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Lost the plot? How poor crops could lose your allotment

Last week an allotment holder lost their appeal against being evicted from their allotment. Do you find it difficult to keep your allotment up to a high standard? That’s if you can get one…

According to reports, after producing too many vegetables in previous years, Mr Rock of Hastings East Sussex had planted his plot with 11 pear, plum, apple, cherry and apricot trees.

He intended to make jam from the fruit to give to his neighbours, but he faced eviction after it was ruled that not enough of the space was devoted to ‘productive crops’.

As an allotment holder myself, it set my mind racing to the unkempt grass and weedy areas of my allotment and if I may soon be faced with an eviction notice when I next go.

Getting the most out of your allotment

In such a difficult year for growing, I have to admit that I (and many others) have been struggling to find the time (and weather) to keep my own patch ‘up to scratch’ and fully productive.

After eight years my plot has slowly evolved, incorporating a glasshouse, seating area, fruit trees and bushes as well as areas devoted to herbs and cut flowers.

I have probably no more than 30% of the total area devoted solely to growing vegetables these days. But by cultivating a mix of vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers I can ensure I am growing a suitable amount of seasonal produce so I won’t return empty handed on most trips.

Handing out excess flowers or jam is so much more pleasurable than forcing your glut of courgettes and runner beans on to reluctant friends and relatives.

What’s growing on?

Anyone who leases an allotment is essentially a tenant, and subject to a tenancy agreement similar to renting a house. Many sites will have restrictions on what can be grown on the allotment or the amount of land used for non-productive crops. Allotment holders must adhere to the rules specific to their area or face the possibility of eviction.

Thankfully, the rules for my own allotment site state that ‘plots leased to tenants must be cultivated (the physical working of the ground for the production of crops, defined as vegetables, flowers, fruit bushes, fruit trees and herbs)’. So other than ensuring my unruly plot doesn’t encroach on my neighbours enjoyment, I am hopefully gardening within my bounds.

With such long waiting lists for allotments in many areas, and few new sites being created, ensuring that all the available plots are being used suitably must surely be at the top of most allotment committees’ priorities.

Living in a city my allotment is the only space in which I can satisfy my need to garden, and I would like to feel I can grow whatever I like to make it both productive and attractive.

Do you think local authorities should have the power to dictate what, how or how much you should be growing on your plot? Or have they lost the plot when they start evicting ‘tenants’?

Comments
Member

This sort of situation has existed in Sheffield for years, and I have been the recipient of a “non-cultivation notice” once too.

The trouble is that the tenancy agreement makes it so hard to do ANYTHING on your plot at all that if Sheffield wanted to evict everyone who fell foul of one or more of the rules, they’d probably be able to evict almost every tenant except those who grow a whole plot full of salad and brassicas.

I don’t know where these allotment departments get their crazy ideas from but I can only guess that the staff who make up the rules are not gardeners of any kind and don’t really know what gardening is about.

If I ever get an eviction notice I’m afraid I shall just do what the council did to the plot before they allocated it to me: dig up everything on it and leave it as a barren, stone-filled, wasteland.

Member
Imogen says:
25 August 2012

Allotments are often run by committees without the skills they need to manage them properly. On my site in Luton, many plot holders live in fear of eviction as 20 to 30 eviction letters are issued every few weeks. New allotment tenants leave when they are sent a letter after just a few months if they are struggling to learn how to garden in different and challenging conditions. There are now quite a few vacant allotments that nobody wants because our site is no longer a place to relax and enjoy. It is a place of stress. Times are hard and predicted to get harder, so we should be able to try and grow what we need for our families in a way that is best for us and our children, not according to some civil servant’s idea he probably got from a book. We need help to restore some common sense.

Member

It may be of some relative comfort for anyone receiving a warning of eviction for failing to cultivate their allotment appropriately to know that in the 1920’s a German allotment committee issued such a notice to Albert Einstein

Member
ox66 says:
27 August 2012

I’m actually part of an allotment committee in Oxford so know their point of view as well. We are under constant pressure to keep the site cultivated for two reasons:

1. There’s a long waiting list and we’re constantly being pressured to reduce this list by the council. We have to send them reports on a regular basis on the state of the waiting list + number of members. It doesn’t help that our site is located in the most densely populated area of Oxford and the council are constantly looking for new land for housing….

2. Existing plot holders get on our backs about uncultivated plots that spread weeds on to theirs. Very often a prompt from the committee to an allotment holder comes from another plot holder sick of clearing up weeds originating from a neighbour.

Should mention that we give all new plot holders a full year to get 25% of their plots cultivated, which we think is reasonable. After three years we expect to see approx 75% cultivated. And no, we have no strict rules with regards to what constitutes ‘cultivation’, as long as it’s not weed….

Member
Janice Shipp says:
28 August 2012

As an allotmenteer for the past fourteen years, I know that the amount of cultivation I’ve managed on my plot has been different in every one of those years. Everything from the weather (I have promised myself I’ll give up if we have another summer like this one) to family and work commitments can seem to contrive to keep me from growing my veg and keeping my plot as tidy as I’d like.

The reality is that it is very time consuming and pretty hard work to grow your own, and I’ve seen many new allotmenteers start full of enthusiasm only to give up when the weeds take over the newly rotavated soil and the slugs eat all the carefully tended plants. But I’m not sure they should be booted off, even though weedy plots undoubtedly make life harder. My immediate neighbours, parents of two young children, struggle every year to keep their plot under control, but they live in a flat and it’s their only bit of outside space. They usually manage to grow something, so I give them spare plants and bits of advice if they ask me, rather then make them feel bad because they’ve got weeds. I’ve got weeds, too, sometimes lots of them, and I think new people need encouragement. Our site has no waiting list at the moment, so maybe a bit of patience will pay dividends as some allotmenteers struggle to learn the ropes and hopefully take root!

Member

For the past two years, we’ve had a ‘non cultivation’ notice from the council – in February. It’s hard to cultivate anything in February! One of our co-allotmenteers quizzed the council inspectors as they were going round, and it soon became pretty obvious that they knew nothing about veg growing.

We’ve got a long waiting list at our plot, so I understand the need to check whether people are cultivating their plots. But this needs to be done sensitively – and accurately. The best people to know whether plots are being cultivated are the allotment holders and chairpeople of the allotment society – not council inspectors with clipboards.

We now take pictures of our plot in full flow in summer to prove that we’re really cultivating it! And we haven’t been booted off yet ; )

Member
Iain Belton says:
10 August 2014

Councils forget that not only are allotmenteers their constituents, they are also their customers. In Bicester Oxfordshire the Town Council have created a feeling of stress and fear by monthly inspections and evictions, yet they have between 30 and 50 vacancies. Be ill, go on holiday or anything else that causes an allotment not to be up to their standard and you go on the slippery slope to eviction. Yet the un-let plots are left to spread weeds across all the worked plots.

The only way is to badger the councillors until they get a grip on their ‘jobsworth’ officials who are usually lacking any knowledge of allotmenting or customer management.