Think growing your own food is a walk in the park? Unfortunately this isn’t the case.
I wrote recently about the 21 benefits to having an allotment and growing your own. I extolled the virtues and great experiences you gain as a result of growing your own food. What I failed to mention is that it’s not all sweetness and light, or sunshine and cool breezes.
For all the positives that having an allotment and growing your own brings there are also downsides. There is no gain without pain and unfortunately this goes for you and your allotment. Growing your own food is hard work, enjoyable hard work. But hard work nonetheless.
So in the spirit of being fair and keeping the balance lets look at the downsides to having an allotment and growing your own.
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No matter how focused you are on keeping your plot weed free you will not stop weeds creeping in. Your allotment neighbours might choose to allow weeds in among their crops. Most allotments have grass paths between plots.
Grass is a b*gger for making its way to places you don’t want it to go. It’s a constant battle and you have to be ever vigilant to keep weeds under control.
Allotments are all about re-using and re-purposing. There seems to be an unwritten rule with having an allotment is to re-use endlessly the array of different items you find discarded around your home and garden.
This means you keep everything in case it comes in handy for something later. Which is all very well but you end up with a collection of odds and ends cluttering up the place. Bits of:
- half rotten carpet
- old tyres
- pots in all shapes and sizes
- bamboo canes
- pallets and wood
- glass and perspex
- yogurt pots
Neat and pristine your allotment is not. More like a hoarders garden!
Every which way
Everybody does things their own way. No matter how much you can read about sowing a crop you’ll get yourself into a tizz about which is the best way.
Depending on what you read and who you talk to you end up with completely contrasting advice. Then you have those people who can’t help saying “oh you do it that way do you?”
The books you read, the packets you buy and the friends you know will tell you when to plant different crops. But the weather in the UK is very different depending on whether you are down south, up north or somewhere in between.
In America you have zones which might make things slightly easier but I bet it doesn’t in reality. You might get away with sowing seeds in April one year but it will be far too early the very next year.
Each year is a law unto itself. And it doesn’t have the decency to tell you what this year’s law is!
Eating according to the seasons
Sounds lovely doesn’t it, eating according to the seasons? Well yes, but ye gods, you can get too much of a good thing. Courgettes/zucchini or runner beans or anything else.
You propagate enough plants to take account of failures. You plan a couple of extras to account for pests. Then they start growing and go mad. Being the frugal soul that you are you don’t want to waste the crops that you have lovingly tended.
But how many times can you eat runner beans in one week? They don’t freeze well so it’s use ’em, bin ’em or give them away. We didn’t grow runner beans at all last year as we completely overdosed on them the previous year!
Yes I know I mentioned this as one of the positives. It is a positive but sometimes it’s a downright negative. I enjoy a friendly battle with the weather but sometimes it feels like a full on war. When it doesn’t stop raining for what seems like months it gets depressing.
When you plot turns to a mud bath in the rain because you have clay soil you don’t always see the positive. The beans you planted just a little too early getting decimated by a very late frost is not fun.
Blisters and backaches
The exercise one gets working an allotment is great. The backache as a result of all that exercise not so great. Those first few digging sessions after a short winter break are especially painful.
Then you’ve got the inevitable blisters as a result of digging and planting your baby plants. Wearing your gardening gloves can reduce those blisters but how many times do you forget to wear them until its too late?
Supervising small children
Children love gardening. They especially love digging things up. Problem is it’s usually your lovely new plants they chose to dig up. Trying to supervise small children and still accomplishing anything is a real challenge and often ends in failure.
If you can give them a bit of space to call their own this might help. But they’ll still want to dig up your plants to put in their space!
Challenges are great but sometimes I am not just not up for them. We all love a good challenge but it can get wearing being challenged week after week. Why can’t you just catch a break sometimes? Why can’t you just have that sweetness and light feeling all the time?
Having dealt with the negatives and positives of your growing season you then get to harvest your crops. And this is when the hard work really starts. Do you know how blinking hard it is to wash dodgy shaped parsnips? What about carrots with 5 feet? A million plums which may or may not have had bird poop on them?
3 hours later and the idea of eating the freshly washed veg has gone and all you want is a pepperoni pizza.
At the start of the season you may be able to pick just enough for that nights dinner. To top and tail a few runner beans is no big deal. Later in the season you may be picking 5lbs of beans or 9 cucumbers at a time. As for those courgettes/zucchinis, why can you never find them all until they are enormous marrows?!
Processing your harvest takes a lot longer than the time you spend on the allotment. And its after you’ve already been there so you’re kinda tired. You are not always up for 3 hours chopping, blanching and freezing.
Preserving your life away
Making chutneys, jams and pickles takes sooo much time! If you are working, the idea of spending 5 hours chopping, prepping, stirring and bottling your produce does not always appeal.
If you didn’t have a backache from working the allotment you may well get one from standing for 5 hours stirring chutney.
And the winner is
So there you have it, 12 downsides to having an allotment and growing your own. Versus 21 benefits. On balance I firmly come down on the side of having an allotment and growing your own. The positives absolutely outweigh the negatives. I just wish there weren’t any negatives.
I’m all for an easy life, just can’t seem to find it!
Am I right to be negative about growing your own food? Should I be a bit more positive about these aspects of owning an allotment?