Many Council's and Societies across the UK have long waiting lists for an allotment plot at their sites and keen growers are resorting to transforming their gardens to grow their fruit and vegetables. The 'grow your own' concept has gone full circle, becoming popular again with us all being more conscious of sustainability, health and looking after our finances. The ideology of a summer plot filled with lush green foliage has potential growers dreaming of hazy days, tending their patches but what is really involved for an allotment plot holder.
By signing up for the tenure of a plot, you are committing to the annual fee, which varies widely, and as to what that may cover and what each sites' rules are as part of their tenancy agreement. You can read more about this on the Allotment Rules page.
Aside from the financial commitment, there is your life balance to consider; do you work full-time? Do you have other regular commitments? Are you in good physical health? Do you like to go on holiday frequently?
The time to allocate for your allotment will depend on many factors; the plot size, how active you are, what you intend to grow, the condition of the plot when you take it on and the time of year.
An average 10 pole plot equates to 250sq metres and sometimes smaller ones can be available if that is too much to manage. Or you could consider sharing it with a friend or relative and share the workload. Another alternative is to go for raised beds and no-dig gardening if traditional growing and digging is physically challenging.
Consider what you are growing and whether those particular crops are high or low maintenance, whether you can store and eat all the produce - Think about your household consumption before sowing 30 cauliflowers that will be ready all at once! After all, we want to reap the benefits of what we sow.
Hopefully your allotment plot site will hand your new plot over ready to go, but unfortunately, that is not always the case and so before you even get started, you may have to clear dense weeds and rubbish. Having been neglected, a lot of preparation work will go into getting the soil weed-free and rich in nutrients, along with your own planning and plot re-design to get the lay-out just as you want it.
If you love to go on holiday, you will need to arrange somebody to water the plants in your absence; perhaps a friendly plot neighbour will help, and you can return the favour. It's worth considering when you go away and how long for - during a warm and wet May-June, the weeds grow the minute your back is turned!
Obviously, spring and throughout the summer, into the autumn is generally busy - the busiest time peaking May-June, as you will go from prepping soil beds to sowing and planting along with maintenance and weeding, watering and then, hopefully lots of harvesting. After harvesting, you will be busy with an array of storing jobs dependent on your crops like washing, blanching, drying out, freezing, covering and storing, making chutneys, sauces, canning, pickling - all ready to enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Winter months on the plot tend to be more dormant unless you are growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
If your plot is in a reasonable condition, you have established plants and you are on top of the weeding, you will likely require approximately a half to one day per week; split into a few hours here and there throughout the week to keep maintaining everything. Plan to allow for travelling time to and from your plot too.
So far, we have made it sound like hard work - and it is or can be! But it is also extremely rewarding, and you might find that you really take to growing your own and spend virtually all of your spare time at the plot, which is a great way to unwind and escape and also make friends and socialise with like-minded people who are often more than willing to offer advice.
You might decide to swap gym time for digging or time spent relaxing with a book for the bench at the plot with a flask - It does not always have to be work at the allotment. Hopefully you can get the whole family involved if your time is juggling growing children too!
The key is to factor in your life and how a plot can be part of that realistically. If you have an office job or work that is quite sedentary, you might embrace time spent moving around, outdoors.
If you have a very full life, it can be done but you may just need to be organised and plan ahead; make lists and stay on top before things become over-whelming. You will find that you are always checking the weather forecast because 'best laid plans' and all that, so try and utilise the dry and fair days. During the summer, you can benefit from the lighter, longer days and so jobs can be done early morning or evening if the daytime is too hectic or too hot.
It's worth having a bag of spare clothes kept in the boot of the car or shed for example, if you like to call in on your way home from work. You don't want to get carried away only to realise that you are still in your suit or heeled shoes!
Sometimes, life throws us a 'curve ball' and unforeseeable things happen, such as illness, which prevents us from getting on but that is totally understandable. It is worth communicating it with your allotment site and plot neighbours who will more than likely offer a helping hand or at the very least, give you reasonable time until you are able to get back to it.
It's worth noting that there are many health benefits including physical exercise, mental well-being, an improved diet, it is money-saving and it combats isolation. If you struggle to find enjoyable ways to exercise or to 'switch off', then getting close to nature and working with a purpose may be the answer and will justify time spent working an allotment plot, even if it means something else has to give. Growing gives you a sense of achievement and great satisfaction as well as its challenges.
As you grow and learn, you may become more adventurous with your growing projects. The main thing to remember is that it should be enjoyable, it is a hobby and if it is not for you, give it back for somebody else to use it, rather than neglect it. Use it or lose it.
If you get the opportunity, go for it. However daunting it may seem at first, embrace the challenge and enjoy the growing journey. You will never stop learning. We don't make mistakes, we have a first and then a second attempt and sometimes things do not go so well due to the weather or other factors that are out of our control. There will be days when you pull up the most impressive vegetable and proudly show it off too!