I spent a sunny day at my friend's allotment last weekend. It was hard graft, but it was rewarding and a cold drink in the afternoon sun felt heavenly! It got me pondering the post-recession allotment craze.
In 2012, the average waiting waiting time for an allotment was 3 years (or up to 40 years in Camden, London!). Tens of thousands of people are signing up to the waiting lists, hoping to cut their grocery bills, take up a new hobby or grow organic food.
My question to you is, are allotments worth the time and money involved?
Check out any frugal living blog and they'll rave about how wonderfully cheap it is to grow your own veg, but ask a seasoned allotmenteer and they usually smile and shake their head. An allotment costs up to £80 a year in rent, but newbies have to factor in the cost of seeds, compost, seed trays, tools, fertiliser, eventual shed/greenhouse replacement, etc. etc. There's a huge start up cost involved. Despite this, a survey by LV in 2009 found that allotmenteers save an average of £950 a year!
Of course, there are ways to cut the costs of owning an allotment. Find yourself some second hand tools, make your own compost and free fertiliser, and Allotment Underground even suggests making pots from newspaper!
I read recently that you should aim to spend 8 hours a week on your allotment, which is a massive time commitment for someone with a full time job. On the other hand, that's 8 hours that most people would spend sat on their bum otherwise! Digging burns around 340 calories per hour, twice as much as walking, and you build muscle too! My friend was having backache though so make sure you follow advice on how to dig safely.
An allotment is a social place where neighbours exchange tips and friendly competition. (I get the feeling that this might be why the costs start mounting up!). It is also great for teaching children where their food comes from and how plants grow. (Frugal Down Under has got this nailed!)
As for the harvest, everyone knows that food you've grown yourself tastes AMAZING! I think it's a combination of pride and the super freshness of the crop. People say that they waste a lot less food too, because of the effort they put into growing it!
You might've guessed that I'm pretty tempted to get an allotment (students get half price plots in Bristol!). The thing holding me back is that I am not sure how much free time I'll have during my PhD. I could rope in a
minion volunteer (the Boyfriend) to help out at weekends I guess! Anyway, let me know what you think, especially all you aspiring self-sufficient types out there!