Demand for allotments soars in quest for organic food

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Councils have been urged to address a "chronic shortage" in the number of allotments being allocated by urban developers as demand for the plots of land reaches unprecedented highs.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales, says that 200,000 allotments – small plots of land which can be rented by individuals to cultivate their own herbs, fruit and vegetables – have been lost over the past 30 years.

But demand for the sites, which are usually rented for a small annual fee from local councils, has never been greater. The meteoric rise of organic food ranges, coupled with an increase in the number of environmentally minded people keen to grow their own produce, has resulted in waiting lists of up to 10 years in some parts of the country.

The LGA is encouraging councils to use their powers under the Planning and Compensation Act, which allow them to compel developers to provide areas of greenery within new building projects. They also argue that if an allotment is destroyed because of a new development, councils should ensure that a comparable area of land is created as compensation.

Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA's environment board, said: "Urgent action must be taken to meet this growing demand, and ensuring developers include space for allotments in new building projects would make a real difference."

The highest demand for allotments appears to be in Yorkshire, where at least 3,500 people are still to be allocated a plot. In the United Kingdom as a whole, about 330,000 people already have an allotment, with another 100,000 waiting for one to become available.

No plot? Windowbox edibles

*Tumbling tomatoes can be planted with compost in pots then transferred to hanging baskets. The dwarf variety will thrive in relatively small space with regular feeding.

*Basil, coriander, parsley and dill can all be grown in pots on a windowsill where they will scent the air. Start harvesting when the plants are about 15cm high.

*Aesthetically pleasing Chilli plants can be grown successfully on a windowsill or indoors in a warm space.

*Nasturtium is a pretty, edible plant that tastes similar to rocket and is ideal in salads and sandwiches. It also bears berries which when pickled in vinegar provide an interesting alternative to capers.

*Chanteray or baby carrots, the more expensive in-store varieties, will grow comfortably in a window box and be ready to harvest within three months.

*Kale and kohlrabi are two interesting members of the cabbage family and are excellent in soups.