Subs were due this weekend. I headed over to the office, which is actually a garden shed, and handed over my hard-earned cash to Archie.
Archie is the Boss of the allotments. If you’re not looking after your plot, Archie will send you The Letter instructing you to buck up your thinking. Every so often he wanders over to see what we’re up to, and always asks about the hops. I’m hoping he’ll present us with a gold star for effort one day, but it’s yet to materialise.
As I wrote out my cheque for £81 I reflected that the fees had gone up since last year. It’s actually a rise of 9%. Archie told me that Birmingham City Council has decreed all their departments must now breakeven (what on earth were they doing before?) and as a result they are no-longer subsidising the allotments.
Subsidising the allotments! I hadn’t realised that Cllr Albert Bore and his gang had been giving me a financial helping hand with my high-maitenance tomatoes.
So as it’s Year End on the allotment, I thought I’d work out just how much produce we’ve grown, in financial terms, so I can pass my thanks back to BCC.
If you’ll humour me for a few moments, my figures are thus.
[NOTE: I’ve attempted to compare, like-for-like, my produce with what you can get at Morrisons and Waitrose, which are the supermarkets I use most. I should have done this when everything was in season and theoretically at its best price. I didn’t. Never mind.]
Raspberries: At least 5 big freezer bags worth, so that’s 7.5kg. Morrisons flog them at £1.65 for 125g so mine are worth – ta da! – £99 and that is a very conservative estimate.
Strawberries: I reckon 3 big freezer bags so about 3kg. At supermarket prices that is £26 but mine were heaps better.
Blackberries: Despite being massive the blackberry bushes didn’t give a lot of fruit, 1 kilo at most. £13.20, but really why would you ever buy blackberries?
Blueberries: Another kilo I reckon, and that’s probably conservative. £16.
Blackcurrants: Search for blackcurrants on a supermarket website and you come up with Ribena and dodgy-looking hair colour. Fresh blackcurrants are hard to find so I’m guessing they are similar to blueberries at £16.
Redcurrants: The birds had most of these but I did pick enough for one dessert. No-one seems to sell fresh or frozen redcurrants so I’m guessing at £5.
Tomatoes: I am still ripening tomatoes and we’ve been eating them since the end of July. It has been a tomato free-for-all. They weren’t just any tomatoes either, these were dead-posh Italian types with very few seeds. So how much? I think we had at least a trugful (2kg) a week for 8 weeks, so that’s 16kg. This comes to £140! Actually it is probably more as the supermarket would brand ours as ‘heirloom’. The tomatoes were a pain in the backside but they were worth it.
Artichokes: 27 artichokes. Morrisons sell these for £1.25 each. EACH! So my 27 globes of glory come to £33.75.
French beans: We had heaps of beans, to the point of getting fed up with them. A conservative guess at 2kg of beans comes to £8.10.
Borlotti beans: No-one seems to sell fresh borlottis, not in this country anyway. So I’ll have to compare mine to the tinned version, coming to £5.89, but it’s not really a fair comparison.
Spinach: I’m still cutting spinach that was planted back in April and it’s been great in spanakopita (I like saying spanakopita). I’m guessing this is the equivalent of two bags a month for 7 months, so that’s £28.
Chard: It’s hard to find fresh chard, but Waitrose sell it at £1.50 for about 5 stems. At our harvest rate that’s £21.
Sweetcorn: In fairness, our sweetcorn were rubbish with a weedy little harvest of about 6 corns, coming to £5.10.
Cavalo Nero: Another one that’s quite hard to find. We’ve not had loads, about three harvests so far, so that’s £4.50.
Lettuce: 6 big lettuce, started off by my mother (the ones I started myself were utterly useless). £5.94.
Beetroot: Two big bunches I think, so that comes to £3.40.
Squash: I ended up with 13 edible squash. £19.50.
Cima di Rapa: The pigeons ate most of this, I only got one crop. I’ve never seen it on sale in the UK so have no idea how much it would cost, let’s say £2 a bag.
Courgette: We got alot of courgette, it was the gift that kept on giving. I’m guessing three a week for all of august and a bit of September. Let’s say 15 in total, coming to £4.95.
Parsnip: Ah, our wonky wrinkly knobbly parsnips. We’ve pulled only two (lots more to come) coming to £0.23. For once the supermarket come up trumps!
Onion: Morrisons sell 10 onions for 69p. We’ve had about 20 so that’s £1.38.
Shallot: 10 shallots at Morrisons will set you back 79p. We’ve got about 40, coming to £3.16.
Leek: Our poor leeks got rust, wrecking much of the harvest. I think we’ll salvage about 5, coming to £1.95.
Chillies: We didn’t get many, I was paying too much attention to the high-maitenance tomatoes to deal with the chillies. £0.45.
Herbs: Rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, hyssop and basil. We’ve had a good year for herbs. I think we could call it two packs a month for 7 months, so that is about £11.
Cut-flowers: And finally, the cut flowers. Cosmos, dahlias, sunflowers – I didn’t cut many of them but the ones I did were brilliant. Let’s say two bunches, £8.
Hops: No-one would buy our hops. £0.
The grand total: £483.50
If we’re doing this properly, I should also factor in the expense. As well as the allotment fee, I spent about £60 on seeds and plug plants, and maybe another £20 on compost, tomato feed and fleece.
We received free horse manure from Chappers, and quite a few baby plants from my Mum. Matt used leftover wood from his workshop to make the fruitcage and hopolisk and my Dad kindly gave us some netting for the fruit and sorted out growbags for the tomatoes.
We were very fortunate to receive tools for Christmas, so only really paid for a spade, fork and trug.
Our net ‘profit’ is, then, closer to £300 but this doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of labour. It took a good seven months of hard graft before we got the faintest hint of a harvest. Some of that time was spent weeping in the car at the hard work. Our relationship has been tested.
That allotment has got me out of the flat, where I mostly feel like a battery-chicken. It’s quite probable that I would not have survived here without it.
I’ve experienced fresh air and seasonal bounty in Britain’s second largest city.
My hamstrings have been stretched, heart-rate extended.
I’ve met people that I would never have hoped to meet otherwise.
Most importantly, we eat well.
As an end of year summary, I don’t think we could ask for more than that.
Amendment: MIL has texted to tell me that she bought us the trug, so I must clear up trug confusion. The posh wooden one for harvesting was indeed a Christmas present and has been brilliant, so thanks MIL and FIL! Matt bought the plastic one for when he occasionally weeds.