Whether you’re lucky enough to have your own garden or not, renting an allotment can enable you to have a regular, fresh supply of fruit and vegetables, help the environment and meet new people in your local community.
First preparing and then maintaining your allotment is also a great way to stay active and engage in a rewarding ongoing project. Keep reading to find out more about what an allotment is, why they’re so popular and how you can apply to rent your very own patch.
What is an allotment?
Allotments are small areas of land, rented to individuals by private or local authority landlords, for the purpose of growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. The size of an allotment is usually measured in ‘rods’, and while there is no set size – a typical allotment will usually measure around 10 rods, which is equivalent to 250 square metres, or the size of a doubles tennis court.
People typically apply to rent allotments in local or surrounding areas, as they will need tending to regularly, so must be easy to get to. Many councils will request that those renting allotments don’t drive to their plot, to help reduce their carbon footprint. For this reason, plot tenants often keep their tools and gardening equipment in a secure shed or lockable box on site, so that they don’t have to carry them back and forth with every visit.
Why are allotments so popular?
There are approximately 330,000 allotment plots in England, with the vast majority belonging to local councils and The National Trust. It is believed that allotments have been around hundreds of years since anglo-saxon times, when they were given to the poor to allow them to grow food for their families.
Since then, the culture of allotments has changed and is now an appealing option to people of all ages and backgrounds. This is largely driven by the growing concern over the large distance that our fruit and vegetables travel before reaching our plates, and the pesticides and chemicals used to grow crops on many farms. Allotments have also become more popular as a result of TV programmes like Channel 4’s River Cottage, and popular TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, spreading the ‘Grow your own’ message. The recent pandemic has also encouraged more people to think creatively about where they can get their fresh fruit and vegetables from – with many people describing their allotment as a “lifeline” during lockdown when supermarkets experienced a surge in demand, and farm workers were in short supply.
What are the benefits of having an allotment?
There are numerous mental and physical benefits to having your own allotment. These include:
Looking after an allotment can be quite hard work physically, making it a great form of exercise. When you first take over an allotment, it will be in the state that the previous owner left it in so you might find yourself inheriting an overgrown plot that
needs clearing of weeds, woody plants and other debris. This can require a lot of digging, lifting and carrying (and possibly the help
of a friend or family member!) Once you’ve cleared your plot, there’s still plenty of planting, water and ongoing maintenance to do – which will all keep you moving. Walking back and forth to your allotment several times a week can also help to increase your activity levels.
Sense of community
Owning an allotment can be a gateway to making some new local friends. Chances are, you’ll regularly bump into your allotment neighbours when you arrive to tend to your plot, and because you already have something in common, conversations will often happen quite naturally. Watch warm smiles and a friendly wave grow into friendship, alongside your crops and flowers.
If you decide to use your allotment to grow your own fruit and vegetables then you could save money on your weekly trips to the supermarket. Vegetables like carrots, parsnips and leafy greens can be grown all year round, and can be much tastier than the fresh produce that you can get in the supermarket, because there are no nasty chemicals involved.
Having an ongoing, rewarding project to work on
Many people say that they enjoy the sense of routine, reward and purpose that they get from looking after their allotment. Seeing the results from when you first clear your allotment, to when you harvest your first lot of fruit or veg, or see your plants bloom for the first time, can be extremely satisfying.
Helps the environment
Growing and eating your own fruit and vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint on the environment. Not only will you be helping to limit the amount of packaging used, you will also be stopping the need for your fruit and veg to travel miles (using all that fuel) to reach your plate. Growing organic crops will also reduce the amount of pesticides and harmful chemicals in the soil.
Encourages you to eat more fruit and vegetables
With careful planning, your allotment could produce plenty of fresh, tasty fruit and veg all year round – and the more fruit and veg you have readily available to you, the more likely you’ll be to eat it. There’s also something much more satisfying about eating food that you’ve grown yourself; especially when you know it’s pesticide-free.
You can use time at your allotment to relax and unwind, or as a chance to bond with family or friends
Some people use tending to their allotment as a way to relax, unwind and have some time alone with their thoughts, whilst others like to get their friends or family involved and use it as a chance to bond over something productive. If you’ve got grandchildren, then encouraging them to help you look after your allotment by planting, watering and picking fruit and vegetables can be great fun – and can also show them more about the journey that their food goes on before it reaches their plate.
What types of allotment are there?
There are three types of allotments and each works differently. If you want to rent an allotment on a more stable, permanent basis, then it’s often best to opt for a statutory allotment.
These are owned by the local authorities and cannot be sold or used for anything else without the consent of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. This means that as long as you actively use your allotment and look after it well, it’s unlikely that it will ever be sold, or taken over by a new tenant.
Temporary allotments are also council-owned, but aren’t protected from being sold on – making them less secure than statutory plots. So, it’s best to avoid these, if you don’t want to run the risk of losing your plot.
Sometimes allotments are owned by private landowners, who choose to rent them out. These plots have nothing to do with the council at all, and are entirely in the control of the landowner.
So again, you do run the risk of losing your plot if the owner decides that they would like to use it themselves, or if they decide to sell it on.
Allotments will usually be leased for one year at a time, with the option to renew contracts indefinitely. The Allotments Act 1950 offers security to plot tenants by ensuring that landlords have to give tenants at least 12 months notice before selling their allotment, or renting it to a new tenant. A landlord can terminate an allotment contract, giving one month’s notice, only if the tenant has breached the terms of the tenancy agreement.
How much does an allotment cost?
Allotments costs range from around £20-£100 per year, depending on the size of the plot, on how much water was used at the site in the previous year and on how far you live from it. Some local councils offer significant discounts for people over 60 or over 65.
