Angela Lawrence, Associate Dean, Staffordshire Business School
I’ve learnt a lot this year – I’ve learnt never to throw away an eggshell, that there is a use for the cardboard middle of toilet rolls and that people chuck out a lot of stuff that you can make good use of. I’ve discovered that the circular economy as a concept can infiltrate many aspects of our lives and that we can all incorporate it into our daily routines.
A back-garden grower for most of my life, each Spring I have filled every pot, hanging basket and raised bed available with potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, onions and strawberries. For me, there are few things more satisfying than nurturing and growing something from seed to plate, but this year I went a step further. I think it is fair to say that getting an allotment 6 months ago has been quite life changing.
Nothing is impossible
At first sight I did wonder what we were letting ourselves in for, as we surveyed 250m2 of overgrown wasteland. The best we could expect was to clear the land, create some semblance of order and some defined beds, then feed and prepare the soil to grow our vegetables next year. Lockdown changed all of that – two week’s holidays in Europe turned into two weeks of back-breaking graft, weekends with friends turned into weekends with the birds and the bees. We weeded, dug, strimmed, fertilised, and weeded and dug some more. Bit by bit the allotment began to take shape and, there was time to do some planting. Before too long we were looking at defined beds containing all the fruit and veg you could wish for. The freezer picked up at a local auction room for £20 has never worked harder – we’ve harvested, washed, peeled, blanched and frozen to fill our plates with delicious home grown produce right through until the Spring.
There was a four-week period during the Summer when we picked a lettuce every day – I’m pretty sure we ate lettuce for breakfast, lunch and dinner and we were still giving lettuces away to every neighbour or family member we happened to see. Don’t get me wrong, the lettuces were delicious, but I had made the mistake of sowing all the seeds at the same time so, as a result, the lettuces were all ready to eat at the same time. Therein lies an important lesson – plan and pace yourself to reap the rewards.
This filters through to our working lives as well. As an academic I liken it to research and writing – planning when I will do my research, when I will write and outlining targets to achieve delivers the best results for me. Breaks are also planned in, to ensure that I am fresh and focused as I sit down. This year a wander down to the allotment has definitely given me some headspace.
You can’t do it all
Fighting the horsetail weed, the dread of many an allotment gardener, has taught me that I just can’t win every battle. It’s impossible to be there every time another weed pops up through the soil to rip it out, so I just have to set myself a target of one bed at a time to tackle and clear the weed. Similarly, looking at your “To Do” list at work can be quite frightening, but acknowledging that it’s not possible to get it all done and identifying the priorities to work on goes a long way towards making steady but sure progress.
Make do and mend
There are very few things that we’ve actually paid money for at the allotment. We’ve been given everything from seedlings to seats, plant pots to power tools. We ordered a couple of second hand allotment books online and have learnt that baked and crushed eggshells are an excellent slug deterrent, the cardboard centre of a toilet roll cut in half makes a couple of great plugs to grow your seeds in and plastic bottles as a cane cover can save you from poking your eye out whilst digging away! We’ve helped friends to dig up their drive in preparation for a new one, so that we can make use of the old paving slabs for a hard standing next to the polytunnel. We’ve volunteered to do the tip run with friends as they’ve cleared their gardens so that we can make use of the old bench that they were going to throw away and we’ve swapped seedlings that we have grown in excess in exchange for those that we never got round to sowing.
Of course, this is the way that people used to do business – bartering and exchanging goods and services. The very earliest economies worked in exactly this way. For me, this extends to the way in which I work with colleagues across the university and employers that I engage with – work with me on this project and I’ll work with you on that one. Sharing ways of thinking and bringing new ideas to the table can only be a good thing and ultimately everyone benefits.t
Time to rest
The sun has set on the busiest time of year at the allotment now. We’ve dug the beds, topped with cardboard and manure and then covered over for the winter so that the worms can do their work. There are little projects for dry weekends, such as replacing the composting frame and building a new cloche, but all-in-all things have slowed down and we’re expecting a few months of rest before starting over again in the Spring.
I really like the new Insights feature in Microsoft Outlook that tells me it’s time to rest and re-think my working patterns too. Sometimes you don’t realise the bad habits you’ve created until someone or something points it out to you. Just like the soil, my body and mind need to rest and refresh and I’ll be using this tool to monitor my work patterns more closely in the coming dark winter months.
Like my vegetable beds I’m fed and watered now and ready for a good night’s rest before work tomorrow. Goodnight all!
Read this article in The Guardian to see why having an allotment can help improve your mental health: It’s official: allotments are good for you – and for your mental health
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