Real Men Sow

How Much Does It Cost to Get Started on an Allotment?

I had a couple of interesting comments after I published my Veg Savings Update for February, which got me thinking. Helen, the Patient Gardener, tweeted to say she wasn’t convinced growing your own saved any money. The food was much better, but Helen remained unsure as to whether it’d leave extra cash in her pocket.

Fellow Essex blogger X Marks the Plot said that ‘…unfortunately I’ve spent so much money on the plot already that even if I did scale back it would take years to pay for itself’.

This made me ponder my savings experiment. I think I’ll save in 2011, but I’ve had my plot four years, and am in the lucky position where I reckon I’ve made most of the investments I’ll ever have to. Unless something like a tool breaks, anything else I spend is normally because it sounds like fun, such as my blueberry bushes.

I thought I’d list out what it cost me to start up my plot, so perhaps I can get an indication on whether I have ever broke even. These are the basic startup costs I came up with, plus a few ways around them.

Tools (£65)
I’ve got a spade, fork, rake and hoe, which cost roughly £15 a pop, plus a trowel. Trowels are priced at about a fiver in most shops or garden centres. Some new plotholders might be lucky enough to take over tools, or you might be able to find them on Freecycle or at a jumble sale.

Fruit (£120)
These will vary in price, depending on how mature each bush is when you buy it. An established, two – three year old gooseberry bush will cost upwards of a tenner, but Karl from Blackgates Garden blog recently bought some one year old bushes in a discount supermarket for a quid each. He’ll have a longer wait for fruit, but once they’ve grown up, Karl will be absolutely raking it in.

I bought four gooseberry bushes, three blackcurrants, three rhubarb crowns and about 25 strawberry plants, and I’d estimate these set me back about £100.

Over time, I’ve also put in about 25 raspberry canes. I was lucky enough to be given some of these, but the ones I put in to get me up and running cost me a good £20.

Once you’re away, you can increase your numbers gradually through cuttings etc, but there’s still an expensive initial cost.

Other Plants (£15)
Rather ambitiously, I bought 10 asparagus plants too. These do take ages to establish, and I’ve never really had a good crop from them. A bit of a luxury at £15…

Seeds (£20)
It’s a long time ago since I first went into the local nursery and filled my basket with seeds. All I can really remember was massive excitement! I reckon I spent about £40 in my first season of seed sowing, but I did get very carried away and wanted to grow everything under the sun. I was well taken in by the shiny packets too.

I don’t spend that sort of money now, as I’m more focused towards what I like growing, and most seed packets will last me a couple of years. If you shop around, I reckon you get could most of what you want for under £20, and some research will find plenty of ways to eek out some free seeds here and there.

All the Other Bits and Bobs (about £60)
I could never keep up with all the little things I’ve had to buy, but there are a few bits that spring to mind. There’s my annual rent of £18, watering cans, and in my first year I invested in a large pile of horse muck to manure my beds (£15). My shed is full of stuff that I’ve accumulated, such as bamboo canes for growing plants up (£5) and a roll of chicken wire to keep the pesky pigeons off my brassicas (what is it with pigeons and brassicas?).

One of the best things about allotments is the creative ways plotholders save money, so that the costs are kept low. Using twigs to guard young plants and making wigwams from willow and hazel are both ways to avoid some of the odds and sods costs described above.

Excess pots for growing seedlings can be found for nothing at many garden centres, and a bag of potting compost might cost you another £10. Books are a super source of reference, but if you’re on a budget, loads of information is available online at discussion forums and GYO websites. And don’t forget our libraries need us too!

Total Startup £280
I reckon I was up and running for £280. I took an excitable gung-ho approach, buying everything brand new and feeling far too impatient to wait for cheaper, younger fruit bushes and plants to mature.

Thinking back, I’m sure it could be done cheaper. Anyone recently started a plot? If so, what has it cost you to get going?

And has anyone out there got some ingenious money saving ideas for new allotmenteerists? I’d love to hear them!

