Allotments Save Money?

Radio 5 Interview

I had a phone call last night from Radio 5, “Would I go on the Tony Livesey slot to discuss whether allotments could save you money?”  Of course I said yes, although the slot was scheduled for 11.30pm and I would have preferred to have been in bed.

The researcher asked me a few questions about how much you could save, price of seeds etc and if I thought it worth the effort. Well I assembled my information in my mind ready to go on and waited.. and waited.

On came some woman almost boasting about how she ignored basic road safety, dragging her child across busy (London?) roads against the red man on the crossing for ages. I couldn’t believe anyone could admit, let alone sound proud of such stupidity. Amazing to me was nobody challenged her. I still remember our daughter running onto a busy road when she was 3 and my terror as I grabbed her back.

Anyway, eventually the phone went and I was on. By this time we were obviously squeezed as the news at midnight was coming up. So here’s what I would have said if I had had the time.

Do Allotments Save You Money?

For most of us growing our own is a hobby. Unlike most hobbies, it actually saves you money. Yes, you can spend a small fortune on equipment but you don’t need to. The few tools you absolutely need can be picked up for a few pounds second hand. Electric propagators and rotovators are great but you don’t absolutely need them.

Seeds are not expensive. With some crops like beans and shallots it is really easy to save your own so no cost there. Even those you buy aren’t really dear, I’m looking at a packet of calabrese that retails for £1.55 and contains 900 seeds. A conservative assessment is they will last 4 years once out of the packet and say 50% germination. That’s over 100 plants a year for 4 years. You could almost supply a branch of Tesco with that lot. All the broccoli you can eat for just 39p a year!

Rent for plots varies but even the extortionate rate of £80 a year some councils demand with menaces isn’t that large compared to the gains. A couple of years ago we calculated a plot could save an average family £800 a year. With inflation this is probably creeping towards the £1,000 mark now. Incidentally, that’s calculated on ordinary, not organic vegetables.

Growing your own teaches you the value of your food, the effort you put in means you reduce waste and the flavour means you eat better as you realise how tasteless a lot of the supermarket stuff actually is.

The only other thing is time – allotments and growing your own does take time but it’s time you enjoy spending. Not like a boring job, you get fresh air, exercise and company from other allotmenteers.

Hobby or Survival?

It’s a hobby now for most of us but I think a time will come when it’s going to be a matter of survival. Oil is going up and up so this will knock on into food. Everything from tractors to transport and fertiliser depend on oil.

Population is going to peak at around 9 to 10 billion by 2050 and the UK will have increased its population to 70 million and we import the majority of our food. This means we’ll be competing on the world market for a scarce product so the cost will only increase.

At the same time, countries like China and India are becoming wealthier and their populations are able to pay for better quality food. Specifically more meat in their diet and meat is far less efficient in terms of land use than a vegetarian diet.

Finally, the big unknown of climate change. It could be a nightmare scenario where the human race scrabbles to supply increased demand for food at time when production drops dramatically.

In that situation I can foresee rationing at least in the UK and Europe and growing your own being a matter of survival rather than a lifestyle choice.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
5 comments on “Allotments Save Money?
  1. steve calver says:

    Here here, all makes sense to me but I see blood on the walls of society in civil disobedience as a direct result in demand for food with an ever increasing population, in line with climate change being the end result.

    Our whole system is unsustainable, increasing populations and increasing wealth in developing countries will only place further demand on limited resources. The impacts of climate change are not known.

    This will impact more on the major resource of water and its availability, the percentage of accessible water on this planet is less than 1%, the rest is locked up in other non usable sources such as ice or trapped in rocks or is saline.

    Water is going to be the problem, not just shifting weather patterns and competition for food. We can only assume this as this is all unknown, if I had foresight I could make a killing on the money markets but unfortunately I skipped those lessons at school.

  2. Sarah C.L. says:

    Dear John,

    I’m currently working on my dissertation/thesis which touches upon the benefits of allotments in the economic sense.
    Do you know if there are records kept that monitor how much money it has saved per household in recent years? Did you by any chance keep the calculations you made?
    It would be really useful for my dissertation. Hope that’s alright.

    BSc Environmental Science
    School of Civil Engineering and the Environment
    University of Southampton

  3. John says:

    Hi Sarah

    It’s fairly easy to work out with a bit of research – there are figures from the government that show how much the average spend on fresh fruit & veg is.

    We achieved 90% self-sufficiency but that would vary with each plotholder. So must, I’m afraid, be a guesstimate rather than an accurate figure (I suppose you’d show a range)

    Finally, number of allotments in the UK – once again accurate current figures are hard to find – somewhere around 250,000 – 300,000

    Best of luck with your thesis


  4. I know the original question was about allotments but don’t forget that many of us grow our own in domestic gardens which are a criminally wasted resource. Out of the 130 or so houses in our village, all with decent gardens, there’s a mere handful of us growing our own food.

    Steve’s point is very valid. Commodity prices are rising and food will only get dearer in the future. I just wish I had enough land to grow a cereal crop as well.

    If grain prices keep rising I might have to switch from beer to cider and fruit wine. At least I can produce them both myself.

  5. John says:

    Trouble is that much of our farming land isn’t considered any use for economic production of cereals. I’ve been reading up and talking about permaculture – could well be the way to go

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