Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Good Life


Having an allotment has almost become an essential modern fashion accessory.
We no longer need to dig for victory as supermarkets are overflowing with fruit and vegetables on sale at very reasonable prices. Supermarkets are profit driven so produce often picked before it is ready, comes from all over the world from whoever can supply it at the cheapest cost but with little control over what chemicals could be used for its production. The only way to ensure that food is unaffected with chemicals is to grow your own and in any case most chemicals are no longer available to amateur gardeners so we can only grow organic produce.
Our busy city living has brought on a desire for a healthier lifestyle requiring exercise, fresh air and fresh food. Many modern homes do not have much garden space, so an allotment can provide that opportunity for gentle exercise in fresh air to produce an ample supply of fresh fruit and vegetables plus flowers to brighten the day and allow cut flowers for the home.

Allotment sites are also a great place to meet and mix with like minded gardening people chatting over current affairs, football, religion, sex, music, the neighbours weed problems and even gardening, often at a plot barbecue. The social side of allotment gardening is very important where new friendships are often made.
In the past allotments tended to be predominantly male dominated of an older generation. Today allotments are seen as a social and recreational pursuit with people of all ages including students and young families. A great place to teach the kids about plants and outdoor life.
In Dundee there are private sites (three with 126 plots), and either council run (four with 53 plots), or sites on land leased from the council and managed by existing plot holders (six sites with 422 plots). All have waiting lists that are growing bigger every year.
Dundee city Council opened up a new site in South Road with 20 plots. This site has excellent security fencing, water, paths and sheds and was instantly tenanted from local gardening enthusiasts. You can check out their progress on their website at
Other good allotment websites include and


Provision of allotments started hundreds of years ago to allow the poorly paid working classes land to grow food to supplement their diet. More recently the demand grew out of necessity to supply food during our last two wars. Demand after the last war has since gone down but has met with renewed interest recently due to a change in lifestyle living, and now local authorities cannot cope with the demand in some towns where people on waiting lists have to wait many years before they are offered a plot.
The normal allotment size was always about 10 rods, (just over 250 square metres) but it is now quite common to create smaller plots to accommodate more people from waiting lists.
Modern varieties of fruit and vegetables have heavier yields of pest and disease free fruit and vegetables so even the small plot can supply self sufficiency of produce for most of the year.
The allotment has become a pleasant hobby that costs very little money, but which offers huge benefits.

Modern allotments

Local authorities recognise that use of allotments is more of a leisure activity provision, so there has been a need to address safety, security, landscaping, access and rubbish collection.
Provision of toilets is very important as is a secure perimeter fencing and a community hut is also needed to host committee meetings have social events and store composts and fertiliser purchased in bulk for the benefit of members.
In these times of recession and cut backs funding for fence repairs by local authorities is hard to come by. It would help perimeter security if a boundary hedge was established around the outside of the site wherever possible using Pyracantha or Rosa omiensis pteracantha. These two tall growing shrubs are perfect for attracting wildlife, bees love the flowers, and birds love nesting in the security of a very thorny thicket of branches. Both plants provide berries and hips for food in autumn and are very attractive landscape plants, but the thorns are so vicious that they will deter anyone from trespass once they get established.

The new allotment holder

It is preferable to start your tenancy in early winter to allow time organise the site and prepare the ground.
I started my allotment at City Road in November a few years ago. The first task was to clear rubbish, broken glass, brambles and perennial weeds. The social side started immediately as I was made very welcome by friendly neighbours happy to send me home with bags of turnips, potatoes and a cabbage. All this produce and I haven't even bought any seeds yet.
My first concerns were with the design as the paths were in the wrong place and I needed to work out where best to establish my permanent fruit bushes. I needed a patio to relax on, a south facing wall for my fig bush, a convenient spot for my very essential compost heap and an ornamental border for flowers to make the site attractive.
My shed was very dilapidated, leaked badly, and had a broken window but it was home, full of character and did support a few mice and a bees nest. Just exactly what you would expect

Although my plot is quite small with good growing conditions it can be very productive, but that will require a high work commitment. This started with the winter digging. The previous tenant left some compost and this got supplemented with horse manure.
However all the fruit bush rows had to be double dug as well as the sweet pea trench, so extra help from younger family and friends were called in to assist. Payment had to be offered so the first round at the pub was mine, and the second, and a few more.
Always make sure any clay in the lower spit is not brought to the surface when double digging. Deep digging helps the drainage and gives roots a deeper root run. It also breaks up the clay releasing nutrients to the plants.
The fig got special treatment as a pit was excavated two feet deep and lined loosely with slabs to restrict the root run and encourage early fruiting.
Deciding what crops to grow is down to personal choice, but it is always good to build in some rotation system with both vegetables and flowers. I also move my strawberry patch every three years.

Fruit bushes arrived in winter so summer and autumn rasps got planted (in a snow blizzard), but that's dedication, then bramble Helen on the side of my shed, then currants, gooseberries and saskatoons.
City Road Allotment Gardens are having an open day on Sunday 8th August from 11am to 3pm. Come along and see our plots, have a chat in our cafeteria, and see our fresh produce and plants including saskatoons for sale.


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