I’ve been allotment gardening since 2002 and for most of that time, I’ve tried to get the biggest possible crops and highest yields.
Somehow allotmenteers always seem to be very proud of sheer volume. My neighbours weigh everything they harvest so they can boast about how many kilos of everything they produce each year.
Then I got to thinking – why am I producing massive gluts of things? Sure, they taste okay, but if I concentrated on creating the best crop I could possibly get rather than the most, could I grow something that would not just be fodder, it would be an event, something to look forward to and celebrate? It might not last long, but that would make it all the more precious.
Out went the mass production of onions I could buy for 30p a kilo, runner beans that by the end of the season I couldn’t give away and anything advertised in the gardening catalogues as ‘heavy-cropping’ (because they couldn’t say it actually tasted good. We’re so obsessed with yield we overlook poor flavour, thinking that just because it’s home-grown, it’s good.)
I started looking either for foods that cost a fortune to buy or that I couldn’t buy at any price, not even Borough Market. Sweetcorn, to be eaten within 20 minutes of harvesting (the sugar turns to starch after that). Gariguette strawberries, low-yielding and easily squashed, but tasting of heaven. International Kidney potatoes, sold commercially as Jersey Royals – again, disappointingly low harvests but fabulous-tasting straight out of the soil.
I call it ‘event gardening’ as every crop is planned-for, cared-for and pined-for, then celebrated as it arrives, its short season an excuse for special meals, parties with friends and new recipes.
2015 was my first full year of Event Gardening. It coincided with a major project to raise every bed on my plot. I am on a very steep hill and all the soil, water – and goodness – used to slip down into my neighbour’s plot (the lady at the bottom is delighted; she gets everyone else’s fertility!) Crops were delayed, re-positioned and removed early to make way for construction work, but it was still my tastiest year ever – and this is despite the bog-awful weather we had.
I continued, honing and improving (with the odd backslide, cough) in 2016 and now look forward to whatever 2017 will bring…
I recommend it heartily.