Growing through COVID

Covid and the Allotment-looking back on a growing season like no other.
The early part of 2020, like every other year saw allotment plots being prepared, seeds propagated on window sills or in greenhouses. Potatoes were about to be sown when the lockdown was announced in mid March.

Fear, uncertainty, confusion, for the first few weeks as most plot holders took the simple advice of staying at home.

However, as it became clear that visits to the allotment were welcomed by officialdom, people began to test the water with short visits, abiding by the new rules and keeping out of each others way.

As the weather improved, people stayed longer, and often were accompanied by other family members in the same bubble.. Demand for growing material increased, compost became in short supply, and even veg seeds were no longer available. Car parking space soon became an issue as nearly all the plot holders were spending a lot more time on their plots.

Obviously, we had a number of members (10%) who were self isolating, or shielding and who had been advised by the committee that no action would be taken if their plot was not cultivated this growing season.

The time rich plot holders were now in full swing on the plots, and in the days of social media, told their  friends of the benefits of having an allotment, as requests for plots took off immediately and have continued to do so. Our site was fully occupied and had no vacancies but the waiting list continues to grow.

The exceptional sunny spring weather contributed to the feel good factor of plot holders who were able to grow more than usual, renovate sheds, huts etc and generally escape the depression of the lockdown.

To date we have no record of any plot holder having Covid 19.

As a result of the increased productivity on their plots, we now have increased demand from plot holders to move from half plots to full sized plots. We are unable to meet this demand, as Glasgow City Council encourage committees to offer half plots rather than full plots, to keep the waiting lists down.

In this dreadful year of the Covid pandemic, it seems unreal to discuss the benefits that the allotment community have “enjoyed” during this period, but that many people have maintained and improved their mental and physical health is to be welcomed. By way of illustration, we have members of our community, who are front line health workers, and in the peak of the pandemic found some respite on their plots. One paramedic said “ the plot helps me to keep my sanity” Another said that having lost 3 patients on one night he needed the plot to restore his strength. The bird song, doing simple growing tasks and seeing new plant growth gave them energy to face their next shift on the front line.

Most of the plot holders who were self isolating or shielding have returned and immediately began the task of tackling their plots overgrown with weeds etc. One such plot holder rued the day he fed his vegetable beds with Growmore prior to lockdown, only to find the weeds invigorated and had reclaimed his plot. They are planning and preparing for next years growing season and are just glad to be out the house and back on their plot.

Gardening leave took on a new meaning as those “working from home “ found time to weed and feed on the plot in between taking calls or emails.

One lady sharing a plot with her sister who was shielding said she had to get out and breathe fresh air and do something, the plot was her safe haven.

As I was leaving the allotment site one day, I met a plot holder just arriving and he said “I just need to get into the plot, get some fresh air and do something”.

The lockdown cancelled our plant sale day when we interact with the local community, we lost our community repair and paint day when we get together, work together and laugh together, and we lost our BBQ to finish up the growing season. The lockdown may have kept us 2 metres apart, but we all felt better together having worked the plots and harvested more than just the crops.

Committees now have the challenge of offering the allotment experience to newcomers, but will struggle as vacancies are likely to be low, with demand unprecedented.

Demand from existing plot holders for extra growing space will be near impossible to satisfy.

Many newcomers have limited growing ability and could struggle in their new environment without hands on support.

Unlike the local population, many of the new plot holders from abroad have more agricultural skills  and we marvelled at the transformation our a traditional plot to a Chinese one and the crops squeezed out of a plot by a family from Poland. Half plots are not sufficient for their needs.

Families now see allotments as good places for their children to experience a childhood inspired by grannies and grandads of times past, and to grow good tasting vegetables.

Allotment committees are unable to meet todays demand.

In many ways the opportunities that allotment plots offers society in the “new normal” future cannot be developed by smart promotions but with access to available land for growing today.

If over 75s shielding from the virus are preparing their plots for growing next year, today, when will authorities do like wise.

It should be noted that all the Covid -19 rules and regulations were observed within the allotment site.

All of the plots are fenced and give each plot holder a safe place to cultivate crops.

Sharing of excess seeds and surplus young plants was not permitted.

Visitors to the site were discouraged.

Author: Denis Barrett

Chair of Budhill and Springboig Allotments, Glasgow

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