Here’s the Plot: Balbriggan Community Allotments

June 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

It’s May when I visit the new Balbriggan Community Allotments, but it’s cold, with a wicked northwest wind blasting across the six acre site. Exposure is often a problem with new allotment schemes, and this one, which opened in February, is no exception. On former agricultural land with little shelter, and half a kilometre from the sea, it gets weather from all sides. The new plot holders are resourceful types, though, and most have erected windbreaks of polypropylene netting around their domains. When the sun shines, the green mesh catches and multiplies the light, sending a shimmering zig zag of iridescence across the plots.

Today, however, the sky above north county Dublin is in an operatic mood, building up angry, inky clouds and furiously tossing down cascades of icy water. I seek refuge in the polytunnel of Caítríona and John Redmond, but the rain battering on the plastic skin is so loud we can barely hear our voices.

Their tunnel, newly erected on their ten by twenty metre plot, is one of a growing number at the site. Every week another one pops up, like a giant mushroom on the landscape. In these early days, while the hedges and trees that will eventually diffuse the wind are still in their infancy, the protection that the polyethylene-covered hoop-houses afford is very welcome. “I sold all the baby gear to get this!” explains Caítríona. “I said: ‘no more kids: let’s get a polytunnel instead.’ ” So they did.

They’ve had it less than a month, but already there are crops luxuriating in its cocoon of warmth and stillness: cabbages, purple sprouting broccoli, tomatoes, herbs. There are more edibles planted outside in the heavy clay soil that they have amended with compost and manure. Growing food is a serious undertaking for them. Only John, who works as a bus driver, has paid employment, and there are five mouths to feed. Caítríona was made redundant after the birth of her first child, four years ago — despite the fact that just a couple of years previously she had won an award for “Irish PA of the Year”.

© Jane Powers

She has since put her organisational and diplomatic skills to good use, volunteering with local community projects, and working as the chair of the allotments committee. She is one of many people here who has invested much time and energy into the plots, which are rented from Fingal County Council. Fingal Leader Partnership organised contractors to do the structural work on condition that this was matched by input from the new allotmenteers. Accordingly, the lining out of the plots, and the erecting of the post-and-wire fencing was all carried out by volunteers. There are 211 plots, in three sizes: 50, 100 and 200 square metres (with a rent of €1 per square metre per year). The community orchard of plums, cherries and heirloom Irish apples was likewise planted by plot-holders.

The spirit of communal endeavour pervades the place. Tools and knowledge are freely shared. “Nobody here is a food expert, or a growing expert,” says Caítríona, “but we’re learning from one another.”

An educational area — with polytunnel, raised beds, and compost bins — will be the venue for training courses offered by local horticulturists. Some of the plot-holders will also receive training as master composters through the EPA’s Stop Food Waste initiative, while others have already been to a pig-rearing course at Oldfarm in Tipperary.

The herd of five Tamworths arrived a few hours before my visit, and the sleek rusty-brown bonhams are bouncing around in one half of their two-acre paddock beyond the allotments. They are owned by a ten-strong syndicate: in late August, when the pigs are slaughtered, each of the members will receive their half share.

There is much industry evident in the rectangular lots: in one corner, John Dervan from east Galway is instructing his son in the precise art of digging traditional vegetable ridges, while Mark Mooney, who works in the zoo, is making a fascinating shed from 16 reclaimed palettes and a pair of salvaged windows.

© Jane Powers

Beginner gardener Aoife McGee, a primary school teacher, has made all her own raised beds from scaffolding planks, and is working in her polytunnel among dozens of healthy seedlings. She whispers that she hasn’t a clue what she is doing, but she is a natural and intelligent gardener. I envy her and her fellow plot-holders the years of growing ahead of them in this fertile field of fruit, vegetables and goodwill.

© Jane Powers

To enquire about a plot at Balbriggan Community Allotments, click on http://www.fingalcoco.ie and search for “allotments”, or telephone the Parks Division at: 01 8905600.

An edited version of this blog entry appeared in my gardening column in The Sunday Times

About these ads

Tagged: , , , ,

§ 4 Responses to Here’s the Plot: Balbriggan Community Allotments

  • Kathryn says:

    Really coming on since you saw them Jane – lots of happy healthy veg in all directions and the polytunnels continue to mushroom. We’ve had two of the training sessions now – a basic how to sow seeds and plant plants one and herbs with Denise Dunne last week. I’m doing polytunnel gardening tomorrow. The soil in the polytunnel is horrible. A big problem on the whole site is that the previous owner had it in Brussels sprouts for year after year so the soil is really hungry – it just swallows manure and compost and for the first time in my life I’m encouraging people to use the quick boosters like poultry manure and bought liquid feeds. But as you say, everyone is working together. All the communal fruit has been mulched with compost and we are hoping to get green manures sown on the sites that haven’t been taken yet to start putting some fertility back into the ground. And the endless Brussels sprouts policy also meant there are very few weeds to deal with – except self sown Brussels sprouts of course. People in East Meath can get an allotment here as well as those in Fingal. The pigs are doing nicely too :-)

    Like

  • Jane Powers says:

    Thanks for the update, Kathryn. It is wonderful that there are experts such as you and Denise helping out. I thought that the spirit of enterprise and enquiry was very strong on the allotments. I was in a very optimistic mood when I left!

    Like

  • Christopher Cotton says:

    Very interesting. And as is usual, your writing is pleasing; restrained, yet eloquent.

    Like

  • Only catching up on the blog post now! Thank you for the lovely mention of our pig-rearing course.

    Like

Something to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Here’s the Plot: Balbriggan Community Allotments at One Bean Row.

meta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 165 other followers

%d bloggers like this: