Can you dig it? The easy alternative to clearing an overgrown allotment

I am a black-plastic convert. It’s been a slow process. When I first took over my allotment last autumn I had very different ideas: walking around for the first time with Jane, my new allotment chief, I was proudly shown how she had covered her entire plot in black polypropylene sheeting. “You can buy it from the garden centre up on the A40,” she enthused.

I smiled politely and made a mental note not to follow her advice. My plot was a grassy meadow with real biodiversity: grasshoppers, beetles, even a slowworm. There was no way I was just going to cover it in non-biodegradable plastic for months to clear it. I was going to dig it.

Six months later and she was picking her first strawberries while I was still struggling to keep a quarter of the plot under control. Couch grass requires individual roots to be picked out to prevent regrowth, a process that works but is depressingly slow. Jane’s couch grass, on the other hand, had just rotted down during a winter beneath her luxurious, lazy, increasingly enviable sheeting. On my allotment, only the section I’d covered in old carpet and cardboard looked neat. And inspections loomed. It was time for a rethink.

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By May, I’d managed to find enough large cardboard boxes (by driving up and down Chiswick High Road at night) to cover the rest of the undug plot. And then I came back to the allotment one afternoon to find that Jane had, unasked, covered my eco-layer of cardboard with a swathe of black plastic she’d finished with, weighing it down with stones. It looked so, well, under control. The neighbouring plot on the other side remained a grassy meadow. “Let the grasshoppers live there,” I thought. Yep, when push comes to shove I’m a regular Marie Antoinette.

Now, just a few months later, when I pull back a section of plastic and cardboard the digging is as easy as slicing through cheese. The cardboard has kept the dying grass soggy and it has started to rot away, leaving me with significantly less backbreaking work. And, by next spring, the job should almost be done for me, as worms busy themselves digesting the dead matter.

I have also been digging a bit and then putting the plastic back until I have time to think about what I want to plant and where. Before, I might have immediately planted whatever section I’d dug – now the plastic gives me time to ponder.

Remarkably, the slowworm seems perfectly happy under my hideously unnatural combination. And when I’m eventually finished with my weed-suppressing membrane, we can peg it over the next allotment; so when some fool finally takes it on, they will never know how much labour we’ve saved them.

Take cover: How to keep weeds out

Silage sheeting

It’s hard to beat this, the toughened polyethylene stuff that farmers wrap their silage clamps in. £96 for 14x30m, incl delivery, www.polaris-sales.co.uk

Woven weed-control fabric

This method allows rainwater and air to get through to your soil, keeping its friendly bacteria alive. £53.46 for a 50m roll, www.allplaz.com

WeedGard

The cheapest option is WeedGard, available at many garden centres, a simple membrane to block light. £8.99 for an 8×1.5m roll, www.gardensite.co.uk

‘Garden Your Way To Health and Fitness’

Most important of all, don’t forget to look after your back – Bunny Guinness’s new book (Timber Press, £14.99) has pages and pages of advice on how to avoid the almost inevitable newbie allotment-holder’s back pain.

How We Cleared our Overgrown Allotment Part 2: Smothering Those Weeds

Posted on July 5, 2014 by Jono in beginners, plot 150b with

Now our new allotment is clear and productive, I’ve started blogging about how mum and I went about clearing the weedy mess that was Plot 150B.

Previously, I posted about the benefits of little and often, as well as ways to get growing even if your new plot is overgrown, and another method we’ve used is covering sections in old tarpaulin and carpet to suppress the weeds.

I also did this when I moved into my new house and began growing vegetables at the back of the garden. The area was a mixture of grass, weeds and bramble so over a few weekends I pulled and dug out everything, and then covered the soil. This kept the weeds away over the winter, until I was ready to sow and plant.

Now is the perfect time to begin covering. It is a time consuming process, and can leave you without soil to grow in for a whole season, but by the beginning of the following Spring I had a great base for my growing.

To Clear Weeds or Not to Clear Weeds
I pulled my weeds up before I covered the soil to speed up the process, but this isn’t completely necessary.
You’ll need to pull up anything big like brambles, but most weeds will shrivel and die under the cover. Removing the sheeting a few months later will reveal soil that’s a doddle to dig over which is great for anyone who is new to allotments or finds digging hard work (that’s all of us, by the way!).

Earthworms will feast on the dying weeds too, leaving you very little to do. However, if you do have the urge to dig, you can always peel back the covering at your leisure and turn some of the soil. Popping the cover back over the soil will keep it clean until you’re ready to sow and plant.

Getting Hold of Weed Suppressant Coverings
A quick Google search will bring up a number of specific weed suppressant products, but any old piece of tarpaulin or carpet will work. Keep an eye out in skips and these items can be readily found for free. We used a mixture of a surplus pond layer and old carpets left outside a local shop.

You can also use cardboard too. This will rot down into the soil and improve the structure. In fact, some use a sandwich method, placing cardboard between soil and tarpaulin. Check out the local tip for large boxes in the cardboard recycling bins.

Remember to fix your cover down firmly. The last thing you want is your neat and tidy weed suppressant membrane finding itself half way across the allotment site after a particularly stiff gust of wind. Bricks or tent pegs will keep everything where it should be.

Organic allotment growing

In your first veg patch or allotment plot, you know you want to grow organically, yet you might be wondering where to begin? Maybe you are faced with a large area of weeds – and yet you don’t want to use toxic chemical weedkillers.

One of the main reasons new allotment holders give up on their plot, is because they run out of time and energy by trying to cultivate the whole plot straight away.

