What are allotments and why are they important?

allotment

allot /əlɒt/ [v]: distribute, allocate.

Allotments are areas of privately or publicly-owned land which are divided into small areas and rented for the use of growing fruit and vegetables. They have existed since Anglo-Saxon times, and can be found in almost every part of the UK. Each section is traditionally no more than ten poles - around the size of a tennis court. Though most of the plots are leased from local councils, other private owners include the Church of England.

What are they?

Allotments are areas of privately or publicly-owned land which are divided into small areas and rented for the use of growing fruit and vegetables. They have existed since Anglo-Saxon times, and can be found in almost every part of the UK. Each section is traditionally no more than ten poles – around the size of a tennis court. Though most of the plots are leased from local councils, other private owners include the Church of England.

Allotment 1

When did they become popular?

Although they’d existed for hundreds of years previously, allotments saw an explosion in popularity during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, as more and more people began to move to cities for work. Here, many millions lived in slum housing with no outside areas or gardens. The result was often malnutrition – particularly in poorer areas – and these small plots of rented growing land provided an ideal solution: a place where new urban dwellers could grow their own fresh food. 

Allotment 2

Later, in the 1920’s, the Land Settlement Act was seen as a way of assisting military personnel returning from the First World War as well as the working poor. There is still today a legal requirement for local authorities to provide food growing spaces for local residents.

Is it all fruit and veg?

While they were introduced only for food, many authorities allow the growing of flowers on many of today’s allotments. This can have the double advantage of both beautifying their sometimes all-green plainness, and attracting a number of pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

Allotment 4
Allotment 3

I guess they aren’t cheap. The cost of land in London is crazy!

The annual cost of an allotment is, by law, “a reasonable amount”: legally, there is no fixed rent, but most landlords charge between £25 and £125 a year. Yes, a year. So the main issue in getting one is not the expense but the delay. Waiting lists for most local councils are long, but you may get lucky if there is little demand in your area. To apply, you need to contact your Local Authority.

People power

It’s also possible to start your own allotment. If you have no growing land in your local area and can find five other people who are interested, it’s possible to submit a formal letter to your local council in order to apply for land as an allotment. The National Allotment Society (NAS) https://www.nsalg.org.uk/allotment-info/how-to-get-an-allotment/ has further information on this.

It sounds like a lot of work

Gardening can be hard work, and an allotment needs commitment and regular attention. However, if you don’t have time to grow all your own food, there are a couple of less physical alternatives.

  • A window box: you may not be able to grow prize-winning potatoes and broccoli, but even in a small flat it’s easy to keep herbs such as basil, rosemary and parsley. All you need are a teacup, some earth and water.
  • Hanging baskets: hanging baskets can be ideal tools for cultivating strawberry plants and tomatoes.
  • Balconies: again, perfect for fruit or even vegetables like baby carrots or chard.

You may never go back to buying strawberries in a supermarket again!

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