Start an allotment How to get an allotment
Decide whether an allotment is for you
Taking on an allotment is a big commitment. A survey carried out by the National Society for Allotment & Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) showed that allotmenteers spend an average of 203 hours a year working on their plot. Many new allotmenteers give up within a year because they hadn't realised how much work is involved.
Many allotment committees are getting increasingly strict about the maintenance of plots, especially where waiting lists are high.You may be asked to leave if you are not cultivating the whole plot in order to give someone else on the list a chance.
Before you take the plunge, ask yourself whether you have enough time and energy to take an allotment on. You could consider sharing your plot with friends or family, or choose a smaller plot if you have that option.
How to get an allotment
In most parts of the country there should be an allotment site within easy reach of your home. If you don’t know where your nearest allotment site is, contact your local council. If you live in a rural area, contact your parish council.
In many parts of the country allotments are so popular that you may have to go on a waiting list. Depending on where you live, this could be a few months to several years. Though this is frustrating, it means you should eventually take over a recently worked plot on a well-cared-for site. Find out how long you’ll have to wait.
A standard plot is about 250 sq m, though many sites now offer half or smaller plots, especially if demand is high. Expect to pay around £30-£50 a year for a full plot.
What to look for
If you’re lucky enough to be offered a vacant plot, ask the site secretary or council allotment officer about the following:
Access and parking
Even if you’re within walking distance of the allotment, you’ll need to drop off heavy or bulky things.
Location of taps and rules about watering
Many sites don’t allow hosepipes except to fill a tank or water butt on your plot. The distance between the tap and the plot becomes a critical factor in a summer heatwave!
Rules about sheds/greenhouses
Some allotment sites allow individual buildings, but may impose size limits; others provide a communal shed for tools; you may or may not be able to put up a greenhouse or polytunnel.
Local sources of manure
Some sites arrange for deliveries or have designated spots for manure, composted green waste etc.
You’ll be expected to keep the paths round your plot neat and tidy, and there are sites that organise working parties for communal areas. Some sites provide communal lawnmowers, otherwise you’ll have to bring one, or a trimmer, yourself.
If you have a choice of plots, one that’s been worked recently will save a lot of back-breaking work initially. Find out as much as you can about the previous tenant – did they use chemicals, keep pernicious weeds under control, grow particular crops such as potatoes to excess? You may inherit soft fruit bushes as a bonus.
Ask neighbouring plotholders about things like theft and vandalism, and flooding; also about major pests – rabbits, deer and pigeons can cause havoc if you’re unprepared. Talking to them will help you learn about local soil and weather conditions and which crops grow well.
No allotments in your area?
If there are no vacant plots in your local council area, or waiting lists are closed, try neighbouring councils or privately run sites.
If there are no allotments in your area, you can petition the council. Under the Smallholding & Allotments Act 1908 councils are obliged, if six local people request it, to look into buying or renting land and turning it into allotments. This may be easier in rural areas, where farm land can be rented cheaply. It’s worth trying even in urban areas because councils are keen to show their green credentials these days.
The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) reckons that the national average is one allotment for every 60 households, so if your council has less than this, it should help your case.
However, cash- and land-strapped councils are equally likely to claim that they have no spare land – and no group has yet managed to challenge this.
There’s nothing to stop groups of gardeners forming an association, renting land from a local landowner and sub-letting it as allotments. If you join the NSALG, they’ll advise on how to set up such a site.
The Government claims that the Localism Act will enable local people to play a bigger role in planning, designing, managing and maintaining community green spaces – including spaces for food growing.
If there really are no allotment possibilities in your area, don’t despair. Here are some other options worth exploring.
• Landshare connects people who want land to grow on with people who have land to share. Members use the landshare website to advertise or search for spare land.
• The Community Land Advisory Service (CLAS) is a new ‘brokering’ service that has been developed by the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to tackle the shortage of land for community gardening. It offers hands-on help and online information to community organisations and landowners.
• Garden centres often now create allotments on their sites. These aren’t as cheap as a council plot, but they will give you some growing space.
• Local garden sharing schemes match people who can no longer garden, for example, with people who would like some growing space.
• Street growing schemes Look out for a street growing scheme near you - or start one yourself. Neighbours get together to swap seeds and grow veg in their front gardens (in the ground, in dumpster bags or in pots and window boxes). Councils and local charities may offer funding.
Finally, keep your eyes peeled for potential growing spaces - is there anywhere suitable around your block of flats or office building that might make a suitable veg plot? Tell your friends and family that you're looking for a growing space - they may know somebody who's willing to give up part of their garden in return for some fresh produce.