attention to the land - and to each other, is a gift that will continue to give as the seasons change.
We look forward to sharing your journey in your garden and in all of our hearts through this very sacred of experiences. Thank you Lesley for this sharing. It has re-inspired the project here.
Much love, Jan
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