A wooden box with a handle is filled with vegetables harvested from an allotment in the UK

An allotment harvest in the UK © iStock

If you’ve ever obsessed over plant watering techniques, cursed an army of slugs or wondered what to do with a wheelbarrow of artichokes, chances are you’re an allotment holder.

Allotments are a UK institution. Waiting lists stretch from years into decades in some places as we hanker after the magic of growing our own food.

Over the next few months allotment owners will reap the rewards of their hours of toil as runner beans, potatoes and squash are ready to harvest.

Gardening – a Syrian tradition

A street market in Syria selling many different kinds of fruit and vegetables

A street market in Syria © Tareq Mnadlili

Having a patch of land to call your own is even more important if you’re living in a conflict zone.

Syria was always known for its fruit and vegetables – in some places you can still walk through streets of markets displaying figs, courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

I’ve seen farmers drive up to market with a horse-drawn cart overloaded with bananas. Syrian food is glorious and fresh.

But if you live in a hard-to-reach area, or have returned after fleeing from your home, your options are limited.

Maybe your only local shop has just two kinds of withered over-priced vegetables. Maybe the prices fluctuate wildly from one day to the next.

In some places there’s no fresh food at all.

Being forced to move away from your home because of fighting has really disrupted small-scale agriculture.

People who relied on gardens to feed their families and sell on a little extra were forced to abandon their land. When they returned, they often found their tools and seeds were gone.

Growing a better future

A young cucumber plant grows out of dry soil

Cucumber seedling © iStock

Now a project run by British Red Cross partners, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, aims to change that.

The Garden Vegetable Project will support a village in south-east Idlib.

It will provide a plot of land to 100 families, along with seeds, fertilizer, farm tools and water. This will help to feed around 500 people.

After consulting with villagers on what will grow best, we will supply high-quality seeds for vegetables. These include cucumber, courgette, beans, okra, pumpkin, cucumber, radish, parsley, mint and thyme.

Most of these crops can be planted in time for an autumn harvest.

Because the land been neglected and lacks nutrients, two lots of fertilizer will be supplied with additional minerals to fortify the soil.

Allotment holders will be familiar with struggles to maintain beds and keep everything watered.

In Syria, growers face similar challenges but with a more arid landscape.

Amira, one of the women returning to Nahlia village, has been careful to arrange beds for vegetables. She also strategically dug smaller areas to concentrate water where it’s most needed.

Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers will arrange water trucks for the driest seasons as well.

When Amira returned to her village with her husband and four children, they found their house destroyed and their land no longer usable.

Now she is planting enough to provide for the family with some to spare.

“I am so glad with my return to agriculture,” she said.

“Now I can depend on productive land to fulfill our needs, and it’s possible we can sell some of the excess.”

This blog was written by Penny Sims, senior press officer at the British Red Cross