The Accidental Smallholder Forum

Growing => Vegetables => Topic started by: Fleecewife on October 13, 2021, 12:08:51 am

Title: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Fleecewife on October 13, 2021, 12:08:51 am
Allotments were everywhere after the 2 world wars, but then growing food fell out of fashion and many allotment sites were sold off to housing developers.  Now many more people are desperately wanting an allotment but the waiting lists are several years long because of the dearth of sites.  For example in South Lanarkshire where I live there are only 5 sites in what is a large county, with mostly about 60 or 70 plots per site. In my local town of Biggar there are no allotments. There was an effort a few years ago to start a private site, but it fell through.
In the current climate of interest in Climate Change, sustainability, food security, ending food poverty, healthy eating, mental health etc growing your own food is rapidly rising in urgency and importance.  Given that most people live in cities or towns and many have no or only small gardens, the provision of allotments for growing food for a small rent would seem to be of prime importance.
I'm wondering what actions I could start to help local people get their allotment site, and if those people would actually be interested.
Before we bought our smallholding 26 years ago, we had two allotments in Edinburgh. I grew nearly all the food we needed for a family of four, excluding animal protein. Those allotments were central to our wellbeing and although we had a garden at home, the soil was so thin that veggie growing was impossible.


What experience do you have of allotments and, bearing in mind what I've written above, how important do you think it is for everyone to have ready access to soil for food production?


What are your opinions
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Rosemary on October 13, 2021, 05:43:03 am
We have two allotment sites in Carnoustie; one on Council land with an allotment association and one private. Anecdotally, the association one is pretty cliquey and has a big waiting list.
I can't remember the detail but there was pretty recent legislation - community empowerment - maybe, that obliged local councils to do more.
Also "The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 requires every local authority to prepare a food growing strategy for its area to identify land that could be used to grow food and describe how provision for community growing, in particular in areas which experience socio-economic disadvantage, can be increased."

[size=0pt]Having worked in local government, I'd guess this was just an unwelcome add-on for hard pressed Councils and will be a tick box exercise. But maybe I'm cynical.
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Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Q on October 13, 2021, 07:29:54 am
While I personally think the provision is important our story here is that we have plenty of unused allotments space.
I am in the middle of a battle to get some let.
There are a lot of people on the waiting list here - currently about 40 but it may have been 80 before the outsourced service provider had a virus and lost them.

For me the story about wanting an allotment without understanding the work involved still holds true and the turnover is high here.

We recently had a site inspection which resulted in 15 non cultivation notices. When the repeat inspection for those was carried out (about half evicted) there were another 20 non cultivation notices issued.
Eastern europeans seem to occupy around a third of our plots and a few years ago we were able to give a local charity 16 plots and then more recently a further 12 (even when the waiting list was high).

Now I know Covid has had an effect but my view is that having an allotment is very much a lifestyle hobby.
 
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Rosemary on October 13, 2021, 08:24:39 am
For me the story about wanting an allotment without understanding the work involved still holds true and the turnover is high here.
Don't know where you are Q, but my chum is Secretary of our local allotments and she told me there was a stable core of longterm folk with others taking a plot for a year or two, then finding it's hard work or not what they expect. I guess that's the same with most hobbies though.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Q on October 13, 2021, 08:58:55 am
For me the story about wanting an allotment without understanding the work involved still holds true and the turnover is high here.
Don't know where you are Q, but my chum is Secretary of our local allotments and she told me there was a stable core of longterm folk with others taking a plot for a year or two, then finding it's hard work or not what they expect. I guess that's the same with most hobbies though.
Yes the stable core is true but my personal experience is that this is a (literally) dying breed.  I have seen 2 allotment sites change radically as the older ones that were there when I arrived have passed away. There doesnt seem to be the replacement coming through in numbers.

Many seem to just want to make it into a garden rather than an allotment and Raised beds are seen as a low effort way of growing 6 onions rather than using the plot fully.

The waiting list here is not really accurate because I believe people put themselves on the list for every local site and when they get a plot they dont take themselves off all the lists. 
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Rosemary on October 13, 2021, 12:28:09 pm

Many seem to just want to make it into a garden rather than an allotment and Raised beds are seen as a low effort way of growing 6 onions rather than using the plot fully.

The waiting list here is not really accurate because I believe people put themselves on the list for every local site and when they get a plot they dont take themselves off all the lists.
Maybe folk need help? It's always a bit daunting starting something when everyone else seems to know what they're doing and speaking a different language.

