Urban myths about allotments go back a long way and this year’s National Allotments Week is all about inviting local communities ‘to see what happens behind the gates’, to understand how they not only benefit the individuals and families directly involved but also the cities that breathe a little easier because of them.
So, over a cup of tea at ‘said’ allotment, we chatted to an expert and here are his truths and insights about running an allotment.
Jon, a father of one is a project manager at online supplements business, Evolution Organics and a great example to us all. Every inch a modern man, you’ll see that he understands that the benefits of having an allotment in his family’s life go way beyond a having a table of fresh veg.
Q: I’ve always loved the idea, but just how I go about getting an allotment?
A: First, and most obviously, get your name on the waiting list (they are getting longer every year), but also - if you know someone with an allotment who is struggling, offer to help. Ultimately, most allotment associations want their allotments to be well cultivated, so proving your 'worth' can go a long way in helping secure good relations and will allow you to get growing while you're on the waiting list.
Q: And, just how big can an allotment be? I’ve been told they’re huge?
A: There seems to be a lot of opinions on how big a 'standard' allotment plot is, but roughly 250 square metres (about the size of a doubles tennis court) is accepted by many. However, many allotments are subdividing their original plots in order to improve overall cultivation levels, and give as many as many people as possible the opportunity to get growing.
Q: Am I allowed to share an allotment?
A: I expect different allotment associations approach this differently. We helped out a friend on her allotment while we were on the waiting list, and this allowed us a full and productive growing season before we took on our own plot.
Q: As a beginner, what would you recommend I grow?
A: I would look around and see what others near you are having success with, ask questions and start there. This means that your plot is likely to be suited to those plants, and you'll have plenty of expert help on-hand through the growing season. Growing fruit and vegetables that don't travel well and are at a premium in the shops is good to do. You end up with a much better taste at a fraction of the price. Also, try and make sure that you have produce to harvest year round - it will help massively with motivation. Allotment planning should be fun!
It's good to be adventurous too. Try growing a couple of plants that no one else is growing, and might not be suited to a 'normal' summer. If you go for one that would like a very hot summer and one that would be much happier with a cool wet one, you might get something unusual out of it. If neither works, it might have been a 'normal' summer, and everything else has grown magnificently, so you won't care about them anyway.
Q: What do I need by way of tools and what about a garden shed?
A: The tools you need initially depends on the state of the plot when you start, and ongoing, the method you wish to pursue. For me, a fork, a hand fork, a hoe, two watering cans and a wheelbarrow do most of the work. You do tend to accumulate lots of weird and wonderful tools over time. On many allotments, you can hire heavier/more expensive equipment at a reasonable cost from the association.
It's great to have a structure of some description to store tools/seeds/bulbs, and also to shelter from the rain! When we started on our allotment, garden sheds were the exception, but are now very much the norm.
Q: I’d love to grow flowers too, is that frowned on?
A: Not at all, flowers look good, they're also great for attracting pollinators. You can combine great looking flowers to cut for the house with food production with some of the edible dahlia varieties.
Q: Is it a one-man show or does the rest of the family get involved too?
A: Our allotment is a pretty sociable one, and an amazing green space in an otherwise urban environment. It's great that my 2 year old daughter gets to experience growing from sowing, through care, and finally to harvest. The trick with little ones is to not get too precious. You will lose plants instead of weeds, your recently dug beds will get trampled on, and your not yet ripe prize pumpkin will get pulled about. Just don't worry - make sure that growing food is a positive experience.
Jon's allotment plan.
Thanks Jon, we’ve been inspired … enjoy National Allotments Week