We’ve put together a guide to starting, and managing, your allotment the organic way. It includes:

  • clearing your plot of weeds
  • how to plan your crops
  • no dig
  • encouraging neighbours to be organic

In just a few hours a week, you will enjoy producing cost effective, delicious fruit and veg. All done the organic way – the smart way!

And if you have any questions about the rules and regulations for allotment holders, we recommend contacting the National Allotment Society

Preparing your plot

If your new plot is thick with weeds and overgrown with grass, don’t try clear it all before planting. Hours of digging will only lead to back ache and the depressing sight of weeds returning.

Instead, divide the plot in half. Dig one half, and cover the other half with a thick organic mulch.

It’s a win win decision! In half the time you have prepared the plot, as well as making it more productive. Here’s how to do it.

1 For the mulched half, cut down the larger weed foliage to just above soil level using a satisfying slash technique (much of the foliage goes on your new compost heap, so long as it has no seeds within). Then cover the area with a mulch that will exclude light. You can use a variety of materials to do this – a thick (20 cms) layer of compost or manure is ideal, topped by cardboard (add another layer of manure so it doesn’t blow away), or a black plastic membrane, pinned down. (Don’t use carpet – many of the dyes have toxic chemicals that can leach into your precious soil.)

Leave this for at least 6 – 12 months. It’s that simple. You don’t have to do a thing, as the weeds will weaken in the dark and the earthworms do their work to enrich the soil. Go to No Dig method for more information.

2 Now you only have half a plot to dig. Make sure you get out all the roots of the weeds. Compost their foliage, and drown the roots in a bucket of water for 2 months, before adding them to the compost heap. Turn a layer of compost into the first 5 – 10 cms of the soil and you are ready to plant or sow.

Planning your crops

Let’s assume you can’t work on the allotment all day, every day. With only a few growing hours a week, you want to make sure that what you grow is what you want to eat.

If you can easily buy organic potatoes and carrots we recommend you don’t waste time on such cheap items. Go instead for luxury crops – strawberries, raspberries and asparagus. Many are easier to grow than carrots, and considerably more expensive to buy organic.

Similarly, herbs are easy to grow and you will have generous quantities to use, unlike the expensive small supermarket bunches. Kale, a popular and probably overpriced vegetable, is very easy to grow – and keeps you in green veg throughout the winter.

For all veg and fruit, check out the Garden Organic How to Grow cards. And plan where to put your first season’s crop.

If you plant a fruit tree, see How to grow organic fruit, make sure it is a variety not usually found in supermarkets – and from an organic nursery. Why grow Golden Delicious when you can have a juicy Beauty of Bath, or Conference pears when you can have creamy Beurre Hardy?

Your time is precious, so concentrate on delicious fruit and veg that will give you a sense of achievement in growing, and a delight on your plate.

Other organic growing tips can be found in our managing your soil pages. We show you how to make compost, how to grow comfrey to feed your plants, and how to use green manures instead of compost. We help you keep on top of weeds, as well as pests and diseases.

Good neighbour

It is common that organic and non-organic neighbours cultivate land next door to each other in allotment sites. This can be a great opportunity for organic growers to share their expertise. Here is a small poster which highlights the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of successful growing, and below are some key arguments in favour of the organic way:

  1. Chemical weedkillers are toxic. They are often created as a mix of glyphosate and toxic surfactants which attack the plant and can create a residue in the soil. They are skin and eye irritants, and some research has shown them to be potentially carcinogenic. Spraying can travel in the wind, which leaves a residue on neighbouring growth. As well as being poisonous to the weed, glyphosate formulations in the soil can inhibit the root uptake of nutrients – causing a crop to struggle more. For further information see the Glyphosate debate
  2. Pesticides will kill indiscriminately. Although sprays are aimed at aphids or other pests, they also kill other harmless insects. Worse than that, many of these insects are of great use to the grower. Ladybirds and hoverflies will not only eat the aphids, but also help bees and butterflies as pollinators. Pesticides can also create a health hazard for birds or frogs.
  3. Slugs ….. ah slugs! Tempting though it is to scatter pellets around the baby lettuce plants, there are other ways to deter slugs and snails. Check out the National Allotment Society’s own slug and snail advice in their helpful leaflet on Wildlife gardening And for quick reference see this paragraph in our own growing advice:

*Protection of vulnerable plants is the key. And don’t rely on only one method. Always renew barriers after rain, and accept that some damage is inevitable. The following may help: dig to disrupt both slug and its eggs; encourage natural controls such a beetles, frogs, birds and hedgehogs; frequently inspect your plants and hand pick off (particularly in damp weather and at night); create barriers of dry material which slugs find hard to traverse, such as grit – and renew after rain. If you use traps ( ie beer in a container), empty them frequently. To avoid killing ground beetles, which eat the slugs, it is better to put your beer into a saucer with raised edges. Use of nemotodes (microscopic organisms, available to buy online) can have some success, but they only work once in a season, and the conditions are very specific for the nemotodes to function. Iron phosphate pellets, sold as organic pellets, should only be used when absolutely necessary, and sparingly. See Slugs and Snailsfor further information *

Clearing a New Allotment or Vegetable Plot

This article really covers both taking on a new allotment and converting any piece of ground like an old lawn to a productive vegetable plot. Usually the new allotment holder discovers he’s (or she) got the worst one on the site or at best one that has been vacant for six months and has grown a good crop of weeds. Don’t despair, often it’s easier to sort out than you fear.

How to Start Clearing an Allotment Plot

First of all, walk around and see what you’re going to have to deal with. If there is any old metalwork, broken glass or building rubble bring it to pile at the end of the plot. Make sure you wear gloves – hopefully your tetanus jab is up to date because you’re going to shed blood at some point, I promise you.

If you come across old corrugated asbestos sheets seek advice from the council. This needs handling with care and proper, safe disposal.

