- Brief history of allotments
- What is an allotment?
- Rents and Tenancy Agreements
- Waiting lists
- How to Apply for a London Allotment
- Applying for an Allotment
- Allotment Tips
- Amazing Allotment Facts
- An allotment guide for beginners
- A helping hand
- Dig for treasure in your new allotment garden
- Draw up an allotment plan
- Get a shed
- Don’t fall foul of Allotment Envy
- 10 best gardening books
- 1. RHS Great British Village Show by Matthew Biggs and Thane Prince: £20, DK
- 2. Small Garden by John Brookes: £16.99, DK
- 3. Vegetable Growing Month by Month by John Harrison: £5.99, Right Way
- 4. The Ultimate Guide to Roses by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix: £20, Pan Macmillan
- 5. Our Plot by Cleve West: £20, Frances Lincoln Publishers
- 6. Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury: £30, Timber Press
- 7. Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs by John G Hillier and Roy Lancaster: £19.99, Royal Horticultural Society
- 8. Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell and Ben Russell: £16.99, Frances Lincoln Publishers
- 9. New Wild Garden: Natural-Style Planting and Practicalities by Ian Hodgson: £25, Frances Lincoln Publishers
- 10. The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd: £16.99, W&N
- The Verdict: Gardening books
- Greenhouse Gardening – A Beginners Guide To Growing Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round
- Ultimate Beginners Guide to Starting an Allotment
- Getting an Allotment
- A Year on the Allotment
- Regular Jobs in the Allotments
- Is An Allotment Worth It?
- Allotment Rules and Regulations
- What is an allotment?
- How to get an allotment
- Know what you’re allowed to do
- How to start your allotment
- Looking after your allotment
- What time of year should you start an allotment?
- And there you have it…
Brief history of allotments
What is an allotment?
Allotments have been in existence for hundreds of years, with evidence pointing back to Anglo-Saxon times. But the system we recognise today has its roots in the Nineteenth Century, when land was given over to the labouring poor for the provision of food growing. This measure was desperately needed thanks to the rapid industrialisation of the country and the lack of a welfare state. In 1908 the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, placing a duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments, according to demand. However it wasn’t until the end of the First World War that land was made available to all, primarily as a way of assisting returning service men (Land Settlement Facilities Act 1919) instead of just the labouring poor. The rights of allotment holders in England and Wales were strengthened through the Allotments Acts of 1922, but the most important change can be found in the Allotments Act of 1925 which established statutory allotments which local authorities could not sell off or covert without Ministerial consent, known as Section 8 Orders. In Scotland the Community Empowerment Act came in to force on 1 April 2018 and updates and simplifies legislation on allotments. It requires local authorities to maintain waiting lists and take reasonable steps to provide allotments if the waiting lists exceed certain trigger points. It also strengthens the protection for allotments and clarifies the rights of local authorities and plot holders. Provisions allow allotments to be 250 square metres in size or a different size that is to be agreed between the person requesting an allotment and the local authority. The Act also requires fair rents to be set and allows tenants to sell surplus produce grown on an allotment (other than with a view to making a profit). There is a requirement for local authorities to develop a food growing strategy for their area, including identifying land that may be used as allotment sites and identifying other areas of land that could be used by a community for the cultivation of vegetables, fruit, herbs or flowers. in Northern Ireland councils can provide allotments but do not have a statutory duty to do so. Further legislation has been listed over the intervening years which have affected allotments, the latest of which is the Localism Act 2011.
Rents and Tenancy Agreements
As allotments are leased from landlords, allotment holders are required to pay rent. This money is used to cover the water rates and general maintenance bills. This rent can be anything from a peppercorn amount through to £100 a year per plot holder, but most are in the region of £25 -£125 each. Despite there being legal statutes relating to allotments, nowhere do they state how much rent should be charged or collected, instead general terminology is used, citing that the rent to should be a ‘reasonable amount’ which the ‘tenant would expect to pay’.
Allotment holders, and in turn the local allotment societies they form, are obliged to sign a tenancy agreement which outlines what is expected of them by the landlord. These agreements cover the rent due, the kind of activities which can take place on the land, the building of sheds, subletting issues, as well as the general behaviour of the plot holders. A Tenancy Agreement dating back to 1846 serving the Parish of Husbands Bosworth states “Every occupier is expected to attend divine service on Sundays; and any occupier who digs potatoes or otherwise works on his land on Sunday shall immediately forfeit the same.” Things have changed a little in the last 150 years, as Sunday’s are now the most popular gardening day of the week.
IN 2009, 2011 and 2013 the Society, with the support of Transition Kirby undertook an Allotment Waiting List Survey. The latest survey in 2013 surveyed all 323 English principal authorities and 321 responded. The main findings were that 67% of the authorities held waiting list data and an average of 52 people were waiting for every 100 plots.
Waiting lists are essential to assess demand for plots and to ensure financial viability of sites. The Society would not recommend ever closing lists. We have no plans at present to repeat the surveys, we believe that there will always be fluctuations in demand but not the huge swings of the past.
The Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) survey their members each year (140 responses) and, in the 2018 State of the Market Report (Allotments), they reported that the demand for allotments is still high. Over 40% of respondents stated that over 18 months was the average waiting time for a plot, which is a significant drop from 2017 when the figure was 52%. 9% of respondents could guarantee a plot within 6 months which is a considerable decrease on 2017 when the figure was 20%. The average waiting time is now between 6-18 months (47%). Under 5 % of respondents can offer an allotment plot within 3 months.
