Gardening selecting a an allotment plot

07/02/2018 ~ KATRINA
Late winter going into early spring is one of the best times of the year to choose your allotment plot. Annual plants have died back and deciduous trees bare their naked form, giving you an overall blank canvas view of the plot’s potential future as a productive edible garden. You might even glance a few signs of existing spring, like the striking green flash of bulbs poking up through the soil, the swelling buds of an apple tree or some primula in bloom.

I was lucky to only wait six months for my plot, but you could have your name on the waiting list for many months, or maybe even years! One day though, you’ll reach the top of that list and receive an invitation to go on an allotment tour, to choose yourself a garden. I remember the day so vividly! I was bursting with eagerness to think that I could return home with a set of keys to my very own piece of land.Going back three and a half years to that day, I remember it being mid September just after my birthday, when I saw about six different plots with a small group of people. I pinned all my hopes on a cosy, over grown and very green plot. I fell in love with it’s quirky character and the ivy ‘shed’ and hedges that concealed what I wanted to be, my own Secret Garden. I wouldn’t change my plot for anything and I have no regrets in my decision to get 152a at St.Ann’s Allotments, but how DO you decide on what is a ‘good plot’ and is there such a thing as a ‘bad plot’? I’ve listed a few tips and things to consider.


In the first few year of getting your allotment you will be carting an awful lot of stuff to and from your allotment and not just seed trays and tools. You might buy a shed, concrete slabs, you will most definitely have a lot of junk to remove and then theres all the bags of compost and manure too. Taking on an allotment garden comes with a lot of heavy lifting so easy access is very important!

Carpark – is it far away?
Pathways – is you plot easy to get to? Are the pathways muddy or on a steep incline?
How long does it take you to get to your plot?
If it’s a long time you might be put off going all together!
Taps – if you site has them, you might want one close to your gate. Otherwise you could be relying on rainwater during hot summers which isn’t ideal.
Existing Plants, Trees & Structures

If you find a plot with established fruit trees already growing on it then you might have struck gold! Proving they are in good condition, established fruit trees are heavy cropping and require little effort to maintain. Just remember that fruit trees will shade parts of your garden and require a lot of water from the ground which will prevent you from planting and growing certain things directly below it.


Sadly, allotment breaking and thefts are quite common, especially in city and suburban areas. It isn’t something you should fear, but if you plan on storing expensive garden machinery or electric tools in an unlocked shed, that’s close to the entrance of the site, then you might re-consider where you’re plot is located.


Does it have big trees or hedges? They could restrict light to your plot, and take away a lot of water from the ground. They will also required regular pruning to prevent them from becoming overgrown. My plot has a lot of trees and although they don’t restrict too much light, I do have to cut back the vigorous ivy hedges each year and either burn it or take to a recycling centre. On the plus side, they provide habitats for nesting birds, natural walkways for hedgehogs and I also have a lot of privacy!


Plots available in a range of sizes and most of them tend to be overgrown, so if you find one in a good condition then you’re lucky! I took on my small plot knowing it would be a huge challenge to makeover by myself but I was prepared to take it on. Sadly, it is all too common for new allotment holders to give up on their plots because they don’t have the time or energy to overhall a big, overgrown plot. I did mine bit-by-bit and didn’t let it defeat me! So think about what you can realistically manage.


If you get the chance, take a look at the position of the sun and see which direction your plot faces. This will help you get an idea of how the light and shadows fall on your plot and will dictate where and what you can plant in certain areas. A plot that faces N-S will get the maximum hours of daylight on the plot.


Soil quality can vary drastically between plots. Now I’m not saying your should whip out a pH measuring kit during your tour, but take a look at the colour and consistency of the soil. Generally speaking the darker and more crumbly, the better quality it is! This hints that the soil has been heavily manured and looked after for many years. If you see huge puddles or rivers of rainwater and mud at the end of the plot, it might not have very good drainage, which will cause you issues. Also bare in mind the flatness of the plot. Mine in on a slight downward slope but you might prefer, like many allotment gardeners, to have a completely levelled plot.

Panoramic view of Katrina’s allotment, taken in January 2018

With all that said, you might just get a gut feeling and know that ‘THIS IS THE ONE’ (like I did), so don’t take my advice too seriously. Enjoy the tour, take in as much as you can and don’t feel rushed to make a decision if you aren’t completely happy.

If you’re reading this thinking you want to get an allotment of your own, just get your name on the waiting list! You can always turn it down if you aren’t ready when the time comes. Waiting lists are only going to get longer in years to come as we grow tired of pre-washed, pre-chopped carrots, perfectly shaped parsnips and the ridiculous amount of plastic packaging that comes with it. As a nation, I think we’re slowly become more aware of the food we’re eating, the processes involved in making it, and are more interested in growing our own foods to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

If you have an allotment already, I would love to know what made you decide on choosing your plot?!

Katrina xxx

Allotment gardener Katrina, sat outside her shed.


The saga of Gulf diaspora

Wikimedia Commons
Jul 17, 2016 · 02:30 pm
Veena Muthuraman
Najeeb and Hameed wait patiently in front of Batha police station in Riyadh hoping to grab the attention of the cops. At first glance, Najeeb reminds one of Soapy from O Henry’s The Cop and the Anthem – a young man out to commit a minor offence so that he can spend the three harsh winter months in the comfort of prison. Unlike the (un)fortunate Soapy however, Najeeb and Hameed are arrested and sent to Sumesi, the largest prison in the country.

