A Greener Marina Allotment

A series of guidelines and aims

This document has been created in response to a discussion at the 2019 AGM about reducing the environmental impact of how we manage our allotment. Although there is a growing trend among plot-holders to garden organically, there is still more we can do to care for our little patch of the environment.

We have identified ten areas in which we can all become more mindful about the way we look after our individual plots and the allotment as a whole. The aims under each heading are intended to be informative and encouraging, rather than restrictive, and to show the benefits of growing in sympathy with the natural world. Most of the issues are interconnected, just like the natural world, so some things are mentioned more than once!

These are complex issues and more detail will be provided separately with lots of specific ideas and links to websites providing more information.

1. Grow organically

Organic growing is about working within natural systems and cycles which benefits the crops, us and the environment. It is about encouraging wildlife, caring for the soil and working creatively alongside nature when managing pests and diseases.

What you can do:

  • Make your own compost;
  • Avoid use of pesticides and weedkillers;
  • Use only organic fertilisers where needed;
  • Experiment with companion planting and other permaculture ideas;
  • Make your own seed and potting composts where possible;
  • Use organic seeds;

What the association can do:

  • Stock only organic products in the shop.

2. Care for your soil

Creating a healthy soil by adding organic matter and avoiding quick-fix artificial fertilisers is the key to growing healthy plants. It encourages the beneficial creatures which help to create a good soil structure in which plants can flourish and make nutrients available to plants as and when they need them.

What you can do: 

  • Add organic matter such as home-made compost or rotted horse manure;
  • Practise crop rotation;
  • Practise no-dig gardening;
  • Grow plants specifically to provide compost material and mulches;
  • Grow comfrey and green manures to provide essential nutrients;
  • Avoid using peat.

3. Encourage biodiversity

With the industrialisation of farming since the 1950s, many ecosystems have been damaged or destroyed and huge numbers of species are being lost. Allotments, as well as providing us with food, can also offer precious habitats for wildlife. Protecting the biodiversity of soil life will benefit the crops we grow.

What you can do: 

  • Leave one area of a plot uncultivated as a wildlife sanctuary;Grow flowers to attract pollinators;
  • Allow soil life to flourish by disturbing the soil as little as possible;
  • Experiment with permaculture techniques;
  • Avoid using pesticides;

What the association can do: 

  • Create guidelines for maintenance of shrubs and trees on the site;
  • Increase wildlife areas on the allotment as a whole;
  • Provide habitats for beneficial creatures and garden birds;
  • Discourage use of pesticides.

4. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

By being creative and thoughtful about the materials we use, we can reduce waste and benefit the environment as well as our growing systems.

What you can do: 

  • Reduce the amount we buy, especially plastic products
  • Re-use plastic pots, plastic bags and bottles, plastic sheeting, plant labels, etc.
  • Recycle timber for structures; recycle cardboard, newspaper etc. as mulches;
  • Compost as much as possible: straw, leaves, weeds, small prunings, dead stems, etc.
  • Bring used bags and containers to the shop for refills;
  • Sell or give away unwanted items.

5. If you need to buy, buy sustainably

Think about the wider environment when choosing what to buy: sometimes it means paying a bit more but by making small ethical choices and buying products that last longer, we can not only make a contribution to protecting the environment, but also save money in the long run.

What you can do: 

  • Choose new products carefully – how long will they last? (also see Plastics below)
  • Use peat-free seed and potting compost;
  • Avoid excess packaging;
  • Choose products in recyclable containers;
  • Buy products made from recycled or sustainable materials;
  • Buy quality products such as tools that will last a lifetime;

What the association can do: 

  • Apply all these aims to the allotment shop;
  • Buy in bulk to distribute to members in recycled containers;
  • Stock spare wooden handles to repair broken tools;
  • Create a workshop to fix tools.

6. Avoid food waste and grow sustainably

Food is wasted at several junctions of the food chain: at source where it is grown, in the distribution process, in storage and by the end consumer. As growers we know how much effort goes just into the first part from seed to produce and probably will all agree that waste is to be avoided.

What you can do: 

  • Don’t grow more than you can eat or share! This is often hard to judge at first.
  • Employ various methods of preserving food;
  • Pick produce in good time or offer to others via noticeboard/ Facebook;
  • Join in with the Food Share program and support local charities that take surplus produce.

7. Think globally, act locally

Our allotment is a microcosm of the world. What we do locally takes place all over the world in millions of communities. Even if we do not feel particularly effective as individuals, collectively we make a difference. Local and global action go hand in hand.

What you can do: 

  • Source plants and materials locally wherever possible
  • Consider Fairtrade products when airmiles cannot be avoided
  • Learn from communities all over the world, everyone has a culture of growing food and climate change may impact on what and how we grow in the future.
  • Beyond the allotment, food can be grown anywhere in small or large spaces.
  • Avoid using peat-based products, especially on the soil.
  • Choose open-pollinated seed varieties which are often more resilient and productive than F1 Hybrids and can be saved and shared.

8. Conserve water

Along with soil, water is the most essential component for the grower, quantity and quality matters. Climate change means the UK is experiencing hotter drier summers and we need to be mindful of our water use. Fresh water is a limited resource even in the UK and rainwater nourishes our crops better.

What you can do:

  • Use water butts and tanks to catch rainwater off sheds and greenhouses;
  • Use mulches to reduce evaporation;
  • Water late or early in the day to minimise evaporation from hot sun;
  • Consider growing techniques and crops that minimise water consumption;
  • For plots on a slope, consider creating ‘swales’ to hold water within the soil.

What the Association can do: 

  • Check for water leaks on a regular basis;
  • Monitor water usage on a regular basis.

9. Reduce carbon emissions

Although allotments are not big contributors to climate change, there are ways we can improve our current practices.

What you can do: 

  • Use electric machinery instead of petrol where possible;
  • Reduce the number of bonfires, and only burn dry material;
  • Bury woody prunings or create log piles;
  • Retain trees wherever possible to help absorb CO2;
  • Avoid peat-based products: peat bogs are important in locking up carbon;
  • Walk or cycle to the allotment if possible;
  • Buy locally where possible.

What the association can do: 

  • Generate solar power or use a green energy supplier to power batteries;

10. Be plastic aware

There are seven types of plastic in use. Most are slow to break down, some are toxic to recycle and in hot weather, all plastics give off toxins that can pass into the soil and affect soil life and consequently the food chain. Many break down into micro-plastics which also adversely affect soil life

What you can do: 

  • Avoid the purchase of new plastic products where possible;
  • Reuse and recycle what you already have or are given;
  • Use cardboard or newspaper to suppress weeds in preference to plastic;
  • Remove any damaged or disintegrated plastic responsibly;
  • If using water bottles to protect new plants, check for signs of damage;
  • Use twiggy sticks in preference to plastic supports for peas;
  • Use jute twine instead of plastic string;
  • Choose dark plastics in preference to light or brightly coloured plastics;
  • Keep plastic in a dark secure place when not in use – away from sunlight and protected from mice and rats;