It’s interesting to think how a 250 square metre of land could mean such a world. These erstwhile neglected spaces, that when cultivated with a great degree of tender loving care, becomes a family’s food trove throughout the year.
The very reason why allotment gardening came into existence, in the first place.
And until now, this collective garden-tending effort captures the interest of a whole nation. Or at least, when the economic stability is at risk. But, let’s walk through the different ins and outs of allotment gardening, what methods, structures and tools to make gardening easier, and all the valuable facts that celebrate this wonderful and popular activity.
Allotment gardening takes its roots from 19th-century philanthropy
Industrialisation brought intensive labour but did little to suffice the needs of the poor. The Victorians saw this hard time and took good notice of the poor. Lands were given for factory workers to feed themselves and to promote a healthy lifestyle.
By the end of the First World War, lands were also made available to servicemen to assist them in their return. With the skyrocketing of allotment activities and the number of people getting interested in it, the government passed laws for local authorities to provide sufficient lands in their areas.
Your allotment, your responsibility
Also known as community gardening, allotment brings together people with a common love for gardening or need for self-sufficiency.
But unlike other community gardens where the entire area is cultivated by all the people involved in it, your allotment or garden plot is yours for the grooming, cultivating, harvesting, and all. It’s yours to toil on. You get to choose what fruit, vegetable, or ornamental plants to grow – subject, of course, to your tenancy agreement. The tools and method of planting depend on your preference and gardening know-how, too.
You manage your allotment well enough and you will reap a good produce. But, if neglected, other families or groups will be very much willing to take the plot from you.
Allotment size is an issue, but not to everyone
Long ago, as in the Anglo-Saxon times, allotments were traditionally measured in rods or poles. A typical allotment measures: 100ft by 30 ft or 250 square metre—about the size of a doubles tennis court.
But this standard measurement wasn’t taken out of whims. It is said to suffice the food needs of a family of four in 12 months. And people strictly hold on to that standards, that anyone who suggest a cut in size is met with harsh opposition.
But that isn’t always the case. With the fast and busy way of modern life, gardeners in urban areas particularly, find it more manageable to grow in half the size of a standard allotment. Plus, it allows more gardeners-in-waiting to plant for their own food. It means lesser produce, but more in self-sustaining families.
Allotments grew in number, so did the issues and laws on it
In the UK, the number of poor in cities and large towns increased whilst lands were being enclosed by a few landowners. The obligation fell on local authorities to provide allotments as the public demands through the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation for Crops Act 1887.
The 19th century also saw few revisions in the allotments acts such as the Small Holdings and Allotment Act 1908 to provide more allotments and resolve any anomalies.
Present-day situations also called for some changes to stiffen the law and protect plot-holders. The continuing struggle with urban development issues moves allotment holders to rally against their local councils and fight for their “paradise.” Concerned societies are also calling for more government support of the long-held tradition.
Finding an allotment is easy, but owning one is another thing
There are three possible ways to get that coveted piece of plowing land.
- Consult your local allotment council for available land. The internet has made it easier for you to find allotment in your local through the government’s portal. Enter your postcode and all the information will be provided for you – how to apply, the rental costs, availability of plots, and the estimated time you would have to wait before holding one.
- If you find the waiting list on local council too long for your patience, then try your luck with private landlords. Some botanical societies, gardening clubs, and extension services can assist you in finding one. Again, the internet conveniently provides information on plot vacancies with private landowners.
- If waiting is not your thing, then it wouldn’t hurt to go and be proactive. Look into your community or neighborhood for any vacant lot and ask permission to use it for growing. If you chance upon a large stretch of idle land, you can even invite would-be gardeners to embark on an allotment community.
It may be that being a plot-holder is up to sheer luck or privilege. But it pays to wait. However long the waiting list is, sign-up on any possible land prospect, then see if you could find some other way.
Finally, you will be given a slot… Take it?
Pause. It’s so easy to get lost in the excitement of owning an allotment, especially after a painfully long wait. So, it helps if you would consider a few important things before actually accepting a plot.
Ask about your specific allotment – from the gardening habits of its former owners to current condition of the soil, access to water, available facilities, safety matters, and the like.
Then, learn as much as you can about the whole allotment community you will be taking part in. Every community has its own set of rules such as use or non-use of garden sheds and chemical-based garden essentials, allowed animals, and even the specific plants to grow.
And yes, acquaint yourself with your allotment neighbors. Remember, it’s the start of another circle of life.
If you’re happy about the prospect, then get hold of that tenancy agreement.
Money Talk: Rental Cost of an Allotment
You will be required to pay rent for your holding an allotment to cover general maintenance bills, water rates, and perhaps the use of particular facilities in your community.
Rents vary according to regions, general conditions or allotment size. The cost may be equivalent to a peppercorn amount or £25 to £125 per year.
In keeping with standards and plot-holders protection, rental cost or compensation is regulated by allotments laws.
You can own an allotment for a year, but can be extended or cut short
There’s always the fear of losing, and allotments are properties that aren’t far from being taken away. But laws provide allotment holders with a certain security of tenure.
This includes the leasing duration of about one year. Depending on your capacity, you may choose to extend that lease for another year or two. Also, the government has set 6 months to 12 months of notice before ending a tenancy. That allows a few more growing seasons for a family to bank their food supply.