And the second is just an admin issue; do an annual check to see if folk still want to be on the list.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Fleecewife on October 13, 2021, 03:19:30 pm
I think the idea of new allotmenteers needing help is highly relevant.  I remember getting my first allotment (it was 35 years ago!) was really daunting. The allotment association committee was fierce and run by an old hitler who had the plot right next to ours, and ours had belonged to his brother who had just died.  We were offered by the Council to have the land rotavated but it was full of couch and mare's tail which we didn't want chopped up. Feeling the need to do things perfectly from the start was stressful, but we soon got it organised.  However, when other people took on plots they got no help or advice and some soon gave up.  Help for newcomers could be official or it could just be friendly plot holders giving advice and a bit of help over the fence, but it should be offered. Some sites are very friendly with a good community spirit but others are regimented and a bit intimidating.


The Council approach to having allotments is relevant I think to their success. As you say Rosemary for Councils it's a bit of a drag and they would happily not have to provide them at all (you didn't say the last bit!).


Q, whereabouts are you? Do your eastern Europeans tend to have better allotments and keep at it more than others?  There is a strong food growing habit in many eastern European countries which has been lost here.


I had thought that perhaps more of the general populace had picked up on the idea that increasing prices following Brexit and the pandemic, equals an increasing need to do some work and grow some of their own food.  Has it not got through yet do you think?


With folk just wanting to make their sites into a garden, some areas allow this and if there are surplus plots needing cultivation, why not?  When I had my plots we were not allowed to grow flowers other than one screen at the front, but we were still living with the rules set out after WW1 when growing food was of paramount importance. I grew a beautiful row of giant sunflowers along the front of one of my plots, only for some wee scrote to chop all the heads off when they were in full flower  :rant: :rant: )


So probably I need to do some kind of survey in my local town to find out if there is interest or need and if there are people willing and able to organise things (not me)
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: chrismahon on October 13, 2021, 05:10:33 pm
Isn't theft an issue? We grew great crops only to have someone steal them overnight. I think allotments are a thing of the past.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Q on October 13, 2021, 05:32:46 pm
Isn't theft an issue? We grew great crops only to have someone steal them overnight. I think allotments are a thing of the past.
Theft isnt a massive issue here even though it happens - this is because there has been a policy to fence in all council sites.  Before the fencing the problem was mainly vandalism - shed burning / pushing sheds over etc.

I would be interested to see why you think allotments are a thing of the past.  35 per year for a 10 pole piece of land  seems a no brainer if you have any interest in growing anything.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Fleecewife on October 13, 2021, 05:37:45 pm
Isn't theft an issue? We grew great crops only to have someone steal them overnight. I think allotments are a thing of the past.

I had my allotments for about 9 years.  On one occasion we had planted out a patch of lovely plump shallot sets.  We went back the next day and there they weren't. There was however a neat set of footprints in the soil, showing one very worn down heel, leading directly to another plot diagonally behind ours, where magically there was a row of beautiful plump shallot sets. Knowing that plot holder had a bad limp and was a grumpy old b******, we took back all our shallots and no more was said. Other than that and the sunflower incident there was only one more event, when a gang of youths ran amok through the whole site causing damage.  They ripped up our runner bean 'henge' but we were able to rescue it and only a few plants were damaged.  After that event a strong fence was erected, but soon afterwards we moved to our smallholding so I don't know what happened after that.  There can be thefts from allotments but with care and a sensible approach such as not keeping valuable tools in sheds, or lying around, it isn't too bad.  I worked on the principle of one for me, one for the pests and one for the wee rascals - perhaps they were at least eating greens!
I really do hope that allotments are not things of the past, because they are of great value to those who need them, providing food and enjoyment for those who don't have a garden at home.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Q on October 13, 2021, 05:43:43 pm
@Fleecewife - i am in the midlands - thats about as specific as I would be comfortable with.  We have recently agreed to provide help as a committee to anyone who may need it but not as far as actual digging.
We are putting in place a starter pack for new plotholders just to let them get used to the basics.
I think our eastern european plotholders struggle because they seem to be working hard at the day jobs.  Interestingly they dont join in (generally) with the work parties because they dont see why they need to help.

At the moment we are only letting 5 pole plots unless the new plotholder has demonstrable experience and know what to expect. Time will tell if this strategy will work.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: GribinIsaf on October 13, 2021, 08:29:45 pm
Just to throw in our two pennyworth...

We lived in a big city and had our name down on the Council allotment lists for ten years.  Our name came up just before we hit retirement age and we took on a derelict allotment and poured time (and some money) into it.  Through that experience we had the confidence to know we we would be content with a life focussed on growing plants and animals and so made quite a radical move to this smallholding in Wales.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Fleecewife on October 14, 2021, 12:09:41 am
@Fleecewife - i am in the midlands - thats about as specific as I would be comfortable with.  We have recently agreed to provide help as a committee to anyone who may need it but not as far as actual digging.
We are putting in place a starter pack for new plotholders just to let them get used to the basics.
I think our eastern european plotholders struggle because they seem to be working hard at the day jobs.  Interestingly they dont join in (generally) with the work parties because they dont see why they need to help.