Hundreds of prisoners alighting from police vehicles and filling the prison yard reminds Najeeb of marriage halls in his native Kerala where the relatives worriedly mill about. For the reader, the first sign of darkening mood is when a number is tattooed on Najeeb’s forearm, but it does not seem to bother him; his references are different.

He simply says that he recognises the Arabic number as 13858, the only ever use of his childhood madrassa education. He soon settles down to prison life, and seems to savour it to an extent, while he waits for consulate officials to process his repatriation, hoping that his arbab will not come for him.

What is Najeeb’s story?

Migration is a given in Kerala, especially if it is across the Arabian Sea. Anyone who is rightly proud of the state’s oft-quoted achievements in human development indices and relatively lower levels of income inequality, a notable feature of developed social democracies, cannot shy away from the fact that this success is underwritten in part by more than 2.4 million migrants living and working in the oil-rich kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, which count among the most undemocratic places in our world.

They send home an astounding Rs 1 lakh crore every year, more than the state’s revenue collections revenue. Kochi’s Nedumbassery airport is the fourth busiest airport in the country for reasons that have nothing to do with domestic travel. Every Gulf airline is featured here transporting doctors, nurses, technicians, IT professionals, drivers, and retail workers back and forth every day.

Twenty-five years ago, this airport did not exist but the migration did, and many more Malayalis travelled to the Gulf to take up menial jobs than they do now. Najeeb, the protagonist of Benyamin’s best-selling Goat Days, translated from Malayalam to English by Joseph Koyippally, is one such young man. Newly married and expecting a baby, this sand miner from a small town is lured by the prospect of “TV, VCR, AC and gold watch”, which in those days still counted as an aspiration and not a basic need as it is today. He mortgages his home, borrows money, and travels to Bombay from where he boards a flight to Riyadh.

Hard landing

“For me, Bombay was worry, Riyadh, wonder”, says Najeeb just after landing in the country of his dreams, and he looks for his arbab (boss, landlord) in anticipation. His arbab, unfortunately for him, turns out to be a man with a masara deep in the desert looking for a shepherd slave. I am certain that young Najeeb was more than capable of quoting chapter and verse of the workers’ charter, but what does he do with it when he is not recognised as a worker?

Completely at the mercy of his master who thrashes him at regular intervals and threatens to kill him, not knowing the language, no one to talk to except the goats he tends to, locked up in the masara and not allowed even water to wash his bum, Najeeb leads a slave-like existence as he loses count of days and weeks and months. After an ill-fated escape, he says:

The arbab left me locked me in the masara that day and the next. He didn’t let me out at all, didn’t even give me a drop of water or a piece of khubus. For two days, I lay there without complaint. By the second night, I was very hungry. When I was sure the arbab was asleep, I slowly untied my legs and, creeping out through the goats, I reached the water container and drank till my thirst was quenched. In the next container, there were some wheat grains, left uneaten by the goats. I gathered them up and ate greedily. Raw wheat. Unhusked. There was some salt in the small pail nearby. I ate the wheat with the salt. It was on that day I realised that uncooked wheat could be tasty! I guzzled water again from the container. My belly full, I was finally at ease. I slept in the masara with the goats. By then I had indeed become a goat.

After three and a half years of a goat’s life, another opportunity for escape arises. He and his friend in the nearby masara attempt to escape with the help of a Somalian fugitive but alas, not all of them make it back to Riyadh. The desert, with its unforgiving sand storms, snakes and the scorching sun, takes its toll first.

Najeeb finally reaches the city, and faints in front of Malabar Restaurant (“a banyan tree in this Arabian city”), and is nursed back to health by fellow Malayalis. Taking their advice, he gets himself arrested and goes to prison, from where he is finally repatriated to Kerala, but not before a final encounter with his arbab.

Not that I would have minded, but if that sounded like you would spend days and weeks with Najeeb in his desert masara, think again. Goat Days is a literary page-turner; it is a suspenseful and gripping read till the last page. Every page and every chapter leaves the reader wanting for more. Will he finally escape, will he lose his unshakeable faith, or will his favourite goats escape the slaughter-house?

There is also an economy about the book which ties in well with the hero; there is not a word beyond what is absolutely essential. (Aside: There is something strange about reading a translation when you know the original language rather well. There were so many turns of phrase that left me asking for more, not because the translation did not do it justice but because I kept thinking about the many ways it might have appeared in the source language.)

Laughing for sanity

The subject of Gulf migration has been dealt successfully in a handful of popular Malayalam films over the decades, perhaps making up for a relative lack of it in fiction. Nadodikattu and Varavelpu from the late 1980s played on the aspirations of young men desperate to go the Gulf and the travails of returnees respectively. In the 2000s, Arabikatha lets loose an idealistic comrade (with the name of Cuba Mukunthan!) in the capitalist world of oil-driven dreams.

Running through these films is a brand of humour peculiar to the state – sometimes slapstick but mostly wry, with a fierce grounding in everyday reality. Benyamin takes this to a new level in Goat Days. His Najeeb, even when living through unbelievable hardships, always gives us lines to snigger and to smile at; th