In the above report 36% of respondents stated that their council plans to increase the number of allotments; either directly by the council or via builders/developers as part of housing/planning policy.
How to Apply for a London Allotment
One of the biggest drawbacks for many people living in the big city is the lack of garden space and outdoor areas to fulfill their love of gardening and green-fingered endeavours. Sizeable gardens are in short supply for most folk in London, meaning the demand for allotments is permanently high. So we have put together a short guide on securing a London allotment, tips for when you secure one and a few facts to back it all up.
Applying for an Allotment
All allotments in the UK are controlled by local councils, so you have to go through official channels to secure a plot of land for your gardening passion. By visiting the Government’s allotment application webpage, you can find your local council’s relevant application page.
The majority of local councils will ask you to complete a form, before considering your request. The questions in the form may include the plot size you require, the location of the plot and whether you require disabled access. Additionally, some councils may enquire as to why you are seeking an allotment.
Allotment costs vary in price depending upon the size and location. As a rough guide, allotments in the Royal Borough of Greenwich cost £100 per 125 square metres for residents of the borough, and £200 per year for out of borough residents.
When applying for an allotment, preference is often given to residents of the council or borough in which the plot is based – so it’s always better to apply for a location close to home.
It is highly likely that your first job after securing your allotment will be clearing the plot after the previous user has shut up shop. It is advisable to get the plot cleared by early spring, as this is the best time to start planting and sowing. If you are facing a race against time, the allotment management team may be able to lend a hand, or you may be forced to call upon any loyal friends in the local area.
When the plot is clear, it is always a good idea to test the pH of the soil so you can determine whether any lime or treatments need to be added. This can be done by using a pH meter , such as this one we stock from Botanico, Most vegetables will grow in a pH between 6.0 TO 7.5.
It is also worth lining the allotment with important additions such as composts bins and a shed. A There may be a communal compost heap so check this out before buying your own bin. After testing the soil, now you can select the perfect crops to be grown on the allotment – so you can start splitting the plot according to the fruit, veg and herbs you want to plant.
Remember to find a source for watering your plot, if lucky there should be a communal water tap which if you are even luckier is in range of a hose. If not the fellow holders should have organised a communal dip tank which allows watering cans to be used.
Amazing Allotment Facts
Allotments have long been part of the UK culture, helping agricultural societies prosper and grow – here are a few facts about allotments and their history.
- UK allotments can trace their roots back to Anglo Saxon times
- The current system was implemented in 19th century when plots were given to the poor to provide space to grow food
- The National Allotment Society estimate there are currently around 330,000 allotment plots in the UK
- However, they also believe there are currently around 90,000 people on the waiting list
- At the height of allotment popularity, there were roughly 1.5 million plots in the UK
If you are looking to get started on your own allotment plot, Capital Gardens stock a huge range of bulbs, seeds, tools and more to help you on your way. For a full range of products, visit our homepage, call our team on 0208 874 2037 or visit one of our three garden centres in the capital.
Image credits: Mark Hardley
An allotment guide for beginners
Sitting on a council allotment list, waiting for a plot to become available, can be a long, drawn-out affair. It took us four years of thumb-twiddling before our local allotment committee foolishly allowed us to take charge of our own plot – but at this time of year you might find yourself moving up a little quicker on the list. We are entering peak growing season, a time when many, once keen allotment holders, realise they can’t put in the hours required to maintain their patch and decide to jack it in, leaving behind nothing but muddy tears and waist-high weeds. For an average sized plot, you are looking at around 4-5 working hours a week to keep it properly maintained. Taking on an allotment garden is no small task. For the aspiring vegetablist, a plot presented to them midsummer can be rather overwhelming. Here’s our allotment guide for beginners to get you up and running.
A helping hand
You may well luck out and find yourself inheriting a fairly together, tidy-looking plot, but chances are you’ll be given an overgrown piece of land in need of urgent attention. Before you hire a rotavator and fire up the strimmer, check with your local council. Some councils will offer a ‘free of charge’ service to clear any existing rubbish and will cut back overgrown areas in lieu of your tenancy. To hit the ground running (and to cut out a lot of back-breaking work) it might be prudent to take them up on the offer.
Dig for treasure in your new allotment garden
Before you (or the council) wreak havoc with a fork, look carefully and you may well discover some horticultural gems hidden amongst the undergrowth of an abandoned plot. Plants to save from the spade are established raspberries and gooseberries; in fact, any berry-bearing bush is a keeper. Pray to the god of overpriced veg if you discover a patch of asparagus spearing skywards – this gives you a three-year head start on planting from scratch. And don’t be too hasty with plants that may be considered undesirable to entertain on a traditional allotment. Our own plot backs on to a native hedge, which we’ve mostly cut back, but have left a dog rose to ramble and dangle its fruits over our side. We’ll be turning those into rosehip syrup come autumn. And although it’s a tricky one to explain to the council allotment inspector, leaving a patch of nettles untouched will provide a valuable feeding and breeding habitat for insects. Also: nettle beer is GREAT.
Draw up an allotment plan
One of the most important steps in our allotment guide for beginners is to plan before you plant. Assign designated areas for composting – and if your local council allows – a place to make a bonfire on which to incinerate weeds and toast marshmallows. Don’t forget a seating area from which to survey your plot and to slurp refreshing beverages, but most important of all, don’t give yourself too much to do in your first year. Allotment gardens are hard work, especially when starting from scratch. Dig out a small area and focus on a couple of crops for starters, covering over the rest of the plot with a weed proof membrane. Ease yourself in to allotment life, just as you would a hot bath.