What Weeds do You Have?

Next, take a look at what weeds you have. Some weeds like nettles, docks, buttercups and daisy all indicate that your soil is acidic as does the dreaded Mare’s tail (Equistum Arvense). Other difficult weeds are bindweed and couch grass. They all share the ability to re-grow from small pieces of root. If you’ve a mass of brambles then I’m afraid you really do have your work cut out, but it isn’t impossible.

Pace Yourself

Looking down 30 metres of weeds is enough to make anyone despair but break the heavy work of clearing and digging down into patches you can cope with in one go without feeling like death for two days. I found 8 square metres enough, gradually worked up to 10 but younger and fitter people may well do more in a session.

Take comfort from the fact that a mass of lush nettles and other weeds indicates the soil is in good heart with lots of fertility.

What to do to Clear the Plot

If you’ve a lot of tall weeds, then it’s worth borrowing or hiring a petrol strimmer with a brush-cutter blade and taking them down to about 15cm above the ground, leave brambles a little longer – anything up to 60cm.

Ordinary grass and annual weeds can be lifted like turfs. A mattock is very good for this, the flat blade going in almost horizontal under the root-mat and levering up but a decent spade will do the job as well.

Stack the turfs, grass side down and make into a box which you can cover with a tarpaulin to exclude light and water. In a year you’ll have some lovely loamy soil to use.

Do Not Rotavate!

I’ve seen people hire a powerful rotavator and churn over the plot, chopping up the weeds including their roots into thousands of pieces. Three weeks later the perennial weeds grew from the root fragments and the plot was absolutely covered in weeds. They then gave up the plot.

Fork the ground over and remove any perennial weed roots. Docks go deep but like dandelions are fairly easy to remove. Nettles have a mass of thin yellow roots which are difficult but you can get them out.

Bindweed and couch grass are hard work, a piece of root as longer than 3cm may have enough energy to start and grow again. With Mare’s tail though, you have real problems. The thin brown roots are hard to see and go down to Hades (they’ve been found 2 metres down!) Just do your best but I’d say the only way to really win against Mares Tail, Bindweed and Couch Grass is to go chemical (see below)

Don’t cold compost weed roots

These weed roots present another problem for you. If you put them on a cold compost heap, they’ll re-grow. You can put them in a black plastic sack and hopefully they’ll rot away in six months or so but better to drown them in a tub of water. Takes about 3 weeks.

With a bramble patch, it’s tough work digging out the roots. Leaving some cane on at least gives you something to pull at!

Ground cover

You’ll have heard about covering ground with old carpet to suppress the weeds. Well it’s not a bad idea in theory so long as the carpet isn’t there for more than a month or two.

The problem is that the weeds eventually grow through the carpet and it’s a nightmare trying to get the carpet put so many sites have banned them. I used a tarpaulin which did the same job without weed growing through.

I don’t like the idea of leaving the ground covered for a year to kill off everything; it’s wasteful, un-productive and just blessed ugly.

Quick Way to Clear a Plot

This is the easiest and quickest way to clear a plot. Clear the rubbish and strim down to a few inches above ground level. Rake up the strimmings and pop onto the compost heap.

Then spray the plot with a glyphosate based weedkiller, paying special attention to the perennial weeds. Leave for a week or two, re-spraying any perennial weeds that are still looking healthy. Then dig over or rotovate.

The weedkiller is taken to the roots of the perennials so killing them and making it possible to chop them up without the problem of re-growing.

OK, this method uses a weedkiller but given the number of people who start with the best organic intentions and then give in when they discover it’s hard work, I’d say use the spray and go organic later!

Allotment Information

  • Allotment & Garden Paths
  • Allotment Growing as You Get Older
  • Allotment History – A Brief History of Allotments in the UK
  • Allotment History – Cultivating a 19th Century Allotment by Dr Lesley Acton MA Ph.D
  • Allotment History – The First Allotments by Dr Lesley Acton MA Ph.D
  • Allotment Journey – A Step to Sustainable Living
  • Allotment Regeneration – Case Study
  • Allotments & Children
  • Allotments & The Law – Legal Aspects of An Allotment
  • Allotments – Some Tips to Get You Started
  • Clearing a New Allotment or Vegetable Plot
  • Cuban Vegetable Growing Practices can Benefit your Allotments
  • Finding an Allotment – How to Find an Allotment
  • Health and Safety in the Allotment & Garden
  • How to Ensure the Security of your Allotment
  • How To Pick The Right Shed For Your Allotment
  • Improving Security on Allotments to combat Vandalism and Theft
  • The Allotment – The City Dwellers bit of Country
  • Vacant Allotment Plots – What To Do With Them?
  • Why People Grow Our Own – Our Plots
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Burbage
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Essex
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Exmouth
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Kent
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Kilmarnock
    • Grow Your Own Competition – Notable Entries
    • Grow Your Own Competition Entry
  • You Have a New Allotment!

Clearing An Allotment – How To Get Rid Of Weeds And Prepare Your Soil

When you take over a new allotment it is more than likely going to be at least knee deep in weeds or worse. Only the very, very lucky find a nicely presented plot that is ready for planting. Please expect quite a lot of work in clearing the allotment but it will be worthwhile in the long run. Many allotment societies will also give you a discount on your first year if you are taking over a heavily weeded allotment.

When our allotments opened the plots were covered with weeds and many of us ended up hiring a local farmer to plough over the plots. The real problem came from the very stony soil; there were bricks, building rubble and large stones in the soil, all of which needed removing before planting began.

Tackling the weeds can be a daunting challenge and it can be very off-putting for you. Depending on your personality type you may want to tackle the whole lot of just work on a section at a time.

