The Brabourne and Smeeth allotments are situated off Lees Road behind the new bungalows and the former Plough Inn. The allotment site has wonderful views. The soil is light but excellent crops are produced each year, root crops, asparagus, soft fruit and squashes do well.

The suggestion to create an allotment site came from residents of the Parish. Initially 22 people signed up for an allotment. The Allotment Society currently has 35 members working 40 plots. This year for the first time all of the available plots are occupied and we have a waiting list. The turnover in members since the start of the project indicates that the commitment required in terms of time is not obvious until you actually start work on your plot.

Over the past 10 years members of the Allotment Society, with the support of the Parish Council, have put up sheds and security fences, installed a water supply around the site, created a wild flower patch, planted 28 trees along the perimeter, set up a composting system and maintained and repaired machinery and buildings.

The site is surrounded by open country and it should come as no surprise that we all share our plots with rabbits, badgers, foxes, mice and probably deer. It is interesting to see the individual responses to these visitors. Some folks let the little creatures share in nature’s bounty and allow them to roam and munch; other plot holders try to confuse them away from produce by planting richly-scented herbs and/or bright flowers – while the rest of us put up rabbit fences. Each to his or her own!

If you are interested in ‘The Good Life’ contact the Parish Clerk, Tracey on 01233 750415 or email clerk@brabournepc.org.uk, or committee member Colin MacPhee on colinmacphee4@btinternet.com

Keeping an Allotment

Have you thought about having an allotment? Do you dream of fresh vegetables and fruit picked in the morning and eaten for lunch? Do you dream of lazy days quietly hoeing your onion row watching butterflies visiting blossom and listening to the birds singing their songs? Many people do and have taken up the challenge with enthusiasm and expectation.

Research has shown that having an allotment has many benefits. There follows an extract from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Gardening is good for you and allotment gardening offers additional benefits that help to ameliorate loneliness and enable citizens to contribute to society, especially beyond retirement. Hundreds of allotment holders volunteer on their association committee and give up precious time, helping to manage and maintain sites. Even on a site with no allotment association plot-holders are part of a community of likeminded people, many of whom are eager to share their knowledge and spare produce. The social contact offered by gardening in an allotment environment helps to combat the lack of social capital embodied by loneliness, which has the equivalent risk to health as consuming 15 cigarettes daily and is twice as harmful as obesity.

Contact with nature
Working a plot year-round means that allotment holders experience the seasons, witness the behaviour of birds, insects and other animals and gain an understanding of the eco-system. This appreciation of the natural world also has the potential to inspire more environmentally aware behaviour by themselves and their children.

In 2018 the UK Government produced a 25 Year Environment Plan, which acknowledges that connecting people to their environment will also improve their health and well-being. A study in the Netherlands showed that every 10 per cent increase in exposure to green space translated into an improvement in health equivalent to being five years younger, with similar benefits found by studies in Canada and Japan.

Mental well being
There is a growing awareness of the role that gardening plays in both preventing and alleviating mental ill-health. Many allotment gardeners will tell you that a spell on the plot nurturing plants and contemplating nature makes them feel calmer and more hopeful and there have been recent studies that have measured this benefit.

Sense of achievement
As many new plot-holders discover, growing vegetables requires acquiring new knowledge and skills and the satisfaction gained from eating their first home grown tomato or new potato makes them taste even more delicious!

Healthy activity
The physical benefits of regular spells of gardening help plot-holders to keep fit even if they have sedentary jobs, the physical exercise also contributes to their mental wellbeing. Gardening can also help to maintain good gait and balance in older gardeners and help with cognitive decline.

Spending as little as 15 minutes a day out in the summer sunshine can build up your levels of vitamin D, if you are fair skinned. And for those whose skin is naturally darker, anywhere up to 90 minutes of sun exposures will help your vitamin levels.

However, gardeners do need to be aware of skin cancer risks. Melanoma is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and on the rise. So make sure that you dress appropriately and wear sunscreen on exposed areas.

Fresh, local, seasonal produce
If managed properly, an allotment can produce enough food to supplement a family’s weekly shop, with fresh fruit and vegetables over the year. Allotment gardeners can choose to garden organically and avoid ingesting chemicals that are likely to be present on shop bought fruit and vegetables.

In a survey of National Allotment Society members nearly every person said their love of allotment gardening comes from the fresh air, home grown produce, healthy lifestyle and like-minded people this activity offers

On the Brabourne and Smeeth allotment site there are now 40 plots operating, with a waiting list. When the society started, it was decided that local people would only want “half allotments” and so plots measuring 20m by 6m were duly marked out. It transpires that some have taken over a second allotment to reach full size and provide food for their families throughout the year.

Tractor digging new allotments

Basic foods in the supermarket, such as potatoes and carrots, are reasonably priced so on an allotment these days it is well worth growing the more exotic vegetables that you might love such as asparagus. Imagine eating asparagus or strawberries every day for about six weeks! I love cooking Indian food so I grow as many of the ingredients that I can, such as tomatoes, spinach, chillis, coriander, onions and garlic. Tomatoes stored in our freezer are perfect for making the sauces that are the basis of many dishes.

Eating vegetables from your allotment and therefore seasonal vegetables reminds you of life before food arrived in aeroplanes or lorries from miles away. In winter you enjoy a wide range, from the cabbage (brassica) family and roots such as turnip and celeriac, while in summer you can grow all those gorgeous salads. Keep a little space to grow a row or two of flowers for cutting. There is nothing like the scent of sweet peas and roses or the splash of colour of gladioli and alstroemerias to make you smile and brighten up your home home.

Lupins

Well, that’s the rosy side! The pioneers at Brabourne and Smeeth had to dig their plots out of the turf that had been untouched for decades which was hard work. Fortunately for those taking on previously used plots, they will not have to face this. Even cultivated plots rapidly slide into decline if not regularly attended. This is particularly obvious come mid-winter when some gardeners emerge from hibernation on a sunny day to start rehabilitation of now very overgrown plots.

Few keep on top of things throughout the autumn and winter. Keeping an allotment requires regular attention and you need to be prepared to face up to and tackle many challenges such as drought, moles, caterpillars, fungal attack, carrot fly, onion fly, cut worms, leatherjackets, badgers, pheasants, pigeons and so on. To fight many of these invaders, gardeners build elaborate enclosures. You may see children’s “windmills” attempting to frighten off the moles which are a real issue. Moles undermine your plants, depriving them of water and good anchorage.

Allotment Society scarecrow

Those dedicated to their gardens put up with all this, even laugh about it. We share anecdotes about our problems and how we tackle them. It’s all smiles because in spite of the toils and the challenges, we are out in the fresh air doing something worthwhile and living off the fruits of our labours.