Get a shed
Not only does a shed stake your claim on your new allotment garden plot, it announces to your fellow allotment chums that you mean business. It’ll also provide shelter should it start bucketing down with rain whilst you’re on site, and provides a place to stash a few garden essentials, such as trowels, twine and the odd long handled tool. Just don’t keep anything in there that you wouldn’t want to lose – isolated allotment sheds can prove to be thief magnets. When your shed is up and running, install a water butt and guttering. Many allotments will have their water supply (if provided) turned off during droughts, so a butt or two will ensure you won’t get caught high and dry.
Don’t fall foul of Allotment Envy
Wandering around the plots of a mature allotment can often be dispiriting, especially for the greenhorn gardener. It’s difficult not to become envious of other folks plump, bounteous vegetables, glistening in the sunlight. Just remember that the most pristine Gardens of Eden on which your eyes reside are most likely owned by retired folk who can devote most of their days to keeping them in tip-top condition. Take inspiration and take note. Are fruit bushes netted up? This indicates that the local pigeon population is abundant. Is there low netting and chicken wire surrounding brassicas? This probably means that rabbits are rife, so protect your own crops accordingly. Are most people’s crops housed in cages? This sounds like deer. Best of luck with that one…
Obviously, the best advice will come from a good old fashioned, face-to-face chat with your fellow allotmenteers. Don’t be shy – most gardeners are a friendly bunch and will be only too happy to share their wisdom with an allotment beginner!
Are you a complete allotment newbie? Have you tried any of the tips in our allotment guide for beginners? Share your stories in the comment below.
The Two Thirsty Gardeners, Rich and Nick, are bloggers who love gardening, eating and drinking in equal measure! They love to share tales from their allotment including their experiments turning the spoils of their crops into alcohol, both the good and the bad!
To find out more about Rich and Nick,
As we are now definitely in the bleak mid winter, with the earth as hard as iron, activity on the allotment is curtailed. There is however, and will continue to be, frantic activity in the warm indoors on the allotment’s behalf.
Now is the time for planning, learning from last year and consulting the oracles from the comfort of the armchair, with a suitably warming drink in hand (see How to make Hot Toddys). That is, reading the many books we have accumulated, and referred to, over the past year. It is good to seek the advice offered in the pages and compare and contrast advice given.
So, here is my reading list, in no particular order, for Allotment Christmas, handy reads for allotmenteers and those aspiring to allotmenting.
Allotment month by month by Alan Cunningham
Royal Horticultural Society Allotment Handbook
Grow your own, Kitchen garden year (again by the RHS)
The Kitchen gardener, and or, the Gardener’s year by Alan Titchmarsh
The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler
Grow your own veg by Carol Klein
Plus, this is a book for those with grand ideas for the allotment and beyond;: The Complete guide to self sufficiency by Dick and James Strawbridge
Enjoy reading and allotmenting.
10 best gardening books
Some gardeners have shelves creaking with books and manuals, placing the answer to every question they might encounter at their fingertips, while others might rely on just one or two guides – their personal gardening bibles – never straying from the advice within.
To help you find your own gardening bible, or simply fill a gap at the end of the shelf, we’ve perused the book shops and come up with this list of ten top tomes. Most on the list are recent releases but there are also a few classics in the mix – there should be something to suit most types of gardener.
1. RHS Great British Village Show by Matthew Biggs and Thane Prince: £20, DK
For many gardeners the village show represents the pinnacle of their sowing and growing year. This book takes you behind the scenes of a very British institution, with an insight into the worlds of both contestants and judges. Garden journalist Matthew Biggs hands out insider knowledge on how to cultivate some of the most popular veg and flower exhibits, while the jam-tastic Thane Prince shares her recipes for prize-winning cakes and preserves. Whether you’re after a best-in-show rosette, or just want to know how to grow a marrow, you’ll find this book both fun and informative.
2. Small Garden by John Brookes: £16.99, DK
Long before TV makeover shows had home-owners seeing their garden as an outside room, rather than a patch of earth to fill, John Brookes was helping the nation to transform its outdoor spaces into gardens of distinction. This book, and follow-up The New Small Garden, is full of practical ideas, clear photography and instructive diagrams that help you to design your plot with ease and fill it with appropriate flora. From rooftops to basements, you’ll be able to plan, pave or plant up any small space with confidence.
3. Vegetable Growing Month by Month by John Harrison: £5.99, Right Way
John Harrison’s website is one of the most visited sites for folk with an allotment or veg patch, and this book is similarly popular for those who prefer their information in print. It’s an excellent veg growing guide, expertly explaining how to prepare soil, look after plants and keep the pests at bay. Harrison covers all the basics in a way that anyone with a plot of soil can follow and shares plenty of tips that will make your harvests the envy of your allotment neighbours.
4. The Ultimate Guide to Roses by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix: £20, Pan Macmillan
Phillips and Rix are arguably the best double act in garden reference books. We’ve picked out their classic guide to roses but you’ll find equally impressive volumes on shrubs, perennials, bulbs, herbs and more – although many are frustratingly out of print. Phillips’ photographs are presented with a designer’s eye for detail, while Rix brings some expert botanical nous to the partnership. This book contains 1,400 images, referencing roses of all types and colour with many of them in various stages of bloom, making it an invaluable resource for identification and an ideal aid to help decide which rose to plant next.
5. Our Plot by Cleve West: £20, Frances Lincoln Publishers
Clive West is an allotment advocate and in Our Plot he aids the reader in getting the most out of their own allotment with keen advice on vegetables, flowers and fruit. Throughout the book West encourages the sense of an allotment as a community hub, a place for families and friends to share experiences and have fun in a creative way. It’s a good humoured read with personal pitfalls scattered among the practical tips. Digest it, share it with your allotment chums, and watch your plot thrive.
6. Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury: £30, Timber Press
Piet Oudolf is one of the world’s leading contemporary garden designers, bringing architectural harmony to his naturalistic gardening approach through heavy use of perennial plants. This book is a real treat for anyone who wants an insight into how the mind of such a creative designer works and includes plans to some of his most famous works along with expansive photography. But unlike some designer’s portfolio pieces, this book also ably demonstrates how us amateurs can replicate similar effects in our own back garden, making it a practical and illuminating choice.
7. Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs by John G Hillier and Roy Lancaster: £19.99, Royal Horticultural Society
First published in 1971, this is an ever-expanding book, with 1,500 new species and cultivars added to its most recent edition. If you’re hoping for pretty pictures then look elsewhere: this is a proper manual, stuffed full of horticultural details on thousands of plants, proving to be an invaluable resource for even the most experienced gardeners.
8. Build a Better Vegetable Garden by Joyce Russell and Ben Russell: £16.99, Frances Lincoln Publishers
For some gardeners, building wooden structures provides them with a greater sense of achievement than cultivating the plants that grow in and around them. This new book contains 30 practical projects – from fruit cage to boot cleaner – that will keep anyone with a saw, drill and a few bits of timber happy for weeks. Every stage of each project is clearly photographed with such easy to follow instructions that even the most hammer-shy gardener will be able to knock out a cold frame with ease.
9. New Wild Garden: Natural-Style Planting and Practicalities by Ian Hodgson: £25, Frances Lincoln Publishers
The naturalistic planting of wild flowers is becoming increasingly popular, not only as a way of creating distinctive gardens but also for helping protect and preserve some of our most valuable plants and pollinators. Through the use of stunning photography and Hodgson’s creative gardening advice, this book opens up a host of wild possibilities, from wildlife-attracting containers to colourful meadows, with a practical plant gallery ensuring there’s enough planting choice for everyone.
10. The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd: £16.99, W&N
An enjoyable read that offers practical advice, Christopher Lloyd’s masterpiece has been riding high in the bestseller lists since its first publication in 1970. From planting and pruning to seeds and weeds, Lloyd writes with a passion for his subject, presenting his personal take on gardening challenges, triumphs and despairs with forthright opinions and a liberal dose of wit.
The Verdict: Gardening books
We’ve popped a few old classics in this list but we’re suggesting a recent release as our Best Buy. RHS Great British Village Show reveals some insider secrets but, more importantly, is a well-crafted book that is sure to encourage more people to enjoy the many rewards of gardening.
Nick Moyle and Richard Hood are the Two Thirsty Gardeners. Their book, Brew it Yourself, is out now
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Greenhouse Gardening – A Beginners Guide To Growing Fruit and Vegetables All Year Round
“Greenhouse Gardening : A Beginners Guide To Growing Fruit & Vegetables All Year Round” is for anyone who wants to know how to get the most out of their greenhouse. Whether you want to extend your growing season, grow unusual plants or protect your valued plants from the frost a greenhouse is an essential tool for any gardener.
Greenhouses are so useful but many people don’t make the most of their greenhouse and it soon either gets filled with clutter or turns into a jungle of uncontrolled plants. This book provides you with a complete guide to growing any type of plant in a greenhouse and how to make the most of it. With the information in this book you will be able to avoid the many pitfalls and issues people encounter when buying, building and using their greenhouse.
As you read this book you will learn everything you need to know about owning a greenhouse from choosing the best type of greenhouse to building the foundation and even buying used greenhouses. You will learn how a greenhouse can extend your growing season and let you grow plants that you would otherwise be unable to grow.
In “Greenhouse Gardening : A Beginners Guide To Growing Fruit & Vegetables All Year Round” you will learn:
- How to buy a greenhouse whether new or used
- Choosing the best glass, floor, construction and foundation to ensure your greenhouse has a long life
- The difference between a greenhouse and a poly tunnel
- How to build a solid foundation for your greenhouse
- Why air-flow and cooling is so important and how to prevent humidity damaging your plants
- The best way to heat your greenhouse and the differences between the different heating systems
- How to irrigate your greenhouse to automatically water your plants and protect them from heat damage
- The difference between growing in the ground versus growing in containers
- To secure your greenhouse against the wind and protect it from damage
- How to start seedlings successfully in your greenhouse
- Growing tomatoes, chillies, peppers, citrus plants, squashes, cucumbers, grapes, tropical plants and more in your greenhouse
- Preparing your greenhouse for spring time
- Overwintering your greenhouse and extending your growing season
- Avoiding the potential problems associated with owning a greenhouse
- The potential diseases and pests you will encounter in your greenhouse
- How to ensure your plants are pollinated in your greenhouse
- Growing year round in your greenhouse
- The best way to clean your greenhouse to avoid potential problems
A greenhouse is an essential tool for any gardener, particularly those in cooler areas and can make a difference between your tomatoes ripening and you having fried green tomatoes! When you read this book you will avoid the many frustrations a greenhouse owner can face, with all the information you need to successful grow in a greenhouse.
Enjoy owning your greenhouse as “Greenhouse Gardening : A Beginners Guide To Growing Fruit & Vegetables All Year Round” explains all about the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. Discover the many benefits of owning a greenhouse today and how you can grow your own vegetables, plants and flowers all year round!
Ultimate Beginners Guide to Starting an Allotment
Allotments conjure up visions of carrots, potatoes and cabbages rammed into sacks. There’s so much you’re barely able to get your produce home.