You may be tempted to hire a Rotavator, which can be a big time saver. The real problem with one of these is that they chop the pernicious weeds up into little pieces and spread them over your allotment. So instead of having one dandelion you end up with the roots scattered all over and lots of dandelions will grow from them. However, they are worthwhile using if you are then going to clear the allotment properly. Some people will remove weeds like dandelions and thistles by hand before using the Rotavator in order to avoid this problem.

A good technique is to cover your plot with thick black plastic, cardboard or old carpet. This will suppress the weeds and make it easier to manage, though remember to weigh it down with bricks so that it does not blow away. Plastic is the best material to use as it does not degrade and is re-usable, but it will have to spend money to buy it!

Cardboard is a good material and you are likely able to get this free from a shop near you. This will break down after a year in to the soil and will cause no damage or problems. Carpet you can get free from a carpet fitters as they will be happy to give you old carpets they have lifted from houses. However, carpet will last for about a year before it starts being absorbed into the soil and weeds growing though it, which is problematical. Carpet is not very good for your soil and does not break down very well so if you are using it then you need to clear the area before the carpet starts going funny.

My personal approach has been to clear an area, plant it and then move on to the next area. It appeals to my mindset and the time I have available, plus it means I am getting results. Once an area is clear it gets tackled with a hoe two or three times a week to keep the weeds down. This is really important as otherwise the weeds will take over and you will be right back at the beginning.

When you are clearing an area you need to dig a good spade’s depth down and turn the soil. Break up the lump of soil, carefully avoiding damaging any dandelion/thistle/dock roots, and remove all the weeds and stones. The weeds can be composted and the stones disposed of. With large tap roots you will want to dispose of them rather than compost them as in most compost heaps they will not break down enough to stop them from rooting when the compost is used.

With grass, clover and groundsel you can remove the roots from the soil and then dig the weed in. It will break down and provide some nutrients for your soil.

If your allotment has brambles or nettles then you will need to dig out the roots and dispose of them. The nettles can be used to make nettle tea but the brambles are worth disposing of rather than composting.

You may be tempted to use a weed killer on your allotment though you are best not to. A weed killer will effect the plants you are growing, though if you are not planning on planting for some time you can probably get away with it as the chemicals will have gone by the time you plant (but the weeds may come back). Check your allotment society rules though as many do not permit the use of chemicals so you may have to go organic. You can make your own weed killer and use that if you prefer.

Once the ground is broken up and the weeds removed then you can dig in some fertilizer. A well rotted manure (horse or chicken is great) or other compost will be perfect and will ensure the soil is full of nutrients. In all likelihood the soil is going to be good because it hasn’t been grown in, but it is worth ensuring it has plenty of food for your plants.

When your allotment is dug over you are then ready to plant. Just make sure you take the time two or three times a week to hoe your allotment to keep the weeds down. It ensures the whole plot stays manageable and that the weeds do not crowd out your plants.

Do you need or want areas for:

  • Fruit
  • Veg
  • Herbs
  • Flowers
  • Seating
  • (Huts or greenhouses if allowed) we aren’t
  • Paths, so you can get to your produce to weed and take a wheelbarrow along them.
  • Compost and/or water butts (you may have water on site near you too)
  • Somewhere to store your tools (you may have a central shed for this)

How you decide on and arrange this will be determined by your own personal preferences and needs. See my starting an allotment page for ideas.

A good rule of thumb is a permanent place for your fruit.

Veg usually takes up most of the space. You need at least enough beds to do a minimum of a three though preferably four year crop rotation so that you do not encourage disease and pests. So you will need equal size beds for this so your crops can be rotated.

Herbs are an important part of some peoples cooking so you may like to grow the ones you use.

Some people like cut flowers some use them to attract useful bees and insects to their other produce.

Seating is a matter of preference and plot size. Fro me seating is vital as I love to sit and think, I need a break and it helps me relax. Just a couple of chairs is enough.

If you have a small plot you may want to keep hut and green houses to a minimum as they take up a lot of space. We aren’t allowed them on our site and to be honest my plot is far too small for anything other than basic tool storage.

Paths are important as you have to be able to move about your plot. I inherited a central one so decided to keep it at least for a time. A good idea may be just to see how it goes or to experiment. Maybe just split your plot with seating, fruit, and veg.

Water may save you carting a heavy watering can to your plot from the water supply. A compost bin may be something you want to save you buying compost, though your site should have somewhere for weeds that cannot or should not be composted.

Site Location & Direction

Plants

Last but definitely not least is what plants you want to grow. You probably have a good idea already. You need to know what will grow easily, how much space it takes up and if you are trying to save money is it really worth the effort.

You will need a list of veg, fruit, herbs and flowers as well as knowing how long they are in the ground for.

I did fruit first as that is the biggest commitment.

Popular fruits include

  • Raspberry
  • Loganberry
  • Tayberry
  • Blackberry
  • Currents, black, white and red
  • Melons

Gardening Gets Geeky – Online Allotment Planners

Posted on January 14, 2011 by Jono in the allotment years with

I love a bit of allotment geek. Last weekend, I borrowed a surveyor’s wheel, and took precise measurements of my plot, ready to start this year’s plan. Then I found something tremendous – online allotment planners.

For 2011 at least, pen and paper is out, point and click is in. I found three neat planners, each with their own elements of electronic charm, and enough variety to get us all dragging and dropping.

If you happen to be a square-foot gardener, then the free Kitchen Garden Planner could be for you. The Planner kindly tells you how many of the 54 veg available will fit tidily in each square foot block, and provides you with sowing instructions to boot.

Pick your vegetable, move it to where you fancy planting, and that’s all there is to it. In fact, a whole plot plan could be done and dusted in 10 minutes.

