Richard Lewis enjoys gardening on nearly 3500 square feet of allotment plot near Rugby England. He is the creator of the blog and YouTube show Guide To Starting An Allotment. Richard has big plans for all that space! From parsnips to zucchini, to grapes and herbs, the yield is bountiful.
Listen as Richard discusses the challenges of gardening on a plot with no water, no electricity and more than its share of pests.
In This Episode You Will Discover:
- pigeons, rabbits and slugs – OH MY!
- how to garden with a young family
- how to safely dispose of “courgettes”
- the hottest reality TV show in the UK is about – GARDENING!
- new allotment garden ideas that you will love to try
- Get the latest Gardening Gear Review of the Gorilla Carts GOR866D and haul in style!
- How healthy are you really? Take the test at http://NutritionWeCanTrust.com
Claire’s Allotment – http://clairesallotment.wordpress.com
Rick Van Man – http://rickvanman.com
Follow Richard on Twitter: @overgrownplot
Richard’s Blog: http://theovergrownplot.com
Richard’s Show on YouTube: please Subscribe
Watch the Podcast Interview Here!
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Gardening Interview Transcript:
David: Well good morning, good afternoon or good evening depending on where you are in the world when you listen to this. I’m Dave Ledoux and welcome to another edition of Back To My Garden. The transAtlantic edition! Today we have an overseas visitor coming in on the podcast. He’s part of this movement in the United Kingdom what they call “allotment plots“. Completely different concept than we have over here in North America it’s fascinating. I’m so excited to have him share it. He has been working the land now and documenting it, he’s vlogging doing a video blog on YouTube and on his blog, we’re going to talk about that. He hails from Rugby, yes the city that created the game in the Midlands, in England. Please welcome to the show Mr. Richard Lewis. Richard, welcome!
Richard: Hi David, thanks for having me.
David: Very excited to have you today because your story is inspiring. I want to get to know you, our listeners want to get to know you, so take a minute and just share a little bit about yourself.
Richard: My name is Richard, I live in Rugby as you said. I’m 36, I have a young family, I’ve been wanting to have an allotment since university really. I did Plant Science at university and really got the bug there I think. I got my first house I was able to start growing my own vegetables in my back garden. And that’s when I first put my name down for an allotment. But here in the UK it can take a long time, I put my name down for one of my local plots but there it’s a case of you have to wait for someone to pass on before you can get one. They really are that sought after in certain parts of the country. So the waiting list was probably about ten long, so I never did get one. But luckily I found another site where I managed to get my plot and since then I’ve been tracking my progress, as it were.
David: Brilliant. We have a lot of people listening in their cars and on their iPhones running and at the gym, so when you’re in front of a computer head over to Richard’s blog at www. theovergrownplot.com and you can also follow Richard on Twitter@overgrownplot. Take us through what an allotment looks like, especially when you got your hands on it. And on your blog you also kind of have a guide to starting an allotment, I think it’s not what most, especially North Americans, think. Go ahead.
Richard: Allotment is probably an alien concept. Allotment gardening in the UK I think it started before the war, but certainly took off during the war when food was in short supply. Laws were passed that meant that if 6 or more residents in a local area petition the council, then the council are obliged to provide land for them to grow food and for a minimal fee. So for example, I pay ten UK pounds for a year’s rent on my allotment which is about $17 in US terms. So it’s an absolute pittance. And for that I get, they measure them in rods, and I can’t remember what mine is in terms of allotment size, but I’m 6’4″ and it’s 16 by 30 of my strides, I’ve never actually converted that to meters or feet, but it’s a fair odd size. I’m having trouble keeping it under control at the moment so I’ve started off small. And only dug over about a third of it, but over time, and you really do keep these things for a long time so, they can be in your possession for years and years until you pass on really. So I could potentially have this allotment plot garden until I die, which could be a long time to go hopefully. They’re really good and it’s a good way to grow your own food if you don’t have the space.
David: Now for my American listeners who don’t measure in rods or meters, I looked at Richard’s photos on his blog, looked through some of the videos, my best guess is it’s about 40 feet by 80 or 90 feet.
Richard: Yea probably.
David: That’s 3 and half thousand square feet. That’s a footprint of a house.
Richard: Definitely. Well, maybe a house in your part of the world.
David: The big sprawling Texas homes. Ok, so when you got the land it was in pristine condition and just beautiful soil, right?
Richard: It wasn’t too bad. It had been used as farmland a few years beforehand before it was turned to allotments. They had had an allotment tenant on it a few years before, but I think it had been left for a couple of years so it was chest-high in weeds. My neighboring plot holder had kept it down and strimmed the weeds a few times. I think you guys call it a weed-wacker, do you?