On overcast days you drink tea with neighbouring plot holders in a rickety iron building….it’s a lovely vision and it can be yours.
But first, you’ve got to put in the hard work!
Getting an Allotment
First off the block is actually getting an allotment. In some areas, there’s plenty of space, but in others, the waiting list is 20 years. For the sake of sanity let’s assume you have an allotment assigned to you and you’re heading over.
You could be faced with several scenarios. The dream scenario of a beautifully kept plot that’s been manured, dug and cared for, there’s running water and a small watertight shed all for you.
It’s pretty unlikely, and you’re more likely to find an unkempt plot that’s overgrown and uncared for.
I’m not going to lie, it’ll be hard work so do some lunges and stretch your back. If you have a really messy allotment you may have to spend this year clearing the site to get it in tip-top condition.
Clear the Rubbish
Before you put blades and spades anywhere near the greenery you may have to get rid of broken glass, metals, netting and the previous allotment holder’s junk. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves for this job
Cut Back The Plants
If the allotment plot is overgrown you might need loppers, a strimmer, a good pair of secateurs and a garden shredder to tackle it.
Keep your safety gear on and work your way through the tangle steadily but surely. If you’re offered a plot in winter, or you’re in no rush, try laying cardboard or polythene over weedy areas. This smothers them, cuts out light and deprives them of water so your job will be less back-breaking.
Bear in mind that wildlife that will take up residence in the long grass and overgrown greenery. This includes hedgehogs, frogs, grass snakes, toads and so many others, so don’t just hit it with a strimmer because they cause horrific injuries. Poke about in the grass before you begin, make noise and go slowly – give the wildlife a chance to escape.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for previous plot holder’s perennial plants as you cut back, such as fruit bushes or strawberries runners. Dig them out and pop them in a pot of compost until you’re ready to plant them out again. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of free plants.
Take Up The Turf
On newly created allotment sites you may have to remove turf. Hire or buy a turf cutter to make the job easy, but if you’re energetic you can slice off squares of turf with a sharp spade.
Pick Out Weeds and Stones
Stone-picking and digging up weeds are without a doubt the most boring garden tasks, but it makes a huge difference to the quality of what you’re able to grow. No scrimping on this job!
The more you remove now, the easier life is later. If you have helpful children offer them a penny per stone and provide snacks! Keep any picked stones as they make good sturdy pathways or drainage for herb gardens or containers.
Dig, Dig and More Digging
Unless of course, you fancy the no dig option.
If so, lay black polythene or plastic over the plot to kill weeds, this could a take a few weeks or months depending on how overgrown things are. Then, cover the weed-free area with a thick layer of organic matter at least 4cms in depth.
You can plant directly into this without digging over. No dig gardening is becoming a fashionable way to grow plants and it’s certainly easier on the back!
If you don’t like the no-dig method, old-fashioned soil-turning is excellent exercise.
If the plot is unkempt then do a double dig – that’s two lengths of your spade into the ground. If it’s too much for you, think about buying a rotavator. You can hire them but after two hiring sessions, it’s probably cheaper to get your own.
Add Some Fertiliser
The majority of soils benefit from added organic matter. This can be horse or chicken manure, commercial pellets or a soil conditioning compost, the choice is yours. Fertiliser helps boost and break up the soil, so it’s worth investing time and effort into this bit.
Water, Water Everywhere – but not at your allotment
Many allotments don’t supply water, but allotment holders get around this by installing a water butt.
If you’re planning shallow-rooted crops like tomatoes they might not survive unless you can get there regularly to water them. A water butt means you won’t need to carry gallons of liquid in your car or on the bus.
Mulch is another excellent way to keep your plants hydrated. A thick layer of bark chippings or commercial mulch keeps down weeds and locks in moisture.
Pathways Are Essential
Allotment plots can be pretty big and you need to move around it easily. Before you start digging think about the plot layout, where your beds will go and how you will access them.
Raised beds look great and they are simple to make with old scaffold boards or pallets, but if you don’t fancy that you’ll still need paths around your traditional beds because walking causes soil compaction and makes life hard for roots.
Grass paths are the easiest option. You can dig the whole plot and lay grass seed or turf, or dig beds into existing turf. Trim the edges to keep them neat and you have hard-wearing natural pathways.
A weed-resistant membrane with wood chipping works well too, and don’t forget the stones you dug out from the planting beds – they can be used to build up a pathway as can patio slabs, roofing tiles, and old bricks.
Now You’re Ready to Plant
Bear in mind a whole growing season may have elapsed while you’re getting the plot ready but it’s time well spent because good soil means better crops. The more effort you can put now the better.
So you’ve dug, picked out stones, weeded and laid a path – you’re ready to rock. What you can do now depends on the time of year.
A Year on the Allotment
Spring is the busiest time for an allotment holder, but the best time in my opinion.
Seeds germinate in the wet and warm weather. This means weeds too! Wait until frosts have passed before planting because seeds rarely germinate in cold wet soils.
If you want to start growing earlier, put seeds in pots to take advantage of fully leaved plants in springtime.
A cloche or small poly-tunnel is a good investment if you want to get growing quickly as they warm the soil and protect seedlings against the elements. If you don’t have these use a sunny windowsill to bring on seeds.
- March Onions, shallots, potatoes, lettuce, radish, leeks, beetroot
- April It is usually warm enough for anything by now. Add peas, carrots, parsnip, cauliflower, and broccoli to the list above
- May the above plus runner beans, french beans and spring onions.
