Grow your own veg - get yourself an allotment!
During the second World War allotments were an essential way to supplement food that was difficult to come by and fast became a popular pass time for both those living in the countryside and in cities. Council allotments were formed on the edge of villages and in urban areas to encourage people to grow their own. However, with the onset of processed foods and supermarkets during the early sixties, the enthusiasm for allotment plots died away and many were left fallow and uncared for. However, today's interest in organic produce, along with concerns about how our food is grown has led to renewed enthusiasm for the humble allotment - in some ways you could say they are now like gold dust, with waiting lists for plots of up to forty years! But don't be disheartened, there are still many plots to be had. Here are a few tips on how to go about getting one, things to consider and what to grow.
How to get an allotment
First port of call is to check what your local council can offer you and whether there is a waiting list. Some councils encourage people to share which might cut the waiting time down a bit and be an advantage if you want to grow your own vegetables but don't have enough time for a whole plot. If the waiting time is too long there are other options. In the last few years land share schemes have become a popular way to get your hands on a bit of extra land. See if there is a scheme in your area. Those with more land than they can manage donate some to the scheme to be used by those people wanting to grown their own food. This becomes a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties. Some of the bigger land owning trusts also let some of their land as allotments to help foster community relations and use spare land. Allotments are normally rented for a yearly period and the rent is only very small.
Before deciding whether a particular allotment is right for you it might be worth visiting first to speak to some of the allotment holders. Choose a weekend when most allotment holders are likely to be around. You might like to ask questions about water supply, whether some plots are better than others and, if there is an allotment society whether there is a membership fee. Check the rules - are you allowed to keep chickens or other livestock? Can you plant fruit trees or sell your own produce? If you want to encourage your children to help grow vegetables, check that the allotment is child friendly. Some provide areas for children to play while their parents toil away on the land and others even provide special plots for children to grown their own.
Preparing your plot and what to grow
Once you have acquired your allotment you may find that it needs quite a bit of work. Don't despair. The best time to tackle an overgrown plot is autumn and winter. If you don't fancy the hard work of digging, then ask around and see if someone has a rotavator you can borrow. As well as quickly cutting through the weeds, they are great fun to use! Once your plot is dug over you would be wise to dig in as much organic matter as you can to improve the soil and encourage a healthy crop. You might also think about covering the plot with an old carpet until the spring. This will help discourage any more weed growth and also warm up the soil for sowing early vegetables.
Most allotment growers grow vegetables. But there is no reason why you can't make your plot look beautiful as well. If you have a large plot, think about growing some colourful flowers such as dalias and sunflowers. Some blooms can also be beneficial grown alongside the vegetables such as marigolds which help discourage greenfly. Herbs are also a good addition to an allotment and attract a multitude of beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. You could also personalise your plot by painting your shed a nice bright colour or surrounding it with a few pots and containers with specimen plants such as roses or bay trees.
Whatever you decide to grow on your allotment you will never be disappointed. Eating produce you have grown yourself is not only hugely satisfying and good for you but tastes great as well. A well managed allotment will also provide ample opportunity to meet like minded people with whom you can share tips and indulge in a bit of healthy competition - some allotments even hold their own annual show! Finally, think of all the money you will save, not only by growing your own, but on gym fees - I can't think of a better way of keeping fit!