Allotments come with many benefits, whether it be providing a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables to eat or a chance of escapism from our everyday, busy lives. For many plot holders, their allotment is a hobby and they often form a close-knit community through a shared-love of gardening.
If you can’t see the allotment attraction already, that’s because we’re yet to touch on the health benefits. Spending a day outside in the fresh air is obviously going to have a positive impact, as will the summer sunshine by building up your vitamin D levels, and with just 30 minutes of gardening burning around 150 calories, you’re only going to be better for it.
Allotments were originally introduced by philanthropic Victorians to provide a healthier diet for factory workers, and a standard allotment, measuring 100 feet by 30 feet, provided much-needed produce for the working classes to supplement their meagre diets. And whilst their appeal has now crossed the class divide, the benefits of an allotment remain the same.
The running theme for 2018’s National Allotment Week is ‘Living and Growing’ – an initiative that is generally set to focus on the plot holders, rather than their gardens. The National Allotment Society are hoping to see more people incorporating fruit and vegetable gardening into their lives no matter how big or small the space.
Tony Heeson, a Representative for the society, emphasises the advantages of homegrown produce. ‘An awful lot of things are very easy to grow, but if you’re just starting out then start with simple things. Try buying onions as sets to plant yourself. Or try planting potatoes. If you don’t have an allotment, you can use a container about the size of a laundry basket and pop in three potatoes. All you need to do is simply buy them and bury them, then in three months they’ll be ready to eat.’
Now is the time to be starting off your salad ingredients. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions can all be done on a small scale too – even for those without access to an allotment. If you’ve got any sort of garden, it might be just a patio or even a balcony, Tony recommends putting out small tubs to start growing your own. ‘Pop three or four canes in a container and grow half a dozen runner beans – they’ll supply you with a fair crop. They will grow outside too, provided they’re in a sheltered spot.’
Homegrown produce tastes so much better. Pick a tomato from your own plant and it will taste very different to the shop-bought varieties. And when you consider that a lettuce, taking 11 weeks to grow commercially, will be sprayed 11 times, it’s easy to see why you might prefer to grow your own, which is likely to be sprayed only once ‘This could be a significant factor that has encouraged people to apply for their own allotment over the last few years,’ Tony explains.
Managing an allotment is no mean feat, but it could produce enough food to replace much of the fruit and vegetables in your weekly shop – what you produce will be fresher and will taste so much better than the supermarket alternatives. ‘There is a vast difference between homegrown produce and those bought at a supermarket. What you grow in your allotment is taken home to be eaten within an hour, whereas what you pick up in the shops has probably already spent a month being shipped around the country – and even the world,’ says Tony.
So, to eradicate the depressing sight of sad-looking tomatoes from the bottom drawer of your fridge, pay attention to our round-up of some of the easiest produce to grow – allotment or not.
Herbs on the Windowsill
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
Start by choosing a herb you’ll be able to incorporate in your cooking, there’s no point in growing an abundance of coriander if (like most of the population) you can’t stand the stuff – try mint, parsley or basil, all popular in cooking.
You will need a reliably sunny and spacious spot on a windowsill. Plant five or six seeds of your chosen herb into a pot with plenty of drainage holes and around one inch of dampened soilless potting mix and pat down – this way you won’t be introducing any disease to the seeds, and they’ll have sufficient drainage. Water the seedlings whenever the soil feels dry but don’t drown them – herbs don’t like wet soil.
Tomatoes in Plant Pots
Choose a variety of tomato such as Patio or Better Bush as they have sturdy main stems that don’t need much support. Consider the size of the pot you’re planting it in, as although your seedlings may be small, a fully-grown tomato plant needs space to anchor its root system. Use a good quality potting soil to protect your tomatoes from disease.
Fill your chosen container with the soil, then dig a deep hole – this will encourage root growth. It’s a good idea to introduce some kind of support too, like a string trellis. Just be sure to insert it when you first plant each tomato – adding it at-a-later-date can cause disturbance to the growing roots. For successful growth, tomatoes need plenty of hydration, so keep on top of watering but be cautious not to saturate your soil.
A Fruit Tree on the Patio
FOR YOUR OWN GIANT PEACH
You don’t need an orchard to grow your own fresh fruit. You may be surprised to know that you can grow fruit just as well on your front patio or balcony – just choose a tree appropriate for the space you’re working with. Dwarf fruit trees are the best option as they are restricted in the size they’re able to grow – but don’t worry, this has no impact on the size of the fruit you can produce.
You’ll need to start off with a reasonably-sized container filled with compost. Then simply transfer your chosen tree from its original pot and plant it at the same soil level in its new pot. Be sure to water it thoroughly and replace the nutrients by adding a fertiliser and position your newly-potted fruit tree in a south-facing spot.
Top Tips for the Allotment Novice
- If you are interested in getting an allotment, start looking around now – there are waiting lists in most areas – often running into several years.
- When you finally receive the long-awaited call to say you’re top of the list, images of leafy borders and fresh fruit and vegetables may be the first thing that spring to mind. The reality is, it’s going to take some time to create the sustainable, food-producing haven you’re dreaming of. Here are some things you should know before taking to the trowl.
- If you’re unsure of the plants left behind in your plot, ask neighbouring plot holders – not only will they be able to tell you, but they’ll thrill at opportunity to give you a lesson in horticulture.
- Great things take time, so don’t give up if things don’t happen immediately – they’re not supposed to.
- Don’t get caught up with what others are planting. There is no point in joining in with the rest of the site with their carrot planting if you don’t like carrots.
- Spend some time exploring the plot you’re about to take on. Measure out your boundaries and hammer in wood at the corners along the margin, so you know exactly what is yours before considering what you want to plant.
- Draw a diagram using the measurements of your plot, so you can start to make decisions on what vegetable beds you’d like and what size. Consider space for a shed or greenhouse, and where perennial plants will be positioned, (like fruit trees and bushes). If you’re stuck for ideas, seek help from allotment planning software.
For more information on National Allotments Week, visit www.nsalg.org.uk