The Simple Things
Growing Allotment bloggers, Agents of Field
BLOGGERS AND ENTHUSIASTIC VEG GROWERS ADE AND SOPHIE SELLARS TELL US ABOUT THE JOYS OF HARVESTING THEIR OWN AND LIFE ON THEIR PLOT Sophie and Ade took on their allotment three years ago to grow more veg. Little did they know that it would change their li
The story so far
Sophie: “We didn’t have much interest in gardening until a few years ago when we bought our house on the outskirts of London and found ourselves with a small garden of our own for the first time. After watching Alys Fowler’s TV series The
Edible Garden, I realised that it was possible to grow fruit and vegetables in a tiny urban garden such as ours, so I decided to give it a go. Back then, I was the keen gardener; it’s very much Ade’s domain now ( he’s much better at it than me!) and I take care of all the cooking.
“I started with just tomatoes, and then the following year, 2011, I bought all manner of vegetable seeds with the aim of becoming more self-sufficient. I sowed all my seeds, watered them, nurtured them… and then suddenly had to go to Hungary for five months! I was working in the film industry at the time and, with a week’s notice, I was on a plane to do a shoot in Budapest, leaving Ade strict instructions to look after my precious seedlings.
“During my absence, he not only nurtured the plants to maturity, but became utterly obsessed with gardening, teaching himself everything there was to know about plants and even re-designing our patch. I returned home to an amazing harvest of home-grown veg and could barely recognise our stunning back garden!
“After a couple of years, we decided we needed more space to grow vegetables. In January 2014, Ade contacted the council to find out about getting an allotment. We expected to be stuck on a waiting list for months, but we got the call within the week, and when we went to visit the site, we were given a choice of three vacant plots. By the end of the month, we had our own allotment, and we set up our blog shortly after.”
“I love putting my hands into the warm earth; it’s therapeutic… Harvesting potatoes is like digging for treasure!” Ade
Ade: “I love putting my hands into the warm earth; it’s therapeutic. There’s nothing like harvesting potatoes; you never know what you’re going to find, it’s like digging for treasure!”
Sophie: “I love heading up to the plot in the height of summer and picking beautiful vegetables straight off the plant, which we’ll eat that evening. Fresh, seasonal, home-grown – you can’t beat it.”
When it goes wrong
Ade: “We’ve been quite lucky – we’ve had a good return on pretty much everything since we started growing our own, except for two years ago when we lost our entire onion crop to onion fly. But that’s gardening for you. You do your best but some things are outside of your control. Our pumpkins always grow really well, and Sophie uses them in everything – soups, salads, risottos, cakes, curries… even hot drinks! I love growing new things, so this year, I’m going to try to grow melons in the polytunnel.”
Sophie: “I sometimes struggle when there’s a veg glut. One Saturday last summer, about seven o’clock, I was pouring myself a glass of wine, looking forward to a relaxing evening, when Ade came through the door proudly brandishing eight broccoli. We still had two in the fridge from the previous week, so I immediately had to get them all blanched, dried and frozen, something that should be done straight after harvesting, so I couldn’t put it off for a day. I can’t say I was over-the-moon about it.
“I’ve become quite good at making chutney and we’re often offloading excess veg on our family and friends. We’ve become very popular with the neighbours.”
“I was a keen cook before we took on the plot, but I’m a better cook now, and much more resourceful. There’s very little food waste” Sophie
What we’ve learnt
Sophie: “I notice the seasons now, something I’d forgotten somewhere along the way. You just learn to appreciate Mother Nature more.
“I was a keen cook before we took on the plot, but I’m a better cook now, and much more resourceful. I plan menus days in advance in anticipation of what we’ll be harvesting and there’s very little food waste in our house.”
Ade: “I can’t recommend growing your own veg enough. It calms the mind, it keeps you fit, it’s kind to the environment and it saves you money – what’s not to love? Plus home-grown veg taste so much better than anything shop-bought. Some people doubt they’d have the time to tend an allotment, but if I can spend three hours a day commuting and still manage to look after a full plot and a garden, then I’m sure anyone can. Having said that, I’d recommend starting with a half plot to begin with.”
Our best advice
Ade: “If you are interested in taking on an allotment, contact your local council and see what the situation is. You might be lucky like us, and not have to wait. But even if you do have to wait, try growing things at home first. We still grow herbs and berries in our back garden, along with rhubarb, which we grow in pots. You can easily grow tomatoes on a sunny balcony, and a windowsill is great for herbs and microgreens.
“In January, when there was the big furore over the salad shortage because adverse weather conditions had affected supplies from Spain, Sophie planted some pea shoots ( pictured above) on the windowsill in our living room, and we were harvesting our own salad three weeks later.
“Don’t be discouraged if something fails, there’s always the following year to try it again. I’ve grown most vegetables by now, to be honest, but it’s always exciting to try something new. See what takes your fancy and give it a go!
“We’ve had our allotment for three years, and it has become such a central part of our lives. I jokily refer to it as my ‘fortress of solitude’ – it’s where I go when I want to escape the bustle of London life. It’s taught me so much, and I have a real passion for growing things now, something I wasn’t remotely interested in only a few years ago.
“Since taking on the allotment, we’ve launched an award-winning gardening and food blog, I’ve retrained in horticulture with the RHS at Capel Manor and Regent’s Park, and I’m now embarking on a new career in garden writing and photography. It’s totally changed my life and I love it!”