Thursday, 10 January 2013

Allotment reality: the good, the bad and the ugly

Waiting lists for allotments are overflowing throughout the UK - it seems everyone wants a bit of land to grow things on these days, or at least they like the idea of doing so. But having an allotment is a big commitment and requires a fair bit of input if you want to come anywhere near reaping the rewards of self sufficiency.

I'm a gardening obsessive with a large (urban) garden at home, I do the garden at a local infant school and have a full plot at a nearby allotment.  Sounds perfect... but... the reality is, I also have family commitments, want to go away for the odd weekend and generally have competing demands on my available labouring time.  Which means, in inevitable reality, that I don't get down to the allotment as often as I should, or would like to.

Which means this:
Top section of the plot

It will not remain this way!  Having given up the day job, I now have more time available to  attack such scenes of criminal couch grass and will allocate a minimum of a day a week to tackle my plot.

But it is important to know that this is what happens if you can't get to the allotment regularly - this was all cleared this time last year and is not the result of complete and utter neglect.  But neither is it a shining example of how to manage your allotment...

When you apply for a plot, be realistic about the time you have to work it - would a half or full plot be the best size? How much help will you get from friends, family to work it or will you be doing it alone?  What condition is the plot in when you get it?

I took on a neglected plot in 2006.  If you can clear the ground and keep it in cultivation, things get steadily better:
Regular work will take it from this to....

...this. Not perfect, but getting there.

The work needed to keep the ground usable gets less as each time you remove a crop, you also dig over the soil and take the weeds out, thus reducing the amount of work you need to do for planting the next crop.  If you inherit a neglected plot as I did, adopt a strategy of clear and plant, clear and plant - don't try to clear the whole plot in one go as it will become an exercise in futility - when you eventually finish clearing the whole thing, the first bit you did will be overgrown again!  Mentally divide the plot into sections and target specific areas to bring into cultivation each year.  You may even manage to get further than you expect!

If like me, you get a whole plot and need some helping hands, keep an ear to the ground for word of people you know on waiting lists - choose likeminded suspects and encourage them to get involved on your plot whilst they are waiting.  You could decide to allocate them a bit of plot which needs bringing into cultivation which you haven't yet tackled, or treat it as a shared enterprise and all just muck in together.  The latter approach has worked for me, but even with another family of plot-sloggers in tow, the shared issue of limited time, and the prolonged spell of wet weather has resulted in the sad scene in the first photo.

I aspire to this level of tidiness and organisation in 2013! 

Don't get me wrong,  I LOVE my plot and the site is a a fantastic place to escape and for the children to poke around, build dens, snaffle blackberries from the hedgerows and to pick fruit straight from the trees (only on my plot of course). The idyll which makes allotments so alluring is not without foundation - they are indeed magical places full of great character (and characters).  But they also require regular hours and effort so make sure you're in it for the long haul, or have a very understanding committee!


  1. All true! I have been on my allotment waiting list for 6 years now but 'ta dah' this I hope is my year. On original application I was at home with small kids, I am now working and so have enlisted 5 other families to work the plot. I won't give it up without a fight. Claire

    1. Good luck with it and make sure all those children learn to stick to the paths!!

  2. Interesting and nice story about the allotment. Love the first picture of the top section, haha. There is still a lot of work to do before you can sow your vegetables.

  3. Hmmmm. Should keep me busy over the next couple of months.... Let's hope it dries out a bit so I can dig.

  4. I take my hat off to all allotment holders. The commitment involved is something I could not give. Good luck with 2013 and my your crops be fruitful :)

  5. You give great advice for aspiring allotment owners. I am sure I would want an allotment if I lived in England. There is not a concept quite like it here but, fortunately, I have enough acreage at home to keep me busy, as well as helping to take care of our Church garden. I must say I find it necessary to cut back with old age rapidly overtaking me. Look forward to following your gardening adventures in 2013. P. x

  6. I hanker after a smallholding so envy you your acreage! I love urban life too though, so an allotment is the best compromise for me at the moment.

  7. Good idea to offer some of the plot to someone else on the list to help bring it back into use. Although i do wonder why some plots take so long to get into sue with long waiting lists!

    Claire The Diligent Gardener

  8. The same thought has gone through my head at times - the one above mine was unused for about two and a half years and has now been given to the as an annexe to the neighbouring plot - the reason being that it was shaded by the tall hedge boundary which runs down the side of the site - the same hedge that shades bits of my own patch. Don't get it really - if it had once been deemed usable, why has its status changed?