Allotment Frequently Asked Questions

This document captures answers to the most common questions that I get about our allotments, what we grow and how we grow.

How did you get into gardening?

When I was a teenager I borrowed John Seymour’s book on self-sufficiency from the library.  I loved the idea of being more self-reliant, but the reality of earning a living got in the way.  Over the many intervening decades I enjoyed a lot of TV shows and read a lot of books that kept my interest alive, I made a video about the most influential of them.

About 8 years ago I made two raised beds in the garden, where the kids swing used to be and I loved it. As soon as I retired I set myself some challenges, one was to eat mostly food I’d grown myself, that’s when I realised I needed an allotment if I really wanted to grow all my own veg.

This video provides a good overview of the journey.

When and why did you retire early?

For the last 16 years of my working life I was quite ill.  I had an auto-immune condition called Adult Onset Stills Disease, which affects about 1 in 200,000 people.  It’s rarely life threatening, but it’s quite difficult to live with.  The biggest challenge is the unpredictability, one hour you can be out hiking and the next you can’t lift your leg for the pain.  It affected all of my major joints and muscles with arthritis symptoms, along with high levels of fatigue, fevers, and crushing brain fog.

I worked part-time for most of those 16 years, but eventually I decided that it wasn’t practical to do a good job at work and manage my health, health was always suffering.  At 52 I decided enough was enough, took a big financial risk and decided to live the good life.

I made a video about my journey back to health.

What did you do before the allotments?

I trained as a mechanical engineer and worked for British Aerospace in Airframe Systems when I graduated, but I found it slow and boring.  I moved into IT and it was as exciting and fast paced as I’d hoped!

I worked initially in programming, then systems design, then business process re-engineering.  I moved into technical architecture and then IT infrastructure management and solutions architecture.  I did a lot of programme management and organisational change management.  I ended up in business and IT strategy.

If you are interested in finding out more, take a look at the work related categories on my web site seasidelife.com

Where are you?

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Are you really by the seaside?

The house is ½ a mile from the sea

  1. The allotment is about 1 mile
  2. We are just at the point where the Ribble Estuary transitions to the Irish sea https://www.google.com/maps/@53.7656224,-2.971947,7830m/data=!3m1!1e3

What’s your climate like?

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  1. Roughly USA zone 8 maritime
  2. Warm (not hot) and fairly dry in spring and early summer, wetter in July and August
  3. Cool and windy in autumn and winter, but with little snow and only moderate, infrequent frosts
  4. For more detail https://weatherspark.com/y/39771/Average-Weather-in-Lytham-St-Annes-United-Kingdom-Year-Round

How many plots do you have?

We used to have three in our family. I have a full sized plot, my wife – Debbie – has a small plot and my middle daughter Jennie and her husband used to have a full sized plot.  I did the planning for all three plots,  everyone planted their own plot.  In 2021 we are handing Jennie’s plot back to the council for wholly positive reasons explained in this video.  A lot of the older videos on this channel feature the three plots.

Why did you give up Jennie’s plot?

As a family we put a lot of time, effort and love into Jennie’s plot.  We transformed it into an incredibly productive winter allotment.  At the same time we increased our growing space at home and increased the productivity of the other plots too.  We went from growing £5k of food in 2017, to £7k in 2018 to £9.5k in 2019 and expect to harvest £12k in 2020.  At the same time our local family grew much slower!

Our council doesn’t allow us to gift fruit and veg from the allotments to anyone but family, so we were struggling to find a way to use all of this food productively.  In 2020 because of the pandemic the council gave us permission to feed our locked down friends and neighbours, but this was temporary.

During 2020 I realised that I could actually grow a lot more food than the £12k we were expecting.  All I needed to do was a bit more interplanting and staged planting.  Perhaps we could grow £13k in 2021?  I day dreamed about this, because I do love to grow.

At the same time though I was reviewing my health and broader objectives for 2021 and beyond.  One of our golden rules is that as we get older Debbie and I always try and make sure that we grow more, with less effort.  I was also suffering with a few over-use issues: my knees were hurting from too much squatting/kneeling and my back ached from bending too much, trying to take the pressure off my knees.  Finally Jennie and Jon let us know that they were planning to have another baby in 2021.

