The Origin Of The Allotment
For those with small gardens, or no garden at all, an allotment or community garden offers the opportunity to grow and harvest vegetables and flowers for domestic use. At one time allotments were occupied by serious, experienced, competitive gardeners but now people of all ages, and from all walks of life use them and they often become the hub of a community. They can be great places to meet other people with dreams of self-sufficiency, or those who just like the idea of fresh air and fresh food.
In the UK and Europe allotments started in the 18th century, and some original allotment sites are still in use today. The number and popularity of allotments has varied greatly over the years. In the early 1900s there were one and a half million plots in the UK providing the bulk of fresh fruit and vegetables eaten by the working classes. Numbers fell between the wars, but rose again during the Second World War. By the end of the 1970s the number of plots had fallen to around half a million. Today the demand for allotments in some areas outstrips supply, and shortage of suitable land is an issue. Often allotments lose out to housing development; worth bearing in mind before you take one on, if you are considering it as a long-term proposition.
In the US community gardens are diverse in their use and purpose. Some are communal green spaces for recreation, others are available for food and flower growing. Some started as so called “victory gardens” where fruit and vegetables were grown when scarce during the war. Plots vary in size according to region through the Northern US and Canada.
The rental of an allotment plot is a nominal sum. The allotment will be subject to local regulations and bye laws, and you may well lose it if you fail to cultivate it. The purpose of the allotment is for the holder to grow produce for him or herself and the family, not for commercial purposes. In the UK a local council has an obligation to provide enough land to meet the demand for allotments
6 Things to look out for when taking on an allotmentYou need to be able to visit regularly and get there easily. It is a bit like joining a health club: if it is a hassle to get there you will not bother when you should make the effort. Visit a few times, at times of the day when you are likely to use the allotment to see who else uses the site. Is there anywhere to park, what’s the atmosphere like, can you see yourself there? This has to be a place you want to go to and a community you want to be part of. Check the on-site facilities: particularly the availability of water for irrigation. Some allotment sites do not even have a tap. It is also worth checking on the security of the site: some have a problem with theft and vandalism.
Getting started with an allotment
Allotments usually become available at the end of the cropping season. By the time you are ready to start cultivating the following spring weeds will gave taken hold and the first job is to get them under control. Any allotment is a relatively large piece of ground compared to the area you are likely to grow vegetables on in your back garden. Tackling the whole area at once may be a daunting task and it is usually better to cultivate and plant a realistic portion of the plot before you move onto the next area.
If you are starting out in winter or early spring it will be too early to use a weedkiller. Non-residual systemic weedkillers must be applied to the foliage of actively growing weeds. The best approach is to fork over an area of ground large enough to accommodate the crops that are planted early in the season: potatoes, salad crops, carrots, peas and spring cabbage. Remove weeds and roots manually and spread well-rotted farmyard manure over the ground where you will grow potatoes. You can now fork over or dig this part of the plot to prepare the ground for planting.
The area that is to be used for later planted crops can be left alone for the weeds to grow. Once they are in leaf apply a systemic non-residual weedkiller. Once the weeds have died down in two or three weeks time fork over the ground and apply a general fertiliser prior to planting beans, tomatoes, leeks or purple sprouting.
If you are gardening organically you may not wish to use weedkillers. There are various ways of smothering weeds using black polythene or weed control matting pegged down on the ground surface or old carpets laid face down. Vegetable plants such as squash, courgettes, marrows and tomatoes can then be planted through openings made in the membrane. The site cannot successfully be used for sowing seeds.