By Holly Barry, @HJBarry
As a nation, we rarely grow our own produce anymore. Long gone are the war years of rationing, when every spare inch of green space was turned into an allotment to grow fresh food, from parks and playing fields to gardens. We now rely on a trip to the handy supermarket or even a home delivery for all our fruit and vegetables.
This could be for a number of reasons, including:
- We don’t know what we’re doing
- We don’t have the space
- We don’t have the time or inclination
- The great British weather can’t be relied upon
With the pressures of modern day life causing many people to hark back to a simpler way of life, TV programmes devoted to the joy and skill of gardening have flourished, with shows such as BBC’s ‘The Big Allotment Challenge’ seeing pairs of keen gardeners go head to head to test their skills and gardening know how as they transform a neglected space into a beautiful allotment, alongside favourites such as Gardeners’ World fronted by Monty Don and Love Your Garden, where Alan Titchmarsh transforms empty spaces into gardens for people suffering from ill health or adversity.
Finding an allotment
If you’ve been inspired by a TV show, or have even seen a friend’s garden flourishing on Instagram, why not flex your own green fingers with an allotment of your own?
You will need to apply to your local council to be allocated an allotment plot where you will likely be placed on a waiting list. Organizations such as the National Allotment Society also advertise vacant slots, with some also available through private landlords.
If there are no allotments in your local area, you can submit a request to your local council to be granted land to turn into allotments. Do bear in mind that this can be a lengthy process, as there is no fixed time scale for the council to act. Also, the process cannot be used in London, due to the 1963 London Government Act.
What will you need to get going?
While you may think all you need to make a success of your allotment is a couple of packets of seeds and a spade, the right tools will make growing much easier and more enjoyable.
The basics include:
- Watering can
As you become more accustomed to your allotment, you will get to know which tools are the best for each job and which you use most often.
How often should you visit your allotment?
There is no one answer to this, as it depends on a number of factors:
- How large your allotment is – the larger the space, the more time you will need to spend tending it
- The crops you grow – some will require more maintenance than others
- How you plan your plot – building raised beds and changing the layout are all time consuming
- The condition of your plot when you take it over – if it needs extensively clearing or weeding, this will take time
Secretary of The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Geoff Stokes, states “You’ll need to spend a minimum of two hours per week on your plot to keep it productive.”
While you could probably get away with this on a small plot in the winter months, it wouldn’t be enough in the main growing season, especially on a large plot which would quickly become covered in weeds if you only spent two hours per week maintaining it.
What should I grow in my allotment?
Whilst the weather has an impact on which crops you can grow, some are easy to maintain crops which flourish in the UK which include:
- Asparagus – plant in early spring. Durable and easy to grow
- Beetroot – plant in early spring. Easy to grow, ideal for beginners
- Broad beans – plant March – April. Easy to grow, ideal for beginners and children
- Brussels sprouts – sow in April, plant out in June. A low maintenance crop
- Cabbages – plant outside 2 – 3 weeks before the last frost date. Easy to grow
- Carrots – plant outside 3 – 5 weeks before the last frost date. Easy to grow, ideal for beginners
- Runner beans – sow from May – July. One of the easiest vegetables to grow
- Tomatoes – sow 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date. Easy to grow
The health benefits of eating your five – or even ten! – a day are well known, so make it more enjoyable with fruit and vegetables you have grown yourself. As well as tasting better than some supermarket produce, which is forced out of season or shipped in from abroad, choose home grown crops, which are rich in nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins. The impact on your pocket is favourable too!
Why choose home grown produce?
Growing your own produce rather than buying from the supermarket is beneficial to the environment in a number of ways:
- It reduces the number of pesticides in the environment
- Recycling peels and skins to make compost provides nutrients for environment
- You reduce your global footprint by decreasing air miles and air pollution from imported produce
You’ll also see benefits in addition to the environmental aspects, such as:
- A positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing from the manual work of maintaining your allotment in the fresh air
- Encouraging your children to eat fruit and vegetables – if they have grown them they are likely to want to eat them
- With food waste a growing problem, why not donate any excess produce you grow to a local foodbank rather than throwing it away?
Making the most of your allotment
Not just for growing fruit and vegetables, your allotment is the ideal space to relax and enjoy those long summer evenings with a barbecue with friends and family. Add a fire pit, comfy garden furniture and outdoor lighting and your allotment becomes the perfect place to entertain.
From picnics in the school holidays to Easter egg hunts, treasure hunts and teddy bears’ picnics for the little ones, your allotment is a versatile space for the whole family to enjoy.