All these factors came together: the councils rules, our increasing productivity, my aching knees/back and our commitment to less time and more productivity.  We decided that by growing smarter and growing just for our local (growing) family, we could address all of our issues and opportunities.

So we’ve decided to reduce our growing space by 1/3 and halve the number of people we grow for (sorry friends).  We’ve also decided to grow more, but not much in terms of raw monetary value,  rather more luxury products for more of the year.  So more early strawberries and sweet peppers for example and more perennials.

How much growing area do you have?

About 200 square metres of intensive growing space.  This excludes paths, flowers, grass, trees, compost, water, patio etc

A few people comment about the amount of space given over to paths and seating areas.  This is because Jennie is disabled and I have a long history of arthritis and auto-immune issues, so the plots were designed to be easy to move around, with access for wheel barrows etc and lots of space to rest and chill out.

How much time does it take to manage?

My plot takes about 10 hours a week, the garden takes another 2 hours, Debbie plot takes about 5 hours a week.  A lot of that time is spent harvesting

How much do you grow?

About 10,000 meals

  1. We peaked in 2020 at about £12k with the three plots
  2. Going forward with only two we expect to harvest £8-9,000 worth at organic fruit and veg prices
  3. About 200 varieties

How much land do I need to be self-sufficient?

It’s hard to answer this question as it depends what you eat and where you grow, but if you take Debbie and I as the example, here’s my best answer.

In theory an allotment was designed in years passed to feed a family of 4 on 250m2 of which perhaps only 150m2 was planted. We had a go at that but it wasn’t enough. It might be sufficient if you just eat leafy greens and potatoes, but if you want all of your root crops, summer fruit, autumn fruit, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, dried fruit, preserves, sauces etc then I think you need 300m2 of area including sheds, water, paths, compost bins etc and 200m2 of true intensive growing space. It’s worth having wide paths and some open areas for project work, especially as your get older and you will definitely need cold-frames and a polytunnel to have enough to eat all year round unless you really like frozen food.

You will inevitably have surpluses when you grow to be self-sufficient, because you will have to grow enough to have a contingency for crop failures and not everything will fail, so it pays to have a network of family and friends who will eat anything you give them. We garden on 200m2 of true intensive growing area, but we we feed our local family and a few friends with surpluses. We also have between 2 and 3 meals a day from the allotment every day of the year.

How do you calculate the value of your harvets?

We take the simplest possible approach:

  1. A few years ago I carefully tracked how much I harvested over a period of 2 months and priced it up using organic supermarket prices or organic veg box prices
  2. I also kept track of how many litres of veg we harvested during that time.  We use standard 2L harvest boxes for most produce so that was easy.
  3. I divided the total harvest value for those 2 months by the number of 2L boxes and came up with £2.50 as an average value,  too high for spinach, too low for tomatoes, much too low for raspberries
  4. We cross checked this a few times with organic veg box delivery schemes and we were about 25% too low, so we took that is a reasonable margin of safety
  5. Now all we do is count the number of harvest boxes and multiply by 2.5, in the end it’s just a bit of fun, but it’s a useful comparison from month to month and year to year

Are you really self-sufficient?

  1. We grow almost all (99%) of the veg that we eat
  2. We grow almost all of the fruit that we eat in season
  3. We classify tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers as fruit and we buy them out of season or receive them as gifts

How big is you polytunnel?

It’s 20 ft by 10 ft and we bought it from First Tunnels, this is the biggest tunnel that would fit on my plot.  I really do recommend getting a big tunnel, the small extra cost is really worth it!

Do you heat your polytunnel?

No but we do lay down fleece on the dozen or so day’s when there’s a hard frost

How much does it cost to run the allotments?

  • About 10% of harvest value
  • This works out at an average of £300/plot and includes the cost of the polytunnel, raised beds, polythene, mesh, fleece, compost, seeds, rent etc
  • We typically harvest enough food in January and February to pay off the costs for the whole year

What do you do with all that fruit and veg?

  • We eat most of it ourselves
  • We gift quite a bit to family
  • We gift to other allotmenteers out of their season
  • Anything that’s left over we gift to friends and neighbours
  • Most of the food we gift comes from our garden, rather than the allotments

Where can I download your database?

