"Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?"
June 3, 2008 2:41 AM   Subscribe

huzzah for gardening! thanks for this, nthdegx (& nice post title) - that Channel 4 article was a fun little read - their description of a compost toilet as a hot pot of ingenuity was quite the chuckle

for any Yanks who might be interested in getting yours, check out the American Community Garden Association - and if there isn't any available near you there's always guerrilla style
posted by jammy at 3:45 AM on June 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

We're in Tower Hamlets, and applied for an allotment at Stepping Stones Farm, (reputedly the former site of King John's Palace, and there are still ruins visible) which is less than a five minute walk from our flat. I've been living in The East End almost eight years now, and still think it rather surrealistic that in postal code E1, Zone 2, Central London, I can hear chickens crowing, smell cow manure and see pigs rooting about in mud.

Currently we're growing tomatoes, beans and pepper (cucumbers all got eaten by something that we can hear thrashing about at night in our garden) in very large pots. Looks like a good crop, but we're eager to try expand.

We're somewhat concerned about the quality of the dirt as Home Check mentions "past industrial use" so we're gonna spring for a soil test once we get our plot.

Of course there's always raised beds, but I'm an American farm boy, and wanna put my fingers into English dirt. Ain't natchural otherwise.

Great post! Allotments are cool.
posted by Mutant at 3:46 AM on June 3, 2008

Thanks nthdegx!

I checked for availability in my borough but alas:

Currently there are over 600 people on the waiting list and the waiting time is estimated to be well over ten years. We write to everyone on the list at the beginning of the year to confirm their interest and position on the list.
posted by vacapinta at 3:57 AM on June 3, 2008

Not for me, we have a small side yard and I hate dealing with that. I moved to the city to escape dirt.
posted by octothorpe at 4:18 AM on June 3, 2008

This, from the first link, is the bit I'm really intrigued by:

"Technically, if six qualifying residents get together and write to their council requesting allotment space, then the council is bound to find it.

"As always, there are exceptions. The act covers England and Wales but not Scotland and a later law made inner city London exempt. Having said that, the Greater London Authority has a website to help people find their nearest plots in the city."
posted by nthdegx at 4:25 AM on June 3, 2008

That's a nice bunch of resources, cheers! I've been intrigued by allotments for a while. But says the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society audit on allotments: "At least 3,000 people are on waiting lists". Alas and alack.

Allotment allocation has this mysterious air about it for some reason. Perhaps allotments were inherited, or getting one involved a secret handshake and bribes with seedlings, for example. Consider me demystified.
posted by eponymouse at 4:56 AM on June 3, 2008

About 5 years ago I got my allotment and put my masterplan into operation.

I would take all of my national trust membership magazines, hiking boots, organic vegetable delivery boxes, indie-hipster muesli cartons, moleskine notebooks, adult education course pamphlets and handouts for local folk nights down to it and make a steaming compost heap of middle class affectation.

In the early spring of 2002 I started transporting the ingredients from my home to the allotment. At first I did it at the weekends and after work. Then, when it became clear that my plan was working I began to get paranoid. By winter '03 I only fed the heap at night lest I be found out. God knows who I feared. Friends? Co-workers? And, had they stumbled upon me struggling along Barlow Moor Road with a wheelbarrow full of Pilates flyers, would they have thought any less of me? Probably not.

By Christmas that year (which would have been the last Christmas I spent with my family), the heap was 5 feet in diameter and maybe 4 feet tall. I estimate that by that point I'd carted over 3 tonnes of material over to it in my little plastic wheelbarrow. That November had been a good month - a small web agency in Manchester had folded and I'd managed to score around 300 ironic t-shirts they'd made to promote themselves. Might have been a kind of tipping point actually. That and the microbrewery foreclosure.

Sometimes I'd rest my hand on the heap and feel the organic warmth. Sometimes I'd rub some between my fingers, often surprised by its density. More often than not though I'd just stare at it. It seemed to throb. Could have been my heartbeat though.

In 2004 I gingerly started experimenting - leaving a pinch here, a pinch there at first, but that rapidly spiraled. I tried to remain detached; empirical but, Christ, who was I kidding? I was drunk on power.

At least in '04 I was only experimenting on myself.

I'd take maybe a couple of shovels-full of the mulch and sprinkle a little of it over everything i did. The effects were profound, brilliant and, almost instant.

