BRAAID allotments are one of the island’s best kept secrets, according to the tenants who regularly tend their plots there, producing vast quantities of wholesome home-grown produce.
For Ron and Jen Casey who have a plot on the site it’s not just a source of healthy foodstuff but an escape, a recreation and a passion as well.
‘We heard about it by chance when the allotments were first set up in 2009,’ said Jen, ‘So we decided to have a plot and we’ve never looked back.’
They are experienced gardeners and have a garden and poultry back at home but still find it addictive to go up to the allotment to enjoy the picturesque spot and the gardening camaraderie.
‘The fresh air, the view, the companionship and it’s the stress relief for people in an office – you couldn’t help but to unwind when you come out here. Just look at the view,’ Ron said.
The produce is not just limited to vegetables, of which they produce a huge variety, including courgettes, onions, potatoes, leeks, sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots, parsnips, squashes, marrows, peas, beetroot, spinach and even asparagus and sweet corn.
They also grow some flowers and had a crop of sweet peas and roses last year. Others on site have everything from rhubarb to fruit bushes and raspberry canes.
‘The soil here is lovely, fertile and it’s such a beautiful spot,’ Ron added.
Though growing conditions have been poor for the past two years – torrential rain and cool temperatures – things have still grown but the weather has produced challenges after harvest.
‘We are very keen on growing onions and they have grown well but you need to be able to dry them out. We found we had quite good results back at home using the dehumidifier,’ he said.
‘Gardeners are eternal optimists so we are hoping for a good summer this year.’
Howard Quayle, now the Middle MHK instigated the allotments in 2009 and supplied the land to do it.
‘I think he wanted to restore that sense of community,’ said Jen.
‘We’ve met some really diverse people here and you learn so much from each other. We are fairly experienced but we’ve still learned a lot.’
Top tip for the day was preventing mildew using a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and milk.
In fact Ron and Jen grew tomatoes commercially and chrysanthemums and mushrooms and Ron worked as a gardener in the Isle of Man.
Many of the tenants believe part of the attraction is getting away from the town and enjoying the countryside and getting back to nature.
‘The soil’s fantastic, a few stones but lots of worms and organic matter. Lots of birds too and a resident hare,’ Jen said.
The site has been set up to be wildlife friendly as well with a pond and wildlife area and there’s a social aspect to allotment gardening including the popular end-of-year barbecue.
Some people simply view it as a retreat from the stress of town living. At least one tenant simply takes a deck chair out in good weather and sits in the plot. There’s no rivalry or one upmanship either: ‘It’s very satisfying telling people tips and offering advice and seeing them do well,’ said Ron.
Many people worry about the commitment – the idea of producing home grown fruit and veg is good in principle but is it too time-consuming to be worthwhile?
‘We come about one day a week for three or four hours - but some of that’s spent chatting to people. It’s not hugely time consuming,’ Jen said.
Kevin Goldsmith is chairman of the allotments committee. His advice is little and often: ‘That’s much better than doing lots at a time and getting demoralised’, he said, ‘and don’t do the same job all the time: break it up.’
Ron added: ‘Give some thought to planning – that’s a lot of help – rotate your crops and think two, three or even six months ahead - that makes life so much easier.
‘Winter is not the end of it either. It’s the time you are getting things done like getting rid of those perennial weeds.
‘Keep a note of seed sowing dates and don’t miss them - you can’t go back again. It’s a very short growing season here of only three to four months.
‘We’ve always grown our own produce. There’s no comparison - and you know what you are getting.’
One of Ron’s big interests is the heritage seed library which preserves the old species of plants - those that have diminished and in some cases nearly died out because of the demands placed by supermarkets for high yields and uniform shapes and sizes and colours.
Growing your own means you have access to a wider range of varieties that are not readily available in the shops.
The value of the allotment experience has not escaped the notice of Ballakermeen High School whose additional needs pupils regularly make visits to Braaid to tend a plot there.
Additional needs teaching assistant Linda Quayle said: ‘We’ve had two groups coming up here most weeks since September. Manx Telecom gave us £150 to help set up the allotment and the children get a lot out of it - being out in the fresh air doing practical work and seeing a project through to the end.
‘It’s enriching the curriculum for them and it’s something they can do when they are older.’
The pupils involved are Key Stage three children, aged 11 to 14.
The site contains between 70 and 80 full and half plots of 60 by 30 feet or 60 by 15 feet.
There are about 12 still available and the cost is £100 per year or £50 per year plus a £10 administration fee, depending on the size of plot.
Anyone interested in taking a plot can contact Kevin on 480610.