The Allotment Experience by Ruth Binney

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The Allotment Experience by Ruth Binney

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sharon Hall
Reviewed by Sharon Hall
Summary: This book is for those thinking about having an allotment as well as those who have already taken the plunge. It covers what to consider before signing up, preparing and planning the plot, and advice on gardening, all interspersed with advice from allotment gardeners.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 226 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Spring Hill
ISBN: 978-1905862269

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There have been allotment gardens in the UK and other European countries since the late 18th century, with numbers in the UK reaching a peak of 1.5 million plots around the time of World War I and nearly the same number during World War II. Numbers then fell, reaching 600,000 by the late 1960s. Increased interest in green issues from the 1970s only slowed the decline, and by 1997 the number of plots in use was around 265,000. More recently, there has been a resurgence of interest as the notion of food miles and 'slow food' has come to the fore, let alone the rising costs of food. In 2008, The Guardian reported that 330,000 people held an allotment, whilst 100,000 were on waiting lists. My interest in this book stems from the fact that we are already keen back (and front) garden vegetable growers and are shortly to join an allotment waiting list ourselves.

Ruth Binney's book is intended for people like us who are considering having an allotment as well as those who have already taken the plunge. It is presented as information on a range of topics – what to consider before signing up, how to prepare the ground, equipment, vegetable, fruit and flower growing, harvesting – interspersed with advice in quote form from a number of allotment gardeners.

The first section aims to communicate the passion that many people feel about their allotment and their motivation to stick at it, despite the hard slog and setbacks. Each factor to be considered before taking on an allotment is discussed, with comments from people who are clearly enthusiastic about their gardening. It seems very comprehensive, offering advice on choosing a plot (size, access to water, security), a consideration of the allotment community, the all important shed and what to keep in it, and issues such as recycling and wildlife. The quotes from allotment holders are interesting and entertaining – this is ideal reading for both keen allotment-holders-to-be and armchair gardeners who like the idea of an allotment but may not get that far.

The next section gets down to the nitty gritty of what you do when you have a plot – clearing it, planning the planting and what to grow. Rather than the usual gardening manual, it is good to read about how others have started off, although sometimes the quotes don't add much to the text, either almost repeating what the author has said or being rather unhelpful. Of course, this section and the ones that follow, which have more information on growing vegetables, fruit, salad, herbs and flowers are equally suited to non-allotment gardeners. The last section, on harvesting, is quite short in comparison to the other sections, but has some useful tips.

The quotes from gardeners can get in the way if you are wanting to read about a specific topic. At times it appears the quotes have been used simply to back up what the author has said rather than to provide additional advice, insight or information. For example, after a section on the use of collecting leaves to make leaf mould (a useful tip), the quote is:

I bring down all the leaves I can find from the garden to make leaf mould.

The first section of the book is very useful, drawing together in one place all the factors which need to be considered before taking up an allotment, but for me the core of the rest of the book duplicated volumes I already have – on growing, on harvesting, and on preserving and cooking. However, I think this book would make a great present for someone thinking about getting an allotment and who is not currently growing fruit and vegetables, as it covers all the basics that you would need.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you are interested in vegetable growing – whether in the garden or allotment – you might like to look at The Self-sufficientish Bible by Andy Hamilton and Dave Hamilton.

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