A wander around an English allotment

Let’s take a wander around my allotments, and while we wander I’ll try and tell you a bit about allotments – or perhaps you know them by another name –  community gardens.

Simply put an allotment is a small parcel of land rented to an individual to grow fruit and vegetables.

There is no exact formula to what allotments look like, how big they are, their day-to-day running; but there are themes and commonalities, there is legislation and documentation, organisations set up to campaign and help.

Some allotment sites allow the keeping of livestock like chickens, pigeons, rabbits, bees, even horses, others don’t. Access to water from standpipes is common but not a given.

There are sites that are tiny, maybe half a dozen plots whilst others have several hundred. A number stipulate that gardening must be organic. As with the gardeners who tend the plots, the plots and sites vary and cover every spectrum imaginable.

To give you an idea, my allotment site covers roughly 6 acres and has over 100 individual tenants. We each rent our small parcel of land from the Allotment Association who in turn have a lease from the Council. But let’s take a step back and look at how they came into existence.

Allotments were born out of a need. The recognition of the need for working men and women, the landless, the urban poor, the tenanted rural poor, to be able to grow and provide food for their families. The first allotments as we know them today were organised at the start to the mid 1880′s; but their origins could be said to go much further back, around the time of the land enclosures across England and Wales.

The principal is for everyday people, those without access to land to be able to grow food for their families.

The rise in popularity and demand grew from urbanisation and tenanted workers. The campaigns for better living conditions, health benefits are all tied in, and continued throughout the centuries, with the Church, Charities and Authorities trying to address the need for people to have access to good fresh food. Allotments are legislated for, with various acts brought in over time to strengthen or amend the provisions.

As the original legislation states, Local Authorities are “to provide a sufficient number of allotments; and to let these to folk who want them” and the rent should be fixed at what a person “may reasonably be expected to pay“. This is only the starting point and I won’t go into the details here, this is a mere illustration, a brushstroke.

Now for the fun – how big is an individual allotment? The unit of measurement is fantastically archaic – a Rod. Yes you read that right. A Rod is approximately 5.5 yards. Individual plots are anywhere from 5 Rods to 20 Rods, the most common being 10 (or 302.5 sq yards or approx 250 sq m ). 10 Rods was considered a good size to be able to feed a family or certainly supplement their diet.

Allotments have waxed and waned in popularity, from the Dig For Victory campaigns of WW2, and afterwards when food and supplies were scarce, remember it wasn’t until the late 1950s that Britain stopped rationing food. To gradual declines up until the 70s with a mini resurgence, only to be followed by further declines and now in the 21st century a rise in popularity as the desire and awareness of growing your own food has increased.

The popular view that allotments were a place for old blokes with flat caps and pigeons is far from 21st century reality. They are vibrant parts of the community with all ages, sexes and cultures represented. Places where you can escape from a hectic work and home life, where if you live in a flat with no outside space you can have your little patch of green to cultivate. To be able to sit down on a bench and stare into the distance, to contemplate, to relax. And yes, to feed your family.

21st century allotments are changing and evolving. Your alloted space is rented from either the council, an organisation set up to run the allotments, your local church parish or increasingly private landowners. The average age of allotmenters has lowered, many more women take on a plot, the standard size of plots is getting smaller to meet demand, they are no longer the preserve of the working classes, the middle classes have got in on the act too.

This post is about the mechanics and history of allotments, what I’d like to do another time (soon) is tell you about how it feels, what goes on, what grows, what we get up to – our resourcefulness and ingenuity, the ups, downs and round-abouts, the do’s and don’ts. And yes our sheds, greenhouses, benches, and even the fruit and veg. For now I’ll leave a few links so you can, if you want, read a bit more.

Ok, one more gratuitous macro shot and I’m done for today!

Post Script ~

The Measurement of A Rod

A Rod is 5.5 yards, squared it is 30.25 sq yards.

10 Rods is 302.5 sq yards or 2,722.5 sq feet or 253 sq metres.

I have 8 Rods, so my plot is 242 sq yards or 222 sq metres.

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Fat Tuesday

Where did the expression Fat Tuesday come from? When did it start? I don’t remember as a child knowing Shrove Tuesday as anything but Shrove Tuesday.

Well thank goodness for Wikipedia! “Mardi gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday; in English the day is sometimes referred to as Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, meaning “confess  You would have thought seeing as I spend so much time in France I would have made the connection…..

Maybe I did know it by another name, Pancake day. We ate our pancakes with sugar and lemon, simple and perfect. Still my favourite way to eat them.

Whatever you or I chose to call it, tonight it’s party time in Hastings, and I’ll confess that I’m going to the ball - Hastings Fat Tuesday 2012