Late spring and all of the summertime are prime growing months for seasonal veggies and flowers. Keep picking your produce as this stimulates more growth.
Watering is essential in summer as many plants such as onions and rocket will go to seed without it. Others simply won’t fatten up without liquid.
- June – It’s the last month for sowing so put in anything you haven’t yet sown, and successions of others you’ve already planted but want more of such as lettuce, radish, and quick growing crops.
Plant sweetcorn, squash, courgette and marrows now too. Get a head-start by germinating these on your windowsill first. If it’s consistently warm the tomatoes you started in January can go outside. If you didn’t sow any buy plants for the garden centre.
- July – Succession planting for quick growing salads
- August – Savoy cabbages, late spinach, and hardy lettuce can go in now for winter picking
The mad rush to get your seed in is over and now it’s time to hope the sun stays to finish ripening everything! Put in some winter crops when you get the room.
- September – Hardy lettuce and hardy spring onions, autumn onion sets, and spring cabbages
- October – Broad beans can go in for an early spring crop
- November – Lettuce under cover and broad beans can go in now – I always plant broad beans on armistice day.
As you harvest and empty the beds it time to dig them over and let the winter rain and frosts kill off any infections – unless you like the no dig method of course!
It’s time to relax and start planning the next growing season.
You may have winter cabbages, kale, parsnips and broad beans growing in the plot, so keep an eye on these and pick them when they are ready. Parsnip is best after a frost as the cold makes them sweeter – you may have some sprouts and parsnip for Christmas lunch if you plan it carefully.
You can also plant dormant fruit trees and bushes throughout winter. They won’t show signs of life until the warm weather, so be patient.
- December – buy your seeds
- January – Dormant fruit trees and bushes are best planted now. Tomatoes seeds can be started off in a propagator or a sunny windowsill
- February – If you’re growing potatoes this year start chitting them in February. That means buying seed potatoes and placing them on a windowsill so that small green shoots can grow through. You may also be able to force some rhubarb – put a pot over the clump and watch it shoot upwards looking for light.
And back to March! Let’s try again.
Regular Jobs in the Allotments
Keeping the weeds at bay is one of the biggest jobs in an allotment particularly if your neighbour has a wildlife plot or isn’t particularly neat.
Once weeds go to seed they get everywhere. You can fight back by investing in a proper hoe and get to work when its dry. If you hoe on wet days those chopped weeds just re-root.
Use can use membrane around fruit bushes and permanent plants, but annuals will need some elbow grease. Again, mulch is your friend as it cuts out light and smothers weeds. Try to use some especially if you can’t get there regularly to water. I can’t recommend mulching enough!
Get a water butt if you can and leave out containers to fill with rain too, it’s surprising how much water your thirsty plants will drink.
You aren’t the only one that wants to eat those tasty crops!
No doubt you’ll get your fair share of aphids, caterpillars, birds and all manner of uninvited guests. You can use commercial sprays on insects, eggs, and larvae, but its possible to use organic methods.
Cirus peel soaked in water makes a good aphid deterrent, and caterpillars can be picked off by hand. Marigolds planted around the plot can help keep flying insects away too.
There’s plenty of information out there on organic gardening, so take a look before buying the sprays that kill our bees, butterflies, and essential pollinating insects.
Net your fruit bushes against birds but make sure you check the netting regular for trapped wildlife such as hedgehogs, slow worms, frogs and the birds themselves.
We talked about fertilising way back at the beginning. It’s a great way to keep your soil healthy and productive.
Popping a compost bin on your plot is a good way to get a free supply of compost at hand. Keep it topped up with the right amounts of brown and green waste and you won’t look back.
You can buy fish bone and blood, growmore and other good quality fertilisers at garden centres and supermarkets if you don’t want to make your own compost – I’d recommend it though as you’ll have plenty of clippings to get rid of and bonfires are not usually allowed at allotments.
This simply means changing where you grow your seasonal veggies each year.
Take note of where you plant and what you grow. For example, if you grow beans, next year grow something else in that space. This is because different crops have different nutrient requirements. For example, tomatoes love eating so they suck up all the nitrogen and phosphorus.
Planting them in the same spot year-on-year means the area runs out of those nutrients and your crop is pretty pathetic.
Root veggies like carrot and potatoes don’t use up much of anything. Beans and peas need a lot of phosphorus but they replenish nitrogen, so follow peas and beans with leafy or fruiting crops to take advantage of the nitrogen, and keep rotating.
I’ve listed the groups below because although beans and peas are different plants, they are in the same grouping and use the same nutrients.
Here are the plant groups you should rotate for best results.
Is An Allotment Worth It?
If you decide to get an allotment you will have to invest time and muscle power, but it is totally worth the effort. Not only will you have the satisfaction of producing your own home-grown veggies, you get plenty of light, fresh air, and exercise. If it’s a community-minded allotment you’ll make friends.
As the seasons roll around seed planting and harvesting just becomes second nature and you won’t even need to think about it much.
Don’t stress if your seeds, don’t grow, they get devoured by aphids, or a drought kills everything off. Keep at it. Growing veg is not rocket science and even the most experienced of gardeners get caught out by the weather and an influx of pests.
Allotment Rules and Regulations
There will be a set of rules and regulations for the allotments and meetings to attend. These are important and it’s worth taking note of what is said even if you don’t attend.
An allotment is a social place where you have to share space with neighbours. This can cause difficulties, and you won’t be popular if you let dandelion seeds blow over your neighbour’s carefully cultivated asparagus!
