Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Community gardens in the UK

Britain has an impressively well-developed tradition of community gardens, or as the British term them, "allotments."

In the UK for another family visit, I was able to spend an hour touring allotments in South Wales with some family members. I've wanted some good pictures of the UK allotment system for a while, to show to our sustainable agriculture students, but also for my own interest. I was really pleased to take this tour.

This is an award-winning allotment system in Abertillery, in the county of Blaenau Gwent. Apparently every year it wins the regional award for the best system.

Pictured are my cousin David Womersley and his wife Beverly and their particular allotment patch, which provides food for Salvation Army activities. David is the local Captain of the Salvation Army.

While we were touring, a student group from the local primary school came through. Earlier they had had a work day and planted some seeds; now Beverly was showing them how the seeds had grown.

Not unlike our own Unity College activities with "Veggies for All" and the local primary school, led by Sarah Trunzo.

British allotment gardening differs from American community gardening in that organic methods are usually not used. Allotments are associated with industrial towns, and really large quantities of manure have not been easily available for many generations. There would have been a time in Abertillery that manure from Welsh pit ponies (used to drag coal carts underground) and other draft horses would have been easily available.

Here in the US, particularly on our own farm, but also in the UC Community Gardens, we have large quantities of manure and other compost inputs, but that's at least partly because we also have relatively easy access to tilling machinery and pick-up trucks and the like. If the only way to get manure to a community garden was in the back of a small car or in 50 pound bags, perhaps we'd consider artificial fertilizer, or at least more concentrated organic inputs such as cottonseed meal would be used.

David and Beverly compost plant wastes and reincorporate them, but they don't add a lot of organic matter from outside. Instead they use artificial fertilizer.

Another difference is that American community gardens typically used the raised bed system, a variant on the "French Intensive" or biodynamic system.

British allotments tend to have plants in rows.

We used to use only the raised bed system on our own farm, but recently I've found myself planting in rows with a string for a guide, the way my grandfather, a Yorkshire master gardener and long-time allotment holder, taught me. It's just easier to weed and to work and even to plant. I've decided that while raised bed yields can be higher, the yield per unit work is higher when using rows.

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