If you only have a small garden then running an allotment in order to grow more vegetables and flowers is a great idea and can be very rewarding, in many different ways. Renting an allotment not only provides the opportunity to grow more plants but it can be a very sociable and enjoyable experience; a place where you can meet-up with other like minded people who are often very passionate about gardening. You will be able learn a surprising amount about the best and most productive methods of growing vegetables, as many allotment owners will have been growing vegetables on the site for a very long time, and are usually only too happy to help newcomers. However running an allotment can be a big commitment, which can take-up a lot of your time, so it should not be entered into lightly.
Allotments are normally run by committees, which usually have a set of very strict rules that must be adhered too. If you are unable to comply with the allotment rules you will most likely be asked to give-up your plot, so that someone else on the waiting list can take your place. Below is a set of example rules for an allotment that I used to run in the Midlands for a number of years (the association name has been omitted for privacy):
RULES OF THE XXXX XXXX ALLOTMENT ASSOCIATION
1. The name of this Association shall be "THE XXXX XXXX ALLOTMENT ASSOCIATION" and its object the providing of Allotment Gardens.
2. The Committee of Management shall consist of 12 members and Secretary-Treasurer to be elected at the Annual General Meeting, which shall have power to decide all business and disputes in accordance with the rules of the Association. The Committee shall elect their own Chairman and Vice-Chairman.
3. Each year one third of the Committee shall retire in rotation, but shall be eligible for re-election at the Annual General Meeting. Any member of the Committee wishing to retire shall give the Secretary seven clear days notice before the Annual General Meeting.
4. Each Tenant shall pay 12 months rent in advance. Rents will become due 1st September each year.
5. Applications for Plots shall be considered by the Committee who shall have power to decide on such applications and whose decision shall be binding on the applicant. No tenant shall be allowed to sublet his/her Plot.
6. Determination of tenancies by the Association. The Association shall have the right to re-enter and take possession of the Plot and terminate the tenancy of any tenant and re-let the Plot if :-
7. Plots are to be cultivated and kept free from weeds. The pathway between each Plot shall be 18 ins. and be kept trimmed. No rubbish is to be dumped on pathways, or access roads. No refuse (apart from material for composting) is to be deposited on Plots. Skips will be provided when considered necessary for disposing of rubbish from Plots only, but are not to be filled with materials suitable for composting.
8. Bonfires are not allowed on the Plots.
9. Access Gates are to be kept clear at all times and to be locked on entering and leaving the Site.
10. No buildings of any description are to be erected on the Plots.
11. Trees are not to be planted on the Plots.
12. Allotments shall not be used for trade or business.
13. Dogs shall be kept on the lead at all times.
14. No livestock shall be kept on the Plots.
15. No soil shall be removed from the Plots.
16. Hose pipes shall not used, and valves of water tanks must not be interfered with.
17. There will no admission to plots to non members unless accompanied by Tenant or Tenants's family.
18. Change of name or address is to be notified to the Secretary.
19. Should any Tenant be found stealing or willfully damaging any fruit, plants, roots, vegetables, or other produce or tools, and the charge be proved against him/her to the satisfaction of thee-fourths of the Committee, his name shall be at once erased from the tenants's Roll book and he/she shall forfeit all produce on his/her Plot.
The above example rules, although typical, can vary widely between different areas of the country and even between allotments in the same town. So before you decide to rent an allotment it is best to study the rules carefully to ensure that you are willing to accept them.
The types of crops that can be grown on an allotment are usually clearly stipulated in the allotment rules (see above). The strictness of these rules will vary depending on views of the allotment committee and any bylaws stipulated by the local authority. If you are in doubt it is best to ask one of the members of the committee. However, you can usually grow more than just vegetables and fruit. Many allotment owners also grow cut flowers, ideal if you are into flower arranging and don't want to denude your own garden of blooms.
Allotments can be situated in various locations in towns, villages and cities. Small villages usually have one or two but large cities can have forty or fifty dotted around.
Applications for allotments are usually dealt with by either the local council authority or the individual allotment committee. The first port of call would be to visit your local allotment and check for a notice board with details or phone your local council offices. To be eligible for an allotment you will usually need to be over 18 and live within the village, town or borough of the city where the allotment is located.
If there are no vacant plots at the time you apply then you can normally put your name on a waiting list. If allotment waiting list are large then local authorities may allocate more land for use as allotments, so don't be put off by this. You could also try lobbying your local council or MP for the allocation of more allotment space in your area if there is not enough.
Apart from the obvious advantage of having a large piece of land to grow fruit, flowers and vegetables, many allotments have clubs and cooperatively run shops that enable members to buy seeds, plants and gardening supplies at cheaper prices.
Standard plot sizes range from 30 ft x 45 ft (125 square metres) to about 30 ft x 90 ft (250 square metres), which is a very large area of land to manage, especially if you are just used to working in a small garden. You may think that 30 ft x 45 ft would be easily manageable as it is roughly the size of a standard back garden, but the whole area will be used to grow fruit and vegetables, whereas in a garden much of the ground is laid to lawn, shrubs and patio. The amount of time required to cultivate an allotment can range from just a few hours a week in the winter to 10~20 hours a week in the spring and early summer (depending on what you grow), so if you are working full time and have a young family it can be difficult to find the time.
However, don't let the disadvantages put you off, nothing ventured is nothing gained, and you can always give your plot up if it doesn't work out. If you think you are unable to cope with a full sized allotment plot then you can ask to either have a smaller area or perhaps share a plot with someone else. Often the most successful tenants are those that involve the whole family or share the work and benefits with friends and siblings.