Getting an allotment

Sometime in March, I will take possession of half an allotment.

I say “sometime in March” because thanks to the endemic disorganisation of the local Parish Council it is a bit hard to discern exactly when the tenancy begins.

Meanwhile, the water butt had a wheelbarrow ride a couple of weekends ago and should, hopefully, be an ample source in the summer months. More on the water situation later.

Let’s get back to the start.

Why an allotment?

Not original. The usual arguments apply.

Supermarket fruit and veg are generally tasteless, shipped too far (even the British goods) and line the pockets of the supermarkets rather than the growers. We have tried alternatives. When living in London, we shopped for a while at Borough market. But, it seemed to me that much of produce was far from local. And, we were paying farmers’ market prices – ouch!
We also tried Clapham Farmers’ Market. Produce from closer to home, but still too pricey.

You cannot beat growing your own. Knowing the effort that has gone in and that the produce has travelled but a few paces: that’s incentive.

It is hard work though. I’m certainly not looking forward to the digging.
Back in London a few years back, I dug a small plot and threw in some potatoes. We sowed some leaves, onions, garlic and peas – but the slugs ate those. In the hot summer days, potato plants popped up and we got a fairly good crop. Even those planted in tubs grew. It never ceases to amaze that any old idiot can grow things.

So, moving to North Devon 13 months ago, getting an allotment was a no-brainer.

Easy. Until tackling the Parish Council.

I don’t want to be too hard on the council. I take my hat off to anyone who stands as a Parish councillor. It’s unpaid and not on the path to political heights, at least not around here. Yet, managing 15 or so allotments should be a simple task. Write the rules, allocate the plots, collect the rent and deal with the odd difficulty.

Or not.

Contacting the Parish clerk proved the first challenge. No sign of an e-mail address; failed to return phone messages; so, gasp, left to snail mail. A couple of weeks later came the disappointing news that there was a waiting list. No indication how many others were on the list, mind you.
Ok, so Plan B went into effect for last summer. More on the results later, suffice it to say that our south facing garden gets too little sun. 2007’s buckets of rain and North Devon’s best spring and summer gales wrecked damage. But, we’ll get back to that.

Meanwhile, over the spring and summer, I got to know people in the village and started going to monthly Parish council meetings. Soon it became apparent that the council was not quite up to scratch managing the allotments. Several plots had lain uncultivated for years. At least two allotment holders had two (or more!) plots. There were chickens and geese, tractors muddying up the plots and plans for a poly tunnel.

By autumn, the council finally got its act (sort of) together. It was decided to enforce a few rules – retrospectively. One allotment each; untended plots to be repossessed; no livestock; no poly tunnels. I’ll spare you the democratic details and angry scenes at council meetings.

The day finally came in November when the logjam was broken and an allotment was allocated!

Er, but.

I was getting plenty of advice from plot holders and fellow gardeners’ club members. Seemed, this was going to be a tough challenge. A couple of visits to the allotments convinced me that half an allotment would do.

I heard through the grapevine that the holder of number 5 – let’s call him Barry – was struggling himself with a full plot. I met up with him at a council meeting and he offered a share. That sounded a good idea, but I was concerned that this was done above aboard. Given the management chaos, I needed the assurance that I wouldn’t lose tenure rights.

This message was passed to the clerk. Silence. For two months.
After the January council meeting, I tackled the clerk who swore that my letter hadn’t arrived. But, no problem, I could have allotment number five-and-a-half.

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