With National Allotment Week in full swing, it's not the best time to discover that local authorities are reducing the size of alloment plots dramatically - but according to a recent report, that's exactly the case writes Martin Fiddes.

Cal Month AugustThe 6 day allotment festival is organised as a joint venture by the National Allotment Gardens Trust and the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners - the national body representing allotment holders and vegetable gardeners in the UK - and runs from Monday August 13th until the 19th, but according to an article in the Telegraph, the sought-after plots are being downsized.

Traditionally, allotment plots are measured in rods - a unit derived from Anglo-Saxon farming practices. A rod was used to control a team of oxen when working on the land and measures 5.5 yards (5.03 metres). Originally, plots were 10 square rods in size (10 x 5.5 x 5.5) as this area was required to produce enough vegetables to feed a 4 person family for 1 year. Translated into modern currency, that's 302.5 sq yards or 253 sq metres.

Of course, the principle behind the average plot size no longer holds water, so local authorities, faced with a legal obligation to provide allotments and lengthy waiting lists, have halved the traditional 10 rod plots to 5 - an area of 151.25 sq yds, or 126.5 sq m. There are even reports that a council in London have reduced some plots, available to novice gardeners, to 1.5 rods - which, as the Telegraph article mentions, will cause problems with crop rotation and increase the risk of pest and disease infestation from neighbouring allotments.

However, the relatively recent infatuation with allotments shows no signs of abating, with waiting lists of between 2 and 10 years the norm countrywide. And in some areas, councils have stopped taking applications completely with no plots likely to be available in the next decade and beyond!