How to care for an allotment
Gardening is one of the UK’s most popular past times. Introducing a variety of brightly coloured plants can completely transform your outdoor space, encouraging you to get some fresh air. However, despite most homes in the UK having their own outdoor space, statistics from the Royal Horticultural Society found that 4.5 million gardens across the country contain no plants at all. Although replacing grassy front gardens with paving stones allows for additional parking and easier upkeep, it has meant that homes are more prone to flooding and are rapidly destroying animal habitats. Plus, back garden landscaping trends are favouring decking and patios, taking up valuable space which could be used for sowing seeds.
Allotments are the perfect option if you have a small back garden or are looking to grow a plethora of produce. Privately owned, typically by your local council, the space can be used to grow anything from courgettes and runner beans to leeks and potatoes. Alan from Man VS Slug talks about how important his allotment is to him and his wife, “The allotment is my sanctuary as my wife has Lupus and I'm her primary carer. It's nice to have somewhere to go and unwind as allotments, growing and being out with nature has been proven to have beneficial effects of de-stressing and it's a whole a lot cheaper than therapy! Plus, you end up with loads of wonky looking but very healthy vegetables to eat as well.”
In order to rent an allotment, it may be necessary to join a waiting list. However, once you have paid the rental fee for a year, which The National Allotment Society states is ordinarily between £25-£125 and signed the tenancy agreement, you are free to grow as you wish! Take a look at our guidance on how best to care for your new allotment below!
Clearing your plot
“First thing to remember is that Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your allotment be formed within a few hours or a couple of days, it takes a lot of work and work takes time and effort”, shares Alan. “Working on the plot little and often is the key and make sure that you enjoy the process and experience, don’t let it ever become a chore otherwise you will be one of those that give up within the first 3 months of ownership.”
Often upon receiving your plot, you may notice that it is incredibly overgrown. Allotments can sometimes be left derelict for long periods of time, causing the owner’s contract to end, so the ground could be dominated by weeds or a dilapidated shed may be rotting in the corner. It can be overwhelming to see a plot in this state, which is sometimes off-putting. However, spending a while tending to the ground and preparing it for the seasons ahead will make it easier to maintain it over the coming months.
Clearing your plot can take a while, but it is important to take your time and complete this step thoroughly, doing your best to get rid of as many weeds as possible. To start, you should trim any grasses, weeds or anything else that is growing to a short height. Myriad things may be growing on your plot and identifying them can help you in the future. Dandelions, dock weeds, couch, cleavers and thistles are some of the most commonly found, but a quick search online will come in useful if you’re unsure.
Cutting down your plot provides a great base for you to start with. A chainsaw can help you to tackle anything that is a little bit sturdy, whereas a strimmer can also come in handy. Once everything is trimmed down, with 15cm being a good guideline to follow, garden tool creator Mantis recommends using a tiller to help remove every part of the weed from the soil, as this helps to chop up any growth in the soil. When cutting out the roots, it can again come in helpful to know which weeds you are working with as it will help you to estimate how far beneath the surface they go. The Allotment Garden website offers some good advice on this for you to take a look at.
No matter how thorough you are with this step, it’s inevitable that some weeds will come back. The best way to avoid this is by covering your plot with something like tarpaulin or cardboard and six inches of compost. This is known as the no-dig method and will suffocate the weeds and make them easier to kill. Although some weeds will grow through your covering, this is the most efficient way of removing any unwanted growth from your allotment.
Preparing your plot
Once your plot is clear, it’s now time to think about what you want to grow. This is important as it means that you can prepare your plot appropriately. First, you will need to apply fertiliser to the soil in order to help prepare it for planting. Additionally, the fertiliser will make it easier for the soil to break up whilst boosting it with everything that it needs to be healthy.
Depending on what you’re growing, certain plants will benefit from regular watering. However, many allotments will not have the provisions for this. In order to bypass this, it is recommended that you purchase a water butt. This is a large container that can gather rainwater for use on your plot and can come in extremely useful. The DIY Gardening website suggests that mulch is a great alternative. By applying a thick layer of bark to the ground, any rainfall can be soaked up, keeping your ground wetter for longer.
Your layout is an important consideration. You need to think about how you will practically utilise your space. After trimming down and clearing your space, you may find that it is bigger than first appeared, so finding a way to navigate around the plot is vital. Paths are recommended for this, as well as sectioned off beds in which you can grow separate plants. Take a look at other allotments in your area for inspiration or even ask for guidance. You will be able to pick up some worthwhile tips and tricks from people who have been tending to their plots for a couple of years, so take note!
A traditional allotment opts for rows in order to make access to each variety of plant easier. This also helps to identify plants by season. However, it is up to you to decide how you will choose to spread your produce out. An alternative to rows is raised beds which are great if you’re planning on growing a vegetable or fruit such as asparagus. Asparagus can last for 20 years, so having it situated in a bed of its own will make caring for it easier.
