The Rough Guide to Allotments

Celebrate National Allotments Week (12-18 August) by finding out how to get an allotment – and why they offer allot of benefits

Fresh air, fresh veg and a hobby that’s good for physical and mental health: there’s a lot to love about allotments – and a lot of people wanting one.

With 330,000 plots in the UK, up by around 4,000 since 2007, it’s estimated there’s at least one person waiting for each allotment plot in England today. Such is the demand, many local authorities have shelved the traditional 10 or 20 ‘rod’ plot for shared spaces or mini plots, so more people can get a slice of the action. The National Allotment Society – the charity behind National Allotments Week – is also encouraging developers to include allotments alongside new housing schemes.

But it’s not just the size of our allotments that have changed. More ‘exotic’ crops such as sweetcorn and kohl rabi have replaced the Brussels of yesteryear, and there’s a whole new demographic too.

If the volume of sumptuous homegrown food photos on social media is anything to go by, a growing number of women and young people are sharpening their spades too. And where once there were long rows of turnips, there’s cucamelons and chillis in raised beds, sheds painted in colourful hues and family BBQ spots.

So why are so many people swapping supermarket veg for the joy of growing their own knobbly specimens at an allotment?

Reasons to get one:

  1. It’s good for you. Aside from the baskets of healthy fruit and veg, just 30 minutes of gardening can burn around 150 calories – the same as a low impact aerobics session.
  2. It saves you money. Managed properly, an allotment can produce enough food to supplement a family’s weekly shop with fresh fruit and vegetables over the year.
  3. They help us socialise. A quarter of NSALG members suggest they go to the allotment for the camaraderie.
  4. It’s good for the planet. Allotment veg reduces food miles to food metres, and you can create wild areas (deliberate or not!) for biodiverse habitats.

How to get one:

Step 1: Put your name down on the council waiting list. Visit your local council website or go to Gov.uk/apply-allotment.

Step 2: Check out any nearby private sites. The Ordinance Survey Maps show all allotments.

Step 3: If you can’t get a local authority plot, consider joining a community allotment or creating your own. Find out more.

Step 4: Do your homework while you wait. Read about growing fruit and veg, look for veg growing classes on a community plot and try a few things at home in pots.

 

 

 

On the ground advice:

1. Register your interest early. “Be sure to register your interest now as waiting lists can be long,” says Lincoln waitress Kirsty Ward, from My Little Allotment, one of a new wave of young women enjoying allotment life and blogging about it. “Once you have your plot, make a clear list of things to do and try to complete something before moving onto the next thing. I made the mistake of dipping in and out of jobs and I found that I was feeling a bit negative as I couldn’t see changes happening.” 

2. Get to know your plot. “Chat to fellow plot holders and find out what crops do well on the site,” says Diane Appleyard from NSALG. “Assess your plot for wind and shade; work out which way is north. Do a soil test and make a plan. Most tenancy agreements will give you a period of time to fully cultivate your plot but generally you will be expected to make 75% of the plot productive by the second year.”

4. Wage war on weeds. Getting the keys to your first plot can be exhilarating and daunting in equal measure. “It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by this big space, and the weeds!” says Martin Fish, garden writer, broadcaster and show judge, who had his first allotment plot aged just 15. “Cover with tarp and peel it back to clear a small patch at a time. There’s no shame in it – in fact the soil benefits from a good rest.”

5. Cheat. “Be realistic about what you can do and the time you have,” says Martin. “Think about sharing the plot with a friend, get a mini plot, or cheat and buy young veg plants from garden centres, rather than sow seeds.”

6. Put in some potatoes. “A great first crop and not just for spring,” says retired National Nature Reserves manager Tim Dixon, who now helps run a community allotment in Colwall. “Grow potatoes in August by buying cold-stored potato tubers from specialist seed merchants. Simply make a 10cm-deep hole with a trowel and pop the seed potato in. Cover and water, and lift in October when the foliage dies down.”

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Vegetarian Living magazine. Need more help? Check out my gardening vlogs

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