With some luck, you’ll be next to someone who keeps their plot tidy and helps with advice when you need a hand. If you are unfortunate enough to end up next to a know-it-all gardener with too much to say, just remember that no-one gets it right every time. Half the fun of gardening is waiting to see if the seeds come up, just have a go and take no notice of unsought advice.
Allotments are a living piece of British history and they show no sign of losing popularity. If you have the time and good fortune to be allocated a new allotment it’s worth its weight in gold potatoes. Good luck!
How to Start an Allotment
It is natural to feel excited in the moments just before seeing an allotment plot for the first time. As your allotment chairperson takes you towards your plot you are likely to pass characterful garden sheds, flower beds, weed free ground, and plots sporting the whole range of fruit and vegetables you intend to grow.
You may even be imagining the taste of future harvests, or showing your plot to friends and family. But then reality hits when you see your plot for the first time! You see 150 square metres, or more, of unkept, overgrown, and derelict land …
But do not give up! This is how nearly all allotmenters start. If a plot had not run to seed, likely as not, it would not have become available to you.
The purpose of this article is to share an approach to getting started to make the task quicker and more enjoyable.
– Allotment planting design
– Essential allotment tools
– How to build a polytunnel
– How to make no-dig beds
– Allotment sheds
– Allotment compost
– Allotment Planner & Record Keeper (Digital Download)
Step 1, How to Start an Allotment – Control
Starting with the good news. A wild allotment plot is telling you that your ground is fertile – a really wild plot may be the best possible one to inherit!
The first step is to stop the wildness getting any worse.
- Remove any rubbish that may be on your plot
- Cut everything down to ground level
- Cover the ground with a large tarpaulin
A good way of cutting everything down to ground level is to borrow or hire a petrol strimmer. You may find that your allotment association has one just for this reason, or can put you in contact with another plot holder who does.
See tarpaulins on Amazon UK.
A large tarpaulin or plastic sheet will prevent weed re-growth. If your budget will stretch, purchase ground cover with a weave that allows water to pass through. It may take longer for weeds to die, but soft ground is much easier to work. To stop the cover blowing away, weigh it down with bricks, pegs, or any heavy items you can find nearby.
Step 2, How To Start An Allotment – Digging Over
Without light weeds will die, even perennial weeds with tap roots if the cover is left on long enough. The nutrients are not lost though, as the goodies contained in the plants will return to the soil as they slowly break down.
Covering the ground will immediately put you in control of your plot, allowing you to peel back the cover in stages to clear sections when time allows. Clearing a plot is exhausting work. I took the best part of 12 months before I had fully prepared all corners of my first plot.
Step 3, How To Start An Allotment – Starting To Grow
Before digging, it is a good idea to make a plan for how you want to use your space. You may want to see the guide on allotment planting design.
Digging can be very hard work, but these tips can make it easier:
- Dig in wet months (spring and autumn)
Moist ground is heavier but easier to work, and you will be able to remove weeds by the root. Dry ground covered with grass can be rock hard, and almost impossible to penetrate with a spade or fork.
- Dig small areas at a time
Try limiting a digging session to no more than 1 or 2 hours.
- Sow as you go
There is a huge psychological lift from seeing seeds germinate. A gardener can experience a trough of despair when they realise the scale of the task in front of them. Seeing plants germinate can make all the hard work seem worthwhile. If it is the wrong time of year to sow seed, any ground that has been dug over can be covered over until a better time.
- Equip yourself
Turning a wilderness into a beautiful vegetable garden is hardwork. Investing in a good set of tools (fork, spade, wheelbarrow, gardening gloves, storage box/shed etc.) does not need to be expensive, and you will save yourself time and frustration by having what you need.
As any gardener will admit, digging (and weeding) is an ongoing and neverending task. Nevertheless, it will be considerably easier in the second year – provided that you remove as many of the perennial weeds as possible.
How To Start An Allotment – Perennial Weeds
Two of the most common types of perennial weeds are:
- Plants that spread through their roots
- Plants with tap roots
Plants That Spread Through Their Roots
Couch grass (shown below) is particularly common, as is bind weed (that looks like ivy and climbs all over plants smothering them with its flowers and leaves).
The best solution is to methodically dig them out from the soil, carefully lifting them up from beneath to unearth their root systems. Any root left behind will regrow into a new plant.
Plants With Tap Roots
Dandelion is perhaps the most well known plant with a tap root (shown below) but you will discover many others on your allotment plot. Damp ground will help you to dig deep to remove the roots entirely.
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Sounds idyllic, right?
With an allotment, this vision can be made into a reality. Owning and caring for a small patch of land can make such a difference in your health, mood, and fitness.
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to start an allotment, from the application process right through to your first harvest.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is an allotment?
- How to get one.
- What you’re allowed to do on your allotment.
- How to start your allotment.
- How to look after it once it’s established.
- What time of year to start an allotment.
What is an allotment?
Technically speaking, an allotment is just a plot of land made available for non-commercial gardening by your local authority.
According to the National Allotment Society though, “allotmenteering is a way of life not a plot of land.”
And we’re inclined to agree.
Your allotment is an opportunity to create an oasis of calm away from the stresses of modern life, metaphorically and literally. It’s a space where you can shed the hustle and bustle and go back to your roots; where you can see the fruits of your labour bloom in real-time.
Peaceful, tranquil, and productive
How to get an allotment
The first step is to get in touch with your local authority. The Gov.UK website has a page that will point you in the right direction.
In rare cases you’ll get an allotment straight away, however most of the time you’ll be added to a waiting list. In some boroughs, these are notoriously long, so prepare yourself for a long wait.
