Debbie Mitchener – Full interview

My Story

The allotment space of the is part of the wider community garden that’s on this council estate. I’m the chair of TRA and I help to manage the community gardening here.

Why I grow my own food

I grow my own food for my sanity. The food is a bonus, to be able to pick something and eat it fresh. I love cooking and I love baking, so to have those fresh ingredients is a bonus. But it actually helps aleviate symptoms of depression. Being outside and being surrounded by nature and having that dose of vitamin D even in winter, is a real boon to the system. It gives headspace. Especially in an urban environment where there is very little space for people. And time. It is all about space and time to think.

Why I save seeds

It’s an interesting experiment because you never know whether it will work and it always shocks me when it does. Having grown up in an environment where everything was bought commercially and covered in chemicals and had to be given chemicals to grow, and that was the way that it was dealt with, to think that I can grow a broad bean here, save the seed and plant it next year without all of that added interference from the chemical industry! And it still grows. And it’s still fine. I think the chemical industries and the seed industry is quite toxic. It’s a balance of nature and politics for me.

The very fact that we’ve got a heritage seed library in this country that cannot sell its seeds is totally and utterly ridiculous, because someone hasn’t given them a license. Yet those seeds have been grown for hundreds of years. Why does it have to be managed in such a way that it’s all about making money? You know, seeds, food, water, the air that we breath, they’re all basic human rights, and I think business needs to back off.

Connection between growing and my heritage

I grew up on a market garden. My father was a professional market gardener, so from the age of 9 I was out picking tomatoes, planting lettuce, all of that sort of stuff. My father just bought from the big companies. He stil does bless him. He wants to know that they’ve been treated because some treatments that they put on seeds are done to stop them from bolting. And he’s all for genetic modification as well. So I was brought up very much on the opposite side of all of that. There’s a constant headlock with that. I suppose you always do the opposite of what your parents did.

How I feel when I work in the garden

I feel very peaceful. I’ll often come out here thinking, “Oh I need to do the weeding,” and I feel stressed, and I feel there’s pressure on me that I need to do things. But within minutes of being out here, all that’s gone and suddenly an hour has gone by and you lose yourself completely in it, and it’s almost like a meditative state that you get into very quickly. It has a real grounding and calming influence.

Debbie on Greek Giant Beans

Where the seeds came from

They came from the real seed company and I bought those in 2012. And the seeds that we planted this year are the great grandchildren of those original seeds, so I’ve grown them and saved them every year since I bought them.


They like it a little bit drier than we’ve been having it, because they are a variety that’s come from Greece, they’re used to slightly drier soil and a bit more sunshine and a bit more warmth. The first year we grew them next to the community hall, which is up against a brick wall. And that wall faces directly south. So they were getting residual heat. And they did extremely well there. Whereas this is much more exposed and there’s a lot of wind around here, and they haven’t got the space to grow.

They will go metres up.


You don’t eat the beans themselves, you’re after the seeds. They’re a soup bean. They’re originally from Greece, and they’re really lovely seeds, and I’ve used them in stews and soups. They add quite a bit of protein to a vegetable dish. They’ve got a much nicer taste to them than saving your runner beans or your large runner bean seeds.

How to save seeds

Let them dry off in the sun, and then when they are starting to go brown and dry, and then I would pick them off and put them in a cotton bag and hang it in the greenhouse and dry in there, and let them finish off. In October, when it started to get damp in the air, I took them up and they hung on the backdoor of my kitchen.