In praise of allotments

by
13 September 2011

by Dominic Vaughan

SEPTEMBER is a great time to have an allotment — you have an abundance of produce, the freezer is full of vegetables to use over the winter, and the garage has bags of onions and potatoes. Best of all, the rampant weeds have slowed, and you have a little time to think about what to plan for the late winter and early spring: garlic bulbs, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages are better planted as seedlings.

Renting an allotment is becoming popular again. From a low in the late 1960s, when the UK had about 50,000 plots, the latest figures are about 350,000. (This is still a long way from the peak of 1.4 million in the mid-1940s.) People want to know about the food that they eat. If you plant it yourself, then you know that no chemical pesticides or herbicides were used.

The cost of renting varies from less than £10 per year for half a plot to more than £100 in a few areas of London, but many people pay less.

It takes time to look after it, but much depends on what you want to grow, and how well organised you are. With good planning, it is claimed that just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is all it takes. This seems op­timistic: I take about five to six hours per week working on the allotment — but think about it a lot more.

If you are considering an allot­ment, you will need to put your name on the list with your local authority, parish council, or land-share scheme. Some areas have long waiting lists, but others are creating new plots, and you may not have to wait at all. The National Trust and landshare. net are also creating areas for allotment use. Other useful websites include http://allotment.org.uk; http://allotments-uk.com; http://ruralidyller.com; and http://nsalg.org.uk.

Usually, there is little choice, but, if you do have a choice, go and see the plots, ask the allotment neighbours what they think, and try to avoid a plot with problems such as over­hang­ing trees or brambles, bind­weed, or Horsetail. Choose the plot with the best light, as most veget­ables do not like shade.

Winter is a good time to plan for the coming year. Order the seed catalogues, and get advice from the many books or magazines that are available. There are websites and blogs for sharing the ups and downs of allotment life.

You will never be short of advice on how to make the best of your allotment. All of it will be helpful, but some of it will certainly be con­flicting: dig or don’t dig; organic or chemical; exotic vegetables or onions, potatoes and beans. Everyone will have their thoughts; so in the end you just do what you think best, and as time goes by you realise that most things work well.

The magazines Kitchen Garden and Grow Your Own are helpful; as are The Sunday Telegraph, the Satur­day Guardian, and The Observer.

The age range on my allotment is very wide, from mid-20s to over 80, and the split between men and women is about 50-50. Having an allotment is a great way of meeting a wide range of people, and finding out about the community in which you live. I learned more about my local area over one season on the allotment than I did in 14 years.

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