Updated: Sep 21, 2021
As the whole world knows, 2020 was a year that will be unforgettable for all of the wrong reasons. When lockdown hit the UK in March of 2020, it didn't take long for the novelty of time off work and drinking during the day to wear off. What we quickly realised we had, was nowhere to go. I had a sinking feeling 2021 would be no better and I decided it was time to rent an allotment.
I've been a keen gardener for the last 6 years but I had slowly started to take over the bit of grass my boys used in the garden to play on. I had wanted an allotment for a while but didn't think I could commit with work and our regular trips away in the caravan. But when lockdown came I realised it would have been heaven to have somewhere to go that was 'different', and of course, the added benefit of getting my kids outside and learning about sustainability was a bonus. So I put my name down on the waiting list and viola, in November one came up. You don't have to be an expert to get an allotment, there's so many great YouTube videos, blogs and online groups that can more or less teach you everything you need to know. But for starters, here's my top tips.
If you're serious about getting an allotment, the first thing you need to do is contact your local council and ask them for a list of the all of the available allotments in your area. When you get the list, start working out the distance of each one from where you live, then rule out any you wouldn't want to travel to. If you can get a space within walking distance to your home, that would be ideal. But don't narrow your search down to just one allotment, a plot might not be available for some time so consider ones a little further away. I put my name down on about 3 waiting lists. The one I got isn't close to where I live, it's about a 7 minute drive but we're confident we can cycle to it using short cuts (will be testing that out soon). At the end of the day, I plan to sit and stare at the fruits of my labour in the Summer with a cool glass of wine so I certainly won't always be driving there.
Plots are usually a half plot or a full plot in simple terms, but councils tend to measure them in categories. All you need to think about is how confident you feel. If you have the time to take care, work on and invest in a large plot then go for it. Chances are by the time you've got your teeth into a half plot, you will want to expand anyway. But if you're not feeling confident and can't be sure of the time you can commit, or if you don't have a large family to grow for or friends to give your produce to, stick with a half plot. In our case, a full plot became available and whilst it was a little daunting to begin with, we decided to just go for it. I'm so glad we did! I've planned on planting more than I actually have space for!
The other thing to consider are the allotment rules. Ours is pretty laid back luckily, chickens are fine, outbuildings too, and so are polytunnels. The only rules for us are no fires except in November and March. I know of lots of allotments that won't allow sheds or outbuildings. You need to think hard about whether or not to go for a plot that has this rule. Your gardening equipment might build up quickly and you will want somewhere to put it. In the winter or in the case of a sudden downpour, having a shed to nip into is a Godsend. I knew right from the beginning that I wouldn't pick an allotment that wouldn't allow outbuildings. I wasn't even thinking about chickens but when I saw how many chicken coups were erected at our allotment, I knew we would do the same. If you fancy getting chickens and having your own freshly laid eggs, make sure your allotment allows it before you sign on the dotted line.
Our plot became available in November and there's not much you can do at that time of the year. So we set about 'turning our plot over' which is probably something you will have to do when you get yours, no matter what time of the year. Here's how ours looked at the start.
Owning an allotment is meant to be inexpensive. But it can quickly add up if you're not careful. Don't get carried away and start adding fancy decking and white picket fencing. You will quickly see that allotment plots are almost always made up of rejected building materials and unwanted items that have been up-cycled into planters, borders and even furniture.
The rent on a plot is really cheap, probably less than £100 per year depending on where you live. For the opportunity to teach your children about sustainability and wildlife, growing your own fruit and vegetables, spend time together in the great outdoors and to have a sense of achievement at the end of it all, I think is well worth it. I also believe owning an allotment and nurturing it is good for your mental health. And in lockdown, it's fantastic to have a change of scenery because the government tends not to close allotments.
If you're lucky, you will already have outbuildings on your plot. They may need tidying up and patching up but even if the thought of muck and spiders creeps you out, try to get past it and keep any buildings already erected. Always have in the back of your mind that this is supposed to be a frugal experience. Having said that, I have just gone and spent a whopping £700 on a polytunnel but that's because I wanted something sturdy that wouldn't get blown down by the cross winds we can get across our plot. If you want to indulge in something indulge in a good polytunnel. We got ours from First Tunnels. If your forest school project will be taking place in a garden, First Tunnels still have a great domestic range you can take a look at.
If you want to recreate borders and rearrange the plot you end up with, try salvaging materials from people you know or check out free sites like on Facebook marketplace. Plastic is always better than wood because it won't rot. We managed to get some free composite decking boards off a friend to start some new borders off. The aim will be to replace all of the wooden ones. Another thing whilst on this subject you should check, is whether or not your plot can become bogged down with water in wet weather. Ours can! I have actually just been there today and loads of it was covered in ice and the parts that had melted, were just pools of water. If this can happen to you, it might help to break larger beds into smaller ones with paths in between which helps drain the water. We had a large bed at the front of our plot (see top picture) which we broke up into 5 separate beds.
If you're lucky, your allotment will have a wood chipping heap that gets replenished by the local councils tree cutting efforts. You can use these to create your paths. Make sure you get a wheelbarrow on your plot as a priority if there isn't a communal one that can be used. The best thing to do with a water logged plot is to raise the beds. As I convert my borders I intend to raise the beds which basically means creating higher borders and filling it with soil/compost. I really don't want to start investing in railway sleepers so I'll be looking online to see what's available free or cheap but if you've got any suggestions, let me know in the comments!
TAKE YOUR TIME
On the very first day we spent turning our plot over, this is what we achieved....
It's a marathon, not a sprint. As long as you're consistent, spend at least one weekend day per week working on it to get it ready, you will be there in no time. Of course, if you plot becomes available in the spring or summer, you will want to work a bit quicker to get planting in time, otherwise just take your time and get it ready for next year. If the weather is cold, don't be put off! Trust me, you soon work up a sweat. Wear layers, you will be stripping off in no time!
the most exciting thing for anyone who owns a plot, is planning what you're going to plant. This is essential to knowing how you will lay out your beds. Here's a fantastic FREE tool which is simple to use (just remember to click back on the icon for the building/plant that you're moving/changing each time). Don't worry about sizing it unless you're good at that sort of thing. I'm not! I put in the basic dimensions and I've made the rest up as a guesstimate. Here's an example of mine from Vegplotter. You can use this for your garden too!
Now before you get carried away using the fruit and veg element of this tool, you need to plan to plant in 'family groups'. By that I mean keeping root vegetables together and brassics together and so on. So subscribe to my site and keep a look out for my next post coming soon: Allotment/Garden Forest School - How to plant.
Thanks for reading!