There’s no metric option for us pesky kids, but you can edit the veg names to remember seed types.

And best of all, it won’t cost you a – er – bean.

Should you be more concerned with creating pretty Alys Fowler-inspired garden-allotment hybrids or finding a nice home for your chickens than the size of your yield, try the Garden Planner 2.5.

For £15, you get all manner of items to add to your lovely plan, including animals, furniture, ponds and shed welcome mats. There are a few vegetables to sow in amongst the beautifulness, but you don’t get any growing instructions.

It does look nice though. I’d frame the plan of my shed area (above) and stick it on my wall.

For full-on geekiness, it’s got to be the growveg.com Garden Planner (below). You have to draw the chickens yourself, but the stack of features makes up for this.

As well as growing advice, crop family groups and a choice of 130 vegetables, fruits and herbs, you can use the view by month option, which is especially handy for efficient succession planting.

The planner will also estimate how many plants you can cram in to a row, before creating you a planting plan adapted to your own regional climate and setting up a email reminders in case you’re the forgetful type.

There is an annual subscription of £15, but if you’re a beginner or looking maximise your harvest, then this planner is perfect.

However, be warned, these tools come with consequences. They’re highly addictive. I’ve spent a week messing about already. My lovely girlfriend is proposing No Computer Nights. You may lose your partner, and your social life.

On the bright side, you won’t go hungry.

Tagged alys fowler, garden planner 2.5, geeky, growveg.com, kitchen garden planner, online allotment planning, plot planning, square feet gardening

Allotment year planner

An allotment isn’t just a space for you to grow fruit and vegetables. It’s also a place where you can relax, be part of a community and get some exercise. With luck, patience and hard work, you’ll be rewarded with delicious, home-grown crops, not to mention the satisfaction of having raised them yourself.

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Browse our collection of inspirational ideas and practical advice on maintaining your allotment, below:

Starting an allotment

Woman in Vegetable Garden with Pet Labrador Dog, Getty Images.

If you’ve never had an allotment before, taking one on can seem a bit daunting. Vacant allotment plots are rarely weed-free and ready to plant up. You may need to spend weeks digging out stubborn bramble, horsetail and couch grass. You might need to build or repair an existing shed or greenhouse, or import masses of manure to improve tired soil. But where to begin? Don’t worry, help is at hand. Follow our tips on getting started, below.

  • How to start an allotment
  • Tips on allotment etiquette
  • Essential kit for the veg plot
  • How to grow veg plugs

Your allotment year

Planting broad beans

The key to a successful allotment is to not take on more than you have the time for. It can take years to hone the skills and discipline needed to juggle the sowing of different crops, weeding, planting out, controlling pests and managing harvests.

Start with a few choice crops and see how you get on, then gradually increase your workload as you become more experienced. Stay organised, with the help of our monthly lists of allotment jobs:

  • Allotment jobs for February
  • Allotment jobs for March
  • Allotment jobs for April
  • Allotment jobs for May
  • Allotment jobs for June
  • Allotment jobs for July
  • Allotment jobs for August
  • Allotment jobs for September
  • Allotment jobs for October
  • Allotment jobs for November
  • Allotment jobs for December

Weeding

Weeding among brassicas

Keeping on top of weeding is one of the most important jobs on the allotment. Weeds often grow faster than vegetable crops and can out-compete them for water, nutrients and light. Regularly removing weeds will ensure your crops have everything they need to grow. What’s more, removing weeds when they’re young will save hours of back-breaking labour later on.

  • How to identify weed seedlings
  • Four ways to use a hoe
  • Weeding without chemicals
  • How to weed by hand
  • Dealing with annual and perennial weeds

Feeding edible crops

Gardener making a liquid feed for plants

Fruit and vegetable crops are hungry and will need a good balance of nutrients to thrive. We explain how to feed the soil, make your own organic liquid feeds and compost kitchen and garden waste:

  • How to make a comfrey feed
  • How to make a nettle feed
  • How to use plant feeds
  • How to improve your soil
  • How to make compost

Pest control

Gardener removing snail from plant

Allotment pests include slugs and snails, aphids, caterpillars of the large and small white butterflies, and birds. Find out how to deter, control and minimise the damage caused by pests, below.

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  • How to stop slugs eating young plants
  • Dealing with aphids
  • How to deter carrot root fly
  • Controlling cabbage white butterflies

How to plan an allotment

Allotments are wonderful things, but they must be cared for and nurtured in order to get the best out of them. The type of soil you have, the way the sun hits your plot and direction of the wind will all play a part in the types of plants you’ll be able to grow. It is often worth having a chat with some of the longer established allotment holders as they will know instantly what does and doesn’t work on your site, thus saving you time and effort.

If however you need to clear your site of weeds before you can even see the soil, then we recommend not using a rotavator as some weeds, particularly the more persistent (couch grass, docks, nettles, bindweed) will be chopped up and will spread and multiply as a result. It may seem tedious, but cut your weeds back to stubble height and then dig them out, also regularly hoeing in dry weather is the best way to kill off weeds.

Traditionally allotments are set in rows, on a three year crop rotation system (brassicas, roots and then ‘other veg’), but today the style of allotment planting is much looser – with people choosing to mix up their beds, breaking up the formality of the rows. It is really up to the gardener to choose what works well for them, but the notion of rotating your crops is worth sticking to – as it helps to keep the soil in good condition and certain types of pests and diseases at bay.

It is also worth considering what type of crops you intend to grow, as some will take years to establish and will need a bed to themselves for the duration of their life (and as such will not be included in the rotation system) – for example, asparagus beds can last up to 20 years, cane and bush fruit are long term fixtures, requiring cages and netting, while fruit trees can outlive many generations of plot holder. Perennials such as rhubarb and globe artichokes also need to be thought about.

