Geoff Stokes, secretary of The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, shares his inside knowledge on how to become part of an ever-expanding network of vegetable growers.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what the NSALG does
The National Society, which dates from 1901, aims to protect, promote and preserve allotments for current and future generations. The Society is a membership organisation which provides help and advice to its members. The Society also runs an Insurance for allotments scheme and a discounted seed scheme for members of the Society. I've been growing my own fruit and vegetables for over 30 years and have loved every minute of it.
How do I get an allotment?
Contact your local council as they have a statutory obligation to provide a sufficient number of plots. Most councils have an allotments officer and they should be able to tell you about the available sites in your area. There may be a waiting list, so it's often worth ringing them from time to time to let them know you're still keen. If you're open to options such as plot-sharing or renovating a disused allotment, you may be able to avoid waiting too long.
How much time do I need to spend on my veggie patch each week to keep it looking good?
Spend as much time as you can afford. You'll need to spend a minimum of two hours per week on your plot to keep it productive.
I don't have much space – can I still grow my own veg? Do you have any space saving tips?
I'd recommend using growbags for tomatoes, beans and salad crops as will be able to pack a lot into a small space. Try using buckets, crates and any other container you can find for growing potatoes or carrots. It saves on space and you can also tailor the soil to suit the plants. Container grown vegetables will need more watering and feeding but it is still possible to have some successful results.
What are the best crops for beginners to start with?
I'd undoubtedly go for potatoes, as they require very little effort to raise a crop. Runner beans and french beans are also very reliable.
Do I need a lot of equipment to get started? What are the basic essentials?
The basic tools you'll need to get started are a fork, spade, seed rake, hoe and trowel. Try car boot sales for second hand ones if you don't want to spend too much money in one go.
Finally, what are your own insider tips for successful vegetable growing?
Make sure you read the packets and follow the instructions: they are there for a reason! If you can afford a book on vegetable growing such as the Dr. Hessayon 'Expert' series, then so much the better. Be prepared to be adventurous and try something new each year. Don't be put off by a crop failure - it may not necessarily be your fault - so do keep trying.
For allotment tips over the summer, take a look at Radio Two's Terry Walton allotmenteering videos.