I’ve recently been discussing on a forum just how much running an allotment costs. The consensus seems to be that it’s expensive to have an allotment. The majority felt it did not save them money on food. I have to say, this confuses me. I use my allotment to be semi self sufficient and it supplies the bulk of my food. To start with, the allotment required some investment in basic allotment tools. But all you really need to start an allotment is a spade and seeds.
I was lucky enough to get an allotment that already had a shed and other allotment tools, but besides the shed, I barely use them. The first year on my allotment I spent under 100 quid on budget garden tools. With seeds and allotment fees, the first year cost me around 200 quid; but I got back a lot of food. I saved my own seeds and the second year cost me hardly anything and managed to supply the bulk of my food. I just buy basics like pasta, rice, oats, salt etc.
Since the commoditisation of gardening, it’s now become an ‘expensive’ hobby. But allotments originally started as a way for poor people to produce cheap, nutritious food. It seems having an allotment has now become a designer, aspirational past time… I’ve never been so fashionable!
Of course, there are so many more benefits to having an allotment than just saving or losing money. Things DO taste better fresh, you cannot buy the kind of fresh, complex tastes allotment garden produce can give you. I grow some rather obscure things you cannot buy anywhere – skirret, oca, yacon, crown price squash, and so on. It’s only after tasting high quality home grown veg (whether obscure or not) that you realise what the supermarkets grow is just low grade, watery, tasteless fodder purely bred JUST for its harvesting and keeping qualities. Nowhere during the breeding process do supermarkets add flavour into the equation. As a general rule, do not buy the same seed varieties you see in the supermarkets.
For example, it’s not until you try crown prince squash that you will wonder why the hell you were paying a small fortune for bland, tasteless butternut squash. I say this as someone who use to love butternut squash. Crown prince squash is dense, very sweet and genuinely nutty – like a cross between sweet chestnut and well… nothing else to compare really. I digress, trying to buy many of the things I grow is practically impossible.
Then there’s other benefits like the happiness it brings. The buzz you get from watching things YOU plant and grow is real people! Having an allotment is hard physical labour, but it’s the kind you will like and cannot wait to do. You certainly won’t need gym membership if you have an allotment.
So what basic allotment tools do you need? You really could get away with just a spade, and shears if you have small grass borders. That’s it. Of course there are many other tools that would not only make life easier, but in fact I would say are essential. But if you really had to, a spade and possibly shears is all you would need if you were on a tight budget. But in my opinion the following are what I would call essentials
Essential allotment tools
1) A spade
3) Watering can or bucket. If you are on a budget anything that can carry water will do.
7) String or twine
9) Strimmer if you have a large amount of grass (can be a cheap battery powered strimmer). If you only have a small patch of grass and are on a budget, then shears will suffice.
11) Labels (home made will be fine) and a pen
12) Thermask flask for coffee – TOTALLY an essential
13) Pots and trays
14) Potting compost
15) Azada if you have tough soil, an overgrown plot, or just want to dig faster! Ok not an ‘essential’, but it makes life easier.
You can buy budget items, which I did, the above could all work out to under £150. You can buy second hand and look on freecycle if you are buying allotment tools on a budget. Or you can buy high end stuff. Either way, these are one off investments and anything you buy after this is just gravy. Buying allotment tools and gardening in general does not need to be more expensive, unless you want it to be.