The first and most obvious thing was the clothes. I'm pretty much always out of fashion now - except the other way. Makes a hell of a difference. I was worried at first. Thought maybe my legs were expanding. I was looking in the mirror, terrified. I actually said out loud "How can your legs swell ironically?" Turns out it was just the jeans getting smaller. Drainpipes. fuck me. I almost would have preferred it to be some grotesque deformity.

The only physiological clues to my affliction were that one of my eyebrows was slightly higher than the other and my smile slightly lopsided. Basically I either looked like I was joking or taking things too seriously. Which worked out well because that's exactly what i was. I also spontaneously developed a nose ring some time in the middle of 2005 - but I think that was an outlier, statistically speaking.

Oh yeah, and this Post Modern Compost didn’t work with food. Which in itself is ironic. Which I urge you not to think about too much because it almost induces a nosebleed in me when I do. Food, and to a certain degree sex, are about the only things I’ve found that are impervious to its effects.

It got out of control with Ricky Gervais. I loved that guy when he was on the 11 O'Clock Show. I was talking about him in the pub with my mates (who were all amateur photographers), and I think that The Office was green-lighted around about a month later. Pretty soon he was the saviour of comedy.

The Coen Brothers. That was me. And The West Wing. I was proud at first. But then I realised that that was pretty redundant. I've just always liked witty dialogue. I know you think you do too. I'm just saying, in actual fact, you probably don't.

It became too much to bear in the end so I loaded it all into the VW Camper that I don't remember buying and drove it up into the Penines. Dumped it up on Saddleworth Moor somewhere. It seemed to be secluded enough although I did notice that property values have increased there a little against all expectations. Low-level leaching, I suppose. I hadn’t thought about it in months until I saw this post. The cycle, I suppose is complete.
posted by Jofus at 5:16 AM on June 3, 2008 [15 favorites]

We have the shittiest garden soil in the world. It's like sand. It is sand, mainly, the part of it that isn't broken glass and old nails. I would not walk on it barefooted.

And still we get peas and carrots and cucumbers and tomatoes and beans and herbs and beautiful flowers. Bees and birds visit. People walking by admire it.

Grow stuff. It isn't hard.
posted by pracowity at 5:16 AM on June 3, 2008

Allotment essential.
posted by Abiezer at 5:30 AM on June 3, 2008

Oooh, thanks for this post - I've recently got some ground from my local council that used to be allotments many, many years ago. It's currently waist high with weeds and needs clearing before I can start to grow things, but I can't wait to see what I can do with it.
posted by TheDonF at 5:43 AM on June 3, 2008

I love the way allotments tend to have pop bottles filled with mysterious liquid. My guess is that is "readily available household compost activator".
posted by srboisvert at 6:04 AM on June 3, 2008

I wonder how often garden space gets vandalized or trampled. That's my first thought hearing about a plot in a semi-public area that's not overseen well.
posted by chips ahoy at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2008

Most of the time, little or nothing is stolen or destroyed. Otherwise gardeners would not keep going.
posted by pracowity at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2008

I've always been interested in the German Schrebergarten and how different it is from the American garden or U.K. allotment. In quintessential German fashion, they even have a federal law (German only) governing Schrebergartens. The gardens are named after Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber, although the term "Schrebergarten" apparently was not used until after his death. Nothing says "I'm back in Germany" more to me than seeing Schrebergartens from the train - well, OK, there is bier, too, and wursts, pommes, kuchen, fresh brotchen, and .......... :)
posted by webhund at 8:58 AM on June 3, 2008

They call them działki in Poland.
posted by pracowity at 10:05 AM on June 3, 2008

When I was traveling around England in the early '90s, I would spot people working in their allotments from my train window and was pretty fascinated.

Portland, OR has a great community garden program. I took part in it last year. I was pretty surprised to just get a plot right away, as I assumed there would be a wait list.
posted by medeine at 11:50 AM on June 3, 2008

I'm on Camden Council's allotment waiting list... I've got to wait 15 years.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:38 PM on June 3, 2008

There are very few things Bradford council do right, but allotments is one of those things. The waiting list is huge despite the massive numbers of them. My name is down for a particular site rather than just any old one because I don't drive, and this one is easiest to wheelbarrow tools back and forth from. Trouble is, most of the people on that site are surprisingly young. I may have to do a surprise attack with a trowel if I'm ever to get one.
posted by vbfg at 1:58 AM on June 4, 2008

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