How much time does an allotment take? Part one

This is a question that I have been commonly asked and it comes up regularly on social media from those interested in taking on a plot. In Part one I discuss how much time managing our plots take us and the factors that influence this.

So many things influence the time you spend you spend maintaining an allotment including:

1. Size of plot
2. Layout of plot
3. Soil related factors including perennial weeds present, soil type and methods of cultivation
4. Types of crops you grow
5. Presence of undercover space – greenhouse & polytunnels

Size of plot

This is one of the biggest factors. The bigger your plot is the more time it takes. Sounds obvious, but the fact that most vegetables are annual crops planted out after the last frosts means that May & June can be very busy months for the allotmenteer. It doesn’t matter how large your space is, you still need to get most crops in during that time. If you don’t get the plot planted up in time empty wasted space is very high maintenance as the summer develops. There are ways to manage this – don’t book a holiday at this time, use annual leave from work or rope in friends and family during this period. Secondly you need to be able to use, process, preserve and store crops which is timely too. In my experience, the size of plot you can manage is directly related to how much time you can invest during spring planting and summer harvesting. We have 2.5 plots – that is alot of space. Most plots are not this big.

Layout of plot

Uncovered paths or areas unplanted require weeding! There are areas of the plot that don’t require active maintenance during most of the year including those used for composting and permanent structures such as sheds or seating. Sometimes quite large plots have areas that are not used for active growth. The plots themselve may seem large, but how much is permanent structure or paths and how much is space that needs active constant maintenance? If you have a very large plot then creating a social area can help you manage time. However, when considering this it is important to check the rules on your site as many have restrictions on any area that is not used for growing crops directly.

Soil related factors including perennial weeds present, soil type and methods of cultivation

If your plot is free of perennial weeds then it will take much less then to keep tidy. Annual weeds respond very well to mulching or hoeing which doesn’t take much time. If your plot is weedy then investing a large amount of time into the plot initially will really pay off in reducing maintenance during the main growing season. If you are choosing to dig then soil types can make this process very easy or very hard. Clay soil is very hard work to dig! We have found ‘No Dig’ methods help save time by reducing annual weeding and watering.

Types of crops you grow

Growing perennial vegetables and fruit can the heavy load of time at planting. Considering growing crops that harvest a range of time can spread the harvesting, preparation and storage time. For example, we only grow autumn fruiting raspberries instead of the summer fruiting varieties. This means we can delay the raspberry harvesting till well after the other soft fruit has been cropped.

Presence of undercover space – greenhouse & polytunnels

For a long time we only had a greenhouse at home. This was because didn’t want to commit to regular evening vists to the plot to water undercover space. We both work fulltime so it isn’t always realistic to get the the plot every day. However, we do now have 2 greenhouses! Unless it is very hot we water every 2 to 3 days. You can consider automatic watering systems or buddying up with another plotholder to reduce weekday visits.

Physical abilities and time spent socialising or relaxing.

As you can see from our analysis we do spend alot of time at the plot relaxing! Allotments can also be social/community led spaces so it is easy to get distracted whilst you are there! If you get your head down and complete the physical tasks it is surprising what you can get down in 1 visit for a good few hours. Your ability to complete alot of physical work in one go can be a limitation on the ability to attend a plot less regularly. You have to find a way that works for you. Remember we all need take to recover, sit back and enjoy our hardwork!

Coming soon – Part 2. I will look at how some fellow allotmenteers spend their time at own plots.