You may have noticed a fair few Instagram posts lately of us transforming a barren patch of land into our very own allotment. This first in a new series of posts, The Peachicks @No17 Allotment Diaries, is my way of recording this slice of Peachick history! Allotment Diaries #1 – Picking the Perfect Plot is our thoughts on choosing an allotment plot. Here is ours… No17 on the day we went to have a look (they don’t always look as good as this!) …
As any allergy parent will tell you, the effects of allergic reactions often go beyond the physical symptoms. Food phobias can occur with repeated reactions, something all of our Peachicks have suffered with over the years. We have tackled this by getting the children involved in their food both cooking and growing it. For us an allotment is an extension of what we have been doing for many years. We have always grown veggies in containers in our gardens, but as we rent the possibilities for permanent veggie beds is unfortunately limited. Waiting lists for allotments across the country are huge but luckily for us we finally got the call that there was some available at our local site – we just had to pick one!
I don’t profess to be any kind of expert but these are the things we looked at before ultimately deciding whether to have a plot at all and then which one to take on!
If you are lucky enough to have a choice of what plot you want there are a few things to consider while you are wandering around the site. Usually you will be shown around by one of the site reps, which is really handy as you can ask them any questions you may have.
Location of the plot within the site:
We had a few options here. Alys and I both wanted this lovely big corner plot tucked up in the furthest corner of the site. But ultimately we chose one in the main site, near the communal shed, toilets and in the middle of everyone.
Also for us being part of the allotment community was important. Longtime Plotters are generally very helpful and their advice is invaluable when you first start out. They know the land, what grows, what doesn’t and will often donate their left overs when it comes to seeds & seedlings.
Finally check your own access for plots in the middle (we can drive up to ours in the summer months) and shading from boundary trees or invasion of brambles for ones on the edges. AND suss out how far it is to water taps, toilets and storage sheds.
Abandon any and all measuring systems you have ever used or worked in – allotments are measured in rods and sometimes perches or poles. Traditionally a full size plot is 10 rods (250 sq m), although on our site the full size plots are 5 rods (125 sq m), like ours, with a few smaller half plots of 2.5rods too. Apparently, with careful planning of your crops, a 10 rod plot should produce enough produce to feed a family of 4 for a whole year. If you can keep chickens that would include eggs too. Looking at the 2.5 rod plots, they just weren’t big enough for us, especially considering the pumpkin patch the Peachicks are planning!!
Lay of the land:
Our area is predominately clay and so we have gone with a plot with a slight slope so the water drains. This has meant reinforcing all the edges of the plot and each of our growing beds to prevent the soil being washed away in heavy rain but should mean we don’t get waterlogged. We were offered one on a steep slope and with terracing could have been made to work but as it was mid-March already we felt it would be too much work to get it ready for this year’s growing season.
Light and shade:
South facing is perfect. But if not you just have to think carefully about the height and position of different crops. Looking at where other plots have put tall beans, fruit trees and even permanent structures like sheds is a good guide. If you are lucky you will be able to visit on a day with glorious sunshine, if like us its chucking it down, a simple sketch of the layout with compass directions means you can work it out later. (Or call on good old Google as there are a few sites that do it for you!)
Permanent Crops & Structures
Permanent structures like sheds and greenhouses are great, they can be a costly outlay so inheriting a free one is always a bonus. There is usually an expectation you will leave it there when you vacate if its still standing! If not do not worry, there are often freebies going on sites like Gumtree as long as you dismantle and remove yourself. Hubby has discovered Pinterest and has a whole board dedicated to the renovating of old sheds and making new ones from pallets!
It is always useful to know what permanent crops you have inherited (asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, fruit bushes & fruit trees) and whether you really want them or not. Although it is not impossible to take them out, often plots have been left for a while so there will be quite a bit of work to do already (especially if you don’t take it over until Spring).
My Millie would walk over hot coals for asparagus so when we found out there was a successful and well established bed on the plot already, we either paid for two allotments or chose this one over the rest!
Although really these come under Permanent crops, they are worth their own paragraph. You need to think carefully about taking on plots with fruit trees. There are usually restrictions on height, the roots will spread (although you can do a nifty trick with a pvc pipe), they cast shade on the plot and surrounding ones. Also how much fruit will you actually get from them? We have been told that we are unlikely to get any cherries from ours unless we build an elaborate cage to protect from the birds. They are not something we had been planning to take on but they actually will give the girls a bit of shade in the heat of the summer.
Generally allotment holders have the right to have chickens on their plot. But they need a fair bit of care day-to-day – that is if you can stop the greedy foxes from gobbling them up! You will be tied to stopping by morning and evening to let them in/out of their coop, regular cleaning out and making sure they have adequate food/water supplies.
Allotment Holders Association:
For a small fee we have joined our local Association. It gives us access to a shop at one of the other allotment sites in the area, where we can buy cheap supplies like netting, seeds and seed potatoes. It also includes Public Liability insurance for our plot.
Above all be realistic about how many hours you are going to have in a week, can you tackle the plot in small stages? It makes it seem like a lot less work!
The National Allotment Society is a great source of information, the site is full of everything you need to know and even has handy guides you can download and print to take to the allotment with you!
There is also this great guide to planning a children’s allotment to get the kids involved in growing their own!
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