But, if you fail to leave up to the standards of your allotment community, that is, you totally neglect your plot, you may risk losing your spot on the ground much shorter than you expect.
Fresh food supply is just among the MANY benefits of allotment
1. Food supply all year round
Being the most obvious, getting fresh vegetables and fruits is your top advantage for having an allotment. You get access to seasonal produce that has been grown using safe organic methods (if, of course, you went for organic gardening method). Studies also show that the quicker a freshly harvested food reaches your table, the better.
2. Find new friends
Gardening alone at home gives you certain peace, but gardening in a community has its unique favour, too. There, you get to meet gardening hobbyist, food lovers or neighbors whom you might have never get acquainted with if not for your common garden plot interest. It allows you to socialise, form new friendships or reconnect with the old ones, and have fun.
3. Save money
The soil proves to be the closest friend a man or a whole nation can turn to when the economic weather gets challenging. Families learn to grow their own food to save money, which then collectively result in national savings in terms of food supply and health treatment.
4. Reclaim lands
Allotments are most often built on neglected large areas. By creating garden plots, these lands become productive and lively with recreational activities.
5. Improve your mental health
Struggling with mood and self-esteem? Studies also show that gardening has positive impact on mental health and general well-being. Just 30 minutes of digging and plant-tending dissolves tension and depression and boosts feelings of happiness.
6. Get physically fit
Physical fitness is also a gardening perk. The Journal of Public Health found that 68% of non-gardening groups are obese as compared with just 47% of the gardeners. It’s a tough exercise that burns 150 calories for every 30 minutes of digging.
7. Promote skin health
For the skin sensitive, you might be surprised how getting sun-exposed whilst gardening also nourishes your skin. 15 to 90 minutes a day of sun exposure, depending on your skin type, builds up a good level of Vitamin D for that healthy looking skin.
Allotment gardening is not a very easy task
The prospect of taking an allotment is quite appealing. But, are you ready to take on the hard task? It’s gardening after all, but a kind of gardening that is unique in many ways, too.
Here are a few things to consider:
- First and always, refer to your tenancy agreement. Allotment communities differ in policies such as the type of plants to grow, animals to bring in, and if individual shed or greenhouses are allowed.
- Learn from your allotment neighbors. They probably know more about the area and what will work best on it, thus saving you time and effort.
- Consider your plot in relation to the water source and access to sun or shade. Then plot your garden plot, accordingly.
- What’s your allotment gardening style? Organic, double-digging, no-dig? It’s your call.
- Use wood chippings along your allotment paths. This is especially helpful during winter when soil becomes slippery or muddy. Plus, the wood will eventually rot and add as soil fertiliser.
- To lessen pest and disease problems, pick the type of crops that are resistant to prevalent diseases on your allotment.
- Weed solution varies from carpet mulch to cardboards, black plastic, weed-control membranes, and black mulches.
Gardening best practices also apply in allotments
Brush up on your common gardening skills and know-how. They might prove very helpful in your allotment gardening venture.
- Test your soil. If the plot you’re growing on is not garden-ideal or has not been treated well by its former owner, fertilise accordingly. Or, go for raised beds so you can choose your soil type.
- If you’re a beginner, start with low-maintenance crops such as carrots, kale, onions, garlic, shallots, spinach, and chard. You may even opt for plug plants instead of seeds to see quick results.
- Stick to a monthly gardening calendar to help you get productive in harvest and in your growing habit.
- Use organic pellets to combat slugs and snails.
- Clear the weeds using a hoe and be very careful in using rotary cultivators as one wrong chop on roots could worsen the problem.
- Crop rotation allows you to grow food in their best condition and with less pest or disease problems. It’s one of the recommended practices in gardening, but the choice is still on you and on what’s best for your own plot.
- As in any venture, patience and consistency pay off. Tend to your garden plot regularly.
Allotment gardening offers creative and recreational ideas
Get creative with your allotment experience with these simple tips (again, taking consideration of your tenancy agreement)
- Turn those ramshackle sheds into colourful attractions. Build flowering-clematis around your garden sheds and other facilities.
- Make your allotment child-friendly. Give them a separate area to grow in their favourite plants. If gardening is not to their liking, yet, turn it into a plaything by having treasure hunt games.
- Create a safe space for some garden-friendly wildlife like bees and butterflies. Create bee-boxes or log piles for slow worms to raid your compost heaps.
- What’s in season? If you were to harvest carrots for a week, learn different recipes in preparing carrot meals.
- Inspire a culture of fun and close bond among allotment neighbours by building earth ovens to cook meals for all. You can also organise workshops and bonfire celebrations.
- Set-up shops or commercial growers for fund-raising.
A few more quick facts
Toilers in an allotment garden used to compose of men. Now, more women are into allotment gardening.
Allotment Gardening is not for the aged only. Teenagers are now picking up on the hobby.
The Dig for Victory campaign during World War 2 gave almost an instant rise in people taking up spaces to garden in. Over 1.5 million allotments were created in Britain after the war.
A 2013 Waiting List Survey shows that an average of 52 people waits for every 100 allotments.
The waiting time for an allotment can be as short as 6 months or as painfully long as 40 years, in urban areas, particularly.
Dig in for a great allotment gardening experience!