How to get and keep an allotment.
1. How do I find an allotment?
Get in touch with your Council by phone or visit their offices and find out where the allotment fields are. You want to know of any within an area you are willing to go to, not necessarily the nearest, also any private or charity run allotment sites they might know of. Try to establish friendly contact with the member of staff designated as allotment officer.
2. Are there any vacancies?
You may well be told there are waiting lists or no spare plots. Go around and check this out. Councils often review the plots once a year or may be unaware of plots that have fallen out of use, they may feel an overgrown corner is no longer suitable for letting, though you might be willing to take it on. They may wish to avoid confronting security problems on a site which, as a result, has some abandoned plots. Try to talk to plot holders on the site and find out if anyone has given up, is leaving, or there are abandoned plots. Establish friendly relations with whoever seems to be an active gardener there if you can.
3. How do I apply?
It is not always enough to fill in a form, and certainly not enough just to leave your name by phone. Try to talk to the allotment officer personally in a friendly way, stress your interest in a site or plot and ask him/her to watch out for you. Renew and maintain this face-to-face contact every few weeks. Keep in touch with the plot-holders on your chosen site(s) as well.
4. Should I accept a run-down plot?
You may get it rent free for a while in compensation. The council may be willing to use a brush-cutter or rotovator on it, or the field may have one, or you may be willing to hire one or ask a helpful neighbour. There are chemicals that will clear the ground completely but you have to wait six months before planting. The SWCAA's insurance does not cover seepage and environmental harm. Others, like Round-up (or Gallop, the farm equivalent) will clear most weeds in a few days and are inactivated by contact with soil: you can then dig or rotovate, wait three weeks for regrowth, and repeat the treatment. Some weeds (Japanese knot-weed, Mare's tail) need special treatment.
5. How long have I got to cultivate the plot?
This depends on the tenancy agreement which you should always get when you take on a plot. Get a clear agreement on this, it is a bad idea to exhaust yourself trying to skim an old plot and dig it quickly. Always stop while you still want to go on. Take your time, you could try the half-hour allotment plan - a half-hour visit in lunch-time or at leisure for at least three days a week, and make progress that way. Acquire a garden fork, spade and rake, and make a string line. The field may have tools available for loan or free or cheaply from previous tenants. Work a small area at a time and cover un-used areas with black plastic sheeting or a weed suppressant.
6.What if there are no allotments in my area?
You can apply for one. Your local council is a statutory allotment provider and must respond if six or more residents apply. For more advice on starting a new allotment site click here.
We are always interested to receive your stories and pictures from your allotment sites, if you would like these featured on our website e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.