Raised beds are favoured if you’re planning on using the no-dig method. If you have low mobility, and perhaps benefit from a curved stairlift in your home, this method is easier on your back as it is low-impact. There are certain things that you need to take into consideration when creating raised beds. As mentioned before, your allotment will need watering. However, this is especially important with raised beds, as the soil around the edges will dry out quicker. Additionally, the wood that you use to create each bed will need maintenance, as rotting wood can harbour insects, slugs and snails which can end up eating your produce!
What to grow
An allotment is exciting as it opens up the opportunity for experimentation. However, when starting out it is important to not go overboard with too many varieties. Starting simple is the best way to get to grips with your land and to work out how much time you can afford to spend at your allotment each week.
You will be the busiest in your allotment from months March through to May, as the spring is the perfect time for growing! As spring starts, you can begin to sow you first outdoor seeds as the ground should have warmed up by now. Strawberry plants should be added to your allotment during this time, as should any herbs that you’re wishing to grow. This month is also the perfect time to move any sprouts that were growing in your greenhouse or polytunnel outside, in addition to leeks and cabbage.
In your allotment in April, you can expect to get to work, sowing and planting most of your produce for the upcoming months. This is a great way to spend time outdoors as the weather begins to get warm. Potatoes should be your focus during this month, as these will all need to be planted before the end of the month. Additionally, carrots, parsnips and courgettes can be introduced. Asparagus season starts now, so make sure to harvest your earliest grows too.
May is an exciting month as you will start to notice things growing! It is likely that your broccoli, spinach and any early lettuce that you have grown will be ready for harvest now, so make sure to eat them quickly! With allotments, you may find that food has a shorter shelf life than in a shop, so it is best to pick as soon as possible rather than letting things spoil. For your planting this month, sweetcorn is ready to be planted and any indoor leeks you have been caring for should now be transplanted.
The warmer weather that accompanies the months of June, July and August means that sowing for summer fruit and vegetables should have now stopped. During this time, it is important to regularly water your plants, as hopefully the rain should be slowing down by now whilst remaining vigilant for slugs, snails and other pests.
In June, begin to harvest any broad beans, cauliflowers and spinach, in addition to any potatoes that you planted at the start of the year. Asparagus season comes to an end now, so collect your last couple of grows.
Across the month of July, you should be experiencing full production of your allotment, with almost everything ready to harvest! Enjoy courgettes, sweetcorn, potatoes and swiss chard, with shallots also on offer for you to harvest during this time. However, although this month is brilliant for harvesting, you should also cast your thoughts ahead to winter sowing. Kale, spinach and beetroots should be ready for sowing in order for winter production so have space on your plot ready for these.
By the time August rolls around, all that is really left to do is harvest, harvest, harvest! Garlic, onions, celery and leeks are good to be dug up this month, and your plum trees should boast plenty of the gorgeous fruit.
Autumn is a great time to spend time in your allotment, with September October and November providing fantastic weather conditions. It is during autumn that you will start to think ahead to the following year and what you would like to grow, so look at what has been successful this month for future inspiration. However, autumn is also a time to reflect on anything that didn’t work as well as you may have liked. This could have been down to the weather, the conditions or an influx of a certain pest. Take these things into consideration and think about whether to try again next year or not.
In September, take cuttings of your fruit plants and bushes, as well as prune any trees. Most of your allotment should have already been harvested, but you might have a few parsnips and swedes ready for you. This is also a good time to cut back your asparagus, which will have started to yellow, and feed the ground with manure.
October is when the weather may begin to get colder. Consider sowing lettuce, beans and peas now to feed you through the winter, whilst pumpkins are now ready to be harvested. A lot of your plants may be looking a bit worse for wear, so it is important to remove any old vegetation and dying plants from your beds.
Planting trees will take up most of your time in November, as the late autumn/early winter conditions are perfect for these trees. Clearing up any leaves that have been blown off the trees should be a priority, as well as keeping up the general maintenance of your allotment. As this is a quieter month for harvesting, make sure you’re still visiting regularly to stay on top of any upkeep that you need to do.
The colder days in December, January and February offer you a great opportunity to start preparing your allotment. In December, winter garlic can be a welcome addition to your plot and the conditions are perfect for you to plant apple and pear trees, as well as berry bushes, including raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. However, your primary focus should be on pruning back what is already growing.
The new year may be accompanied by the excitement of what is to come, but the weather will still prevent any major advances in your allotment. Use this month to harvest your winter vegetables such as cauliflower and swede before you begin to think about sowing new seeds. For those of you itching to get outside, however, onions, radishes and leeks can be grown under cover.
Finally, as February comes around, the weather should begin to warm up. With the addition of longer days, you can get to work on your potted plants or in your greenhouse and polytunnel. Broad beans, broccoli and spinach can be prepared in order for the months ahead and growing these different vegetables inside means they can be moved outside when the warmer weather begins.
This news article is from Companion Stairlifts. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.