Starting an Allotment

Starting an Allotment – So Many Decisions, Just Where to Start?

There can be many reasons for having an allotment and this will determine the factors of you allotment including size, what you grow and how long you stay in that allotment.

What is your Reason for having an allotment?

My criteria for an allotment went something like this.

‘An allotment.  Where? How do I find out more?’  ’When can I have one?’  Not exactly a practical approach!  In my defence I have had gardens before so was aware of the workload.

Only when it started to become a reality did I start to think about the practical side of allotment owning and what it was I wanted from it.  Though I suspect years of having a garden allowed me to have some background ideas.

My sister encouraged me to get one because it would fulfil several needs.  I would get away from the house for a few hours and also away from the computer where I spend 40 plus hours a week.  I would get much needed fresh air and exercise.  Again working from home doesn’t help that at all it is even worse than working in an office for moving about.

Saving money.  Ideally I wanted to save some money if possible in the long term.

Having more fresh food.  A tight budget means I often do not have enough veg or fruit for the week.

So to Recap Reasons for having an allotment

  • Save money
  • fresh produce
  • control of chemicals
  • concern about how things are farmed
  • better taste rather than fast growth
  • fresh air
  • exercise
  • and for some the community spirit and company

So Does Having An Allotment Really Save You Money? Or Do You Even Want it to?

After many discussions with other allotment owners the answers came back as; I pay for my allotment by selling non edible things at a car boot to pay for it (note you cannot run a business from your allotment).  Yes it does, I get all my produce and seeds from my allotment and preserve, freeze etc them. (Owner has 4 plots)  No it doesn’t but the food is fresher.  No not if you take into account all expense and your labour time.

So basically Yes, No and Maybe! Argh!

So seeing what others are doing can help you do decide on what to grow or what to leave out and how best to plan your plot to get the best from it.  Those that were saving money were those with 4 allotments at £55 each one.  In normal terms that would equal one full size allotment.  They said they only spent 3-4 hours per week on it.  A full size allotment is huge!

Then Tim the previous owner came back and said he had 10kg of blackcurrants from his bushes.  Even with my bad maths I could work out that each supermarket bought berry pack averages about 200g and that is 5 punnets per 1kg at about £2 per punnet which is £10 per 1KG and times that by 10 should pay for the plot which means that it is possible to make back the money from the site and then possibly save some money or at least pay for the initial outlay though of course new plants will not yield so much.

So another decision was made.  Look at the things I was growing:

How to Decide What to Grow?

  • Are they easy to grow?
  • How much time do they take to be ripe?
  • How much space do they take?
  • Do I like them?
  • Do I want fruit or veg and in what proportions?
  • What is the yield?
  • And are they expensive in the shops?
  • Is there any evidence that they will grow here on this allotment?
  • Are there any plants I want to grow regardless?

All the time I was making these decisions my allotment plan kept going through revisions.  Then something unexpected happened, one of the allotment owners gave me a welcome gift of an allotment journal (can read full account in my blog)  Out of everything I had read this was the simplest and clearest grouping of plants.  Inspired by this I went to the library to see what they had on allotments.  It was September so it was unlikely too many books were out on loan – jackpot two  great books on allotment gardening.

One of these books was the Half Hour Allotment Gardener, intrigued I picked it up.  Much of what it said was similar to the decisions I had made about what plants to have though the why was not always the same.  The half hour gardener was not about producing all your needs but about how to get great food in a small amount of labour time for those who where time strapped or just didn’t want this to be their main activity.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend more time on it, it was just that I didn’t want to be controlled by it.  This book showed everything from how to avoid glut and famine to what to plant to get the best out of it.  It isn’t for everyone as some people will want to have lots of allotments and spend lots of time on them.  Me personally would rather have one plot to start with and get it under control and have the spare time and feel less inundated.  Having had a garden that was a constant battle against hedge row brambles I was happy with this idea.

So taking the journal, my online planner and this book I sat down and planned my allotment in earnest.  The list of plants was huge.  Fist I wanted to see if you would even get them all into such a small space (1/4 of a full plot).  I could just about do it with a few over.  My little plot was now stuff to full with plants.  Wow quite impressive.  The book went on my to buy list.

One of the things it didn’t include were main crop potatoes as they took up too much space for this type of gardening.  This wasn’t a problem as I had already decided against both tomatoes and potatoes as the other allotmenteers had major trouble with blight each year, this year being particularly bad due to horrid weather conditions.

Now it was just a case of removing one or two plants as I wanted blueberries though not the best cropping, I just wanted them.  Then there seemed to be far too many broccoli plants so they will get reduced.  Of course, having a journal and keeping track will make the second year decisions much easier.