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Allotment gardening doesn't just reap vegetables - also improves your mental and physical health

For decades I have wanted an allotment and last summer I had the joy of being able to finally get involved on one. Someone on a local Facebook group said they were looking for help and I jumped at the chance.

I instantly loved my time on the allotment and loved being able to pick fresh food. However, what I hadn't realised was how good being on an allotment would make me feel. And it's not just me. A study has shown that working on an allotment improves physical and psychological wellbeing.

This article reports similar findings by researchers at the University of Sheffield who looked into the benefits of allotment gardening. The report found "a wide spectrum of mental health benefits” .

Last year I got involved in late July so had missed the journey up to the point of harvesting the summer crops. Since then I've been involved in the whole process through autumn, winter, spring and now summer again.

I have sown seeds in my bedroom (it has a south-facing window that is like a green house), lovingly watched seedlings grow (I regularly talked to them, as you do) and have had the joy of planting these on the allotment and watching them develop in to robust plants and then fruit and vegetables. We call them 'the babies' as it is like watching your baby grow.

I love spending time there, whether it's weeding, digging, planting, watering or harvesting. It's all so rewarding. And sometimes I just bring out my camping chair and chill. When the sun is out you can look around and think you're in the Italian countryside. And harvesting food that you bring home and use in your dinner is something very special.

I don't have a garden so this time outside gives me my hit of nature, the outdoors and fresh air. There's also the benefits of being physically active and getting plenty of vitamin D.

My dog Casper often joins me at the allotment. I can't say he's much help. He likes to eat the leaves of the courgette plant and get into the raised bed with rhubarb and sit under the big leaves. My 13 year old daughter occasionally comes along and helps but getting a teenager away from friends and phones is increasingly difficult.

But yesterday we had some bad news. Our whole crop of tomatoes has tomato blight and it's too far gone to rescue. Today I need to go and pull out all of the tomatoes. Not going to be the most fun aspect of having an allotment but I guess it is one of those things that will inevitably happen (rarely, I hope). Having an allotment isn't all a bed of roses...or tomatoes (pun intended).

Fortunately I also grow some things on my south-facing window ledge and have two patio size tomato plants that are keeping me in tomatoes, even heart shaped ones.

When I tried to put my name on waiting lists for allotments, some lists were closed, others had waiting lists of 10 years. It seemed like my dream of an allotment would never happen. I am hugely grateful to Tommy, the allotment owner, for allowing me the opportunity to be part of his allotment, growing organic food, learning so much and enjoying all those unexpected benefits for my mental health.

I now know how much work goes into managing an allotment and think there must be many people that would like help so if you would like to reap the benefits of allotment life, it is worth finding out if there is someone that needs a hand.

You can find a list of allotments on council websites where you can contact the Association that runs the allotment sites.. Some have cafes that open on weekends or hold open days, which could be a great way to meet people. There could be a plot holder out there just waiting for your help.

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