Going green for the good life is catching on. No, I speak not of the impact of the Green Party conference held in Waterford, sin sceal eile, but of the revival in popularity in growing your own vegetables and fruit. For the enthusiasts who don’t have a sufficiently sized garden or maybe no garden at all, people are turning in increasing numbers to allotments where that option is conveniently available.

The tradition of allotments is very strong in Britain and continues to thrive there. It also flourished for awhile in Ireland particularly in the earlier part of the 20th century. As many of the more traditional street/ city housing developments had no gardens, most with just a backyard people were encouraged by both government and local councils to grow vegetables. In researching this piece I discovered that an Act was passed in 1926 for the Government to take powers to acquire plots of lands by CPO’s for the provision of allotments for the benefit of citizens who wished to avail of them.

There used to be at least two popular Waterford City sets of allotments or ‘the plots’ as they were known; one at Hennessey’s Road/Mattie’s Hill area and the other at the beginning of the Tramore Road. Also it is worth remembering that as part of government policies, especially with regard to Council housing estates built between the 30’s and 50’s that they were mostly provided with sizable back gardens with the expressed hope that people would grow their own. Equally it was the norm in rural Ireland that when the so-called labourers’ cottages were built they were sited on a minimum of half an acre with similar objectives in mind. As is the way of things some took full advantage of nature’s opportunity and others didn’t.

A Growing Trend

So being aware that there was a new trend back to the concept of the allotments elsewhere in the country as well as the increasing popularity of Farmers’ Markets reflecting people’s desire for fresh local produce, I was naturally curious to see signage about the place in recent times for allotments to rent out Ballinamona way. So I rang the number advertised and up on mo rothar and off to investigate the plot!

Without too much difficulty I located Ballinamona Allotments and met with Bill Spencer. I was very impressed with the whole set-up there: the quality of the location itself – an idyllic rural setting yet only minutes from the Ring Road, the soil, aspect, drainage, availability of cow manure, size and lay-out of the allotments themselves, as well as a great sense of security. Added to all this was the drive and enthusiasm of Bill and his partner Renata for the project and were taking obvious satisfaction from the successes they have achieved here so far and equally full of dreams and plans for further improvements and developments.

Last year was their first year with just 3 allotments taken, but word spread quickly and interest grew and grew, so much so that Bill has been working flat out since then to cater for the surge in demand. As of last weekend, 52 allotment plots have been developed, staked out, and individual water supply on tap – of these only 8 remain available presently. Witnessing the set-up there on a lovely Spring day this comes as no surprise. Each allotment plot measures 18.5 x 6 metres which approximates to 20×60 feet. Some share a plot while others are taking doubling up. The yearly rent for a standard plot is just €250. Already people were busily tending to their plots at varies stages of readiness for planting now that spring has finally sprung!

Plotting and Planting

I went to chat with some of the gardeners. I first met with Pat Mylett, a retired Crystal worker who is now working his double allotment for a second year and thoroughly enjoying the whole thing – the healthy life style, the sense of community engendered by a shared interest and equally important is the wonderful and bountiful quality cum quantity of his vegetables crops. Pat has potted away at home for years and was eager to take on a bigger challenge. He was in the process of planting British Queens as we chatted but also sows Maris piper, roosters and golden wonders. He was well pleased with last year’s yield, frequently unearthing 10 good sized potatoes per stalk. Indeed most of his plantings which included swedes, onions, red onions, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and cabbages yielded bumper crops come harvesting and what’s more he had the photographs to prove it which he showed me with considerable pride. One head of cabbage measured 31 inches wide- the bountiful result of good skill, soil and sunshine! But size isn’t every thing, the natural fresh wholesome taste is the real premium and payback for all the effort.

Nearby, I spoke with Sandy and David who also were working a double plot and in their second year. Sandra, very much a city girl was a relative novice and admitted to being on a steep though enjoyable learning curve. Great work had been put into their plot too with a set of raised beds all ready for planting- out. They too had set potatoes, roosters, golden wonders, Estima and Duke of York. They are already looking forward to their fruit crops such as strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb but also radish, turnip, carrots and turnip. Their lads, Ryan and Coady and a pal played happily yet keeping a watchful eye on things.

Bill has plans afoot to put in a designated play area for children with sand pit, swings and slides. All in all it’s a great outing for the kids. I met Robbie who was getting stuck into the work on his allotment. He told me he was just out of a job and saw it as a positive and healthy way of getting on with things and looking forward to the challenge and all that good food!

Coming Up

There is so much more to this story – the great mix of nationalities which Bill welcomes with open arms, a diversity of experience equally appreciated by other locals and news of the exciting Youth Reach programme. Wouldn’t it be great if a growers’ market of their produce was established nearby and what about, come Summer, when the place is in full bloom to have an Open Day to show to others what can be done by down to earth people.