If your soil isn’t ideal, or you’re not sure the land you’re growing on has been treated well in the past, then raised beds are an excellent option. They allow you to access your crops easily, especially handy for weeding and watering and you can choose the type of soil you want to grow in.

Click here to download the NAS leaflet on this subject

for help designing a children’s allotment

Taking on an allotment for the first time is exciting and scary. I know because I’ve just done it – I’ve had my first allotment for a year and guess what, it was fine 🙂 Yours will be too. Below are some of my tips for allotment newbies to help speed you on your way to fruit and veg success!

1) Spend ages planning the layout

I excitedly drew my allotment on paper but on reflection and discussing it with more experienced allotmenteers, I changed it to the one above. Thankful I hadn’t planted anything already. It pays to spend as long as possible planning the layout, thinking about how you’ll use it practically across the year. E.g. My first plan had 7 small beds for good crop rotation. But this wasted some space and created more paths than necessary which would be a pain weaving in and out with a wheelbarrow. Instead I created three long beds and paths right the way across.

2) Wonders of weeding

In my first winter I got down on my knees and hand weeded the entire plot. It’s more enjoyable than it sounds and it’s paid off big time for two reasons. 1) using a fork to loosen soil and then a handfork to get the weeds out meant their roots were out properly so I barely had any weeds there for the rest of the year 2) I learnt to love the wonderful plants that weeds are, and I recognise them all – knowing the plants you don’t want on the allotment as much as the ones you do is important. In future you’ll know what’s a weed seedling and what’s not, you’ll also know which to worry about and which to go “meh whatever” to. (I’ve since written this book about weeds!)

3) Perennial produce

Busy busy. Our lives are busy. I don’t live near my allotment so can only visit once a week really, twice if I’m lucky. From the outset I was looking at ways to minimise workload and maximise food output. Perennial plants that don’t need to be grown from seed every year really help. E.g. super dwarf Apple trees on M27 rootstock (they have to be small to not anger neighbour allotment holders), Asparagus (they take up quite a bit of space but are expensive in shops and last for decades), Artichokes, Raspberries, Rhubarb, herbs like Rosemary etc. They still need maintenance, but you’re not repotting and digging.

4) Organic aims but you don’t have to be strict

While I’m not an organic gardening preacher, I do advocate striving for organic practices and using chemicals only as a very last resort. This is really just common sense because 1) chemicals are generally unnecessary and expensive – you don’t need them 2) I really want my veg and fruit to be as pure and natural as they can be when grown in a polluted mega city like London 3) I respect nature too much and don’t want to cause an imbalance in the ecosystem within my allotment (which in the long run balances out the problems itself). Personally, I barely ever use chemicals when gardening at all (once a year or every two years) so I’m confident my produce is organically grown. That said, I will carefully use Glyphosate weed killer on very tough weeds like bindweed making sure it only goes on that one plant I remove when dead. I never, ever use pesticide.

5) Get rid of old equipment and plants

What I was met with on my first day at the allotment

When I arrived on my plot (above) there was loads of equipment which was cool… Not. At first I thought this would all prove useful and how handy to have all of this stuff. So wrong. For one, most of it was broken, it’s also largely unnecessary (see the next point!) If your plot is full of equipment, give it a once over to check for any golden nuggets but otherwise, take it to the tip immediately. Get it out of there and release your land for a clean start! I’ve been unlucky and have 3×3 m of metal junk that couldn’t be burnt on site. I still don’t know how to get rid of it (without a car of my own). Oh yeah, get rid of the plants too. It’s better to know exactly what plants you have. So although I had rhubarb and raspberries on my plot, I’d rather know what variety they are. My advice? Get rid, start again.

6) You don’t need that much equipment

Now my allotment is largely made up of plain beds to grow plants in

I thought I would need loads of tools and a greenhouse to grow all of my plants. In reality my allotment is now bare of all equipment except a tiny shed and I only ever really use a fork, spade, hoe, secateurs, hand trowel and hand fork. And a good pair of thin gardening gloves. You don’t need to grow your plants from seed either, plugs from a nursery make things so much easier. That said, I do grow everything from seed or cutting because I am interested in how plants grow – and I was amazed to fill an entire 125m squared allotment with the seedlings grown only in our little flat’s front window. It still amazes me now thinking about it! Gardening can be very space efficient.

7) Be selective about the plants you grow

I spend months choosing the plants I will grow in gardens and that includes my allotment. Winter is exciting because it’s about dreaming, planning and yes, shopping! Get that credit card ready people cos it’s time for some retail therapy. But don’t just go to a nursery and buy whatever is there. Be selective. Have a plan in place for the exact plants you want and only buy those. For example, look for disease resistant seed varieties and F1 cultivars which are generally strong growers due to their hybrid vigour. It’s better to have a shopping list for most of the year to buy them all in one go than to waste time and money buying a bit of this and a bit of that. Personally, I only buy from the very best nurseries and suppliers where I can be sure I know exactly what I am buying. It pays off in the end.

8) Let’s talk about quantities

Limit yourself to the number of veg and fruit types you grow. Learn from my mistake! I went crazy and bought tonnes of varieties and types of veg. This created loads of unnecessary work in caring for all the different types of plants and meant we had small quantities of each type. That was fine at the time because I was learning about lots of veg intentionally. Next year however I will limit myself to fewer types of veg and grow much higher quantities of the ones we like. We just didn’t have enough carrots for instance and I was lured into growing the trendy purple ones (which are gross). It sounds obvious now but you need far fewer plants and space for those that produce lots of veg on one plant (like French beans), and you need a great number of carrot plants and space when you only have one root per plant.

