Updated: Apr 24
I searched my local council's website in order to find out how I get an allotment. It's actually very simple, all you need to do is email the person in charge of allotments, asking if there are any spare plots available. If there aren't, then your name goes on the waiting list.
I was able to obtain the email address of the chair of the allotment association and thought it a good idea to contact them in order to introduce myself. It does show that you are keen. Sadly, despite demonstrating that I was keen, after over a month I still hadn't heard anything from the council.
I was optimistic because the big problem with allotments is the work and time that's involved. When people are allocated a plot, they visit the site and then launch themselves into clearing or digging the whole thing in one go. The new allotment tends to be in a mess. Old palettes adorn the plot, there is very likely a dilapidated shed on the plot. It's always covered in weeds, brambles and stinging nettles - the weeds do take over. The new holder sets-to trying to clear their new acquisition in one go instead of breaking it into manageable chunks. Also, most people have to work and have difficulty sparing the time. They spend a few hours up there, perhaps come back for a second go but after a while the initial enthusiasm wanes and visits become fewer and fewer. Eventually they give up altogether. This is what I was banking on anyway.
A friendly neighbour, who has a plot at the allotment, gave me a guided tour. This is actually a great idea because you can see at first hand the layout and state of the plots. If you do know anyone who has a plot on the site you have earmarked then ask them for the tour. Failing that, have a wander and introduce yourself to the other holders (they tend to be a chatty friendly lot). This because, despite the long waiting list, a guided tour highlights the many plots that are unattended, the owner's enthusiasm having waned. I eventually saw the one that looked the best (No. 23) and noticed that it hadn't been tended for quite a while. I say it looked the best, it was the least unkempt.
I wrote again to the contact at the council and said that I'd had a guided tour, found a number of plots that weren't being looked after and that I quite liked No.23. After a few days, I received a reply stating that the waiting list was very long and that No.23 was taken. However, the council employee was going to visit the site soon and give notice to anyone who hadn't been looking after their plot. Point to remember - the council do regularly check on allotments and if they aren't of a sufficient standard, you will be warned and if you ignore it, you will be evicted.
Anyway, it seemed to do the trick because one week later I received an email from the council stating that I could have No.23 if I wanted and please let them know within the week. I didn't want to appear too keen so I left it a couple of hours before replying that "yes please, I would like the plot".
After that, you pay your annual fee via direct debit. The cost depends on the size. Allotments are measured in the quaint old English way of rods. A rod is equal to 16.5 feet (5.029 metres) but can vary from 9 to 28 feet (or 2.743 to 8.534 metres in new money). A rod is also known as a perch or pole. The word rod derives from the Old English rodd and is akin to Old Norse rudda (“club”). There is a one off rental for the key to get onto the site. The allotment, where my plot resides, is protected by a large gate with barbed wire on the top. A chunky chain wraps around the gate & post and is secured with a hefty padlock. This is designed to keep out "ne'er do wells" but they do say keep nothing of any value unattended on the site as it will probably go missing. This includes your best gardening tools. One other thing, my allotment came with a very small annual charge to the association. This is voluntary but you do get the use of their very large greenhouse. Handy if your greenhouse, like mine, is stuffed full of overwintering citrus trees and other delicates.
I decided that I wanted to divide the plot up into 4 areas and marked them out with canes and string. Despite previously saying that you should try not to do everything in one go, I started digging in the heat of an English summer. One thing, 2020 was a pretty rotten year but, in the South East anyway, the summer weather wasn't that bad - we had very little rain from April to October, unusual for England!
I did have one thing in my favour, though, the previous owner loved digging. he could
dig for England and had double dug all the way down to four feet. This made life very easy for me. I started digging the plot at the beginning of August and finished my last division of land in October (see website for the plan). Other allotment holders took pity on me and gave me some veg comprising Leeks, Cabbages and Kale. I sowed autumn/winter carrot and spinach seeds. The carrots were a disaster because it was too hot and dry but the Spinach has been fantastic. I've also sowed broad beans, winter "elephant" garlic and planted bare rooted raspberry canes. At long last the allotment has started coming alive.
I can devote as much time as I want to my allotment as I have now left my job. This does make life easier (although less wealthy). I will keep you posted with regular updates on how I get on. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has recently taken possession of an allotment plot or who is very keen on getting one. It would be very useful for me to swap ideas on the type of veg or cut flowers you are intending to grow.
One final note, it has been two years since my initial enquiry about allotments. I am now the Treasurer of the Allotment Association and am enjoying my time up there digging, planting, harvesting and chatting to the other holders. It is a great way to meet people, it's healthy exercise (no gym costs) and is excellent for mental wellbeing. The veg tastes good too. I would thoroughly recommend it as a hobby but it will take a large chunk of your spare time. However, if you love fresh air, gardening, vegetables and flowers, there is nothing more fulfilling than running an allotment.
You can email me at email@example.com