Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 612

11 AUGUST 202 2 4 4 WEEKENDING We’re in themiddle of an ongoing allotment explosion. Waiting lists have always been endless, but rocketed during the pandemic and are set to keep growing, with 90%of local authorities reporting increased demand. Once the preserve of the retired, these plots are in demand among an ecoconscious younger generation, who want to cut their foodmiles, reconnect with nature, meet likeminded people – or just keep fit. Leading the way is Shannon Keary, 26, who got her allotment in 2019. Friends joked about her ‘early retirement’, but she’s turned her hobby into a flourishing career, setting up a cut flower farmearlier this year. Part of a burgeoning online community, Shannon, fromNorth Devon, shares updates on Instagram (@diaryofaladygardener). “I’mexcited to be part of the cultural shift,” she says. Of course, the old guard is still deeply rooted – septuagenarian Gerald Stratford shares photos of his harvest on Twitter (@geraldstratfor3). Carrots, cabbages and courgettes have their place, but there’s more to allotments than just veg – you can even keep hens on them. This year, Shannon (right) is growing dahlias, zinnias and cosmos for her sister’s wedding, while Charlotte Copley, 25, will harvest honey fromher beehives inWest Yorkshire. If you want to give it a go, the first challenge is finding a spot. The National Allotment Society (NAS) suggests contacting your local authority for a list of sites. Costs vary depending on location and size – standard 250 square metre plots can cost more than £100 a year (plus running costs), while quartersize lots are as little as £10. If these are in short supply, try private landlords such as the Church of England. If that doesn’t work, don’t lose hope. A plot to call your own The NAS could soon halve or quarter plot sizes to free up space, while social enterprise Incredible Edible hopes to transformunused car parks into public veg patches. There’s even a website connecting growers with spare outdoor spaces (allotme.co.uk). Once you’ve sourced your space, you can start planning your patch. It’s worth asking neighbours about the soil type before you get growing. Weeds should be dug out, although some people suggest sitting on your hands for the first year to see whether any well-established crops, such as asparagus, pop up. “Plan where you want permanent structures like compost bays, sheds and ponds to go,” advises She eld-based grower, Rachel Greenhill. “After that, work out where perennials like fruit bushes, artichokes and rhubarb – long-termfixtures – will go, before focusing on annuals.” Rachel aims to grow veg for harvesting all year round. “There’s nothingmore fulfilling,” she says. This month, she’ll sow radishes, cabbages, beetroot, winter salad leaves, Swiss chard, pak choi, spinach and turnips. Setting your allotment in rows on a three-year crop rotation system (growing brassicas, roots and other veg on a di erent patch each year) helps keep the soil in tip-top condition and pests at bay. “The challenge is to not get overwhelmed,” says Vimbai Dzimwasha, who keeps an allotment in London with partner Leanora Volpe. “Allotments are marathons, not sprints.” They are also a labour of love, as garden columnist Rob Smith can attest. Rob, 43, got his first plot in his twenties, but his then job as a flight attendant meant he was away a lot. He’d grow nasturtiums around his veg – which acted likemulch, keeping beds moist – and To mark National Allotments Week, Lizzie Briggs shares advice from names spearheading the grow-your-own revolution plant upside-down plastic bottles with holes in the lids to drip feed his plants. Arriving home, he’d rush to his patch, still uniformed, in order to water, prune and harvest. The health boost alonemakes the e ort worthwhile. “At £11 a year, it’s cheaper than the gym,” Rob says. “And themental health benefits are huge. You’re not worried about work. You’re thinking about digging the bed or having a chat.” Vimbai agrees: “Despite being next to a dual carriageway, our plot is somewhere we have peace and practisemindfulness.” It’s no wonder families are also flocking to allotments. SusanHodkin, fromShe eld, tends to hers with her three-year-old daughter Dot. “It has benefited Dot’s life in so many ways,” says Susan. “Fromencouraging her tomake decisions, to us getting to spend quality time together. Plus, it makes me amore laid-backmum. Before I had an allotment, I was uptight, but I feel my shoulders loosen as I walk down the path.” Workingmum Ingrid Chiu also enthuses about the benefits to family life. “It’s a lovely way to get my children away from the TV and tablets and show themwhere food comes from,” she says. Her allotment has ALLOTMENTS IN NUMBERS 90% of local authorities are reporting an increase in demand for allotments £247 the average cost per annum of running a 250 square metre plot 330,000 the estimated number of allotments in the UK 17.5 the longest average waiting time, in years, for an allotment in London 6,845 the largest waiting list, reported by Nottingham City Council last year ‘Our plot is somewhere we have peace and practise mindfulness’