Thursday, 19 February 2009


Allotments are fashionable. The demand is far exceeding supply and for the first time in a while Sefton does seem to be looking seriously at expanding provision.

I need first to declare an interest. I have an allotment (above left). I've been there about 12 years having had my vegetable patch at home taken over for children's play things. I'm on the Birkdale Irrigation site which is actually in West Lancashire.

We in Birkdale need to be grateful to one Mr E Baxendale who about 100 yrs ago took advantage of the new legislation passed by the then Liberal Government. The old Birkdale Council did everything to resist but Mr Baxendale doggedly pursued his campaign and eventually a site was established in Shaftebury Avenue.

The renewed demand comes from a variety of directions. Undoubtedly the recession has prompted people to think about growing their own-but in truth there is not a massive savings and the set up costs both in hard cash and 'sweat collateral' is higher than most folk imagine. The big financial savings is on 'premium' crops-garlic, sprouting broccoli, currants and berries of all sorts-but if you are really strapped for cash then I doubt they are high on your shopping list.

I guess the biggest and most sustainable group of new allotmenteers are those concerned about the quality and sourcing of their food and they are drawn form all classes and conditions of people. If you have the time these concerns can be answered and added to the unquantifiable satisfaction of growing your own it has much to offer both the indivual and society.

Undoubtedly digging up the first of the early crop potatoes is a genuine pleasure which doesn't pall with the passing yours. From an early age my youngest daughter has delighted is digging around to find the new potatoes. We grow Red Duke of York and they do taste better when freshly dug.

The other great success of our plot is the pumpkins. We are not here talking of the giant tasteless things that are grown for Halloween, but things like Crown Prince a steel blue New Zealand variety with bright orange flesh and Uchiki Kuri an orange 'tear drop' variety, both of which make excellent soup and chutney.

I think the problems that those seeking find new sites will find will not come from the availability of land-(clearly Portland St and Segars Lane undeveloped former plots that could be brought into use). The big issue will be bureaucratic. Officers will want to 'gold plate' the project and cost up all sorts of unnecessary embellishments and so declare the scheme too expensive. They will tell you of the cost of water rates, pipes laid etc. These will mean a modest idea will become astronomically expensive. We need to go back to Mr Baxendale and his dispute with Birkdale Council. What he wanted was a plot of land. I'm sure he collected the water in butts off his shed roof as we did at Birkdale Irrigation for the first ninety years. Don't get me wrong i welcome water, properly laid paths, a club house etc. But they can come in time. Job one is to secure the site and prepare the land, the rest can come .