This time last year, I was being very gently guided to accept responsibility for looking after a patch of soil on the Hub at Woodseats Allotments. I was reticent to say the least, hesitant to take it on due to my existing gardening credentials. That is to say, I categorised myself as an aspirational gardener only.
I had been a Home Gardener since the summer before, excited to be part of the Woodseats Allotment Hub and part of this lovely group of people who had encouraged me to participate in their Open Day, willow coppicing and wreath-making, and welcomed me with open arms as a non-gardener who wanted to be One Of Them. Eventually, I tentatively accepted the offer of looking after one of the Starter Beds on the Hub and invited my good friend and neighbour to share the challenge with me. We started planning what we could do with our borrowed piece of earth.
And then 2020 happened.... so tending our new allotment bed became tending our new allotment bed during Covid. Having nothing to compare this to, it may well have had the same outcome as far as the plants are concerned but the big difference has probably been the fact that during the strangest, most stressful and most isolating of times, being invited to be part of the Allotment Hub has brought me so much - friendship, time in the open air, being part of a team, and also some beans.
The start of the year was exceedingly wet. Remember Storms Ciara and Dennis? That was how 2020 started. The soil being far too wet to do anything with, we tried to get stuck in, digging over and pulling out rocks. I soon learnt that wellies get pulled off in thick, wet clay.
As Spring was approaching, my fellow plotter and I invested in seeds, bulbs, seed potatoes, and anything that looked vaguely growable and began to plan how we would lay out the bed. Our daughters also got involved helping to dig, pull up weeds and plan. We started off our seeds at home and basically kept fingers crossed. The girls also diligently planted sunflowers in pots and spring bulbs for some early colour to spur us on.
And then Covid-19 struck. This meant gardening at good socially-distanced measures - the length of a couple of spades would fortuitously do it or 14 and a half goldcrests according to the handy RSPB guide to social distancing. This has not changed much over the past eight months of course but we gradually found our groove (or furrow?), and slowly but surely we began to move our burgeoning baby plants into our patch and the wonderful polytunnels.
We planted seed potatoes, onions, beetroot, kale, cauliflower and courgette in our patch, and tomatoes, cucumbers, chili and lettuce in our allocated slot in the polytunnel. Thanks to donated runner bean seedlings, we also had beans - many, many beans... and, invited to be part of the watering rota, we became part of the team proper with the welcome responsibility of a weekly visit to help keep all the other wonderful crops on the Hub in good health.
On our Starter Bed, we had some growing success, but have lots and lots and lots to learn still. The plot looked amazing for a while - lush and green and exciting compared to where we started at least. We had limited success with potatoes, beetroot, cucumber and onions; no success whatsoever with tomatoes and cauli; and huge success with beans and courgettes - and happily were in a position to donate some excess produce to the amazing collection for Sheffield Foodworks, cranking up that feel-good factor.
Fast forward to the end of season and the plot has been emptied and we have begun to dig it over again, with seeds ordered for next year and many thoughts of how to improve on this year's results.
We have had some smaller wins: beans and courgettes. And we have had some big wins: during this difficult and testing year, I have had a link to nature; advice, friendship and support from knowledgeable, caring and dynamic fellow-hubsters; and opportunities to partake in the wonderfully inventive and generous Allotment stalls that have raised literally hundreds of pounds for charity during lockdown. It has been a real joy to be welcomed into this family of green-fingered friends and spend time in a quiet oasis of calm, bird-song and trees. Thank you.
(There was also the horror of the dead rat in the potato patch, but maybe that is for another time).