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    Categories: The Pondering Gardener

Your allotment – is it worth while?

James Middleton - Allotmenteer

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Allotments require a lot of work and commitment. So does an allotment really pay for itself?

Many years ago, when I was considering getting my first allotment, my employer at the time said to me “There is no point in getting an allotment. You have to put so many hours in; if you were to work overtime and earn the money, you would have all of the food you’d ever need and live like a king!”

As I recall, at the time, I thought his opinion didn’t address the motivations behind allotmenting. This article will attempt to address the balance with the pro’s, con’s and financial gains and losses of having your own plot.

Reasons against having an allotment plot.

  • Ground Rent: Depending on where you live, you can pay anything between £10 – £150 per year (in some places more) for your plot. If you default a payment and lose your plot, it may take years to get another.
  • Waiting Lists: Due to an increase in popularity, most allotment associations have huge waiting lists for people wanting to ‘have-a-go’ at growing their own veg. So may have to wait 2-3 years before getting the keys to the gate.
  • Time commitment. You have to dedicate a huge amount of time in order to run a successful allotment plot: at least 10-15 hours per week as a bare minimum for preparing the ground, sowing, planting, weeding and more weeding.
  • Hard work. Being an Allotmenteer is not easy. For the most part, work can be back-breaking. It’s especially hard when the sun is beating down on you or at the other end of the spectrum, the rain is falling and the ground is heavy and water logged.
  • Things will go wrong. You will not always sow and reap. Sometimes pests and disease will tear through whole crops leaving you with nothing. You will experience plenty of let down’s as an allotmenteer.

Reasons for having an allotment plot.

  • Fresh Air. I know how it sounds, but being out in all of the elements may (eventually) lead to a great sense of peace. Forget your expensive Feng Shui and your aroma therapies; being away from the stressful, fast-paced modern living, in a rural or semi-rural environment should help bring a little calm to your high pressured life.
  • Community. You will (if you behave) make new friends, share ideas and even crops. For the most part, in my experience, having an allotment inevitably means that you will become a part of a community with a common goal growing stuff.
  • Keeping Fit. I know so many people who have spent many hundreds of pounds signing up to their local Gym, only to use the facilities for the first month or so. A big waste of money for many. Working on your own allotment will help keep you in trim. As long as you use the tools of the gardening trade with the same reverence as any apparatus found in a multi-gym complex, you will, whilst growing great food have a superb general work out.
  • Organic Food for very little. We have all taking a ‘gasp’ when looking at the differences in price between standard and organic goods at our supermarkets. If you practice organic growing techniques on your allotment, then your food will be healthier and tastier without having to pay a premium.
  • Helping the environment. Having an allotment is also a way of doing your bit for the environment. When you buy food at your local supermarket, how ‘local‘ is it? A lot of goods may have been shipped or flown from far-flung places around the globe, increasing your carbon footprint. Hideous chemicals may have been used to control pests and disease whilst growing your foods, causing the negative impact to the surrounding environment. At least when you grow your own veg, you nowhere it has come from and what it contains.
  • Cheap Food! This year (2008), I planted, amongst many other things, 80 sweet corn kernels. Out of the 80, 79 sprouted and became robust plants. I received 1 very large cob off each plant plus a smaller one off about a third of the crop. The seeds, I bought for 50 pence from my local car boot. Looking at supermarket prices, my whole crop of delicious corn was worth over £60 and it required very little effort to grow! I had the same luck with my onions – bought a pack of seeds for 25 pence, sowed them, planted about 350 seedlings and received a crop of about 320 lovely onions!

So, to address that old boss of mine…if you’re reading this, you know who you are…I absolutely believe that having an allotment is truly worth it. Yes, I could make a lot of money with the time ‘wasted’ on my plot; I am self-employed, charge £45 per hour…could make a fortune. But, after working the usual 8am to 5pm, staring at a computer screen, do I really want to spend extra time doing this, or being out in the fresh air? I suppose it’s a matter of priority (cruel thing to say, James!). I can take my family down to the allotment. My 2-year-old son, Sam can get his fingers dirty and grow lettuce. My wife can sun herself (she’s not that interested in gardening as I am). But more importantly, as a family, we can all enjoy ourselves.

James Middleton :An obsessive gardener since 1982. Day-time job - web designer and developer and University lecturer.