We had an allotment[1] for a couple of years here in Swansea. It took us a year and a half[2] to get hold of one, as the waiting lists tend to be very long everywhere in the UK. We enjoyed the grow-your-own part of it very much, but it was just too far away to make economic or environmental sense.

It usually took anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes to get there based on the traffic. It's partly this quote from Jay Rayner's "A Greedy Man in a Hungry World" that made me think twice:

if you are renting an allotment a mile or two from your house, which you have to drive to, so as to carry tools there and produce back, you will quickly bestow upon your food a carbon footprint of the size that would embarrass a multinational oil company.

I disagree with a lot of what he says in that book, but he's got a point about the carbon footprint of an allotment that's not within walking distance. We gave up the allotment at the beginning of this year.

Given the super short summer and lots of rain here in Wales, you have a pretty limited growing season if you're not using a greenhouse. It's also easy for pests to quickly wipe out an entire crop. We had lovely tomato plants that were destroyed in less than a week by blight.

I was also a bit surprised by how expensive it can be, for example to provide nutrients like compost if you don't already have your own compost heap. And I found weeding to be very time-consuming, but my wife tends to enjoy it. Overall what I found most disappointing was the yield when conditions weren't perfect.

But what if:

  • we can grow all year round
  • we can eliminate weeds and pests
  • minimize the amount of nutrients required
  • do it anywhere, even on an airship or a boat
  • maximize yield

That's the promise of hydroponics, which is why I want to give it a try. I found a tutorial on Instructables that I'm going to give a go, and will post the progress here when I get started.


  1. also known as a community garden in the US ↩︎

  2. registered with the city council in November 2014, got the allotment in May 2016 ↩︎