Allotmenteering in Chorley – A brief introduction

You are probably reading this because you are interested in getting an allotment or have already been offered one in Chorley.

Firstly, the commercial. We’d like you to seriously consider joining the Society. It’s very cheap to join, and it gets you access to the Society’s programme of events and activities, a discounted seed scheme and discounts from various shops locally, public liability insurance and membership of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners – a body that looks after the interest of allotment holders and societies. To join, please go to the Join Us! page. We also encourage as many people as would like to be part of the running of the Society by joining the committee – it spreads the work and helps us do things that the members want.

Even if you don’t want to join the Society, you are welcome to approach any member of the committee for advice. If you have had an allotment elsewhere, you will probably know the ropes, but if you are new to the world of allotments, and need any help at all, we will be pleased to help. Committee contacts at Crosse Hall are displayed in the cabin. At Windsor Rd, ask for Wendy, (Plot 10A) and at Bay Horse ask for Bill  (Plot 8 ) or Louise ( Plot 6).

Generally, the main tip is to work your plot reasonably often so the weeds and the effort to get rid of them do not grow too bad. Most of us try to get down 2 or 3 times a week in the growing season – but MUCH less frequently in the winter! If you join the Society you will get our site specific guidelines re water, fires etc. Mainly we all try to get along with everyone else and the key to this is to have a chat to your neighbours when you see them, and check it out with them if you want to do something on your plot that will affect others – burn rubbish, use chemicals etc. We are not all organic, but we do ask that chemicals are used sparingly and sprays etc used in a way that does not affect other plots.  If you want to put up a shed or greenhouse, please consider its shadow ‘footprint’ – and please use it as an opportunity to harvest rainwater in butts or barrels. Even in West Lancs it sometimes gets dry in the summer, and it’s much better to use rainwater on plants than precious piped water (some sites have a piped water supply, but not Bay Horse or the new plots at Crosse Hall).

On Local Authority run sites, your tenancy agreement is with Chorley Borough Council. On private sites, with the site owner.  They are responsible for enforcing its terms. If your neighbour is doing anything you find problematic, please have a word with him or her first – they may not realise they are affecting you – and most people will be happy to change what they are doing if it’s a problem for you. If this does not solve the problem and either of you are members of the Society, we are happy to try to mediate. If neither of you are members and something is causing you a real problem, which discussions between you don’t resolve, you should contact the allotments officer at CBC – currently Lindsey Blackstock, 01257 515151 and ask for her by name.

If you have lived in the area for any time, you will know that we have a fairly mild climate, but it does tend to be rather wet. It’s a good idea to choose varieties of plants that can tolerate a fair amount of rain in the winter months, especially.  Slugs are a real problem on some sites, and so slug-resistant varieties (e.g. ‘Kestrel’ potatoes) are helpful. Soil conditions vary from site to site – but you will find that other plotholders can offer really good advice on the best varieties of plants to use – some of them have been cultivating the same plot for years. They are a source of useful information – even if they don’t know something, they probably know someone else who does! If you are really shy, the ‘Expert’ series of guides are a good starter for text-book advice – but local knowledge is always better..

If you are taking on a plot that has not been used, or has not been well cultivated for some time, you may be a bit daunted by the task ahead. Don’t be – get a plan. Its best to start by focusing on one part of the plot at a time and getting that into good condition, so you can start to grow there and then work your way around the rest of the plot in sequence. CBC do require that plots are regularly cultivated and kept weed free. If you are given a plot in bad condition, you will be allowed some leeway and time to get it in order, but one of the things that upsets other plotholders the most is plots that are left uncultivated and full of weeds that spread their seed and affect neighbours. Very few of us have pristine plots and that is NOT expected, but a reasonable degree of effort to keep the ground productive is. If you find you can’t cope, ask CBC if you can have half a plot, or ask if someone on the list wants to share – several plots are cultivated by 2 friends who share the work and the produce – this can work very well.

On the subject of tools. If you are starting afresh, you may be wondering what on earth to buy first. We assume you do not have a bottomless pit of money to spend – if you do you could certainly use all of it! Our advice would be to buy the best quality you can – second hand good quality is better than new poor quality. House clearances, car boots, and websites such as e-bay or freegle are good sources. Some tools handed down (or bought) from previous generations are superb and can give years of service. Balance and comfort in the hand is much more important than being shiny or good looking. Always try to handle a tool before your buy it – check it feels well balanced (it will feel lighter than another tool that feels heavier but actually weighs less) and that the handle is smooth and the right dimension for your hands an reach. Forks and spaces should be appropriately sized and weighted for the individual. A good spade and fork, a rake, a dutch hoe and a hand trowel and fork should set you up. You can then add other tools as you want. A barrow will save you getting a sore back, but dibbers, setting out lines and other things can be improvised.  Keep spades and hoes well sharpened and cleaned after use and they will be efficient and last you for years.

So – that is a brief introduction to the art of allotmenteering. It’s a useful way to grow your own healthy food, and to get some exercise. But above all, it’s a way of enjoying yourself and getting some relaxation from the stresses of modern living. A good tip is to spend more time than you might expect to contemplate what you want to do and what you have done. Relax into it. There is no better way to spend a couple of hours on a sunny evening in late August than to stand (or better, sit with a beer in hand) and review what you have achieved with a well cultivated plot.

Good luck!      The Chorley Allotment Society. ( please join us!)