As Some Debate Whether Allotment Should Reopen, Others Continue to Plant Seeds

“Yeah everything is drying up. You look at the ground and you just know that things are not growing,” says Brian Geraghty, who runs an allotment in Malahide.

Like every other plot around Dublin, his has been forced to close during the Covid-19 shutdown.

“It’s tough because people enjoy it, they have put a lot of money into it,” says Geraghty.

A few weeks back, apetition kicked off calling for councils to open up the allotments as the food is at risk of going to waste. As of 22 April, it had more than 1,270 signatures.

Allotments and community gardens were closed roughly five weeks ago, but there has been ongoing debate around whether it was the right step – with some calling for them to be reopened.

Meanwhile, some growers have found stopgaps.

Closing Down

“On a short-term basis it is an inconvenience for allotment holders,” says John O’Donoghue, who has a plot in the Meakstown allotments in north Dublin.

He’d be concerned if the shutdown went beyond 5 May, he says. But everybody has to make sacrifices in this emergency, he says.

For Dougal Hazel, who worked in Flanagan’s Field Community Garden in Rialto before it was closed, it wasn’t working in the gardens that caused issues.

“We were distancing ourselves quite well but the problem is with the lock,” he says. “How do you make sure the person coming in after or before you has sanitised their hands?”

Both Hazel and O’Donoghue say that growing will be impacted now that there is no access.

People might have to change what vegetables they planned on growing this year, says O’Donoghue.

Geraghty still visits the Malahide allotments – where there are 300 plots run by the Epilepsy Care Foundation, with many set aside for people with epilepsy, or autism, or motor-neurological disorders.

The allotments were started in 2012. They sell the remaining plots to the general public, which allows the allotments to be free for the Epilepsy Care Foundation.

Geraghty’s occasional visits are to ensure the plot is secure, he says.

“Tomato plants and courgettes are getting hammered. Even potatoes are getting hammered, the temperature in the ground is rising but it is too dry,” he says.

Plants in polytunnels are suffering because no one is there to water them, he says.

A Debate

Some Dublin city councillors are split on whether allotments should be reopened.

“It is slightly contradictory to me to be keeping the parks open and be putting these restrictions on allotments,” says Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan.

Says Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne: “They should really be treated as essential foods the same way as supermarkets should.

The nature of allotments allows people to work at a social distance, she says. “Also they are excellent for people’s mental health during this time.”

Independent Councillor Damian O’Farrell says that allotments are not a priority right now.

“Family members are dying, schools are closed and hundreds of thousands are out of work due to Covid-19,” he says.

On Monday, the Green Party put out a statement saying it had called on the government to lift restrictions on allotments.

A response from the Department of Housing – to a query from Green Party Senator Pippa Hackett – said that allotments weren’t exempt from the “stay at home” order as they don’t fall under the food-production exemption.

“They do not have a specific exemption as it is not possible to manage or control access to allotments and there is no way to enforce social distancing once people are on site,” the department’s response said.

“A review of any restrictions will of course be informed by public health advice,” it said.

Growing at Home

In the meantime, O’Donoghue and Hazel say they’re doing what they can to keep growing their plants and veg at home.

Anticipating the closure of the allotments, O’Donoghue says he started planting seeds in trays at home in the front room.

Now he has kale, broccoli, greyhound cabbage, mixed salad leaves, butterhead lettuce and beetroot growing in his back garden. He hopes to transplant those to the community garden someday, he says.

Hazel, meanwhile, has planted pumpkins, tomatoes, peas, beans, and sunflowers in his garden.

They’d usually go into the community garden, he says. “My wife says that this is the first time that our back garden got any attention.”

But a garden is not necessary for growing, there is plenty that can be done on a balcony or a window sill, Hazel says.

Says O’Donoghue: “If you are into growing potatoes, you can even grow them in a reusable shopping bag.”

“People can be resourceful in making pots out of newspapers. I suggested this to a person who has run out of pots at the moment,” he says.

Fine Gael Councillor McCartan said he’s doing similar at home. “We’ve taken to doing it ourselves by setting a few spuds out on the balcony.”

A lot of produce can come out of small spaces, says McCartan.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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