David: Yeah, weed wacker, sure.
Richard: We call it a “strimmer”. He kept it down quite well which was good for me to be honest. It was pretty deep in weeds and it still is. Most of it is as you probably seen from my videos if anyone goes takes a look, I just keep it down with a little push mower which does the job. The thing about allotments, you don’t have any power or water supply or anything like that. They tend to be out of the way places where you really have to bring your own stuff. It’s taken a bit of work. I took it on in October so since then I’ve just been digging it over and pulling out the weeds and forming the beds.
David: So this is really your first season with plants in the ground?
Richard: It is. Yes. Completely. I’ve had plants in the ground in my old house so I’m well used to growing the various plants that I grow there, but never on this scale.
David: You know we have listeners, Richard, from California where they’re in a 5-year drought where it might rain once a year. And we over here on this side of the pond think of England as foggy and rainy and it’s nothing like that anymore. I hear there’s palm trees growing in London.
Richard: There are. I’m from Devon originally which is right on the south coast and they call it the “English Riviera” and there’s palm trees all along the beach there.
David: Keeping that in mind, what is your garden like this year?
Richard: It’s been a bit of a mixture, to be honest. About a month ago we had loads and loads of rain and the ground was completely sodden. My soil is really clay, so it all clogged together, it was a right pain. And now its the complete opposite. We’ve had sun for a long long time so it’s completely dried out and caked up. So I’ve been down there watering and I’ve been having to take my own water down from the house to water the plants because the water buckets I’ve set up just have run dry.
David: So describe for our listeners a little bit about what you’ve decided to grow, keeping in mind the clay soil and it’s your first season in the garden. What are you growing this year?
Richard: I’m keeping it really simple. I’m growing the basic stuff, onions, potatoes, beetroot, cabbages, carrots, parsnips, but this is me starting off the plot so I really want to focus on forming the beds and keeping the weeds back to start with. I don’t have any way of bringing on seedlings other than the cold frame in my back garden here at home. So one of my projects that will be hopefully in the autumn is to build some kind of green house on the plot so I can really bring on a lot more seedlings a lot quicker. And cope with the scale of growing on the plot.
David: Now you happened to take plant science at university. Is that because you grew up with it? What was the conscious decision to embrace gardening?
Richard: I don’t know. I’m not sure, I think it’s just something I always liked the idea of. Plant science wasn’t my major subject, but the major was environmental science and it had plant science modules as part of it, that’s where I really got to get hands on in growing tomatoes and really just testing how they grow in various soils. So that was what I really enjoyed and when I had the opportunity to start myself I took it up.
David: Fantastic. Now you happen to be documenting your gardening adventures on doing a video blog. What has that been like? Have you had any surprises, and how are you enjoying it?
Richard: It’s a lot fun. I’ve had to learn lots of things like how to edit videos and all sorts of things like copyright which has been new and quite interesting, but it’s a bit of a challenge. I don’t like doing it when there’s other members, other plot holders down on the site. So timing’s a bit difficult. And also it takes away from the time on the plot so recently I’ve had to focus on working on the site rather than videoing it. It’s a bit of conflict there. But it is a lot of fun. I think it’s worthwhile. I find people offer you tips and advice and help and there’s kind of a good community on YouTube of people who are doing similar things and help each other out. I really recommend it to anyone who’s starting out or been doing it awhile. It’s good fun.
David: We joke around about that. If this was the 1960’s we’d have to go down to the Public Library and see if there’s a book on gardening, sign it out, take it home, read it. We take a lot for granted now. You were sharing just before we went live, your garden is not without its challenges from a pest perspective. What’s that been like for you?
Richard: It’s hard. I suppose the main pest on the site on the allotment that I have, are slugs. And I think slugs are the bane of everyone’s life, aren’t they? Pigeons and rabbits all eat the crops. We also have a lot of mice who pull out peas especially. You can plant a row of peas, and I certainly have this year, and then you pop down the site in a few days time and they’re all coming up nicely and then you come down a few days later and they’ve all completely disappeared. Those days pesky mice have taken them.
David: I’m not sure about slugs in England, but in Los Angeles California slugs like beer.
Richard: Yeah, that’s what I used to do in my back garden a few years back and it worked quite well. I never liked emptying them it was a bit disgusting.
David: It’s not unusual in California to put out a little saucer trap with a bit of beer and get 15 or 20 slugs overnight.
Richard: You soon fill it up don’t you? At the moment I just put a few blue pellets down but I know it’s not great. I was getting desperate at the time and I didn’t have any beer and no time to come back down the plot later so that’s what I do. But beer traps will be the way to go in the future I think.
