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.

Wrong.

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.


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20 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I’m planning to plant broad beans for the first time this month. Can anyone tell me if I need to cover the plants with a fleece over winter? We live in the south east of England.

  2. Hi,

    I live in rented accomodation, and I do try to grow veg, my whole patio is covered in pots and I grow small, or decorative stuff in the flower beds, such as today I am going to harvest my beetroot that lives in a small bed with the large shrub – Its creative!!

  3. I am on that long waiting list for an allotment. A friend who already has an allotment keeps telling me that the council is doing an inspection and planning to throw people off but I think there are still about 8 people ahead of me on the list. Then on days like yesterday when I felt so achey and tired I think perhaps it is as well I don’t have an allotment yet. My landlords finally got planning permission to create a flat roof which could be accessed from a large window in my flat. Unfortunately they had to finish off the work on the outside of the building in order to qualify for a conservation area grant just before the planning permission came through so I can’t see the flat roof (and some growing space) happening while I still live here unless something drastic happens!

  4. To my mind, if town dwellers were *entitled* to an allotment, and more people used them, they would be less affected by wiggles in the economy, they would be fitter, healthier (exercise as well as fresh veg) and busier (less time to worry about things, less stress, less depression).
    And importantly less at the mercy of the ******* supermarkets!!!
    But anyone who watched poor old Jamie Oliver try to get them to just cook an omletter now again cannot hold out that much hope!

  5. Scintilla

    It’s funny that you should write about this now. Just yesterday, two future neighbours made us a hefty offer on buying five metres at the back of our relatively large garden in order to be able to build a larger house on their side. It was like asking me to cut a foot off. That would have been the end of our vegie patch and my country garden in the city dream.

  6. Kelly the City Mouse

    Something similar is happening in Oz. Council houses were, like ours, given modest-but-workable plots of around 700-800 sq meters. Now, as each suburban house gets sold, they tear it down and put four tiny “modern and built-in-3-months” cookie-cutter houses in its place. Sad, really.

  7. It amazes me when they sell off allotment land, round here 2 of the councils have a 4 year waiting list to get one! I want to start growing my own veg, but don’t think I can dig up any of the garden as we are in rented accommodation, I think I will look into container veg!

  8. That should read Allotments – getting late here can’t concentrate lol

  9. Allotmants are called community gardens here in Melbourne, they are in great demand especially by people in units with very tiny gardens and others in high rise flats. They have been used by the Asian community to introduce Aus to all their lovely veggies.
    Take care
    Cathy

  10. Diane Epps

    Oh how I wish I had enough land for a couple of pigs as it stands there is enough room for 4 hens and 5 large vegetable beds and a greenhouse 2 bee hives but saddly no pigs…..

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