Our First Year in the Allotment: A Case Study

Alison and Simon have an allotment near their home in a small Devon village. As they’re new to allotmenteering we thought they might have some good advice to pass on to potential allotment holders and beginners. We asked them about their first year on the allotment.

What Made You Want an Allotment?

We enjoy gardening and, in particular, growing our own vegetables but our cottage garden is quite small. There’s not a lot of room for a vegetable patch. We liked the idea of self-sufficiency and hoped we’d be able to save some money as well.

How Did You Go About Getting an Allotment?

The village in which we live has two allotment sites. We went to visit both of them, talked to some of the people working on their plots and found out who was in charge (a man in the village). Both sites had a waiting list of people wanting an allotment so we added our names to the lists. When one became vacant and we were offered it, we jumped at the chance. The other site was more desirable but the waiting list was longer.

How Much Does it Cost?

We pay £20 a year. It’s all quite informal; we don’t have anything in writing, like a tenancy agreement. Our site doesn’t have an allotment association and isn’t especially well looked after. There’s no water laid on; we have to rely on water butts.

What Was the Plot Like When You Took it Over?

Terrible! The previous tenant had been an old man who because of his deteriorating health had let it go a lot. Also for the last few years, he’d only grown cabbages and they’d gone to seed and the plot was generally neglected. But we were pleased because it was a large corner plot, at least twice the size of most of the others.

What Was the First Thing You Did?

We started clearing the weeds and putting in raised beds. Then we invited our parents up to help dig and weed! And we built a fruit cage. This was in the autumn so we were preparing for the next year.

How Much Time Did the Plot Take Up?

We were both working full-time so allotmenteering had to be fitted in around that. We were up at the plot for at least a day most weekends throughout the summer as well as some evenings. The plot could have swallowed up as much time as we were able to give it.

Any Problems?

We were amazed how quickly the weeds grew back. Every time we went to the site we felt we had to weed for an hour or so, just to tidy up, before we started on anything else.

The birds pulled up the garlic and the rhubarb just vanished: we assume it rotted. The wind blew down our fruit cage but doing battle with the weeds was the biggest thing.

What About Your Crops?

The first things we grew successfully were broad beans, garlic, a variety of potatoes and squashes – loads of squashes! We also had great crops of runner beans, peas, onions and soft fruit.

Do You Have Any Advice to Anyone Thinking About Getting an Allotment?

Start small and get the basics done first. We were so keen to get planting that we didn’t want to wait. As a result we were overtaken by weeds, which made the job seem more burdensome. Plan the layout of the plot, get your paths treated with weed suppressors and lay down some gravel. Think low maintenance. If you get the foundations right, you’ll be able to enjoy the pleasurable part of growing your own vegetables more. Sort out a water butt and, ideally, a secure shed to store your tools in, so that you don’t have to keep carting them back and for.

Also, don’t take on too large a plot. We were delighted with the size of ours originally but we just can’t manage it and we’re planning on offering half of it back so someone else can have an allotment.

Even if it means not growing stuff for a while, getting the basics in place first is definitely advisable.

Did You Enjoy Your First Year as Allotmenteers?

It’s amazing when you can get food from the ground to your table in minutes almost and it tastes so much better when you know how much work you’ve put into it. It’s been hard work and the weeds almost defeated us but, yes, we enjoyed it.