David: Now this being your first season in the garden I’m sure you’re already planning next year. Is there anything you want to try as an experiment in your garden next year?
Richard: I’ve toyed with brewing wine in the past, so I’m thinking I really want to try grapes. Because they certainly do grow in our climate and with the view to making my own wine I think grapes is what I’d like to try.
David: Fantastic! Is that more purple ones or the green ones?
Richard: My wife likes white wine so I think I’d go with the green grapes.
David: Some of my listeners now are just smiling from ear to ear because a lot of people listening to the podcast are city livers, they’re living in apartments, they’re growing a few pots on their balcony. It’s very romantic to think here you are, you got on a list, you got a piece of land from your county, it’s going to be like a mini-vineyard.
Richard: It could be. You could have just vines throughout the whole plot. You could make a few bottles of wine that way certainly.
David: That’s brilliant. Question on your parsnips … do you harvest them in the fall or are you going to leave them over the winter and bring them out in the spring?
Richard: In our family we have kind of a routine, a tradition, where we certainly harvest them in the fall or autumn here in the UK, but we save a load for Christmas Day or Boxing Day to go and dig up some parsnips for the Christmas dinner.
David: My parents live in oil country out in western Canada, and they’re big gardeners and they grew parsnips. And they had a visitor from the big city and he’s not a gardener. But I didn’t understand how naive he was. He said, “Do those things grow every single year?” He didn’t know the difference between a vegetable, a perennial, an annual. What is it like in England for people getting into gardening? Is it a big culture? Is it popular?
Richard: It’s fairly big, you know we have television stars who are gardeners, television celebrities I suppose you call them. It’s a big culture of gardening and especially allotment growing in recent years. There was a TV program on the BBC recently called “The Great Allotment Challenge” or “The Big Allotment Challenge” so it is mainstream.
David: I’ve been explaining to my US friends how most American TV originated in England. But 7 years ago. You had “Pop Stars” they have American Idol. Dancing With The Stars, they have Dancing With The Stars. And I say look, “In England, they have reality TV about gardening! It’s coming to North America eventually”.
David: We learn a lot by talking to gardeners who share either a struggle or a failure. Being relatively a new gardener myself, it’s not unusual to get emotionally attached to plants or an outcome. Do you have any mistakes that you’ve made along your gardening journey that you can look back and smile?
Richard: It’s not really about the plants themselves, because I think we all have our challenges and failures in terms of growing. And it changes from year to year. I think my main challenge has been my view of how it was going to be with the kids. I think I decided on an idealized view where we would all go down the plot and they’d play and run around and have a great time and I’d show them how to dig plants and plant seeds and they’d go off and plant them and I’d be able to work and sort out the weeds at the same time. But it’s been great and I’ve loved it but I don’t think you can take the kids down the plot … certainly at the age my two are which is 3 and 6 and leave them to it. So when we go down the plot now it really is to play and let them experience how to grow their own food. But I don’t even try to do any work down there now so I make time to head down to the plot early morning on a Sunday, so I head down about 6 o’clock in the morning while they’re still asleep to really get some proper work done. I don’t think you can do the two, certainly at this age, and that was a bit of a lesson that took me a while to learn.
David: You know there’s so many side benefits to gardening Richard, but I tell people when you move to a new city or town, gardeners are some of the most friendly people you’ll ever meet. You can always talk about a garden. What’s it like down where you’re gardening on the allotments and the other allotment owners?
Richard: It’s amazing. The other day my wife and 2 kids were down and just messing about and playing with the pond I’d built and they were digging up some of the potatoes. And our neighbor had a fairly large patch of strawberries and he gave us 2 pannets and the kids just sat there eating them it was really nice whilst we just chatted about the slugs and the dry soil and it was really good. I have another neighbor on the plot who has an abundance of, what do you call them, not courgettes … cucumbers. He gave me a load of cucumbers. And a load of peas. Everyone has a glut of something. When you have a plot the sizes we do you always grow too much of something. It’s usually courgettes, what do you call them? Zucchini?
David: I was going to say, for my American friends that are going “what’s a courgette?” it’s a zucchini.
Richard: So you only really need 1 or 2 plants if you’re feeding a family, and even then you’re getting too many.
David: In September people put them in brown paper bags, leave them on people’s doorsteps, and ring the doorbell and run away.
Richard: I can imagine! I might try that.
David: One of my guests has a dear friend who got into gardening and planted 20 zucchinis her first season.
Richard: Oh my god!
David: Nearly in tears she didn’t know! We always plant 2 in case 1 dies and it never does.