At the moment we are only letting 5 pole plots unless the new plotholder has demonstrable experience and know what to expect. Time will tell if this strategy will work.

Just a general location was all I meant, thanks.
Drawing the line at digging other people's plots seems reasonable  :roflanim:
I was looking at the website of the new allotments at an open field site in I think Stromness in Orkney where they make the allotment size to suit the new plotter.  I'm not sure how that would work when new people come to take over and want a different sized plot, but it does seem to be a good idea to have various sized plots.  At my old allotments several others had 2 plots as well as me - about 60'x30' each I think - (I never did know what a pole was) and others would share one between 2 or 3 people.  It's easier to take on more land once you've got the first bit under control instead of being overwhelmed and giving up. A young woman had my second plot briefly before I did.  She filled it with potatoes planted far too early, against all advice, then lost the lot and gave up - sad, but it did mean the plot had been dug recently before I took over  :D
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: macgro7 on October 14, 2021, 07:47:41 am
I was on thr waiting list for 2 years. While waiting I gave up and forgot about it and started growing in my garden instead. Then I got a phone call - saying I can get a plot. And so I did.
I got a plot which was bordering our garden over the fence.

It's a small site, run by a local allotment society, which manages two other sites nearby. All council land, with covenants stating it will always be allotment land (city of Leicester).
Most plots are taken by Bengali families and are managed pretty well. New plots only become available when someone passed away! This is how I got mine...
There was a lovely elderly Irish man who also passed away couple of years ago, this is how his plot became free...
We do have some younger families with little kids too (like ours).


At the same time there are some much larger sites where there are no shortages of plots - you can get one tomorrow - however those often require a lot of work - waist long grass or neck high brambles to get rid of.

All council sites are secure - double security gates. Ours is small and everyone knows each other.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: SallyintNorth on October 14, 2021, 08:15:52 am
I have had my name on lists in various places over the years, but the only time I actually *got* an allotment was when a local farmer donated a few acres to the village and I heard about it and got in first wave.  This was a few miles outside Devizes.  It was originally a wheat field, and was flat and open.  We battled with stray wheat plants and the winds kept everything small.  But we learned a lot and grew a few things.  I left the area after a couple of years and haven't been back to see the site.  Hopefully they have established some hedgerows around the plot to reduce the wind. 

Even with a new site, the "old guard" with their often not very flexible views would put off a lot of youngsters and other starters, I think.  I was WWOOFing and learning organic principles, so to old-style allotment holders, my plot looked scruffy and unkempt - and they made no secret of that!  They were of course also worried about weed seed spread, so we had to cut heads off rather than leave things for the birds.  I have to say, I was never quite sure we could trust all the other gardeners to not use weedkiller on our plot...   :thinking:

For folks who don't have the garden space of their own, there is an alternative.  Guerrilla gardening!  Using town, village and city free space - verges, bits of rough land, etc - to grow food.  It has become quite a thing, I hear, and in some cases, landowners have approached local guerrilla gardeners to take on bits of spare land and make use of them, to everyone's benefit.  I am sure there are lots of groups doing this, but here (http://www.guerrillagardening.org/) is one.
Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Q on October 14, 2021, 09:06:40 am
All this waiting list stuff is interesting..

I was on a waiting list for 6 years for my first plot and ended up getting another plot in the next village quite quickly.
I left my name on the list to get a closer to home plot.    Anyway I was a bit suspicious of a few new plot holders but just assumed there was a long list.
I decided to kick up a bit saying that i had been on the list a long time and where was i on the list and miraculously I was the VERY next one.  I got a plot within a few weeks.

Having seen the way plots are let at my current site it is not straight ( forward ) at all..
 
You cant have a plot if you are not on the list unless you can.
You cant jump up the list unless you can. 
You cant be shown a vacant plot if its untidy unless you can.
You cant leave an oversized shed on your new plot unless you can.
Current policy states you can only have a 5 pole plot unless it doesnt

It goes on..

Anyone remember Mrs 40 metres from my other thread?

Title: Re: Allotments - your opinions please
Post by: Fleecewife on October 14, 2021, 12:40:30 pm
In a thread in 'Crafts' we have been discussing growing flax and today there is a report on the News of a small group of people in Blackburn who are growing flax on waste ground to make local linen, as an alternative to importing cheap, oil-based fabrics and cotton (very unsustainable) clothing from overseas, with large carbon footprints.
I'm wondering how the allotment committees would look upon flax being grown on plots - it looks really scruffy when it's growing, especially so when it's developing its seeds.