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Allotment Welcome Pack


Welcome to Allotment Gardening

This welcome pack has been put together by the Colchester Allotment Association (CAA) and Colchester Borough Council (CBC) to help new allotment gardeners get started and get the best from their plot.

Congratulations on getting your allotment - now the hard work begins!

If you already know what you are doing then you might want to skip some sections of this welcome pack, but if you are a first-time gardener then this will be useful.

What to grow
Fruit Trees
Allotment Water
Plot Numbers
Change of Address
Vacating an Allotment Plot
Rules and Regulations
Colchester Borough Council

Hopefully you have taken the opportunity to meet your site steward and have visited your allotment plot before taking it on, so you know what condition your plot is in. Many allotment plots are vacated because the outgoing plot holder has been struggling to maintain it, this means that newly let plots are often in an uncultivated state. This doesn't mean that the plot has been uncultivated for years, but maybe a few months and the weeds have grown.

If it is autumn or winter you can turn the ground cover over with a spade and leave it for the weather to break down (although you will need to clear the weeds eventually!) Growing potatoes is good for clearing ground as well.

Once the ground is clear, then rotovating will help to break up the earth into a tilth ready for sowing and planting. This can also be done with a fork and rake. Adding well-rotted manure will help ensure that your plot is fertile.

It is strongly advised that the plot is not cleared by removing 'turfs' from the plots. Good quality topsoil will be removed by doing this and piling these turfs up on another section of the plot will only cause a problem in later years and make the plot uneven. It is best to either use a weed killer such as glyphosate then dig the plot over, or if you would prefer to avoid chemicals to cover the plot with black plastic to kill the weeds and then dig over sections of the plot removing any remaining weeds (including their roots).

It isn't essential to get your whole plot ready in one go, sometimes it may take as long as a year to get the whole area into production. It is useful to cover un-dug areas of your plot with black plastic or even flattened cardboard boxes as this will suppress weeds and make things easier when you have time to cultivate it seriously. The use of carpets on allotment plots is discouraged to prevent any future maintenance issues and to avoid chemical leaching into the ground.

Small plant Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowCultivation
All new allotment holders are given 3 months to start working their allotment plot before they are subject to cultivation inspections with all other allotment plots. This is to give plot holders a chance to get on top of their new allotment plot.

Plots are considered cultivated when 50% or more of the plot is in productive use, i.e. perennial fruit, flowers or vegetables, or soil is overturned. There should be little or no long vegetation on the allotment plot. Cultivation inspections are undertaken throughout the growing season (March - October) on an approximate six week basis. Any plot found uncultivated will receive a Notice to Quit with a condition that if the plot is cultivated within 1 month the Notice to Quit will be revoked. Any plot which receives two Notice to Quit letters for cultivation in a three year period will lose their allotment plot.

If you believe that you fall under one of the valid mitigating circumstances for not cultivating your allotment plot then please contact the Council as soon as possible to discuss the matter. Plot holders are still asked to keep all long vegetation down on their plot until they are able to fully cultivate it again.

Valid mitigating circumstances are....

  • Hospitalisation for surgery or other serious complaint
  • A short-term medical complaint where advice has been given by a medical practitioner that physical work is not advisable
  • Death of a close family member (partner, parent, offspring or sibling)
  • Being abroad on active military service

Ensuring that allotment plots are fully cultivated is important because of the allotment waiting list and so neighbouring plot holders are not caused problems with weed seeds blowing on their plot.

What to grow
Obviously it's entirely up to you but it's a good idea to see what gardeners near you are doing, most allotment holders are ready to share their knowledge and experience. CAA offer discounted seeds from Kings Seeds (a local company) and one of the most enjoyable aspects of having an allotment is choosing seeds for the coming year. On some sites where the ground is very heavy it may be worthwhile propagating your plants at home and putting them in the ground when they are established rather than sowing seeds straight into the ground, again, find out what others are doing.

Glasshouse Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowSheds/Glasshouses
If there isn't a shed or glasshouse on your allotment plot and you would like one you will need to get written permission from the Council before putting one up, but this isn't usually a problem. Permission is only granted for the erection of a shed if a water butt is also attached to collect water from the roof. It is a matter of debate whether you should put a padlock on your shed or not - talk to other plot holders to find out what they do.

To get written permission the Council will need to write in either via post or e-mail with details of the structure which you plan to erect including its size and the location on your allotment where you plan to site it. The maximum size shed or glasshouse is 8ft x 6ft (2.5m x 1.8). Only one shed and glasshouse are allowed on each plot. Similar written permission is also required for the erection of a poly-tunnel on your allotment plot. The maximum size poly-tunnel allowed is 15ft x 8ft (5m x 2.5m). Please bear in mind that asbestos should not be brought onto allotment sites. It therefore should not be used for the construction of sheds.

