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Monday, July 29, 2013

So you have an Allotment Now what?

 Check it out, hopefully you wont have to remove any rubbish and it will be well cultivated and if your lucky it may already have a shed and a greenhouse, but we will start from ground zero just in case.

  1. Remove anything that should not be there, by rights the council you rent it from or the previous tenant should have done this but by the time you get something done about it you could have done it yourself and already be well on your way to getting it looking good and being functional.
  2. If your plot has not been well cultivated it may be over run with weeds.  We may like to thin we would spend hours pulling them up but the quickest easiest way is to blast it with weed killer and cover it up with some old carpet, taking care not to get too close to your neighbours plot, to follow the directions on the packet to the letter especially with regards to safety and to dig up or steer well clear of anything you want left well alone.  This could take up to three weeks or longer depending on how stubborn your weeds are.  
  3. Whilst you are waiting for the effects of Weedol or whatever to kick in you can go about planning the layout of your plot.  Do you want a greenhouse or a poly tunnel, can you afford to buy right out or should you start trawling the net for a second hand one or start plans on building with recycled materials.  You need to think upon the same lines for your shed.  Will you be wanting a fruit cage?  How much of the plot is allowed to be under cover according to the rules?  Does the wind effect your plot much and if so where would be the best place to situate your buildings.  Having a chat with the other allotee's can give you a good idea of what to expect.  Security is another good topic to discuss before you go buying anything expensive.
  4. Get your buildings erected if you decide to have them.  It would be ideal if you manage to get your allotment lease in the August (if you are in UK) so you can see what others manage to grow and you have plenty of time to get your plot into some sort of functional state.  You should not be charged any rent until the new growing season begins.
  5. Work out how many beds you can fit and what size, consider where to put functional paths and do not make them too big (no more than 18 inch, unless you have a disability or use a wheelchair and need a wider path) as you dont want to waste valuable growing space.  Mark the beds out  and decide whether you want them raised or not and if you would like to mark them off with a wooden border.  Raised beds can be easier to work and deter certain pests.  If you decide to have wooden borders it keeps the bed neat and if painted with creosote can deter slugs.
  6. Find out what ground you have.  You need to know soil type and whether it is deficient in Nitrogen, Phosphorus, or Potassium, if it drains well or not and if it is vulnerable to certain pests and diseases.  Your fellow allotee's can be a great help in acquiring this information but you may also need to buy a soil tester.  Providing you keep your plot well cultivated and practice crop rotation you will not have to do this again.  You will have to do some research yourself but there are plenty of articles on the web describing soil types and how to improve them.
  7. Fertilize the whole plot with copious amounts of manure and then (if your up to it) dig it in, use a rotavator (either rented bought or on site use) or apply a no dig method.  Keep working at it untill your soil is nice and crumbly and then it can be maintained with a once over twicw a year.  All this is weather permitting of course and if it seems a bit much you might want to take on a partner to share the work and harvest with.  Bare in mind once the donkey work is done the whole plot can be maintained with moderate to little  effort.
  8. THE EXCITING BIT!  Decide what you want to grow and track down the seeds for the best price.  Buy a good book so you know the basics.  The more you know about basic principals of growing food the more likely you are to get a good harvest.  There is nothing more down heartening then excitedly chucking in a load of seeds and then little by little (or very quickly in some cases) losing it all to very basic mistakes.  You don't have to start off with everything.  Pick a few varieties and add to them once you have got your bearings.  I personally started off with low maintenance quick growing things like peas, lettuce and radishes and progressed to tomatoes, potatoes and beans.  I buy heirloom open pollinated seeds now.  I choose unusual varieties that grow well in short dull summers but are prolific and tasty.  You can find seeds like these at
  9. Take your time, get to know your plot and how to look after it and most importantly enjoy it.  There are many benefits to having an allotment, it provides a focus, exercise, healthy food, socializing opportunities and a sense of pride and achievement.  

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