Potatoes and carrots on your plate an hour after they’ve come out of the soil. A plentiful supply of herbs as you need them. Plump juicy raspberries straight from the cane into your mouth. Sounds good?
Today more and more of us are striving towards the dream of feeding our families with fresh, unpolluted, non-gm crops by growing our own vegetables and fruit. If that’s you and you’re finding that your garden plot is no longer big enough – or you live in an apartment without a garden – then an allotment is the next step.
How to Find an Allotment
Most allotment sites are run by local or parish councils. (By law councils have a statutory duty to provide allotments where there is a call for them.) A few are privately-owned and run but your first step should be to give the local council a call. They will be able to tell you location, rent and availability of allotment plots. They may even have a designated allotment officer. They may also be able to give you contact details for privately-run sites; alternatively try your local library.
Visit the Sites
Once you have all the information pay a visit to your local site, ideally on a sunny weekend when you’re likely to find allotment-holders in action. Chat to them, explaining that you’re hoping to have an allotment and ask them about the site. Find out the pros and the cons from people who are already doing it. Check out the facilities: is there parking? Is water laid on? Are there toilets? What about vandals and trespassers? Is there an active allotment association?
Different people will consider different things important. A site that seems perfect but is a long way from where you live can lose its attraction quickly if you have to drive through early evening traffic jams to get there, so think about what you want from your allotment.
Getting an Allotment
With the increasing interest in self-sufficiency, there are quite often waiting lists for allotments. If that’s the case, get your name down and phone regularly to show that you’re still interested and keen.
Rent for an allotment varies from area to area, depending on facilities, from as little as £5 up to £80 per year with the national average being around £25. You and the owner will be required to sign a tenancy agreement that will specify your responsibilities as well as those of the landlord. Under Allotment Acts passed by parliament the allotment holder is required to ensure that the plot remains in a good state of cultivation and free from weeds. Read your tenancy agreement carefully: you may find that you’re not allowed to erect a shed or light a bonfire.
Basic gardening tools are vital. Top of the list come fork, spade, hoe and watering can. A hand fork and trowel are also useful. You’ll need a water butt to collect rain water and, if it’s a large plot, a wheelbarrow will come in handy too. Good quality tools are an investment but if money’s tight, check out charity shops and small ads in the local paper. If there’s an active allotment association they might have a second-hand tools section. Finally, having a shed on your allotment will save you having to cart all your equipment back and for. (But check your tenancy agreement first.)
Enthusiasm, energy, time and perseverance. Taking on an allotment requires all of these in abundance. Maintaining an allotment is slightly less work – as long as you are regular in your tending. But the pleasure, when you place that dish of buttered carrots on the dinner table, knowing that they’re as pure as a carrot can be, and that they’re there because of your hard slog, makes all the effort worthwhile.