winning the allottery

the allotment when we started

Gillian and I recently got a key to an allotment on Sneinton Dale. The 400 square yard plot costs us only £40 a year. A few weeks ago an appointed member of the Dale Allotment Association’s committee showed a group of would be allotment gardeners around 8 or so available plots. Having applied in October 2012 Gillian and I were 5th on the waiting list. The reason we heard nothing until June was that rents are due in April and gardeners are given a few months to confirm they are no longer interested in the allotment after they stop paying.

On one of the sunniest Sundays in June the group went from empty allotment plot to plot. These plots are huge, mostly hedged off with at least 12 ft of wild hedge (though we’ve since learned the rule says 5 ft maximum) and on a hillside. Many of the plots lower down the hill are very well cultivated and looked after. This is because as allotments have come into and out of fashion, hardier allotment gardeners have chosen plots further down the hill.

There are several tense days between applying for your favoured plot and getting the key. We got our 2nd choice which is perfect in every respect based on our wish list. Our wish list being it should have fruit trees already growing there. Our 1st choice plot was much further down the hill and better cultivated, including a shed, greenhouse and a fruit tree. Our actual allocation has three apple trees and a couple of other fruit trees I’ve yet to identify. We also found raspberries growing though held back by the tall grass around them. Of course there is a lot of bramble so we should get some nice blackberries too.

Most of the plot is tall grass and bramble as it’s clearly been let fallow for a year or two. Gillian and I had an attack at the grass with a strimmer and made quite a difference in only an hour of two of work. Hot work mind you having chosen one of the hottest days this year. Still we have a good bit of shade at the back of the plot and a purple plastic garden chair to sit on.

One obvious concern has been having enough time to put into a plot. I think we’ve been lucky that we’ve a fairly lazy option. There are dozens of empty or at least unloved plots on the allotment site and though this is a shame it does mean that we can develop our plot carefully and slowly over the next few year. £40 a year including water isn’t really enough and I think we’d have been happy to pay four times that amount and still have considered the plot a bargain on price. We saw that a few of the existing plots are laid out as play areas or pleasure gardens. Barbecues are ubiquitous too. We’re going to be okay I think especially as the fruit trees will produce a harvest with a minimal amount of effort. All the apples you can eat for £40 a year? Why not.

We’ve a lot to do but the strimming and clearing has begun in earnest. The previous gardener seems to have had a crazy levels and terrace system. Hopefully clearing back a lot of the bramble and tall grass should show us what is going on. I plan to build a couple of raised beds (weirdly there were some already on the plot but hidden by bramble and grass) and locate a suitable spot  for a shed and greenhouse. I’ll need the consent of the Association committee to put up any structures like this. Having now visited the allotment site several times it seems clear that the rules are broken constantly. These rules include the hedge height rule of 5 ft (not seen one under 8 ft) and the bonfires only in November rule (people are using incinerators often) and the hosepipe rule. I’ve not really fathomed the hosepipe rule to be honest, anyway I don’t have a hosepipe yet.

Freecycle stuff

Freecycle and Hackspace have been a massive boon for help with the allotment so far.

From Freecycle I’ve sourced:

  • 8 hanging baskets (to help with next years strawberries)
  • A wheel barrow
  • A water butt, guttering and downpipe

From friends in the world of Hackspace I’ve been offered:

  • use of a petrol strimmer (thank you Mark P, it works well)
  • a greenhouse unassembled and without glass (thanks James)
  • a petrol strimmer to keep if I can get it from London (thanks Sully and Akki)
  • a selection of gardening tools, containers and other items (many thanks Rob H)

Additionally we’ve been offered good help and advise from many others as well as the promise of a visit by John H of Hackspace who is something of a self-sufficiency guru and master market gardener. All in all lots of help and lots of plans.

One thing that is reassuring about the allotment is that even if I do no work, I’ll be able to take several pounds of apples off the plot. That has to be worth £40 a year.

mid July



The above was written in early July 2013. Since then we’ve done a lot of work on the allotment. Early on I intended to do a time lapse of the first strimming back of the over growth but have been unable to stitch it together in a way which doesn’t make my feeble netbook die horribly. I was very lucky to get a 5-in-1 petrol strimmer, brush cutter, hedge trimmer and pruning saw for my birthday this year (the 5th tool is an extender arm which to take the 5-in-1 claim to it’s logical conclusion really means it’s an 8-in-1 tool).

We’ve radically cut back the hedges though we are struggling on the height of them. This has allowed much more light into the plot. Also I managed to acquire 6 sturdy EuroPal pallets which I managed to drag up the hill. These have been made into a massive compost bin. Gillian and I decided one of the best ways to help the apple trees for next year was to put down a fabric weed suppressing liner which we completed last week (mid August 2013).

We were lucky enough to have a visit from our Hackspace and Abundance Project friend John Higham who practically lives off his garden in Wollaton. We asked him to help advise us about the allotment and he made several good recommendations. We have a tree suitable for coppicing at the back of the plot. It grows vigorously and should be a good source of soft wood for fence work. It turns out we have a pet apricot tree. John was able to expertly identify this and other plants by LOOKING AT THE LABEL left on them by the person who planted them… in fairness we didn’t even see the labels at the base of the trees! We have as thought before also got a black current and a red current though they are straggly and have not produced much fruit. Gillian is thinking of trying her hand at hardwood cutting from them later in the year.

It turns out that the mystery fruit on one of the trees is damson. We’ve seen damson on other plots on the Dale and they are fruiting heavily this year. John suggested that we cut back the damson heavily back to the tree (as it has sprouted itself into a sort of wide bush) and that this will help it for next year.

We’ve also met Rob our next door allotment neighbour who has kindly supplied us with eggs from his chickens. He doesn’t seem to grow much on his allotment but has a wonderful collection of sheds. I may well blog about them in the future.