Whether you’re lucky enough to have your own garden or not, renting an allotment can enable you to have a regular, fresh supply of fruit and vegetables, help the environment and meet new people in your local community. First preparing and then maintaining your allotment is also a great way to stay active and engage in a rewarding ongoing project.
Keep reading to find out more about what an allotment is, why they’re so popular and how you can apply to rent your very own patch.
What is an allotment?
Allotments are small areas of land, rented to individuals by private or local authority landlords, for the purpose of growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. The size of an allotment is usually measured in ‘rods’, and while there is no set size – a typical allotment will usually measure around 10 rods, which is equivalent to 250 square metres, or the size of a doubles tennis court. People typically apply to rent allotments in local or surrounding areas, as they will need tending to regularly, so must be easy to get to.
Many councils will request that those renting allotments don’t drive to their plot, to help reduce their carbon footprint. For this reason, plot tenants often keep their tools and gardening equipment in a secure shed or lockable box on site, so that they don’t have to carry them back and forth with every visit.
Why are allotments so popular?
There are approximately 330,000 allotment plots in England, with the vast majority belonging to local councils and The National Trust. It is believed that allotments have been around hundreds of years since anglo-saxon times, when they were given to the poor to allow them to grow food for their families.
Since then, the culture of allotments has changed and is now an appealing option to people of all ages and backgrounds. This is largely driven by the growing concern over the large distance that our fruit and vegetables travel before reaching our plates, and the pesticides and chemicals used to grow crops on many farms. Allotments have also become more popular as a result of TV programmes like Channel 4’s River Cottage, and popular TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, spreading the ‘Grow your own’ message.
The recent pandemic has also encouraged more people to think creatively about where they can get their fresh fruit and vegetables from – with many people describing their allotment as a “lifeline” during lockdown when supermarkets experienced a surge in demand, and farm workers were in short supply.
What are the benefits of having an allotment?
There are numerous mental and physical benefits to having your own allotment. These include:
Looking after an allotment can be quite hard work physically, making it a great form of exercise. When you first take over an allotment, it will be in the state that the previous owner left it in – so you might find yourself inheriting an overgrown plot that needs clearing of weeds, woody plants and other debris. This can require a lot of digging, lifting and carrying (and possibly the help of a friend or family member!)
Once you’ve cleared your plot, there’s still plenty of planting, water and ongoing maintenance to do – which will all keep you moving. Walking back and forth to your allotment several times a week can also help to increase your activity levels.
Sense of community
Owning an allotment can be a gateway to making some new local friends. Chances are, you’ll regularly bump into your allotment neighbours when you arrive to tend to your plot, and because you already have something in common, conversations will often happen quite naturally. Watch warm smiles and a friendly wave grow into friendship, alongside your crops and flowers.
If you decide to use your allotment to grow your own fruit and vegetables then you could save money on your weekly trips to the supermarket. Vegetables like carrots, parsnips and leafy greens can be grown all year round, and can be much tastier than the fresh produce that you can get in the supermarket, because there are no nasty chemicals involved.
Having an ongoing, rewarding project to work on
Many people say that they enjoy the sense of routine, reward and purpose that they get from looking after their allotment. Seeing the results from when you first clear your allotment, to when you harvest your first lot of fruit or veg, or see your plants bloom for the first time, can be extremely satisfying.
Helps the environment
Growing and eating your own fruit and vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint on the environment. Not only will you be helping to limit the amount of packaging used, you will also be stopping the need for your fruit and veg to travel miles (using all that fuel) to reach your plate. Growing organic crops will also reduce the amount of pesticides and harmful chemicals in the soil.
Encourages you to eat more fruit and vegetables
With careful planning, your allotment could produce plenty of fresh, tasty fruit and veg all year round – and the more fruit and veg you have readily available to you, the more likely you’ll be to eat it. There’s also something much more satisfying about eating food that you’ve grown yourself; especially when you know it’s pesticide-free.
You can use time at your allotment to relax and unwind, or as a chance to bond with family or friends
Some people use tending to their allotment as a way to relax, unwind and have some time alone with their thoughts, whilst others like to get their friends or family involved and use it as a chance to bond over something productive.
If you’ve got grandchildren, then encouraging them to help you look after your allotment by planting, watering and picking fruit and vegetables can be great fun – and can also show them more about the journey that their food goes on before it reaches their plate.
What types of allotment are there?
There are three types of allotments and each works differently. If you want to rent an allotment on a more stable, permanent basis, then it’s often best to opt for a statutory allotment. These are owned by the local authorities and cannot be sold or used for anything else without the consent of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. This means that as long as you actively use your allotment and look after it well, it’s unlikely that it will ever be sold, or taken over by a new tenant.
Temporary allotments are also council-owned, but aren’t protected from being sold on – making them less secure than statutory plots. So, it’s best to avoid these, if you don’t want to run the risk of losing your plot.
Sometimes allotments are owned by private landowners, who choose to rent them out. These plots have nothing to do with the council at all, and are entirely in the control of the landowner. So again, you do run the risk of losing your plot if the owner decides that they would like to use it themselves, or if they decide to sell it on.
Allotments will usually be leased for one year at a time, with the option to renew contracts indefinitely. The Allotments Act 1950 offers security to plot tenants by ensuring that landlords have to give tenants at least 12 months notice before selling their allotment, or renting it to a new tenant. A landlord can terminate an allotment contract, giving one month’s notice, only if the tenant has breached the terms of the tenancy agreement.
How much does an allotment cost?
Allotments costs range from around £20-£100 per year, depending on the size of the plot, on how much water was used at the site in the previous year and on how far you live from it. Some local councils offer significant discounts for people over 60 or over 65. You might also qualify for a discount if you take on an overgrown plot or if you are receiving certain benefits. It’s best to check with your local council whether you are eligible for a price reduction, as every council has different rules.
You will also need a few tools to help you look after your allotment – things like a shovel, trowel and rake. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on these. You can often pick them for just a few pounds at your local DIY or garden centre.
How can I apply for an allotment?
Applying for an allotment is pretty straightforward. If you want to apply for a council-owned statutory plot (which is the most secure type of plot), then you’ll need to contact your local council directly. It’s important to bear in mind that there are often waiting lists for allotments, and waiting times can vary. However, the sooner you get your name on the list, the sooner you will move up the queue.
To find out which allotments are in your local area, how much they cost, and how to contact your local council about them, you can enter your postcode on the Government’s ‘Apply for an allotment’ page, here.
Things to consider before applying
When deciding which allotment you’d like to apply for, it’s a good idea to do your research and check whether the allotment has the facilities that best cater to your needs – for example, water, storage sheds, compost and toilets. It’s also a good idea to think realistically about the size of your plot, based on what you will be able to manage. Clearing and maintaining a plot can be quite physically demanding – and plot tenants will often only find out how big their plot really is when they’re digging it over! Many councils offer allotments in half sizes, if you’d prefer something smaller.
The timing of your plot will largely depend on when a space becomes free, but – if you can, it’s a good idea to have your plot cleared by early spring, so that you’re ready to start planting and sowing seeds.This will give your plot the best opportunity to reach its full potential. To find out more about how to start preparing your allotment once one is allocated to you, check out this guide from the RHS.
If you do find yourself placed on a waiting list and would still like to make use of your green fingers in the meantime, then why not have a look at our article on 10 indoor plants to bring life to your home?