National Allotment Week 2022 has arrived, and this year's theme of ‘Bugs, Bees and Brocolli’ emphasises the importance of gardening with nature in mind.
It seems that more and more of us are becoming conscious of how and where our food and flowers are grown and harvested. National Allotment Week 2022 recognises that allotments are home to a complex network of insects, micro-organisms, fungi and plants which work side by side to allow nature to flourish. This is a far cry from the industrially farmed, chemically treated areas of land which produce so much of the world's food.
This week, we’ve been chatting to Jo, the proud founder of FarmStand, a UK initiative that strives to connect people with local food producers growing delicious, seasonal fruit and vegetables. Sharing with us her own gardening journey, Jo gives us her top tips for living and gardening with nature in mind. She also explains why more and more people are turning to local suppliers or their own gardens for their supply of fruit and vegetable.
Hey Jo! Tell us a bit about yourself, and your business FarmStand…
Hi, I'm Jo and I’m the creator of FarmStand. I live in Sussex with my rescue dog Tilly and a menagerie of chickens. I recently moved from suburbia where I had a thriving roadside stall selling eggs, plants and surplus produce from the garden. When I moved to the countryside, I created another roadside produce stall but it wasn’t getting as many sales, primarily because local people simply didn’t know about it. I wanted to create an easy way for local people to find delicious homegrown produce to buy in their area so I created FarmStand! FarmStand is an online directory connecting local food producers with residents. FarmStand is for anyone who loves to shop for local, seasonal and delicious food. Simply sign up to the website, enter your postcode and you can view a map of all the roadside stalls selling produce in your area.
How has gardening impacted your life?
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember. My first memories are of following my grandmother sowing peas in neat rows and going out in summer rain showers armed with a bucket, hunting for snails. Recently, gardening has been an important source of therapy. My grandmother passed away at the start of last year. She was a great inspiration to me. Her passing was very difficult but it helped that I could continue to care for the garden that she was so dedicated to for over 30 years.
This year, the National Allotment Society has emphasized the importance of gardening with nature in mind. What are your top tips for living and gardening in harmony with nature?
Be lazy. I know that may sound like strange advice for someone who spends so much time gardening but it’s truly the best thing for wildlife and you too. Don’t have time to mow your lawn? Leave areas to grow with just paths cut between them so you can get from A to B. Got weeds in your veg beds? Who cares, allowing a few weeds in your bed won't do your veggies much harm. Just remember to cut the heads off once they’ve finished flowering so they don’t go to seed. A plant with an infestation of aphids may look alarming to you, but to a hungry ladybug, it’s a buffet! Allowing a few pests this year will mean you have more predatory species around to eat them next year.”
What do you think people can gain from starting an allotment or getting involved with their local community garden or allotment?
The perfect garden is the garden that nurtures your mind, body and spirit. It’s a source of wellbeing, exercise and delicious, healthy food. It can also be a great way to meet new people with a shared interest. I have lots of friends whom I would never have met were it not for gardening.
Why do you think more and more people are opting to buy produce from local sellers, allotments and farms?
With all the uncertainty surrounding food shortages, limited access to shops and the connection to food and health, it’s no wonder that we’re all being a lot more mindful about where our food comes from. Food security is a word that I have seen being used a lot recently. It can sound alarming but I don’t think it needs to. Food security is just about knowing where your food comes from, how you can get it and how you can support those producers so that they are there when you need them.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to start growing their fruit and veg?
Start small. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or disappointed when you suffer setbacks like drought, pests and diseases. Begin by growing some lettuce or runner beans in your back garden or start a herb planter on your windowsill. If you want to get started on an allotment, see if there are any half or quarter plots available. Or try starting an allotment with a friend so you can share the responsibility of watering and weeding. Community gardens are a great way to learn without having to be solely responsible for a plot too. And they are a great way to make friends!
Don’t be tempted to buy lots of tools and gadgets when you first start out. Invest in high-quality equipment that will last. Water capture is very important if you have an allotment, as hosepipe bans are becoming more and more common. So buy the biggest water butt you can afford and sit it next to a shed or greenhouse to catch every drop of rainwater you can. Join a seed swapping group near you. These aren't just a great source of seeds but advice and guidance too. Many groups offer tool loaning schemes so you can crack on without a lot of upfront costs.