National Allotments Week – PhD wellbeing

It’s National Allotments Week here in the UK, a celebration of all things green (and purple, orange and yellow)! DTP student and instagram blogger Rachel (@rachels.allotment), is here to talk about the range of benefits you can get from growing your own.

Rachel measuring her sunflower height for her weekly instagram competition

For those unaware, it’s National Allotments Week and time to celebrate this quintessentially British pastime! Allotments are small plots of land made available to individuals or groups for the purpose of growing fruit and vegetables.

World War II ‘Dig for victory’ poster

During the World Wars these gardens helped garner a great community spirit with the ‘dig for victory’ slogan, and helped to provide much needed produce for strictly-rationed families. However, a recent study from the University of Sheffield (Dobson et al. 2020) found that there has been a 62% decline in allotment land since 2016, despite an approximate 100,000 people on waiting lists across the UK.

One thing that can be said about 2020 is that it has been a year we won’t forget! Quarantine forced us to spend more time in our homes and, consequently, to reevaluate our hobbies and what we get up to in our downtime. Official statistics have shown that 45% of Britons have coped with lockdown by gardening (ONS, 2020), whether it’s basil on a windowsill or chucking leftover sprouted potatoes in a pot in the garden. Either way, it certainly looks like gardening is making a big comeback!

Rachel painting an old bench at the allotment

For me, although I’ve grown plants at work as a Plant Biologist and throughout my Masters, I properly got into gardening when I moved to Sheffield. With the fantastic green spaces around, I grew to appreciate the outdoors even more. I started my allotment in Spring 2019 and I’ve gradually made it into my little haven!

It’s been a fantastic place to escape to during lockdown, even weeding has been a welcome distraction. This year I have grown a range of veg from broad beans to sweetcorn to pumpkins, made DIY planters from old pallets and made countless crumbles with homegrown fruit. Even when work may not be going my way, it’s been crucial having such a fulfilling outlet.

My top 5 benefits of having an allotment:

  1. Exercise: after a couple of hours digging, bending and twisting you’re sure to feel muscles you never realised you had the next day.
  2. Mental health: A fantastic quote by Audrey Hepburn is “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” and it couldn’t be truer. We all need time to relax and gardening can be incredibly therapeutic and watching plants grow can be very fulfilling.
  3. Community: as I found at the beginning of lockdown, there is a massive gardening community out there and even if everything goes wrong, someone will be able to help you out! I’ve taken part in postal seed swaps on Instagram, I’ve given away spare plants outside my house and I’ve donated extra food to friends and neighbours.
  4. Food: simple as that – grow your own food! Produce veg varieties often far tastier and fresher than in the supermarkets. This reduces the food miles travelled but can also save you a lot of money by eating things you grow and only in season.
  5. Routine: something we all need a bit of this year. It’s been challenging just getting out of my pyjamas some days during quarantine, let alone work 9-5. So it’s definitely been nice to feel productive by ticking off little things from the allotment to-do list.

    A very colourful allotment harvest!

If you’re interested in getting an allotment, check out your local council website to join the waiting list. And remember, whatever the season there’s something you can grow, so get planting!