The 13th – 19th August is National Allotments Week, so we thought we’d delve a little deeper, beneath the top soil so to speak and take a look at the world that happens behind those closed gates & fences, the world of the allotmenteers.
Allotments date back to the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution meant a huge population move away from the land that families had worked for centuries to cities in the boom of new industries. Towns & cities all over the country grew rapidly and there was a fear that poor families would starve. Since there was no welfare state back then, the Government’s solution to this was to allot plots of land to enable families to feed themselves.
However it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that allotments became available to all, the aim was to assist returning service men. During the Second World War allotments again were in demand with the Dig for Victory campaign, organised by the government to avoid food shortages. A family that could be more self sufficient wouldn’t feel the effects of food rationing so badly. Since the 1950’s the population of the British Isles has increased from 50 million to 66 million, yet the number of allotments has decreased. Over the years urban planning has squeezed out these valuable pieces of land, landlords & councils have sold them to property developers. With more & more people living in flats in urban areas with no outside space, the demand for allotments is as pressing as ever.
A bigger population & less land means in some parts of the country there are very long waiting lists for a plot, even a section of a plot. The National Allotment Society states that “Despite the statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand, there are still very few sites being created each year. However the trend in people wanting to grow their own food is on the rise, and currently it is estimated that over 90,000 gardeners want an allotment and are on waiting lists.” That’s a lot of people waiting for a strip of earth, but it’s so much more than just a piece of land, communities of like minded people meet, share ideas, plants & produce. Sheds & polytunnels & all sorts of homemade buildings spring up, keen allotmenteers will be able to make a brew on site & have chairs to enjoy it on. I once went to a summer shed warming party on my parents allotment where we all sat around the beds full of tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries & courgettes & drank lots of Pimms & beer.
Then there’s the trials & tribulations of the gardening year, what to sew & when (you can be sure there’s always some seasoned gardener on site to tell you that you are doing it wrong), the ongoing battle of weeding the beds, the weather, to wet, too dry, too windy, then the gluts of fruits & vegetables when they all ripen at once & the ‘hungry gap’ where there’s not much to harvest from late winter to late spring. An expert allotmenteer will have a plan to avoid this, by planting different varieties that crop at different times, by sowing crops at staggered intervals & by growing under cover to extend the growing season. Then there’s planning your crop rotation & pest control to factor in, plus the hours of time that will be needed every week to maintain your plot. It’s a big commitment and it takes hard work, it means being out in all weathers & reaping what you sow (hopefully!).
The positives outweigh the negatives, allotmenteers spend lots of time gardening outdoors which is proven to improve both physical & mental health, they can reduce food miles to zero, meaning they can eat produce straight from the plant. Taking control of what they grow means taking control of what they eat, so they can grow rare heritage varieties of things that we can’t buy in the shops. They can plant Bee & insect friendly flowers & encourage wildlife. The current campaigns about using less packaging & single use plastic are also redundant here, crops are simply picked and transported home. The unspoken allotment mantra is make do and mend, things get recycled & upcycled all the time, one mans junk is another woman’s allotment gold!
Growing your own fruit and veg is a simple yet radical thing to do. Taking ownership of your own food production & by implication your life is a rare thing in 2018. So I will just leave you with this thought from The National Allotments Society “Aspiring plot-holders – do not be put off by the thought of a long wait – sign up for a plot now; without waiting lists allotment authorities cannot assess demand.” I’m signing up for one are you?
Thanks to Stonebridge Allotment, Faversham, The Rix Family & Red Dog Communications for the photos.