9) Harvesting

Going into my allotment I was so focussed on the sowing and growing I didn’t give enough thought to the picking, storing and cooking. I hadn’t appreciated that many vegetables and fruit have a limited 1 – 2 day window when they are perfect for eating – very difficult when I was down there only once or twice a week. In particular raspberries, courgettes, broccoli and beans. On one Saturday they wouldn’t be ready, then the following Saturday they’d gone past their best. I’ll be hotter this year on predicting the picking days.

10) Learn from the best

You can just get stuck into gardening without any experience (it’s the best way to learn) but reading about gardening is enjoyable and will speed you along to success much faster. We’ve only got so many seasons on this planet afterall, don’t waste one. I was studying RHS Level 2 (the GCSE equivalent horticulture course) which teaches everything you need to know about plant growth and problems. However I learnt a great deal more practical and personal experience from the books Gardening at Longmeadow by Monty Don, The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz and The Allotment Book by Andi Clevely. I also watch Gardeners World and Beechgrove garden every week which are great for learning the ropes and weekly reminders.

11) Think about the seasons

The first thing I was taught by my friend Philippa Gould at my local community garden, Eden in Clapham, is that you can be growing something every month of the year, even in winter. Winter broadbeans, peas and garlic. Most brassicas are planted in early summer but are harvested through winter (like brussels, kale and broccoli). If you are lucky to have a greenhouse you can even keep the salad leaves going into the depths of the dark winter days.

12) At one with the earth

Know and protect your soil. The soil of your allotment is the giant battery that powers all of your plant growth. Understand what it consists of (sand, clay, silt – a mix?), how fertile it is, how freely it drains water, does it have lots of lovely air pockets and a nice uncompacted structure. I don’t dig over my allotment because I feel the worms do a good enough job of that. But, to keep things simple for fellow newbies: 1) don’t tread on soil you’re growing on as it will squash the air pockets out and block root growth 2) replenish its nutrients annually with a thick layer of peat free compost or well rotted manure 3) watch it carefully through the year to understand how it holds water 4) rotate crops every year, never growing the same (except those perennials!) crops in the same place to prevent pest and disease build up.

13) Talk to me

… and to others 🙂 Allotmenteers are a friendly bunch and only too happy to help answer questions. I’m here if you ever need me, and there are lots of other grow your own newbies muddling through to make their allotments work. No one knows everything because it’s impossible to know everything about plants in one life time. That’s the joy. Have fun and good luck!

This simple cane and coke bottle netting structure has protected my brassicas perfectly – allotmenting can be simple 🙂

Starting an Allotment: Top Tips and Tricks

Interestingly, “Under the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act, where there is demand, it is the duty of the local authority to provide residents registered on the electoral roll with allotment space. The Act even gives local authorities the power to compulsorily acquire land for allotments, if they don’t have sufficient already.” So why not apply to your local council for an allotment space? They are relatively inexpensive, and you can save more money by taking on plots that may be overgrown or lack running water.

There are numerous advantages to having an allotment. Not only can they potentially save you a great deal of money on fruit and vegetables (as prices for allotments are notoriously low), they are a great way of meeting people who share a common interest (there is usually an association connected to a group of allotments that provides extra social opportunities), they also keep you fit with all that digging, bending and stretching!

Allotment plots are 250 sq m, so a large undertaking indeed. Do you have the time and dedication to work a plot of this size? Sometimes councils offer half-sized allotments which may be a good compromise? Otherwise perhaps think about purchasing a shared plot with a group of local gardening enthusiasts like yourself?

It may be better to wait for a good, well-tended plot to come up (and these waiting times can be lengthy) than to take on an allotment. Allotments can require huge amounts of physical work, which can be extremely rewarding but also challenging.

There are some important factors to consider when choosing your perfect allotment, whatever your timescale:

  • Does the allotment have a regular supply of water? This could be quite essential to you.
  • Check regulations and investigate what may or may not be allowed within the terms of the lease. Are you allowed to plant fruit trees, to have Greenhouses, Garden Sheds, polytunnels etc., and do the terms of the lease suit your requirement?
  • What tools will you need to invest in? A larger plot and more ambitious gardening may require different tools than you use in your everyday garden.
  • If you are hoping to achieve social benefits from your new plot it may be a good idea to liaise with the other gardeners before deciding on an allotment.
  • It is also worth checking if the site is regularly vandalised… save yourself trouble later on by thoroughly investigating this before purchase.

Hopefully there is a suitable plot near you, and you are able to proceed with the allotment dream!

Preparations

It is preferable to clear your allotment of any existing unwanted matter, (trees, overgrowth and rubble) during winter so that the ground is ready for planting or sowing in the spring. If it is not possible to do this during winter, then make sure to be careful of disturbing or harming animals, birds and insects below all of the spring and summer overgrowth.

After clearing, bring your plot up to top spec by digging or rotating some organic matter into the soil – this will aid the growth of your chosen crop. Before you do this however, you will need to test the soil’s pH. You can buy a simple kit from any garden centre. Alternatively you can try Amazon or www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk.

A pH of 6.5 is ideal for most crops or plants that you may choose to grow. Nutrient and bacterial content is at its peak at this reading, as well as earthworm activity.

You may want to try adding lime if the soil is too acidic (really below pH 6.1), or sulphur and iron sulphate if the soil is too alkaline (anything above pH 7.1).

You should fit your allotment with all the essentials you require. A water butt, a secure shed or maybe a greenhouse, a compost bin, gardening seat, even a compost toilet is a worthy consideration.