Richard: One of the plots I thought about taking on when I was offered this one had, he obviously liked his butternut squash and marrows, which is essentially a zucchini which has been left to grow massive, but he pretty much had the whole site covered in these so even now they’re all just a shell, a rotten hollow shell, of all these massive courgettes or zucchinis and squash and pumpkins all thrown littering the plot.
David: My neighbor is actually a pumpkin farmer and sells pumpkins at Halloween, over here it’s a really big deal. He has a deer problem. In the fall any pumpkins that are left in the field the deer will come out and stomp them open and then eat and eat and eat. The deer eat so much they actually get sick.
Richard: I bet it ferments as well, it’s probably alcoholic isn’t it?
David: It could be! I’ve never made pumpkin wine but I bet you it exists.
Richard: I might try that!
David: Well very good. I have this little segment in the podcast it’s a game we play called Five Quick Questions. And this is your chance to drop wisdom to the people and give them gardening resources and access. Are you ready to play?
Richard: I am.
David: Question number one. What do you think stops most people from getting into gardening?
Richard: Getting into? Time I’d say. But stops them mid way through? Weeds.
David: My first season I practiced on weeds, that was my first.
Richard: I like weeding, it’s therapeutic I think.
David: Question number two. What is the best gardening advice you’ve ever received?
Richard: I’d say “little and often”. Do little and often. Don’t try to tackle too much.
David: Yes, you have a 4000 square foot garden, ambition is one thing. But time is another.
Richard: Yeah, that’s right. I only am doing a third of it at the moment, next year I’ll do another third so I’ll have two-thirds.
David: Once you get the vines in for the grapes, I guess you’d still have to tie them don’t you?
Richard: Yes. That’s a good idea. I could just put over half of it in vines then it’s half done, couldn’t I?
David: Yeah, you’re vineyard takes up half your garden, that would be fun. Now we have a follow-up podcast next year to talk about wine.
Richard: I’d love to.
David: Question number 3. The internet is a big, big place, especially for gardeners, if you had just 2 websites to share with a beginning gardener, what would they be?
Richard: I think the obvious first one is YouTube. Just go there, type in “vegetable growing” or “allotment growing” and you’ll find loads of stuff. There’s some great providers out there so there’s Claire’s Allotment, The Horticultural Channel, Dan And His Allotment Diary, Rick van Man Channel, these are all just amazing channels where you can learn so much. And I think seeing it in video format is the best way and seeing the mistakes they make.
David: I love that. Thank you, that’s excellent.
Richard: They’re all the ones that have been going four or five years and there’s a lot of good stuff on their videos.
David: What I’m going to do because we have a lot of listeners in their cars, I’m going to put those links in the show notes on the blog at BackToMyGarden on the Richard Lewis page. And that will link right to those different YouTubes. Make sure that you go to Richard’s YouTube channel.
David: Question number four … what’s your favorite gardening book?
David: Question number five … what’s the #1 thing every gardener should try to grow next year?
Richard: Good one! It has to be, an obvious one, strawberries. I need to grow strawberries. When my neighbor gave me 2 pannets of fresh strawberries to eat and the kids just sat there eating them, they were so nice, so sweet. I don’t think you can beat them.
David: Do you have U-Pick strawberries in the UK?
Richard: Yes! We call it Pick-Your-Own.
David: I remember as a kid it was pick one eat one, then pick two eat one. Where I grew up as a kid it was sandy soil so there were loads of raspberries.
Richard: I like raspberries too.
David: We have a little raspberry patch we started with 2 canes from the garden center and its now nearly 25 square feet!
Richard: They soon spread under the ground, don’t they?
David: They do. And I have no complaints because I like them so much.
Richard: Do you grow the spring ones or the autumn ones?
David: Definitely summer ones. So everyone should grow strawberries. Our climate, our winters are so rough people cover their strawberries with straw in the fall. But your winters you leave them alone and they come up in the spring?
Richard: They might get frostbitten a bit on the edges but they are hardy to our climate.
David: You know Richard a half hour goes by very quick. I want everyone listening who isn’t in front of their computers when they get home to go to Richard’s blog follow Richard on YouTube and follow him on Twitter. I want to thank you for being on the show Richard. Do you have a message of encouragement or gardening wisdom that you can share with our listeners?
Richard: That’s a good one. I would say have fun. Don’t stress too much because it happens to everyone.
David: Richard is writing about the Guide To Starting An Allotment. He’s video blogging about his 3500 square foot allotment, head over and check it out. Thank you for sharing your allotment plot gardening tips and thanks so much for being a guest on the gardening podcast today.
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