As GardenSIte's plant specialist I always keenly anticipate the HTA National Plant Show. This is my chance to visit nurseries, find out what's trending in the horticultural world and source new stock, all from under one roof.
Although High Street shops and your local supermarket are convenient places to buy food, Martyn Loach thinks their shortcomings are many and various. That's why there's been a huge increase in the demand for allotments over the past few years.
Although there seems to be lots of choice, is this really the case? When was the last time you saw Picasso or Pentland Javellin potatoes for sale ? Have you ever seen the variety of carrot or beetroot displayed ? Do you know anything about the strawberries you are buying except for the fact that if you look carefully they may have been flown in from Israel ?
Answers to these questions lead you to the reason why allotments are so popular. You can grow a vast range of fruit and vegetable varieties, they don't have to be the commercial types that keep well for the longest time on the supermarket shelf. You know the growing conditions and, if you are organic, that no chemical sprays have been used or the apples haven't been waxed.
Ok you might not have strawberries all the year round but logic says that they are going to be more tasty than a product that has been transported around the world. And that's even before looking at any ecological considerations. There's nothing better than eating seasonal food, that how it's supposed to be consumed - asparagus from the Vale of Evesham in May not from Mexico in
Understandably production from an allotment decreases during the winter, although it is possible for all round growing, and of course parsnips and brussels can come straight from the ground to your plate on Christmas Day. But most veg can be frozen or stored, and if not quite as good as freshly dug out of the soil, it still has many advantages over shop bought produce and there is nothing more satisfying than tasting the fruits of your labours.
Don't disregard the health benefits to be gained from digging and looking after a plot. Not only physical but also mental, there's nothing more therapeutic than working the ground on a sunny day away from any domestic worries and stress.
So what's the best way to get an allotment? Most are owned by the council and can be rented at very low cost. Contact the council and find out who is responsible, phone them and put your name on the waiting list. You may be lucky to obtain an allotment straightaway but this might be on a site that is overgrown and hard to let. If you like a challenge that's fair enough but it might also lack facilities or suffer from vandalism.
It's more likely that you'll have to wait a year or so, perhaps several, to get a good plot. During the last war, admittedly in strained circumstances, there were 1.4 million allotments, today there are about 300,000 after thousands were sold off in the 1980s and 1990s due to a lack of demand. Some council waiting lists have grown so large that they have been closed.
To speed up the process, contact the council regularly. Take a photograph of any sub-standard plots and email them. Although councils have become increasingly keen to evict plot holders who have let their allotment go to waste, you can't rely on their vigour in this matter. Allotments are loss makers for the council so they might not be top of their list of priorities. Persistence is the key.
There are some sites on private land and the National Trust launched an initiative some years ago, creating a 1000 new plots in 40 locations, and 200 more have recently been made available via their matchmaking website.
If all else fails remember that due to the 'Small Holdings and Allotments Act' of 1908, you can approach the council with five other council tax payers and request that they provide allotments. However, even if you gain a local authority's interest, the process may be slow, as even they have to get planning permission for land that hasn't been used previously for horticulture.
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