All structures and personal belongings brought onto an allotment site are the responsibility of the allotment holder, and are therefore not covered by Colchester Borough Council insurance. You therefore might want to consider insuring your belongings that you bring onto the allotment site in case they get damaged or stolen.

Allotment plots should not be fenced. This is to ensure that good access is maintained around the site and on allotment plots.

Fruit Trees 
Permission to plant a standard fruit tree on your allotment will not be given, but miniature varieties such as step over trees and minarette trees will be considered. No trees with a mature height of 1.8m or over will be considered and only three trees are allowed per allotment plot.

Allotment path Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowPaths 
The small paths around your plot are your responsibility. These paths should be 0.5m to 0.75m wide to ensure that there is good access maintained around the allotment site. The larger paths and tracks are maintained by the Council. Tracks, where appropriate can be driven along. However, please be aware of ground conditions before driving along these as you will be liable for any damage caused. Some tracks are cordoned off during wet times. Whether you divide your plot into smaller beds with paths between or whether you have one large area with no paths is a matter of personal preference. You will find gardeners who champion one or the other but it is up to you!

It would be very wasteful not to start a compost heap - or three! Almost everything can go onto it (except diseased stuff) and in a year or so you will have a good supply at no cost! 3 or 4 pallets make an ideal bin and can be joined together with wire. Alternatively the previous allotment holder might have left an old compost heap which you can continue using. Remember, any green waste is your responsibility to recycle or dispose of in a legal manner. Waste should not be dumped anywhere on the allotment site and any bonfires must only be lit according to the Councils Code of Practice for bonfires.

Allotment Water 
Water is supplied through troughs on 16 of the 19 allotment sites which we manage. Allotment water is switched off over the winter period to avoid frost damage and is turned back on in the spring once the cold weather has passed. If there are any problems with the water supply such as a leak then please do contact the Council on 01206 282266 as soon as possible.

  • Please be considerate to other allotment holders when collecting water. Hose pipes must not be connected to water troughs and water must not be siphoned from allotment water tanks onto allotment plots. Water is not an infinite resource - please use it wisely. 
  • Please don't wash tools or produce in water tanks as this can cause problems with tank maintenance and spread plant diseases.

If you would like easier access to water then consider installing water butts on your allotment plot. This will ensure that you have water in early spring and you will have a water supply on your own plot.

Plot Numbers 
Don't forget to display your plot number on your allotment plot in a prominent position. This helps to identify your allotment plot if there is a problem such as a shed being blown over in windy weather or site inspections.

Change of Address 
Please do not forget to let us know of any change of your contact details. You will need to contact the Allotments Team directly about this as your details are not automatically updated when you contact other Council departments such as Council Tax.

Box of seedlings Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser windowAllotment Rental 
Allotment rents are payable in advance on 1 October of each year, this covers the period from 1 October until 30 September. Any allotment tenant with rent outstanding for 40 days or more will be issued a Notice to Quit letter to vacate the plot. Any plot holder who receives a second Notice to Quit letter for non-payment within a three year period will have their allotment tenancy terminated unless all future payments are made via Direct Debit. If you would like to arrange to make your allotment rent payments by Direct Debit please call 01206 282322.

Vacating an Allotment Plot 
If you are no longer able to work your allotment plot and would like to give your plot up, please write into the Council either via e-mail or letter to terminate your allotment tenancy agreement. The sooner that we are aware that you wish to vacate your allotment, the sooner we can re-allocate it to somebody on the allotment waiting list. Don't forget to return any allotment keys so we can refund your £10 deposit!

Rules and Regulations 
Remember to read and comply with your allotment tenancy agreement. This has all the terms and conditions which you need to be aware of whilst you have your allotment plot. It is hard work to have a productive allotment. The first 1-2 years are the hardest, but don't let that put you off as the rewards you will reap through eating fruit and vegetables which you have grown yourself are enormous. The main thing is to enjoy the experience.

Colchester Borough Council 
E-mail: or Telephone: 01206 282266

Colchester Borough Council is responsible for renting out plots and for collecting annual rents as well as providing keys. They maintain fencing, gates and water supplies. They cut the grass on wide paths and make improvements whenever funds allow. Site stewards for each site attend meetings 2 times a year to discuss improvements, problems and solutions. So if you have any improvements which you would like to see, then pass this onto your steward so it can be discussed and possibly added to the Allotment Action Plan.

Colchester Allotment Association 
Website: Colchester Allotment Association


Colchester Allotment Association is an independent organisation formed in 2003 by a small group of allotment holders who wanted to regenerate the 19 allotment sites we have here in Colchester. At that time some sites were almost empty but now there are over 1100 plots in use.

They work hard to promote and preserve allotments in the town and support allotment holders.  Membership forms can be found here.