The Allotment on the Hill (the Story of a Community Garden in England)
I have recently had my article (on our allotment) published in the Kitchen Garden magazine here in the UK. The Kitchen Garden is much loved by those who want to grow their own fruit and vegetables – successfully.
Allotment gardens are very popular in the UK – and readers in the USA would be more familiar with the name community garden.
And this is what I wrote…
Something on our background
Bryan grew up helping his grandfather to grow vegetables at the family home in Sussex in England (during the 1950s) when they frequently used sewerage sludge as a fertilizer – and they both thought nothing of pulling out a carrot and munching on it.
I was brought up in Kenya with a climate that encouraged those wonderful fruits like paw paws (papayas), granadillas (passion fruit), bananas, pineapples and cape gooseberries. In later years, Kenya was to become an exporter of flowers and vegetables to other parts Africa and beyond – with remarkable success.
When we were first married, and living in Kent, we had a happy time with our own small garden complete with herbaceous border, veggie patch and even a greenhouse for the tomato plants.
Then followed many years spent in South Africa where we had different conditions to contend with in our gardens: sometimes severe drought, other times a sub-tropical climate in the Eastern Cape while it was a Mediterranean-type climate in Cape Town. Added to that was time spent with our daughter in Southern California where we helped her to create a garden. She has recently had to change it all to cope with increasingly very dry conditions. And since we left, Cape Town has also been suffering a life-changing drought.
Now we are settled in England once more with a home in a large Somerset village and an easy-to-manage and sunny courtyard. Ten minutes’ walk away is the large allotment site on a hill above the village with wonderful views for miles. When you go up there, it is like going out for a day and having a cosy shed to retreat to is as good as a beach hut. The weather is often completely different from the village itself – it can be better or it can be worse!
Nevertheless, the English climate must be the most temperate in the world for gardening. When you have lived and gardened in Africa and Southern Californian droughts, you never mind the gentle English rainfall.
The story of our allotment progress
Starting with half a plot in December 2013, Bryan spent that first winter clearing couch grass and digging over the entire site – and we did harvest crops in the summer of 2014.
Later that year, we were fortunate to be able to take on the other half of the plot and then the work really began. His 70th birthday was the perfect opportunity for the children and grandchildren to present him with several fruit trees for his planned orchard.
There is a constant tussle between us on the amount of space I can have for my flowers (mostly to encourage the pollinators) and what Bryan needs for his crops.
It is all about compromise. Nevertheless, we often reach a healthy target of 10-a-day or more fruit and vegetables – straight from the plot.
Last summer saw the arrival of a brassica cage to avoid the summer struggle with pigeons and Cabbage White butterflies. Of course, when you have an allotment, there is always something new on the “wish list” including a small greenhouse. Being at times a rather exposed site, poly tunnels have not stood the test of time on other allotments so we will not be going down that route!
Bryan’s Top 10 favourite crops
- Evereste crab apples. We have one tree which gives a colourful display and plenty of fruit for making crab apple jelly.
- Asparagus. After three years in the making, we will finally be able to enjoy our own asparagus spears.
- Blueberries. The patio variety grown in large pots has been very successful. From mid-July to end of August, they give us a good handful every day.
- French dwarf beans. Both climbing and dwarf are stringless.
- Golden raspberries. New to the allotment in 2017 but already giving us lots of berries.
- Thornless blackberries. Lovely large fruit and painless to pick!
- Should be harvested when young – ideal for stir frys.
- Cherries. We do have to share a few with the birds but still manage to eat plenty ourselves.
- Hazelnuts. Our two trees came with the allotment and we love the delicious nuts we harvest in September.
- Onions, shallots and garlic. A bountiful crop that is harvested in July and stored for a year-round supply. The shallots can be successfully pickled.
We shared our tomato soup recipe
(And yes, our tomatoes always seem to ripen all at once! Keep doubling up the quantities in this recipe to match the number of tomatoes to be used)
You will need:
- 2 onions peeled and chopped
- 1 carrot peeled and diced finely
- 1 clove garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 stick celery finely chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 450g/1lb fresh ripe tomatoes halved
- 1 litre/1¾ pints vegetable stock (use less for a thicker soup)
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, carrot and celery and garlic. Cover and cook gently for 10 minutes until soft. Add the sugar, salt, pepper and tomatoes. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Liquidise until smooth. Freezes really well.
And this is our crab apple jelly
- 4 kg crab apples
- 1 kg castor sugar
- 1 lemon juiced
Wash and place apples in a large saucepan, cover with water before bringing to the boil and simmering until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes).
Pour the pulp into a jelly bag or several layers of muslin and let it drip several hours into a pan, avoiding the temptation to squeeze the bag because this will make the juice cloudy. Add the sugar and lemon juice to the crab apple juice and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep at a rolling boil for 40 minutes, skimming off the froth.
To test the set, chill a dessertspoon in the refrigerator. When set, it will solidify on the back of the spoon. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal while still slightly warm. Store in a cool dark place. Delicious served with roast pork or pork chops.
Images by Bryan and Jane Chitty for amoils.com