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10 Comments

  1. JenijenaMarch 4, 2011 at 1:02 pmReply

    I suppose we were very lucky in getting an established allotment, with plum trees, rhubarb, raspberry canes, and gooseberry bushes (gooseberries and raspberries respond well to being propogated by cuttings) already in it, but I don’t think we’ve spent anything near that amount. Our biggest expenditure was a shed (£90, I think, though many people make their own) and some slabs to put it on (about £15). With effort, gumtree and freecycle, I’ve managed to get horse manure for free, although carting it to/from the allotment is a hassle. Near us I can get a large bag of mushroom compost (fill your own) for £1.50 which is pretty good going.

    I’ve spent £20 in seeds this year, which is more than I spent last year, but wanted to have a fresh new start as I had quite a few old packets.

    Having said that, I don’t think we save the amount you do from your plot either! But that I like to think pays credit to your effort and timing… ;)

    • Jono

      JonoMarch 4, 2011 at 6:21 pmReplyAuthor

      Haha, thanks Jen. :)

      I’m beginning to think I spent way too much, but there is a big temptation to get carried away. That said, I wouldn’t be without my fruit bushes, which were my biggest expense.

      I’m a lot more frugal now though, part of the fun and satisfaction is getting something for free!

  2. Alan @ it's not work, it's gardening!March 4, 2011 at 4:02 pmReply

    I’m not going to total up what I’ve spent on the garden, as it’s not about the money spent or saved. It’s about the gardening itself for me, and the fact that I can eat some of the results is just a bonus.

    Plus if I totaled it up somewhere my wife might see it. ;-)

    • Jono

      JonoMarch 4, 2011 at 6:24 pmReplyAuthor

      Alan – sounds like me and my fishing rods!

      I do agree about the gardening though. Even if it actually cost me loads, I’d still grow veg. You get so much more than money back. If I save something, then great, but more than anything I love the fresh food and just seeing things grow. Its a buzz.

  3. Cottage SmallholderMarch 5, 2011 at 9:28 amReply

    Great article Jono! Yes of course there are start up costs – but these are capital expenditure and should be seen as a ten year investment.

    We save a lot of money each year by growing our own – particularly on the salad and fruit front. Like you I’m going to note how much money we save each week, starting from May. I know that it’s roughly £1500 a year.

    We also grow things that are not readily available in the shops – like floury Irish potatoes.

    • Jono

      JonoMarch 6, 2011 at 9:29 amReplyAuthor

      Thanks Fiona.

      You’re dead right about the costs, especially on the fruit.

      £1500 a year is incredible. Please let me know how you get on when you start keeping notes of savings.

      Good point about the food not available in the shops too. I was trying to find a price for Swiss Chard last night, and none of the supermarkets stock it. Strange, because it is delicious.

  4. xmarkstheplotMarch 6, 2011 at 9:04 amReply

    25 raspberry canes! That must be a bumper crop. I think the biggest expense for me will be a shed. The current lock up needs replacing and I just won’t be able to construct one myself.

    My seed order every year is fairly pricey. I tend to want to grow different types of veg every 12 months. It can be expensive, and has been, but it’s a great hobby so I think the cost is justified in the end.

    • Jono

      JonoMarch 6, 2011 at 9:32 amReplyAuthor

      Hey X, thanks for the comment.

      There are a lot of raspberry canes, but sadly my crop hasn’t always reflected this. My OH loves raspberries, so we try to grow loads of them.

      Its definitely important not to lose sight of GYOing being a hobby. I’d still do it if it cost me. But as a fisherman as well, its great to have a hobby where I can save some cash. I reckon every decent fish I catch costs me about a hundred quid!

  5. Janet/PlantalisciousMarch 6, 2011 at 9:16 pmReply

    Interesting article. I have just taken over a rather over grown plot, and have spent way too much on seeds because I get excited and fall for interesting new things. Total cost so far is £260 which includes £72 for the storage bench. Next most expensive stuff was the mypex for the paths. Both will go with us when we leave, so I’m fine with that. I don’t expect to cover our costs in year one if I include those things, but I hope to eat well, and eat things I wouldn’t buy because of the expense. We’ll see!

  6. Tim HoltApril 15, 2011 at 2:32 pmReply

    I took on an overgrown plot with a few friends last Autumn. We’ve done some scrounging, but so far we’ve spent about £350 on rent, water, tools and equipment, compost and fertiliser, seeds, and some fruit trees/bushes.

    For that, so far we’ve had a handful of blackberries, and some surplus parsnips from our neighbour. Hopefully the investment will look better six months from now. :)

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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