For Newbies

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The simple objective of this page is to provide links to websites where newbies can find useful information to get them going.

Links to some background information on allotments

The Allotment Regeneration Initiative's (ARI) plot holder guide contains general background information on allotments (but nothing on actual cultivation).

If you are interested in allotment law the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) has a useful 3 page summary of modern legislation. For a fuller explanation see Paul Clayden's The Law of Allotments (5th edition) in paperback.

Allot More Allotments, a campaign for more allotments, has a useful page with links to information on legislation.

If you are already on a waiting list but despair that you may not get a plot for a long time you may wish to look at other alternatives. Landshare looks to put landowners and growers in touch with one another. This concept is a growing area at the moment. However, beware that some outfits will make charges for the service that they provide, possibly making the overall cost of getting your piece of land far more expensive than normal allotment rents. Some commercial organisations are now offering plots but they tend to be extremely expensive, some as much as 20-30 times greater than the equivalent rents on a council-run or independent site.

Where to find initial advice on cultivation to get you going

If you are new to allotmenting and to growing then you are probably on the look-out for some initial advice and guidance to get you going. While there are plenty of books that you can buy - frequently under the names of celebrity gardeners - it is possible to find much useful advice from experienced plot holders on the internet. These individuals often provide more solid, realistic and pragmatic information than the celebrities.

As a starter, apart from the information here on the A4A wiki, there are a reasonable number of contributors to Allotments4All who have their own web sites which contain much useful information for the newbie. Here is a selection:

  • Eristic – particularly good at clearance and first year cultivation plus the growing of some of the more unusual crops
  • BAK – includes "new to allotment?" and cultivation approaches pages plus lots of links to other sites
  • Realfood - comprehensive site on fruit and veg growing by a Scottish grower with an emphasis on cultivation in the north of the British Isles
  • Tee Gee - experienced Yorkshire grower who covers fruit, veg and ornamentals, some of which are displayed in slide show format. There is also a comprehensive FAQ section and photo album.

Meanwhile, the following contributors veer more towards a diary format with excellent pictures:

There are, of course, non-A4A growers whose websites are worth reading. They include:

  • Gavin Keir - pages on allotment techniques are particularly useful

Finally, click here to find out how one newbie got on during her first year on the plot.


Contaminated Manure

Probably the major news item among the UK growing fraternity in 2008 was the appearance in various areas of manure that had been infected by a chemical called aminopyralid which was found in some herbicide products from a company called Dow Agrosciences. It subsequently led to distorted growth in crops that were planted in ground that contained the infected manure. After public pressure the offending products were eventually withdrawn from the market in July 2008. However, Dow Agrosciences were given permission to reintroduce two of the products in October 2009, subject to restrictions. Various websites narrate the story. Green Lane Allotments is a good one to read to understand the problems and the unfolding story. The bottom line is to understand the provenance of your manure - i.e. be sure that you know where it has come from and whether the farmer or stable owner used any of the offending products or obtained any haylage or silage contaminated with herbicide residue.

Poles and Rods

You will find topics on this forum where plot sizes are mentioned, sometimes - though not always - in connection with allotment rent. They are frequently expressed in terms of poles or rods. A pole is the same as a rod, referring to an area that is 5.5 yards long and 5.5 yards wide. Perch is another name for the same unit of measurement although it is less frequently used.

Therefore, 1 pole = 30.25 sq yards or 272.25 sq feet or 25.3 sq metres.

From the late 19th century a standard size allotment was considered to be 10 poles, i.e. 300 sq yards or 250 sq metres. However, many sites are now reducing plot sizes in an attempt to cope with the increased demand for allotments. This means that while on some sites the standard is still 10 poles, on others it may be only 5 poles.


The very fact that you are reading this means that you are probably under no illusions that allotments can be hard work, albeit enjoyable and ultimately rewarding work. However, there are newbies around who have somewhat unrealistic expectations, as the following selected quotes from A4A members testify ...

“We did have somebody who after coming to the top of the list about this time of year (autumn) said that they only wanted a summer allotment … another said they don't remember putting their name down”.

“We've also had someone who took on a plot but didn't do anything although they appeared several times to look at it - eventually they asked 'when will my plot be dug and ready for me to plant' - and when it was explained they had to dig it, we got a reply along the lines of 'well I'm renting this off the Council, surely they will dig it for me to start with, they can't expect me to dig all that'” “There was the tenant who replied to my request that she tidy up her overgrown plot by saying: ‘don't be ridiculous! We're surrounded by nature and what you call weeds are just wild flowers!!’ She had nettles, thistles, dock, brambles, cow parsley .... etc etc”.

“A woman took on half a plot in October one year and visited it a few times to begin with but did very little to it. The following spring I asked her when she intended to start digging and planting and she said that she had a week's holiday coming up in August and would start then.”

“One new plot-holder had a couple of men build some sturdy raised beds. She did a bit of work and then disappeared on us. By chance I met her next-door neighbour while we were dog-walking, so I asked if she was OK. The reply was that she was fine, and was loving the allotment: she'd got it all planted and at the end of the summer was going back to harvest it all!”