Belfast Telegraph

15 earthy facts about allotments

BY LINDA STEWART

It's National Allotment Week, so to celebrate all-things green-fingered, environment correspondent Linda Stewart has dug up a shedload of facts about the popular patches.

1 Allotments are for growing your own fruit, flowers and vegetables. Some agreements allow the holders to carry out other activities, such as keeping hens and rabbits, keeping a beehive, building a shed if one isn't provided or even building a pond.

2 Many councils across Northern Ireland don't provide allotments, but Carrickfergus Borough Council is leading the way with its huge Eden Allotments. Meanwhile, Belfast City Council is also looking at sites that can be converted into new allotments.

3 The National Trust provides allotments at some of its Northern Ireland properties, while a number of private landowners are also offering allotments – including Vista Allotments in Gilnahirk and Ards Allotments, where farmer Maurice Patton provides plots in the fertile Strangford Lough soil.

4 Allotments don't necessarily need to be founded on good soil – one of Belfast's biggest allotment sites at Colin Glen was founded on a former dumping ground for scrap metal. The site has been capped and the poor soil is countered by using raised beds.

5 They can be great homes for wildlife – and in return for cutting back on the chemicals, wildlife can help to control pests and pollinate crops. You can encourage the right kind of wildlife by including hedgerows, ponds, nest boxes, bat roosts, beetle banks, overgrown areas, herb patches and log and stone piles.

6 You can normally expect safe, secure access, an accessible water supply and security measures against vandalism. Some allotment sites may provide toilets, sheds for plot holders and huts to serve as a meeting place.

7 Which? says renting an allotment will probably cost you between £30-£50 a year. A study by the National Society for Allotment & Leisure Gardeners in 2010 found that the average cost of running a 250sq m allotment was £202 a year, but the minimum value of the crops (745kg of fruit and veg) worked out at £1,564 per plot.

8 You don't have to stick to the staples that you can buy cheaper in the supermarket, such as potatoes or carrots. Try growing things like redcurrants that cost a lot to buy. Horticulturalist James Wong even suggests that Northern Ireland's climate is perfect for growing things like tea and wasabi.

9 Ireland is leading the way in food-growing as it is the home of the Grow It Yourself network which now includes more than 50,000 people and 800 groups and projects worldwide. The movement has just launched in the UK and speakers included BBC presenter Alys Fowler.

10 Allotment projects in the Belfast and Lisburn areas are eligible for money from the Alpha Fund, an environmental grants programme funded through the Landfill Tax Credits generated from the Mullaghglass landfill site. If you have a plot of land suitable for allotments, you could secure up to £50,000 through Groundwork NI.

11 The latest community to pick up on growing your own is the lower Shankill where vacant land in Denmark Street is being turned over to create new gardening space, including an outdoor classroom, community growing strips and informal play zones.

12 Stormont Estate has also launched a pilot allotment scheme where Northern Ireland Civil Service staff can grow their own produce in their own time. The scheme was launched last year by then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, famously an allotment fan himself.

13 Belfast is home to a 'guerrilla' community garden founded by community, social justice and environmental campaigners. Eglantine Community Garden, or the Anarchist Plot, was created on a piece of disused land near the Malone Road and now holds a series of veg plots, flowers, willow trees and soft fruit.

14 The RHS advises that half a plot is enough for most people to cope with and to plan your plot to limit weeding. Pumpkins, squash, courgettes and potatoes should be planted in the weediest areas as they smother weeds. Carrots, peas and onions can easily be smothered and will take more work.

15 You don't have to stop growing things just because the summer comes to an end. Winter crops include things like winter and spring cabbage, savoys, sprouts, leeks, parsnips, garlic, Japanese onions, spinach and sprouting broccoli. Spare ground can also be given a boost by putting down green manures which will eventually be dug back into the soil.

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