With thanks to Kelly Wickham for the words and Christian Doyle for the pictures.
With what can only be described as a tough year with abysmal weather, growing produce has been something of an experiment for amateurs and a challenge for the experienced.
I made my way to The Priory Road allotments and met Mike de Lara, an allotment holder for ten years. The weather was Baltic, with a chill in the air and icy winds whipping across the baron fields, but he greeted me with a smile, enthusiastic to talk about growing produce.
Mike stood in the middle of a bare patch next to a huge pumpkin, only to inform me that it was around 20kgs and the ones he usually grows are between 40-50kg! Mike runs his allotment as a way to keep fit, “I can’t get motivated to go to the gym, and this is as good as any other form of exercise! I’ve been here for ten years” he explained. “It costs me about £150 a year for the plot and my wife estimates that saves us about £1800 a year in supermarket bills.”
The allotment plots are hand dug every November and then lightly raked in spring to form a good seed bed. Mike is involved in the Arundel Food Festival to help encourage those looking to start an allotment or new owners of one. “It completes the picture, offering people a chance to see the produce being grown. It’s been a very difficult year with the weather though, and it’s been slug heaven!”
Despite only a few people turning up, due to the cold weather, Mike is still passionate about talking to keen growers, “Be patient. Don’t expect perfect results with your produce the first time you try. You learn with experience” he explained, “Remember that no one site is perfect for every crop, just look around here at what the farmers grow in the fields. And, obviously you can tolerate produce which isn’t supermarket quality!”
The atmosphere was perfect, as Mike combined his enthusiasm of keeping an allotment with the visitors turning up wishing to learn more, and the real experience of being out and seeing the plots and produce for real made it every inch the success.