Catherine Taylor, pioneer of the LJWB community allotment project tells JLife what’s been growing in LS17 and gives her top tips to get your garden flourishing.
Hi Catherine, tell us about the project!
It was an idea that came from the Leeds Jewish Welfare Board (LJWB) when they received national lottery funding for a community allotment in 2017. I’ve been involved with the LJWB and local schools as a volunteer for a number of years, so they asked if I’d be interested in running it from the grounds of Brodetsky Primary School. I’d never run an allotment before, but it’s been amazing.
We take a group of six to eight children there every Tuesday morning, with everyone from Reception to Year 6 having a go. In the afternoons, we run adult sessions that are open to everybody and anybody. We just plant as we go and over time it has really blossomed.
Where did you get your green thumbs?
I used to garden a lot with my dad growing up. He passed away, so it’s a nice way for me to rekindle memories of quality time spent outdoors with him. He just let me plant things, he was never precious about it. I learnt most of what I know from trial and error. You see what grows well and you keep on with it.
I now have an allotment in Roundhay I enjoy with my daughter. It was her idea to start it. She was in Year 6 at the time, and while other children wanted a pet, she decided she wanted an allotment! I thought it was brilliant she was getting into something outdoors when many children her age were inside playing computer games.
How do you feel gardening can help people of all ages?
Gardening is an amazing way to keep fit. I do a lot of digging and lifting – people think I go to the gym! It’s such a lovely opportunity to clear your head.
Our adult sessions are every other week, on the first and third Tuesday of the month. Claudia at the LJWB has been approaching local care homes to invite older members of the community to join us. We’re also looking to hold sessions for people with dementia and additional needs – it really is something that people of all ages and abilities can get involved with.
Give us a flavour of what’s growing!
We just planted some tomato seeds this morning and we’re looking to grow sweetcorn and carrots in the summer. We’re also planning to get a bit of a fruit tree orchard going as part of a project with the adults.
If the children come to me and ask to plant something, we’ll always try it. If they decide they want to grow a pomegranate, it may not work, but it doesn’t matter, it’s about giving them the opportunity to have a go!
How have the kids found it?
It’s a great way for them to learn about where their food is coming from. The volumes aren’t enormous but they’re enough for the children to have a taste and they love that.
We’ve taken the potatoes to the school canteen and they’ve cooked them for the children’s lunches the next day. Last year, the children sold some of the produce at the school summer fair and they were incredibly proud to show their parents what they’d grown.
Can you give the budding horticulturalists out there any advice for growing your own fruit and veg?
Grow something that you know you’re going to use in your everyday cooking, like peas, onions or garlic. Look for things that are simple to grow and move onto the more complex things when you find your feet.
Grow things that suit your soil type. I’ve got very clay-rich earth at home and that means things that grow underground tend to get a bit mushy. So I’m better off growing things above ground like peas or beans. But if you have finer, grittier soil, then potatoes and carrots will grow splendidly.
A lot of people are put off, thinking they don’t know where to start, but it’s important not to take it too seriously, just enjoy it while you’re doing it. If you see something in the shops and it looks good, just shove it in the ground and see what happens!
To find out how to get involved in the community allotment, contact LJWB on 0113 268 4211.
JLife’s Top Five Tips for Spring!
Spring is the time to clear out the garden, removing weeds and winter debris. Sharpen your garden tools now, paying particular attention to your lawnmower blade – the cleaner the cut, the less bruising on the grass and the better the appearance.
Over winter, your soil can become packed and dried out, so it’s time to get digging! Put the moisture back by adding fertiliser or compost for a healthy nutrient composition to give your plants the best chance to flourish.
Back in the Game!
For plants that made it through the winter to grow anew in the spring, you’ll need to prune them back right after they bloom to avoid cutting off future flowers. If you have any indoor plants on the go, such as tomatoes, it’s time to move them outside.
Never too Mulch
To help prevent weeds and diseases add a layer of mulch to your flower beds, making sure you keep it a few inches from any plant stems to prevent the roots from rotting.
Once the old plants have been taken care of, look to the new. Perennials are your best bet – they will last for a few years and survive the winter frosts. Primroses and pansies are hardy and like moist, rich soil and cool weather but are best planted in the shade as hot temperatures can have them looking leggy.
Spring is the ideal time for lettuce, which will be ready to pick within a couple of months. Broccoli will flower as the weather starts to warm up, starting to form heads through May, so now is the time to get going. Radishes are also great for an easy crop, but they transition from seed to bulb fast, so make sure to keep an eye on them!