You might also qualify for a discount if you take on an overgrown plot or if you are receiving certain benefits. It’s best to check with your local council whether you are eligible for a price reduction, as every council has different rules.
You will also need a few tools to help you look after your allotment – things like a shovel, trowel and rake. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on these. You can often pick them for just a few pounds at your local DIY or garden centre.
How can I apply for an allotment?
Applying for an allotment is pretty straightforward. If you want to apply for a council-owned statutory plot (which is the most secure type of plot), then you’ll need to contact your local council directly.
It’s important to bear in mind that there are often waiting lists for allotments, and waiting times can vary. However, the sooner you get your name on the list, the sooner you will move up the queue.
To find out which allotments are in your local area, how much they cost, and how to contact your local council about them, you can enter your postcode on the Government’s ‘Apply for an allotment’ page.
Things to consider before applying
When deciding which allotment you’d like to apply for, it’s a good idea to do your research and check whether the allotment has the facilities that best cater to your needs – for example, water, storage sheds, compost and toilets. It’s also a good idea to think realistically about the size of your plot, based on what you will be able to manage.
Clearing and maintaining a plot can be quite physically demanding – and plot tenants will often only find out how big their plot really is when they’re digging it over! Many councils offer allotments in half sizes, if you’d prefer something smaller.
The timing of your plot will largely depend on when a space becomes free, but – if you can, it’s a good idea to have your plot cleared by early spring, so that you’re ready to start planting and sowing seeds.This will give your plot the best opportunity to reach its full potential.
Top 10 easy to grow vegetables for your allotment
Courgettes are one of the easiest and most prolific vegetables to grow. They like to spread out but you can always plant them in big patio containers if you’re short of space. Keep them well watered and pick the courgettes when they are small, this encourages more to grow. Well worth growing yellow courgettes which are just as easy to grow, but far more difficult to buy. The flowers are edible too and are delicious stuffed with herby ricotta and fried in a light tempura batter.
Growing your own broad beans gives you the pleasure of picking the young beans which are sweet, tender, and succulent. When the beans are very small you can eat the whole pod too. Sow them in the Autumn and if the mice don’t eat them you will have an early crop in late April, alternatively sow in March for a May harvest. The advantage of an Autumn sowing is you are likely to harvest before the black fly emerge.
Mange tout are one of the easiest pea varieties to grow. All peas need to be supported with canes otherwise they just trail along the ground. Mange tout should be picked when the pods are about 7.5 cm long, just as the peas are starting to develop. Use them as quickly as possible as they lose their sweetness once picked. Lovely to eat raw in a salad or steam them lightly.
There is nothing like the sweetness of home grown peas, they like a rich soil and regular watering and must be supported with canes. Pick when the pods have filled out, but tastiest when the peas are small and sweet, as they mature the peas turn starchy. Use the pea shoots for salads and don’t discard the pea pods as they make excellent vegetable stock.
French beans are easy to grow in small gardens, so long as you choose a dwarf variety. Just a few plants will reward you with a copious and reliable crop. French beans also come in a variety of colours – the usual green but also cream, yellow, flecked, and purple French beans. Do note that purple French beans turn green when you cook them.
Rocket is an easy-to-grow and as its name implies when it gets established it grows fast. Rocket flourishes in a warm, sunny position. I grow both the rounder leaved and wild more toothed varieties. The younger leaves are milder and less peppery. The yellow or white flowers are a pretty addition to salads. A glut of rocket can be turned into a pesto or salsa verde. Leaves can also be lightly cooked like spinach, added to sauces or sautéed in olive oil.
The Chicory family (Cichorium intybus) is an exciting and greatly varied family of leafy plants with so much variety compared to the forced “Witloof” white ‘chicons’ that we buy in the Supermarkets.
In Italy, there are more than 600 different varieties. They grow right across the year and are available as green shoots in the spring and as puntarelle and big-hearted vegetables in the summer.
Wild chicory grows widely in Britain. Bright blue flowers signal its presence in meadows and is a foragers delight. All the chicories can be grown in your garden and grow through the winter, with varieties such as Treviso and Radicchio turning a beautiful deep crimson colour as the weather gets colder.
Castelfranco is another stunningly beautiful chicory with leaves that look as though they have had crimson paint flicked over them. I use chicory as a slightly bitter salad and as a cooked vegetable.
Leeks are easy to grow and its one crop that the slugs and snails are not partial too. Sow leeks in the Spring in seeds trays and then plant out when they are about 20 cms high into a deep round holes made with a ‘dibber’ (or wooden broom handle). As leeks grow straight up you can dot them around your summer cropping vegetables. Harvest through the winter.
Cavolo Nero tolerates cold weather and is relatively free of pests and diseases. You will need to net your cavolo nero against the cabbage white butterfly, which flys in July, lays eggs on the underside of the leaves and within a few days the ravenous caterpillars can decimate your crop. All through the winter pick the leaves, leaving the plant to keep on growing.
Chard, or Swiss Chard, is one of the most visually appealing of the leafy vegetables and looks good in a herbaceous border. I find it easier to grow than spinach. It is grown both for its leaves and the stalk. try growing the spectacular Rainbow chard.
Chard is the oldest form of beet and unlike beetroot it does not form a bulbous root but a mass of stalks and leaves which carry on growing as individual leaves are cut.
When cooking chard It’s worth separating the leaves of chard from the stalks and cooking the sliced stalks for a few minutes before adding the leaves and, like spinach, they reduce down dramatically so always pick more than you think you need!
(Article source: Various)