People take on an allotment for a number of reasons... exercise, fresh air, fresh food. One of the main reasons is to save money by growing your own vegetables and fruit. But does it really save you money... or does it actually cost money to run?
Of course there's no single answer for everyone because costs vary so much. For example...
- An allotment plot can cost anywhere from under £20 to over £300 a year.
- Some seed packets cost over £3... or do you use your own seed by harvesting it from the previous year and saving loads of money in the process?
- Bags of compost, chicken manure, soil improver... where does it all end? But if you do your own composting that's another big saving.
- Pesticides, slug pellets and other bug killers can be expensive... or do you grow organically and risk losing a few plants?
If the costs are hard to quantify, how much harder are the benefits to calculate? You'd need to...
- Tot up all the fruit and vegetables successfully grown and consumed... but only by your family. No point including anything you give away to family or friends, since if you were buying your produce you'd hardly buy extra for them as well. Include eggs if you keep chickens.
- Compare what the same would have cost in your local supermarket if you'd bought instead. You need to use prices charged at the same time of the year as you would have consumed, since costs do change seasonally.
- From that you should be able to calculate how much money you've saved growing your own.
How about other benefits? Might you have paid membership to a gym if it were not for the exercise you get tending your plot? Might you shop and spend more if the allotment wasn't there to keep you busy?
Take away the total costs form the total benefits to arrive at the profit you gain from your allotment. Can't be bothered? Don't blame you! It's a lot of work to arrive at a figure that's almost certainly not going to change your view about keeping an allotment. And the figures will change from year to year as some crops do poorly one year and better the next.
The National Society for Allotment and Leisure Gardeners reckoned in their 2010 survey that the typical cost of running an average sized allotment of 250 square metres was £202, and the minimum value of crops produced was £1,564, resulting in a profit of £1,362. Liverpool Victoria had a not dissimilar result in their 2009 survey, showing a saving of £950 a year.
All sounds a bit suspect to me. Most allotment holders struggle to deal with the excess produce at certain times of the year. Yes, of course it could be frozen or bottled, but it doesn't always happen.
My suggestion is to just enjoy your allotment. Minimise the effort by digging late autumn and again late winter to remove weeds and keep the earth friable. Let some plants go to seed and save these for the following year. Make your own compost. And when the sun is shining and you're on top of things, lie back amongst the bees and butterflies and enjoy life!