Sustainability and gardening are two of my greatest passions as a landscape architecture student and member of the Leeds Beckett Allotment. In this blog, I’d like to share my experiences and show you what we do as a society to be sustainable and how you can get involved too.
I joined the allotment (a.k.a. the garden society) in my first year, just looking for a space to be outside and grow some veggies. Looking after plants has always helped me to de-stress, especially when homework became overwhelming. Add the sunshine streaming on your face, the wind in your hair, the birds singing and you have all you need in life. Oh, and if there’s an adorable cat around, that helps too!
What it's all about
The allotment is a piece of rented land by the university in Woodhouse Moor, about 10x15m large. It has a lovely shed, raised planters, compost bins and we will soon have a greenhouse. Anyone can join or just come to garden session. As a group we decided to meet every Sunday, but if the weather is nice, we also met during the week to hang out, do a little bit of gardening or have a bonfire! In addition to meeting at the garden, we organised extra events related to food, nature or sustainability. I wouldn’t even know which one was my favourite this year as I’ve loved them all! We went foraging for mushrooms and pressed apple juice in autumn, learned how to make water kefir in winter, started seedlings indoors in spring and explored the Ilkley moors.
What we love to grow and eat
Our main goal for the allotment is to grow produce in line with permaculture principles and to share knowledge on sustainable living. There is enough space for each member to choose the plants they want to grow and eat. I’m particularly interested in out-of-fashion local edible plants, such as nettles, goosefoot or marsh mallow. Of course, we have also planted fruit trees and loads of berries. I’ve never found better raspberries in late autumn than here at the allotment! The majority of the produce gets shared between the garden members and anything we can’t eat is used up by the university’s Ecosoup project (where food is available for students on a pay-as-you-feel basis).
What my typical Sunday looks like
An average day at the allotment starts with a little chat over some nice hot tea. It’s when we have a look around how the plants are doing and make a plan for the day. Especially now in spring, I love this time to take pictures of the flowers blossoming and seeing how the buds develop.
A regular task is to flip the compost to speed up the decomposition of all the kitchen scraps people bring and make new soil for the garden. Living on a vegan diet, I bring about a small bucket each week and think it’s awesome that my waste is now being useful instead of filling up a landfill. We did even better when we were filling the raised beds and collected old cardboard for the base. It just makes you rethink what defines waste.
There’s always something to build or to fix at the allotment. Just recently we had to replace the shed roof as it got damaged during the storms earlier this year. While most of the raised beds are made from thick recycled wood planks, some are formed by willow-weaving with cut willow from the garden. Sometimes projects are a little daunting for me (I can’t say I have experience in construction) but working it out in a group is really fun and it feels absolutely amazing when you see what you made and how much you learned. For example, I’m so much more confident with hammer and nails now. It will be a handy new skill to have if anything breaks in my home or garden in the future.
The people you meet
Working on this project through the university has so many benefits, the main one being meeting my fellow allotment members. We all come from different courses across the university, yet we all share the same passion for the outdoors and gardening. We rarely have socials as we hang out together all the time anyway. Each of us brings something unique to the project that makes the garden our own and not to forget our sweet neighbours at the allotment. Right across from the Leeds Beckett Allotment are many more community gardens. We all help each other, sharing tools and knowledge and admiring each other’s gardens. The student union is equally amazing in supporting this project, helping us organise materials, events and making connections with other university groups interested in sustainability. If we ever didn’t know how we can make something happen, they could help.
Gardens of the future
Now, we are thinking of expanding this project to three gardens on both campuses to make it easier for students to access garden spaces in between classes. We are dreaming of keeping bees, cultivating culinary mushrooms and growing even more food and flowers. Wouldn’t it be cool to just pick your dinner on your way home? To collect fresh herbs and edible flowers when you leave university for the day or a fresh apple for your lunch break? I so can’t wait to see where this project is going. Hope to see you out there soon!