If you’ve decided that you want to start homesteading but don’t own a plot of land, you might choose to take on an allotment.These are patches of land set aside for public use, but unlike community gardens they are carved up into smaller plots which are individually managed.
The numbers of individual plots on an allotment site can vary from just a few to several hundred, and the size of the plots varies greatly too – although they are usually between 50 and 400 square meters. Just to confuse matters, in the UK allotment sizes are often referred to in archaic units called ‘rods’ (also called ‘poles’ or ‘perches’). A ten-rod plot is about 250 square meters, and is about the same area as a tennis court, or the penalty area on a football pitch.
Normally the land is managed through an allotment association which charges members an annual membership fee, which varies widely but is usually nominal. When you join you agree to abide by its rules and constitution, but have complete freedom within them.
Allotments are hugely popular in the UK: over a quarter of a million people hold an allotment plot, and yet the waiting list to get one has never been longer. Allotment sites almost always foster a great community spirit, with plotholders ready and eager to help each other.
- You don’t have to buy the land
- There are always lots of experienced gardeners around to ask for advice
- A great way to get started in gardening
- The rules (and managers) can sometimes be quite restrictive, such as not allowing a greenhouse or polytunnel
- Let things get behind and the association may take your plot away from you
- There are often VERY long waiting lists for a plot
Who should I ask about getting an allotment?
Your local authority will maintain a list of statutory allotment groups and, if it’s doing its job properly, should know about all the privately run schemes as well. You can find details of your own local authority by using the Directgov search facility.
How big a plot should I ask for?
Don’t be put off if you’re only offered a half-sized plot. Five rods is more than enough for a newcomer to handle, and will probably give you more than half the output you would get from a ten-rod plot because you will grow more intensively. Remember, if your plot is too big and the weeds run away from you, the site manager may ask you to relinquish it.
The waiting list is too long!
If the message from your local authority is discouraging, don’t leave it there. Put your name down anyway, and ask if there are other allotment sites in the vicinity that you could travel to. It’s also worth contacting the manager of the local site and speaking to them directly, as they may know of one of their growers who is struggling and might appreciate some help, or who might agree to share their plot.
If all that fails, you may need to consider alternatives such as;
- Starting a new allotment site – a tall order, but sometimes possible: contact NSALG (see below) for advice
- Digging up your own flowerbed, or…
- Windowboxing – don’t laugh, you can do a lot in a very small space
- Contacting a local or national Gardenshare or Landshare scheme
- Arranging an informal gardenshare arrangement with a friend or neighbour
- Guerilla gardening
NSALG – the horribly named National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners is the recognised national representative body for the allotment movement in the U.K. It’s a co-operative which mostly represents the allotment movement to the press and policymakers, but also provides advice and information to members whether allotment or home gardeners.
Directgov local authority lookup – find your local authority here and ask for the allotments officer. If you’re on the edge of its territory you may need to check neighbouring LAs too.
The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens can give advice on establishing food-growing initiatives and amenity gardens in urban areas.
The Allotments Regeneration Initiative aims to support and develop allotments regeneration and the creation of brand new allotment sites in the UK, including private ones.
Allotments-UK is probably the best specific allotment website, offering a selection of unbiased articles and a busy forum without trying to sell you anything.