The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The value of allotments

Cold frame and shed

Cold frame and shed. Hampton Court Flower Show 2007

It’s been a good week. The BBC Gardeners’ Question Time team advised that we could safely use the soil from our blighted tomato grow bags. So John and I shifted ten of them from the pile in the driveway to the kitchen garden to spread on the bed that has a problem with heavy soil.

Then we planted our broad bean seeds in the plumped up earth. Plant your BB seed in November and you will have an earlier, sturdier crop. It will also crop for longer than spring sown seeds as long as you harvest regularly. It’s also an enormous fillip to see the crop growing and developing during the winter.

The salad leaves planted under the doll’s poly tunnel and fleece are growing. Still small but green and promising.

And this evening we were given our first brace of pheasant of the season, much earlier than usual. I hung them in our cold larder and forgot to tell Danny. He got a bit of a fright when he dived in to get ice from the freezer.

We are lucky. We live in a sweet cottage with a garden that runs to a third of an acre. This is massive in terms of new UK housing. In our village, several bungalows on fairly big plots have bought by developers. They have been knocked down and three or four executive houses have been built on the plot. Grand houses with handkerchief gardens.
”Everyone wants a small no maintenance garden now,” a builder pal explained.


The people who buy these houses soon realise that they need more space.  It could be that they just need to get away from overhearing their neighbours’ conversations, or that their children really want to practice their football or that they want a veg patch as well as the standard stretch of lawn and shrubs.

There was a reason why the standard bungalow stood in a large garden. It was the right sized plot to raise a pig and grow vegetables. In the past, the council houses in the village were each allocated an allotment. These were bulldozed 25 years ago to build more council houses. 

During WW2, loads of people dug up their lawns to grow vegetables and raise chickens. Afterwards, most people were delighted to return to the low maintenance stretch of green. The war was over and we had won. I remember this buoyancy in the 1950s, The Harold Macmillan Britons “have never had it so good” culture.

But some didn’t abandon their allotments and kitchen gardens. People who realised that home grown vegetables tasted far better than the over the counter stuff. When I was growing up they were considered oddities.

Jack was one of these. He often bought us a bag of home grown vegetables. Muddy carrots and potatoes that had to be scrubbed in the kitchen sink.

And it looked like hard work too. As Jack seemed to spend hours on his allotment. Now I realise he enjoyed raising and tending his vegetables. If you prepare your ground well, most vegetables are easy to grow and don’t take up a lot of time.

Many allotment associations operate as cooperatives, cutting the price of seeds, fertilisers and equipment. Jack’s allotment probably gave him friendship and support as well as space. Digging your own patch can be lonely. It’s good to have like minded people around. As well as giving you access to really fresh seasonal vegetables, growing your own is immensely therapeutic.

It makes me sad when I see allotment land being sold off. So when read about Boris Johnson’s idea for using London land to grow vegetables I was delighted. I discovered this on a gem of a blog, Allotment Blogging. Well worth a visit for seasonal tips and getting a good sense of what allotment gardening is all about.

  Leave a reply


  1. For people with little space in their garden who do want to grow enough veggies for themselves with little or no work – we’ve just stumbled across the someones idea of a squarefoot garden – Looks nifty and worth a try if esp you’ve only got a small space to work with.

  2. Found it,

    Not sure what a transition town is tbh!

  3. Isnt it something to do with Transition Towns like Totnes? i am talking about tracey’s comment on HFW, tv programme.

  4. When I lived in a small terraced house I considered putting my name down for an allotment, but once we moved to our ex council house with 140 ft rear garden I instantly did the gold rush thing and scampered to the end with a ball of string and stakes and marked off my area to be for veg. Over the last 3 1/2 years its evolved from a terrible patch of rocky earth ( that even when i grew things in I was afraid to eat wondering what was in the soil) to a space maximised veg factory… two 1x2m raised beds surrounded with aggregate ( so no weeding) serilized soil to grow in, a small green house 6×4, 2 potato barrels ( they harvest up to 40kg of spuds each and are only 15 inches in diameter) hanging basket hooks to grow small tom thumb tomatoes in baskets ( no floor space wasted) I have learnt to maximise space and grow enough of each thing to get a good ‘feed’ off of each variety without it becoming too boring.
    I fill the walkways between the raised beds on the gravel with grow bags and grow courgettes and pumpkins. I’m glad I waited till we moved and didn’t get an allotment only to have probably just sorted it out and then had to give it up in preference to my liitle oasis at the end of the garden.. as I think I would have got some strange looks gardening at 10 at night some summer evenings in pink cow covered pyjamas like I can here. 🙂
    P.S I am still requesting a pig….called mildred …as I have been since we moved here but my husband blankly refuses …I also ask for an otter for our pond LOL and a duck… to which I get told I have watched too many episodes of the good life…

  5. I have a tiny garden but still manage to keep a couple of chickens and grow veggies (infact have been digging in the snow this morning to grub up some Jerusalem artichokes for Sunday lunch) I sometimes think I’d like an allotment but realistically, with 2 small children, my garden and regimented foraging, I don’t think I could cope with one.

    By the way, I notice no-one has mentioned Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s campaign, can’t remember what it’s called but he’s aiming to match up people who want to grow veggies with people who have spare land. The idea is the growers repay the landowners with produce. He’s got a link on the Channel 4 website if anyone wants to pursue it.

  6. Yes, the planners are wrong. I’m with Jackie on this one. Pleople need space. A place to get away from the stresses of modern life. We used to share a handkerchief ‘garden’/yard with 6 other flats – I’d have gone bananas if London weren’t so blessed with large parks.

  7. I am not sure why, but every time we eat veggies we have grown ourselves, I feel really smug. I just do, I cant help it.

    Plus, peas that are grown in your back garden, eaten whilst you inspect everything else, taste truly delicious. And are surely God’s form of fast food!

  8. Julia Guthrie

    *Nods* the size of gardens these days is tragic! We have a decent size one at the moment, but it’s covered in moss as it hardly ever sees the sun. Not great for my herbs…or the veg patch I would ‘like’ to have!!

    My friend ‘up north’ has just got herself an allotment. She set up an LJ community to chat about it..& all things ‘homegrown’ . I think there are a lot more people these days who are heading n that direction.

    Funnily enough, it was Vicki that first put me on to your apple chutney recipe!:) She made it not so long ago..I am still saving up jam jars…LOL

  9. Allotment blogger

    Wow Fiona, you opened a channel for enthusiasts there! Great to see so many actual and wannabe vegetable growers in one place.

    At Allotment Blogger we’re still on the waiting list for an allotment of our own too, but we are co-workers on two in the meantime: 235 where the lovely plotholders have had two children in less than two years, so literally have their hands full, and 201 where we’re helping get an overgrown plot back into shape. Being a co-worker is a way of getting your hands dirty (and some of the produce) while you wait for a plot of your own. We love it!

  10. In the US (Oregon) they are called community gardens. This spring I rented a plot across the street from my Father’s apartment. My father is not in very good health, but I think tending the vegetable plot was good fro him. He is not much of a vegetable eater, all he wanted to grow was tomatoes (for Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches), so I got to plant a the remaining ground with my choice of veggies. My space for gardening at my home is small, just 3 tiny raised beds, so the space at the community garden was put to good use. We grew several types of tomatoes, lettuce, purple pole beans, basil and other herbs, strawberries, cucumber, winter squash, radish, and cucumbers. Now I have pickled beans, basil pesto, and dried tomatoes to share with my father through the winter. We were able to reserve the same plot for next year, so with a bit of dry fall weather we were able to get the plot ready for spring planting.

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