This year, Warwick will be holding a Well-being Week between 4-8 February 2019 to communicate key messages on well-being, including healthy lifestyles, physical health and activity, mental health, financial well-being, and sleep and the support and facilities available at the university. Find out more from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team.
Allotments and Well-being
Studies by Westminster and Essex universities suggest that those who spent as little as 30 minutes a week in allotment saw significant gains in mental well-being according to the Journal of Public Health.
Those who worked in allotments had lower levels of depression and other related mood issues, such as anger and tension problems. They also had higher self-esteem and benefited from a lower BMI compared to those who did not wander into their gardens (or did so for less than 30 minutes)
What brought you to start your own allotment?
“Happenstance, really. My wife had a colleague who could no longer manage, having one and a half allotments…and so we took the half, extending it into one. We had to do A LOT of clearing working, learning very fast about how to condition of the soil (fertile clay that goes very sticky in the wet and bakes hard in the sun); how to get rid of couch grass (or twitch, as it is known locally – its roots are sharp and will go through wood); and the delights of soil slugs, pigeons, squirrels, crows and cabbage white butterflies! New allotmenteers are fortunate if they get a well-tended plot with friable, easy to work the soil, and weeds under control; in my experience, most ‘newbies’ have a lot of clearing to do, which can test their genuine commitment to the allotment experience…”
What are you currently growing?
“We are planning to grow French and runner beans; red cabbage; courgettes (they grow well in nitrogen heavy soil like ours); pumpkins (can’t beat the French ones); parsnips; first and second early potatoes; sweetcorn; blackcurrants; strawberries; and tomatoes, cucumbers, and perhaps peppers in the greenhouse. Blackberries and raspberries grow wild around our plot and we usually have a bumper crop. At the moment, last year’s parsnips are still in the ground and we dig them up as we need them. They are pretty hardy and resist most soil pests.”
How do you manage it around your day to day life/week?
“Hmm, good question. We tend to spend about 4 to 5 hours at the weekends, and then during the growing season, we’ll need to water plants every day (as we did last year). Little and often is best; and above all, commit to planning the time into your diary. At the moment, we are taking the hawthorn hedge down to an acceptable height – one of the rules of the allotment. It’s very prickly work. We’ve also turned over the soil (some swear by this technique, others don’t) since the frost and rain will help to break it down and make it easier to work.”
How do you think it benefits your health/well-being?
“If you’d asked me that just after we’d found that the squirrels had raided the sweetcorn cobs, then I would have been hard-pressed to think of any benefits! Experiences like that are useful, in that you just have to shrug ruefully and realise you can’t control everything. We’ve also learned a lot about soil, growing, how to dig, when to harvest and so on. Those lessons have enriched our view of the world. We enjoy being out of doors, even when it is cold, and moderate to hard practical work, like digging, is a good corrective to being sat in front of a computer screen. I like bird watching, and identifying trees and plants, and the allotment is an excellent spot for suburban wildlife. Also, the allotment emphasises the virtues of planning, patience, persistence, investing energy now for the future, and simply keeping going with a shared commitment. Rosy, cosy visions of instant results and self-sufficiency are more for lifestyle magazines and TV programmes. Sitting in a camping chair on the allotment with a coffee and a digestive biscuit is a nice reward for hard graft.”
About the blogger
Dr John Gough is a Senior Teacher Fellow in Career Studies. Prior to working at Warwick, he has run professionally-accredited career guidance development courses, including the Qualification in Career Development (QCD) and the Level 6 Diploma in Career Development and Guidance.