Allotments: little and often

by Lila Das Gupta

So why do some people fail at allotments while others succeed? The answer could have as much to do with genetic make-up as it does with horticultural aptitude...

lila in her allotmentWe've just received our letter of renewal on the allotment lease - it always reminds me of how fortunate we are to be able to rent the land for such a small amount of money. Others might not be feeling so content.  At this time of year some plot holders will also be receiving notices terminating their agreements, having received earlier warning letters that their plots were not up to scratch.

So why do some people fail at allotments while others succeed? The answer could have as much to do with genetic make-up as it does with horticultural aptitude.  

The subject was on my mind a while back when I went on my annual pilgrimage to see my mate Natasha in Rugby who tends to three plots. Her acreage backs on to a plot owned by John, a lovely man who always gives me trugs-full of raspberries to take home to turn into jam

Regular as clockwork, John turns up at the plot Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Sunday mornings he is also there. On Saturday he never fails to clean out his bird cages. It won't surprise you to learn that John's allotment is always in great shape. 

Then I started thinking about the book I had just finished, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Covey points out that one of the ways to be effective is to develop regular habits. It's like farming or gardening, he explains: there are some tasks that just can't be 'crammed,' they have to happen bit by bit and in the right season.

But if you look around you, people have all sorts of working styles. The world often seems divided between people who are regular, habit followers who tend to stick to a plan, and  those who have bursts of creative energy followed by periods of rest, who thrive on spontaneity. There is nothing wrong with either model, but it would seem that the latter group may have a disadvantage when it comes to accomplishing tasks that require continuous attention and planning. As every successful allotmenteer will tell you, 'little and often' is the key to success.

People take on allotments for all sorts of different reasons, but for those who dream of 'rus in urbe', having the countryside in the town, the reality is that growing your own veg is going to require a regular commitment of around 10-12 hours a week in the busy season. Think about this before you contemplate taking one on.  

One thing I've discovered, is that allotments, like babies, are great for killing spontaneity: no you cannot go down to the art gallery to join your friends on a sunny afternoon. It hasn't rained and the plot needs watering.

Sorry kids, we can't go swimming, it's just rained and the raspberries will rot if we don't pick them.

Why is it that some people cram for exams and others pace themselves throughout the year? Why do so many of us put ourselves through the hell of last minute tax returns? If you've just received a nasty letter from the allotment committee or have had to give up an allotment - don't beat yourself up or feel like a failure. Put it down to having an artistic temperament and blame it on your genes!

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Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2009 at 18:55

i have justngave my allotment up after 8years offun and hard work.hope its the right desision,things change and other things come along i now have lovely grandkids,and a nice caravan so i will now spend my time with them,but i will miss the garden.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2009 at 20:02

If you take on an allotment you must make time to work on it. There are no soft or easy options. But dont do it to the exclusion of everything else, otherwise it becomes an obsession and you will loose a lot of the benefit it brings to you no matter how big your onions are.

Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2009 at 20:29

After years of struggle with my 'artisitc temperament' and lots of threatening letters from the allotment society, I was saved by a book by Lia Leendertz who writes in the Guardian. She realised that lots of people wait ages for a plot then give it up after a year as they feel overwhelmed. Her solution is that you to go to the allotment with a planned job, 5 times a week, and work for half an hour. You don't do any other job. Then you don t feel overwhelmed and it becomes a virtuous circle. It really worked for me, and the half hour gradually turned to several hours. Highly recommended.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/11/2009 at 08:48

I have had those letters - the bad time is always May/June when the weeds grow a foot a day! I grow everything in beds and that is brilliant because I can clear or plant one bed and see what I have done - rather than the daunting whole plot. It pays to keep it tidiest near the path where the inspectors will walk! They won't necessarily go on to the plot! I often go for half an hour where I used to think it just wasn't worth it. Little and often.

Gardeners' World Web User 13/11/2009 at 13:45

We took over our large plot 2.5 years ago. It was full of brambles, nettles, bindweed & dock. But gradually by digging just a bed at a time - double digging to get rid of all the weed problems we've now cleared about 2/3rds of it. All those beds need now is a quick fork over before planting and a quick race round with a hoe after planting to keep the annual weeds down. We've found the best way is to dig 1 or 2 new beds in the winter (during any dry patch of weather)when most stuff has died down and cover the rest with black polythene, cardboard etc. It's not so daunting. Anyway, there's enough to do in the spring & summer looking after the crops and admiring your handywork without trying to dig new beds.

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