Read this blog post https://steves.seasidelife.com/2020/01/26/how-to-plan-your-fruit-and-veg-garden-with-my-new-free-tools-demo/ and watch the associated videos

  1. The data resides in the cloud, but you can export it to a spreadsheet it you want to, there are also apps for Windows, OSX, IOS and Android as well as a great web app
  2. You can take your own copy, with or without my data
  3. You can change it to suit your needs
  4. I do an update once a year at least

What’s the variety name you mentioned?

Every variety we have ever grown can be found here: https://airtable.com/shriEHYVDlURL42Zk/tbllaCmnrTxhjvzSD?blocks=hide

What should I grow?

  • Grow what you like to eat
  • Grow things that commercial growers use a lot of pesticides on
  • Grow things that you can’t buy organically
  • Grow things that are expensive to buy, but cheap to grow

When should I sow?

Take a look at my full year sowing guide for inspiration https://steves.seasidelife.com/2020/01/18/all-year-round-vegetable-sowing-planting-guide/

If you want more look at my monthly sowing guide videos

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFhKoRR-NiCKqiCDNX9LLMlZgsY_Lq66e

If you want even more look at my weekly diary (top left to get a weekly email) https://steves.seasidelife.com/category/allotment-diary/

Where do you get your seeds?

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  • A complete – searchable – list of every seed packet I have is available here 
  • We get a lot of our staple seeds from Gerry at Growseed.co.uk, a real plantsman and lover of veg Gerry always has a recipe for everything he grows!  Gerry sends me a lot of his favourites and trial varieties to try, which is greatly appreciated!
  • We often source our more unusual seeds via Amazon, I love the fact that I can search everything I’ve ever bought and just click: Buy Again
  • A few specialist varieties we get from https://www.realseeds.co.uk/  and https://seedsofitaly.com/ and seeds that we use a lot of (carrots, beets, radish etc) we get from https://www.wholesale.molesseeds.co.uk/
  • We get a lot of basic seeds free with the magazine: Grow Your Own
  • If you want to manage your seeds better, my database can help with that https://youtu.be/Wm3ll9yoWqg

Do you make all of your own compost?

  • We don’t, we make a lot but the rest comes from KC Compost

Where do you get your xxx from?

  • We get fleece from Amazon, we try not to use fleece outside as it degrades to quickly, instead we are trying this one
  • We get most of our other mesh from Easy Nets, we particularly like this one
  • Our growlights are from Mars Hydro and Spider Farmer  (note these were gifted to me)
  • The bluetooth thermometers we use are from Sensor Push
  • The containers we use are from Growseed, I like the 30 litre buckets, I’ve got some larger ones, but they sure are heavy, especially when wet and I’m getting older!
  • The galvanised bins we grow our trees in are from Amazon or B&Q: 90L Extra Large Galvanised Metal Dustbin
  • The wood we use is from our local timber merchants St Annes Timber
  • The horse manure and mushroom compost we use is from KC Compost, we’ve also bought top soil from them as well as multi-purpose compost.
  • The little black and red spring clamps that I use everywhere are from Wilko
  • The fence pins I source from Amazon

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

23 Responses

  1. James Mcallister Plot 107 says:

    Hi Steve, do you have any cuttings of Gojiberrys and/or ;loganberry’s please, that are going spare?

  2. Hi James, we have a Gojiberry bush and are happy to take some cuttings for you. We don’t have any loganberry, but we do have Tayberry. I’m on the plot today and tomorrow morning : All the best – Steve

  3. Sarah newell says:

    Hi Steve, is it ok to use well rotted horse manure to fill raised beds? I don’t have much top soil or other compost to mix it with?

  4. Absolutely Sarah, just use it directly on top of the soil, don’t mix it. If it’s well rotted hopefully it composted hot enough to kill weed seeds, if not you might benefit from filling the top 2″ with mushroom compost, which is what I do : All the best – Steve

  5. Heather says:

    Hi Steve, can you do a bit on micro veg for people with only a small window sill at home and explain the benefits, I think it’s a topic for everyone.

  6. I wish I could, but I don’t have any experience and I only speak from experience. I am planning to grow micro veg over winter this year though : all the best – Steve

  7. Simon Nicoll says:

    Hi Steve

    where is your https://www.patreon.com/ page?