Many of the decisions you make will depend on what you want to do with your allotment. Will it be a nice place for you to sit and escape, surrounded by flowers? Or will it be more of a “Good Life” scenario, with the dream of self-sufficiency on the horizon!

Having completed these steps, you are now ready to sow or plant!

Lets Grow!

Those who are primarily looking to grow vegetables should consider crop rotation. You should look to change or move the crops that you grow from one site to another annually for several different reasons:

  • Different crops have different nutritional requirements. Changing and rotating annually reduces the risk of soil becoming deficient in these specific nutrients.
  • Crops with a lot of foliage stop weeds from growing, so when they are rotated between several planting spots there is a reduction in the maintenance required where they were previously grown.
  • Diseases and pests attack specific plants and over time these diseases and pests become resistant to their treatment. Rotation ensures that they disappear or lessen during the absence of their host plant, meaning that there is not an overly hazardous build up of particular pests, diseases and toxins.

– To make rotation easier you should divide your allotment into evenly sized spaces, leaving space for relatively permanent crops like asparagus or rhubarb and flowers or trees if you are growing these too.

Useful Links and Information

The National Society for Allotments and Leisure Gardens (www.nsalg.org.uk) have even more useful information for those wishing to start an allotment, and will keep you up to date throughout the year.

Some seed suppliers are willing to offer you free samples as an incentive to join the allotment movement. Try, www.growfruitandveg.co.uk where you will also find lots of useful hints and tips!

Our Online Garden Building Planner tool allows you to custom design your own Garden Sheds, buildings and workshops, allowing you to create your ideal allotment aid. Additionally, we will provide an immediate quote which you can amend as often as you choose. All of our luxury Garden Buildings are bespoke to your requirements – and are also delivered and installed free of charge.

Alternatively, if you would prefer to speak to someone directly, please do contact us, and one of our team will be more than happy to talk through your requirements with you. If you would prefer to experience the luxury service we provide first-hand, you can visit one of our Nationwide Show Centres.

  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.

  • Nurture your love affair with the great outdoors with these allotment ideas. Our tips on preparation and planting will help you get the most of your precious plot.

    There’s nothing more satisfying than growing your own organic fruit and veg, and it can be easier than you think. All you need is a bit of time, patience and a small plot of land.

    If you don’t have much of a garden – or it’s been taken over by the kids’ trampoline/climbing frame/football pitch (delete as appropriate) – an allotment can offer the perfect place to develop your passion. This Monday 14th August marks the start of National Allotments Week 2017, when open events will be held across the country, giving the public the chance to find out more.

    Check if your local allotment is hosting one by visiting the National Allotment Society website.

    And if you are bitten by the allotment bug, our friends The Greenhouse People have come up with these top tips for allotment newbies.

    Need convincing? Read 9 reasons why everyone should have an allotment

    1. It’s all in the planning

    With all the excitement that comes with getting your new plot, sometimes the planning stages can be cut short. Before digging, it’s vital to draw up a plan on paper, bearing in mind the type of soil you have, the way the sun hits your plot, the wind direction and where you need access pathways.

    Equip yourself with good quality gardening tools (i.e. fork, spade, wheelbarrow, gloves and storage) and don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead. A wild allotment plot is a sign your ground is fertile…but wait for a rain shower to dampen the soil before you start digging!

    Top tip Try to speak to more experienced allotmenteers who will know instantly what does and doesn’t work, saving you time and effort. You’ll also gain a green-fingered friend who can help you through your first year.

    2. Stock up on perennials

    These crafty plants are perfect for allotment beginners. Literally meaning ‘through the years’, perennial fruits and herbs should live more than two years, returning each spring from their rootstock. Typical perennials include tomatoes, strawberries, garlic, basil and blueberries.

    Top tip Perennials’ hearty growth can deplete the nutrients in the soil. Keep up its quality with compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Don’t be tempted to remove the dead foliage during winter – this will attract small insects and give back nutrients to the soil without you lifting a finger.

    Like getting your hands dirty? Read How to start a compost pile – feed your garden for free

    3. Try companion planting

    Companion planting is key to making the most out of your space and the ensuring the quality of your produce. Certain complementary plants forge mutually beneficial relationships, helping to repel pests, improve pollination and provide nutrients.

    For example:

    • Lettuces, radishes and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or squash will mature and be harvested long before the vines need more room.
    • Leafy greens such as spinach grow well in the shadow of corn.

    Top tip Growing members of the same ‘family’ close together increases competition for soil nutrients. Disperse onions, chives, leeks and garlic across your plot, instead of keeping them close together.

    4. Consider the great British weather

    Sometimes unpredictable sunny, rainy or frosty spells can let us down, and jeopardising the plant projects we’ve nurtured so tirelessly.

    However, adding a greenhouse means you can ignore and evade almost all seasonal changes and weather conditions throughout the year. Extreme temperatures, excessive rain or droughts will not cause any serious problems to greenhouse gardening efforts, giving your much-needed flexibility when it comes to any forms of complementary gardening.

    Top tip Adding an electric or gas heater, along with overhead lighting, to your greenhouse can extend the growing period for warm season plants for even longer.

    5. Call on some herb heroes

    Read more: 10 herbs that will attract bees into your garden this summer

    Video Of The Week

    Planting herbs throughout your plot can help to repel insects with their strongly scented leaves. Sage repels cabbage moths and French Marigolds (above) are great to grow with tomatoes, because their strong scent wards off aphids. They’re also very pretty.

    The benefits extend beyond protection, as the addition of herbs can enhance the flavours of other plants too. For example, growing basil alongside tomatoes and lettuce enhances the flavour of both.

    Top tip If you grow the herb wormwood, you can make a tea that, when poured on plants, repels slugs.

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