Allotments are increasingly popular as more and more people want to ‘grow local’. Here KATIE BEAT, daughter of veteran CS columnists Alan and Rosie Beat, starts a new series about allotments. Katie describes how she started out, and explains where to get advice.She will also spearhead a new CS campaign to encourage the Allotment Revolution. We aim to put pressure on local councils – and the Government – to stop covering Britain’s allotments in concrete. We believe ‘growing local’ is vital in a increasingly uncertain world.In 2005, after several years abroad, I moved back to the UK and into a flat with a communal garden the size of a handkerchief. At the time, the lack of outside space did not overly bother me – I was about to start a new job, and just needed somewhere to live. Luckily, my flat was on the ground floor so I had enough space outside my front door to grow a few herbs for the kitchen. As winter turned into spring, however, the hankering for more outside space grew stronger and stronger, and those few herbs soon sparked a desire to do more. I considered digging up the small patch of lawn outside my flat, but didn’t think it would go down too well with the neighbours! So I asked around about allotments and discovered there were two sites in the village.
FIRST IMPRESSIONFull of enthusiasm, I rang the village clerk and put my name down. The site nearest to my house was full, unfortunately, and I was warned that it was very popular. No matter, I thought, I can wait. So wait I did, for a whole year! The following January I rang the clerk again and enquired whether any sites would become available soon. After a bit of negotiation I was told that my local site was full; however, I was offered a plot at the other site, a mile away on the other side of the village.That weekend I rushed off to view the plot I had been offered. I’d been told that I could have either half a plot or a whole one. My first impression was that it was way too big – it seemed to stretch for miles! It was also in a state of neglect. Beetroot the size of footballs dominated one end, whilst the rest of the plot was covered in the dried stalks of old crops and weeds. At the opposite end to the beetroot was the ‘shed’, a half fallen-down affair with bits of rotten wood sticking out sideways from the roof. It looked like it might fall down in the next good storm, but as far as I was concerned, you couldn’t have an allotment without a shed! The shed end of the plot was overshadowed by a very tall tree, and we would undoubtedly need the other, sunnier end for sun-loving crops. So the decision was made to take the whole plot, money changed hands, and I became a very proud and enthusiastic plotholder!
SOARING POPULARITYI was soon to discover that I was not the only young enthusiast around. Gone, it seems, are the days of allotments as the preserve of old men pottering about in their sheds, escaping from the wife for a few hours. Allotments are soaring in popularity – and the proud new allotment holders come from a diversity of backgrounds. Many are women or couples with young children, concerned with food safety, wanting to feed their family with fresh, nutritious veg. Some are immigrants from rural backgrounds, stuck in a big city and desperate for a bit of green space. Some are people who are becoming increasingly worried about the ethics of food production, who want to eat local food with a minimum of food miles. Some are into organic growing and wish to avoid fruit and veg smothered in a cocktail of pesticides and chemicals. Some merely want to grow things, to be in contact with nature. Whatever the reason, they are all part of the allotment revolution!
WHY GROW YOUR OWN?So why would you want to grow your own veg? Well, for a start, nothing you buy in the supermarket will EVER taste as a good as something you have grown yourself. Even your knobbliest, dirtiest carrot will have ten times the flavour of the hygienically scrubbed, tasteless orange crunchy things that are sold as carrots in the supermarket! Secondly, home grown veg is much better for you and for the environment. The physical work necessary to maintain your plot will keep you fit and healthy, and the vegetables you produce will be fresher and more nutritious than anything available in the shops. Growing food on your plot will also mean you will eliminate food miles (the distance food travels from field to plate). You can control what chemicals are applied to your crop, and you know exactly what is going into your mouth.Thirdly, growing your own veg will give you a lot of satisfaction. There is something magical about planting some dried-up, brown-looking seeds and a few days later seeing tiny seedlings and then lush green plants appear. To then follow that process through, caring for the plants, defending them from pests, watering them when it’s hot, supporting them when they get too tall, and finally harvesting them for the table, brings another dimension into your cooking. Suddenly, not only does it all taste damn good, but you really appreciate the amount of work that goes into food production. The personal satisfaction to be gained from a successful harvest is immense – suddenly you have a whole cupboard full of onions and potatoes to last you through the winter. It is only since having an allotment that I have really come to understand why the harvest festival used to be such an important event in the agricultural calendar!Finally, for those who are financially minded, there’s the enormous cost saving. We have all taken a few sharp breaths when considering the price of organic food stuffs in the shops (and indeed, some people refuse to buy it for that very reason). However, when you grow it yourself, not only do you come to appreciate the true cost of food, but you also realise how cheap it is to grow your own. My allotment rent costs me a staggering £16 per year (although they are apparently much more expensive in cities)! Some basic seeds will probably set you back about £20. Add soil, water and sunshine (all free!) and watch your plants grow – you’ll soon be eating fresh vegetables until they come out of your ears – and all for very little! I’m now going into my second growing season on my plot. The past year has been very hard work but has bought plenty of rewards. I’ve met a lot of new people, been given lots of advice (some of which was good!) and have learnt an immense amount. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes which I will try not to repeat this year! I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I started, but was eternally optimistic that things would turn out OK in the end. And most of the time, they did!
THE SHOCKING FACTS
The Local Government Association says Britain has lost 200,000 allotment plots in the last 10 years, many to developers – yet there are an estimated 100,000 people on allotment waiting lists. An estimated 330,000 people do have plots. The need for allotments has never been greater, so people can grow their own food, cut food miles and protect the environment. Allotments also offer people the opportunity to grow delicious food free of chemicals. You can support the CS Grow Our Allotments campaign. Send us your comments and tell us about allotment provision in your area. Email firstname.lastname@example.org