    You are a great creator and do darn good stuff and I would subscribe monthly and I suspect others would too. Jack Conte and Sam Yam created Patreon for talented people just like you.

    IT eh, small world.

    keep up the great work really love what you are doing.

    Stay safe and stay well

    Simon

  8. I’d never considered it Simon, but I have set one up since you prompted https://www.patreon.com/seasideallotment. Thanks for the lovely feedback : All the best – Steve

  9. Charlie Gallagher says:

    Steve,
    Fascinating information. In New England we have a green manure crop called ” field peas” and the shoots are edible. Do you suspect field beans and field peas are likely the same species?

  10. Hi Charlie, I don’t think so, maybe you know them as fava beans? : All the best – Steve

  11. Pauline Ellison says:

    hi iv got 2 questions for you … what are the name of the clips / clamps you use to hold the mylar blanket in place and what size are your hanging pots your strawberry are in ..thanks

  12. TallCedars says:

    Having recently been told that I may have ALS, testing is being scheduled for after the V. I found your video What Did You Do Before The Allotments segment very interesting and helpful. For many years I have been trying to exclude chemicals from our home and bodies and have done much as you have mentioned. Feels great and it did make a difference. I do need more exercise and movement as you mentioned so will be working on that this summer. I have a book called Make Your Juicer Your Drug Store by Laura Newman that I have recently started following which seems to have started the healing process. Am noticing little changes here and there. It states there is but one disease, drainage (cells/bowels). I was severly dehyrated from decades of caffiene drinking at work and since drinking juice/water there are some good changes. Have severe brain fog to clear up yet and was glad to here it can be cleared up. Unfortunately living in the north we do not have access to organic vegetables in the store here, and we have one growing season so are subject to buying greens in winter. Agree, we can only do our best with what we have. IHence in another week the soil will be warm enough to start planting and hope to have a root cellar to store our home grown foods in this year. Thanks Steve, all the best.

  13. It took me 18 months to reverse all of my symptoms and in addition to the move, sleep, eat etc prescription I believe that hands in the soil is an important aspect, lots of exposure to soil bacteria. Even with my remission, I still make sure that I manage my energy levels though, trying to stick to 4 hours a day, 4 days a week of ‘work’. Sometimes a diagnosis is a blessing too, finally you get a way forward : All the best – Steve

  14. Greg Hendry says:

    Hi Steve, Really enjoy your YouTube channel. Would you mind sharing you source of BT and your application? All the best Greg

  15. Hi Greg, I source mine from eBay, I spray on a dry day in the evening when there’s no rain expected for a couple of days : all the best – Steve

  16. Greg Hendry says:

    Thanks Steve, all the best

  17. Julianne Hughes says:

    Hi Steve, We are loving your channel. You mentioned Neem oil recently and we are very interested in using this but other friends ahve said we should not. Any thoughts? Thanks for sharing! (PS we have also just ordered one of the Bosch water pumps – I have been looking for ages for a good one, thanks for the video on it )

  18. Thanks for the lovely feedback Julianne, the neem oil definitely worked for me. I think the only concern is whether it will harm beneficial insects, but that is fairly easy to guard against by picking the right time of day. I hope the pump works well for you, ours doesn’t get used much in summer, but it’s great for the six months of the year when we don’t have tap water! : All the best – Steve

  19. Bryan says:

    Hi Steve I find your whole site of great interest, just finished watching your latest video and have a question and its what size are your potato containers?
    kind regards Bryan.

  20. Thanks Bryan, sorry for the delay! They are 35 litres, use 3 tubers for earlies and 2 for main crop

  1. January 21, 2020

    […] more information about what, where and how we grow please read our Frequently Asked Questions document and/or watch the […]

  2. September 26, 2020

    […] We garden in Lytham St Annes in the North West of Engand, about half a mile from the coast, it’s windy, but not that cold.  For more details take a look at our frequently asked questions article. […]

  3. September 27, 2020

    […] We garden in Lytham St Annes in the North West of Engand, about half a mile from the coast, it’s windy, but not that cold.  For more details take a look at our frequently asked questions article. […]

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