“I am a total beginner; I have never grown anything before but have managed to keep some house plants alive for a couple of years!” So read one application for our Vegetable Growing Course for Beginners which is now in its second year.

The original aim of the Course was to provide tuition in growing a dozen basic vegetables, such as lettuces, beans and potatoes. Each student has a bench in the communal polytunnel for seed sowing and potting on their seedlings, and their own mini-plot for planting out their crops. We meet weekly, socially distanced, on Sunday mornings but students are free to visit their mini-plots at any time. Due to the enthusiasm of both the leaders and students, we have increased our list to twenty-five vegetables including celeriac, sweetcorn and peppers. 

Our team of leaders has a great enthusiasm for allotment gardening, and we all embrace the no-dig approach to growing popularised by Charles Dowding.  Charles has written many books and provides a wealth of information on both his website and Youtube channel. He is based across the border in Somerset and his ideas for smallholding/allotment gardening are well suited to our situation.

Simply put, we don’t dig the soil but add muck and compost to the surface, thereby encouraging soil life to develop below with minimal disturbance. We encourage organic gardening with the emphasis on feeding and improving the soil structure.  ‘Hands-Face-Space’ has been a mantra for the last two years and our mantra, perhaps less catchy, is ‘Soil-Plants-Us’. Feed the soil, which will feed the plants, which will feed us! 

As part of our organic approach, we avoid the use of chemical fertilizers, weedkillers and insecticides.

Much has been written about the benefits of allotment growing in terms of physical and mental health, but the Course has shown not only these benefits but also the camaraderie brought about by working together to a common purpose. Although each student has a dedicated area to garden we have found that they are using their particular skills and interests for the benefit of all and this includes propagating the more difficult seeds, developing the polytunnel area for indoor crops, and building a scarecrow!

I am sure that the students would not now classify themselves as expert growers as there is always so much to learn. However, they do feel confident about progressing to looking after their own allotments next season.

instagramThe article started with the content of one beginner’s application to join the course. You can judge her progress by looking at her @my_mini_plot Instagram account (click on logo) where the regular weekly entries chart her progress from the start of the Course in late February and include sowing and planting techniques, successes and failures, and harvests and tastings of her own organically produced veg.