The start of something bigger

We follow the ventures of some new allotment holders as they move from starter plots to larger ones. Elaine Crick follows their progress.

From starters to mains

Elaine and Julia (aka Radio Derby’s The Potty Plotters) had the idea to create mini starter plots for people who hadn’t grown veg before but would find a large allotment daunting.

They took a neglected double allotment plot on the Ashbourne Road and District Allotments in Derby and with lots of help from the community created six little starter plots.

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These came complete with proper paths, picket fencing, tiny coloured sheds containing colour matching tools and also a communal seating area.

The idea of the plots was to give a taste of allotmenteering to people for one year, after which they leave. This series follows the allotmenteers from their starter plots to their larger ones.

The Howcrofts

The Howcrofts were the first family on to the Ashbourne Road and District Allotments Starter Plots Project, taking one of the six allocated plots in May 2019.

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It was their initiation into allotments – to tend their own little growing space on the site spanning more than 8½ acres hidden in the suburbs of Derby city.

The Howcrofts: mum and dad Sarah and Matt with daughters Amelie (10) and Grace (13) were inducted on to the site and once started on the ready-dug plot, never seemed to stop!

“The smaller plot has given us the opportunity to find out how much time we need to invest and to meet other plot-holders, and to discover if the site is right for us,” said Sarah as I interrupted the family busy picking produce.

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“It has given us all the ‘gardening bug’ and helped motivate us to deal with our now massive project,” said Sarah.

“We now feel ready to tackle the bigger plot having learnt from some of our mistakes (although I’m sure we’ll make quite a few more).” And as those words left her lips the family were shown to a new plot.

“I seem to remember saying ‘we like a challenge’ and ‘I love to dig’.

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Well the committee certainly listened! The fruit trees and bushes were a major draw for us, the apples in particular, and a shed!” said Sarah as she stood looking at the new plot.

A typical neglected plot but in September the Howcrofts took up the mantle leaving their starter plot behind them.

Gill and Wilson the Dog

Next off the blocks were Gill Black and Wilson (the dog!).

What of them? Said Gill about her starter plot: “The size of the starter plot made all the difference. A manageable working space so I could see how having an allotment could fit into my working week and family life before committing to a full size plot.

“I also made mistakes during planting and growing, but as these were on a smaller scale it was not so devastating as it might have been if I had been on a full-sized plot.”

Gill added: “It took about five minutes to feel that the starter plot belonged to me – we (Wilson and I) soon settled in.

“The flow of visitors from neighbouring starters and curious allotmenteers helped. Lots of people were eager to give advice and intrigued to watch our progress.

“Being part of the project gave me a rightful place on the allotment and proudly saying I was ‘one of the starters’ reduced expectation of my growing finesse – there is no doubt, allotmenteers are a proud bunch but in being labelled a beginner there was no shame in failed crops – it was a safe place to begin my growing future.”

So, what made Gill take her next plot? “Can’t help the way I’m made,” she smiled.

“No such thing as a clear decision! Many an evening I would walk around the allotments, gazing over fencing picturing myself on one.

“I casually asked about ‘Number 86’ (something about it drew me in). I liked the magic of the steps down into it – but when it was offered to me, I was unsure and scared of making a wrong decision.

“After lots of deliberation, visits and talking to practically anyone who would stop and listen (including experienced allotmenteers), I signed the tenancy. As soon as that was done, I rolled up my sleeves and made a start.

“No question, it’s the right place for Wilson and I. We both love it – any opportunity I have I doodle designs!”

Ingrid Preston

Two down, four to go? Actually, it hasn’t turned out that way.

Ingrid Preston working her plot on her own, decided that she did not want to move off until after the growing season.

Fair enough, no rush! Three down, three to go? No, not at all. Indicative of every site, one couple who took on a starter plot were evicted for none cultivation.

We class that as a success as we only have a small area to clear up rather than a full plot and importantly, the couple realised allotmenting was not for them.

Cas and Michael

Four down, two to go? Cas and Michael Joyce were next to graduate.

“As older allotmenteers it was a great help having a starter plot in restoring our confidence in growing and confirming we still had the energy and discipline to continue to a bigger plot.”

Initially, the Joyces were adamant they wanted the biggest plot that could be found but, after a year on their starter, worked out how much time they could afford to give allotmenting while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle.

Viewing their next plot was an exciting time. A large plot but a blank canvas for them.

“A central location, a water well, dry shed and perfect to develop the ideas we have for a family allotment,” said Michael.

“Perfect! We have been able to engage our grandchildren with our activities and the opportunity afforded by the scheme to be introduced to polytunnel cultivation is a great idea. We are sold!”

Mark and Helen

Five down, one to go! Mark and Helen were a very adventurous couple on their starter plot, creating a complete ‘mini allotment’ with not an inch to spare.

Succession planting even nudged in! “An experience we won’t forget,” said Mark as he was picking yet more kale.

“Lots of support and not at all what we expected but so pleased we did it,” he added.

As Mark and Helen viewed a plot at the back of the site with large shed, paths and fruit bushes, they signed up.

“We are looking forward to growing even more than we have this year,” said Helen.

“Our new plot even has an established apple tree,” Mark added and, having talked to all of the starter plotters, an air of excitement seemed to ripple through the site and nearby raspberries….“Does that make that a raspberry ripple?” thought Elaine as she wondered off with pen and paper in hand!

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Steve Ott
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