And there’s three pages of it, which sounds a bit excessive, but it’s a boiling down of all our previous seasons; garden visits (especially Heligan); conversations with other allotmenteers; oveheard radio and TV programmes and not least, many happy hours poring over the seed catalogues; googling; and the odd blind gamble. As the photo demonstrates, we’ve already got half packets of some of the varieties we intend to grow – even after this week’s purge of out-of-date ones, so a little of the expenditure is spread over from last year and not included.
What are the other costs of allotmenteering, then? Well, the rents come to £93.36 for our two half-plots. Last year’s other big expenditure was composted manure while we get our own operation up to speed and that cost about £200. We’ll probably spend the same again this year as we build up the soil. Add to that the cost of gravel boards, posts, pegs and the other materials required to make the beds and you can see that allotmenteering is by no means free. That’s the bit the coffee table books don’t tell you about when they sell the dream, but you have to see all this as a long-term investment. Nets, cloches and tools can last for years and so if we look after them we can write down much of this expenditure over the next decade.
This year we used five different seed suppliers. It’s always worth checking what they’re charging and how many seeds there are in a packet. Even the cost of postage can vary widely between companies so once you’ve decided what to grow, shop around for the best deal. Don’t leave ordering too late because some vegetables – especially the heritage varieties, but even those that just get a mention in an influential forum, will run out.
We’ve spent decades trying to garden on some pretty awful soil. The last big garden was further up the Cotswolds on cornbrash which was quite productive but there was no real depth of soil and huge amounts of loose limestone rocks. I remember chatting to the gravedigger one day (we lived next to the churchyard), and he said that if he had to dig in a spot where there was no access for machinery it could take an hour to dig an inch. It certainly felt that way when you pulled up the turf to break a new patch and took almost all the topsoil off with its roots. That was our first experience of raised beds and we got lucky. The boards were free, courtesy of a builder who was renovating an old chapel and allowed us to take away all the floorboards. I knew a lorry driver who worked for a quarry company and I asked if he ever came across any topsoil. I drove back to the house one day and found him with an enormous tipper lorry dropping off about 30 tons of lovely soil. Then, in a similar vein, I asked a farm contractor if he could lay his hands on a bit of manure and a similar quantity was dumped outside our front door, (and very rich it was!).
Here on the allotments we’re much more fortunate with more than a foot of rich alluvial clay/loam topsoil that’s capable of growing almost anything it seems, but is inclined to get waterlogged – hence all the organic material.
But is it worth it? We’re certainly out all weathers, and it can be hard physical work at times, so no gym subscription needed. But the clincher is that we reckon the value of our produce exceeds the cost of producing it by at least 10:1 so long as you’re prepared to discount the value of your own labour and call it pleasure. If you think of the cost of organic vegetables and then add the bonus of having them so fresh they taste better than anything you can buy, and then the combination of tangible and intangible value makes allotmenteering a no-brainer.
I can see a clear blue sky through the window this morning and that means we can get out into the fresh air and maybe create two more beds for the overwintering broad beans we’ve started under glass. Last year we had very little sucess with freezing runner and French beans, but the broad beans froze well and taste miles better than the shop-bought ones. Is it worth it? See for yourself.