Thursday, 19 November 2009

How much can you grow?

I’ve been vexed by the discovery of a document which details how much fruit and vegetables a garden the size of an average allotment produced. The project ran in 1975 at Harlow Carr, a RHS garden in Yorkshire. While the weather in 1975 might have been a bit kinder than it has been in Manchester in recent years, I’m still mystified by the volume of produce listed from this small area (250 sq. metres). As an allotmenteer who (possibly a little obsessively) records what is harvest from our plot I have a fairly accurate picture of what we’ve grown over the years. It comes no where need the numbers achieved during this 1975 project.

This project was done under the auspices of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) with the aim of showing how vegetables for a family of 4 could be provided. The blurb also states that ‘most of the work was carried out by the garden apprentice. Approximately 180 hours work went into the feature.’ Yields were as follows:

Carrots 146 lbs
Parsnips 23 lbs
Beetroot 156 lbs
Lettuce 270 heads
Radish 42 bunches
Broad Beans 78 lbs
Peas 37 lbs
Cabbage 234 lbs
Brussel Sprouts 27 lbs
Turnips 46 lbs
Runner Beans 116 lbs
French Dwarf Beans 36 lbs
Marrows 28 lbs
Courgettes 53 lbs
Onions 57 lbs
Spring Onions 45 bunches
Potatoes 208 lbs
Leeks 34 lbs
Celery 57 heads
Spinach 11 lbs
Spinach Beet 145 lbs
Sweetcorn 38 cobs


We spend much longer than most people can cultivating our allotment and would consider it to be fairly productive. We don’t have full beds over winter but through the summer and autumn, into October its all full. What I don’t understand is how you’d achieve this as a family – when you’ll be wanting to harvest one or two cabbages a week, a pound or two of beetroot, carrots, a bunch of spinach etc. You surely are not going to dig up the entire crop of everything and swiftly put something else in the bed in its place – where would you store it all?

There is a lot written about how much food can be produced from a small area like an allotment and I just wonder if they are in part derived from projects like this one.

I would be interested to know how much other people grow – just growing to feed your household. Does anyone have any comments?

Guest Blogger, Debbie Ellen


Anonymous said...

Just wondering what the role of now rarely-used skills like bottling, pickling, jam-making etc would be in managing to use an allotment in the way described. So, for example, you might have a whole bed of cabbages and need to dig them up for the next crop to go in, couldn't a lot of them end up in sauerkraut-type dishes? Lower in some nutrients, sure, but I guess this is how a lot of fruit and veg got used. But I suppose the problem with this case study is that it's being done under unrealistically 'ideal' conditions in terms of the amount of labour being put in, something that's neither feasible for most families or economically viable for commercial growing. The danger of examples like this must be that it on one hand it creates great stats for how you could feed urban populations from small areas of waste ground, but then makes anyone trying to actually act on such stats look like a failure.

Debbie said...


Good point about preserving - our allotment society is going to be running a workshop next year on this, as these are skills that younger people do not have, myself included.

For me, the key issue on preserving is time. The only people I know who manage to do this on a large scale are retired. We have made pickles, chutneys and jams with some of our produce this year, but the scale of the task to deal with that much produce is daunting. Also, its better to eat the food fresh, and cabbages can just be picked as needed. From a carbon saving perspective its also better to eat what you can fresh if you've grown it yourself - our electricity usage shot up when we were pickling and preserving!