HAND MADE PRODUCTS FOR YOUR HOME
A full-sized allotment measures approximately 250 square metres, or roughly the size of a tennis court. Traditionally, allotments are measured in poles and this size (10 poles) is deemed sufficient to feed a family of four for a year.
These days increased demand for allotments, coupled with busy lifestyles, has led to half (or smaller) plots being let, which are easier to manage.
Allotments can be either privately owned or provided by a local authority. Usually the site will have a board at the entrance explaining who to contact to rent a plot. In most towns and cities there are waiting lists that can be several years long. Rural areas usually have less demand and (often) much shorter waiting lists. It can pay to shop around several sites if you are keen to get started.
Responsibility for how sites are managed varies too. Private sites, and some local authority sites, are usually "self managed" by the tenants via an allotment association, which either owns or rents the whole site. The association lets plots to tenants and looks after the site generally e.g. maintaining boundary fences, security, water supply etc. In other cases local authorities manage sites directly via an allotment officer appointed by the Council, which is the case in Duxford.
Allotment plots are let on an annual basis and plot holders are given a licence via a tenancy agreement. This means that, whilst you can cultivate the land, the Council has a right of access to your allotment. The tenancy agreement will stipulate the conditions under which you rent your plot, and may include a cultivation standard i.e. to what extent you must maintain your plot with growing crops and free of weeds.
The managing allotment committee should conduct regular inspections of the site. These inspections monitor site maintenance issues, such as broken fences or pest infestations (rabbits and rodents are a common problem). They also note the state of plot cultivation and will investigate any plots that appear neglected. Tenants who badly neglect their plots will be given notice to improve - or in bad cases leave. This may sound unfrendly, however weedy plots are not only a waste of land, they also spread seeds and pests to other plots.
Realistically, your new allotment plot will be somewhat weedy. This is because the previous tenant may have let things slip before relinquishing their tenancy. Don't feel you have to do everything at once. Clear a bit at a time and get some quick-growing crops (salad leaves, beetroot, radishes, beans etc) planted. In a month or so you'll have some crops to show for all the effort, and to spur you on with the rest of the plot.
Strim down any parts of the plot you aren't immediately cultivating and, if possible, cover with black plastic or purpose-made weed suppressant material. If you are happy to carefully use a systemic weedkiller first, so much the better. The main thing is to stop seeding and prevent any perennial weeds (dandelion, nettles, bindweed etc) from spreading. Don't ever be tempted to use a rotavator on a neglected plot unless you get rid of the perennial weeds first, otherwise the chopped-up roots will survive and every small piece may re-grow!
Lastly, arm yourself with a good kitchen gardening reference book. Try these:
Clevely A The Allotment Book (Collins)
Pollock M RHS Fruit and Vegetable Growing (Dorling Kindersley)
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