Allotment gardening ideas for all the family

This week, we welcome Abigail Dahlberg to the blog. After years of watching her family and helping out with their allotment gardening projects, she has written this post with the help and advice of her Dad. They share their tips and ideas for involving the whole family with allotment gardening, and it’s made us want to go and grab a plot of our own!

Over to you, Abigail…

allotment gardening in the sunshine

5 minutes to read

Don’t lose the plot! How to make allotment gardening successful and fun for the whole family

Just imagine for a second that you could serve home-grown fruit and veg all year round. That your kids weren’t endlessly pushing peas around the plate but trying out all kinds of new foods – green foods that they had sown and watered with their own hands. What if you could find a way to bring your family together in the fresh air on a project that would bear fruit for years to come?

Well, you can. And it’s all down to allotment gardening. No longer the domain of stereotypical tea-drinking pensioners wanting to escape their homes for a few hours, allotments are enjoying a real renaissance as a new generation digs in and starts growing their own produce.

Yet many allotment holders throw in the spade in the first two years. Read on to learn more about how to set yourself up for success, the do’s and don’ts, and ways to get the whole family on board.

A new generation of allotment gardening enthusiasts

People sign up for an allotment for many reasons. Perhaps they want to eat seasonal fruit and veg cultivated without pesticides. Perhaps they want to be less reliant on supermarkets. Perhaps they came to the UK from another country and want to grow food that reminds them of home. Whatever the reason, allotments and gardening in general offer many benefits, both mental and physical – as many people discovered during lockdown.

Beyond enjoying a bounty of fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers all year long, gardening around others helps us to live healthier lifestyles and develop new friendships. It’s also a real money-saver: the fee for an allotment plot (they come in a standard size of roughly 25 m²) is typically less than £100 a year.

With an average waiting time of six to eight months for one of the UK’s estimated 330,000 plots to become available, you might have to twiddle your thumbs for a while before you get to the front of the queue. But that means that you have plenty of time to set yourself up for success for your allotment adventure. Contact your local authority to get your name on the list and start planning what you might have on your table this time next year.

Getting started with allotment gardening

So, you’ve been bitten by the allotment bug and finally have a plot with your name on it. Where should you begin?

First things first: take a look at your allotment and see what’s working in your favour. Does it have a shed or greenhouse? Are there any perennial crops left in the ground? Is there a rotational crop structure in place (more on that later!)?

Allotments are often wild and overgrown by the time they reach their new owner, so their condition can leave something to be desired. Once you have cleared the worst of the weeds, it’s time to test your soil to find out its pH level and what lime or fertiliser you might need.

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. Order your seed catalogues and decide what you want to grow next year. A word of caution here: pace yourself. Many an allotment holder has come a cropper by rushing in headfirst to their inaugural growing season thinking they could grow everything.

The four-plot rotation plan is a great place to start. It allows you to work with nature to keep the soil healthy and grow a different family of crops in succession. It looks something like this:

Plot 1: Potatoes

Plot 2: Legumes (e.g. beans, runner beans, courgettes)

Plot 3: Brassicas (e.g. cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli)

Plot 4: Onions and roots (e.g. carrots, leeks, celery, fennel, beetroot, spinach)

So, what to grow? Some of the most popular crops at UK allotments are salad greens, courgettes, broad beans, potatoes, garlic, shallots, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, spinach, and Swiss chard.

Do’s and don’ts of allotment gardening

Do: join your allotment association if there is one. Your association may well arrange manure deliveries, organise plant sales, and pool resources like rotavator hire.

Don’t: spend a lot of money on equipment. You don’t need much to get going: a spade, a fork, a rake, a measuring line should make a good starter kit. A car boot sale is a great place to pick up some quality tools for a song.

Do: get to know your neighbours. Other allotment holders can be an invaluable source of advice about what works and what doesn’t. Your neighbours will frequently swap seeds, plants and produce with you, and might even agree to water your plants when you are on holiday.

Don’t: miss any chance to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Allotments are a natural seedbed for recycling. There are so many options from composting garden waste (you can easily make your own compost bin by nailing together four pallets) to reusing netting and plastic bottles to scare away hungry birds. Make the most of that British summer weather by installing one or two butts to gather rainwater.

Do: Consider sharing an allotment with another family. Full plots can be back-breaking, especially in the spring when you’ll wage war with weeds and the summer when watering can be a daily chore. By splitting the labour, you’ll have a better chance of getting your crops to harvest and making it beyond the year mark.

A family affair?

With many parents wanting to reintroduce their kids to the simple joys of being outdoors in the fresh air, allotment paths are now alive with the sound of giggles and laughter. Teaching children where their food comes from is more important than ever to help them to make healthy choices and connect to what ends up on their plate.

children and their father enjoyinf allotment gardening together

Here are three tips to make your allotment a success for the whole family:

  • Remember that your kids are a help rather than a hindrance at the allotment. We all know that things can take ten times longer with little ones around, but you are planting literal and metaphorical seeds that will last a long time. If in doubt, give them simple tasks to keep them busy, like planting out seedlings, watering, weeding, and harvesting.
  • Give your kid their own section of the plot: let them dig holes, collect worms, and make mud pies with their space. If they want to try their hand at growing, help them pick out flowers and crops that are easy wins, like sweet peas, cress, and strawberries. Kids are curious beings and will gladly taste the fruits of their labour.
  • Get tech-savvy teens on board: encourage your older kids to download gardening apps to design their part of the allotment. They can learn how much space is needed between plants, get updates when it’s time to harvest and find recipes that use the crops that they have grown. Why not have them try a pizza garden with different types of tomatoes, basil, parsley, oregano, and peppers? And then come harvest time, they can cook dinner too – a real win, win for the whole family.

If you’d like some more tips and ideas for gardening with your children, these simple kids’ gardening projects are a great starting point.

Happy allotmenting!

About the author

Abigail Dahlberg is and British-born German-English translator and writer, currently residing in western Missouri in the United States. Both her parents and her grandparents had allotments, and together with her Dad, and this has forged a strong love of nature, growing produce, the outdoors and caring for the planet.

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