The application process and the subsequent waiting period can sometimes be tougher than actually starting the allotment!
Know what you’re allowed to do
Allotments are covered by their own laws, and as such, allotments come with legally defined restrictions. Ownership of an allotment comes with expectations and requirements, and failing to meet these can result in losing your plot.
The exact wording of your terms and conditions will vary between councils, but the core themes are as follows:
- Keeping the allotment weed-free and in good condition.
- Not using the allotment for any business activities.
- Not causing nuisance or annoyance to other allotment owners, or obstructing paths on and between allotments.
- Not subletting the allotment without written consent.
- Not building any structures without written consent.
These rules can feel stifling, especially the one about not building structures, but it’s important to understand that they are designed to make allotment ownership accessible for everyone.
If and when you move on from your allotment, future owners deserve to be greeted with the same blank slate that you were, rather than spending time or money removing buildings.
How to start your allotment
Once you’ve got your allotment, the fun can begin. Remember that there’s no definitive right or wrong when starting out: it will depend on your skillset, what you want to achieve, the size of the plot, the condition it’s in, and various other factors.
The tips in this section are intended to guide you in the right direction. As you become familiar with your allotment and the work it requires, it’s very likely you’ll deviate from these points and decide how best to structure your time.
Make a plan
A good first step is to outline what you want to achieve with your allotment.
Are you going to grow common veggies to save a bit of money on your shopping, or do you fancy growing something a bit more exotic? Or maybe you’re only interested in growing fruit? And do you want a year-round harvest, or would you rather have minimal involvement over winter?
Ask yourself questions about what you want to grow and when you want to harvest it, then research accordingly. If you know what you want to grow, write down the times you’ll need to sow and harvest. If you know when you want to be at your allotment, research plants and seeds that fit your preferred schedule.
A sowing calendar might be helpful at this stage
A good plan will provide a structure for you to work towards. It should include:
- What needs to be planted and when.
- What needs to be harvested and when.
- General workdays for things like weeding and clearing.
An allotment can feel like a blank slate, ready to be filled with all sorts of wonderful things, but remember that it’s you that has to make them happen!
It’s important to stay realistic with your plans and to not overwhelm yourself, especially in the early stages. There’s nothing worse than getting demotivated because your wildly ambitious planting plans aren’t coming to fruition.
Here’s what to keep in mind:
How much help can you get? The amount of manpower you can draw on will determine what you can achieve. Some allotments have management teams who can help with initial clearance, for example. And what about friends and family: will you be able to count on their help in exchange for a share of the harvest?
How much time can you devote to your allotment? Gardening can be hard work. A session of 1-2 hours will feel like a good workout, especially if you do multiple sessions each week. Try to understand how long each task will take, and plan accordingly.
What condition is your allotment in? If you’ve inherited a plot in poor condition – with weeds and so on – you’ll need to allocate more time to make it more workable. If you did inherit lots of weeds, don’t despair. They’re a sign that the soil in your allotment is fertile: definitely a silver lining!
You should expect it to take a year or even more for the whole plot to be usable, so setting expectations early – and giving yourself an honest idea of what you’re up against – can help to tackle despair and frustration later on.
Remember: allotmenting is a way of life and not just a plot of land, and you will notice a return on the time you invest in the early stages.
Organic or non-organic?
It’s good to make this decision early on, as certain gardening practices will be out of bounds if you decide to go for organic.
Organic gardeners believe that you should work with a garden rather than trying to exert control over it. Practices that support and encourage natural processes are used, rather than man-made solutions like pesticides and artificial fertilisers.
If you value things like recycling, renewable energy, reducing pollution, avoiding waste, and similar, then organic gardening could be for you.
- Reduces the number of chemicals going into the ground and, by extension, into your crops.
- Effective in managing pests, weeds and disease.
- Effective in maintaining soil nutrients.
And the potential drawbacks:
- Certain tasks may take longer: erecting netting is slower than spraying pesticide, for example.
- There will likely be a bit more damage to your crops.
Whatever you decide, bear in mind that owners of nearby allotments may follow organic processes, and may feel compelled to say something if you’re spraying powerful chemical pesticides all over the place.
Make a map
Once you’ve got a plan, and you’ve made the decision of what type of allotment you’ll be growing, you can decide what it will look like.
A physical map of your space is a useful reference point when starting an allotment. It will help you to visualise what the space will eventually look like, which can be motivating in the early days when you’re faced with an overgrown patch of weeds. It’s also a great way of making sure the design flows together before you pick up any tools.
To make a map as useful as possible, include beds, paths, and structures. Marking the rough boundaries of different crops is a good way to keep track of what you’re growing, and to visualise crop rotation patterns (more on this later!).
The more detailed the map, the more useful it will be. Where will the compost bin go? And the water butts? What about an area to sit with a cup of tea and a sandwich after a long session?
Including shade and sunlight areas on the map is helpful when planning which plants will go where. Drawing a compass bearing on your map can help with this, as can lightly marking the shadows of structures and trees. Diligence at this stage will pay dividends later.
If you don’t fancy making a map, you should at least have a mental image of what you’re aiming for.
Clear your allotment
Now comes the physical stuff. Getting rid of everything you don’t want is a cathartic process, and can often cement the feeling that the allotment is yours rather than borrowed.
It’s an opportunity to look for another silver lining, too: although it’s hard work, you’re preparing a space to be filled only by the things you have chosen.
Rubbish can be removed easily, just take it away in bags to your bins at home, or to a dump.
Unwanted plants can be cut down and either composted or removed. This takes a little longer. Shrubs and bushes should be cut back to ground level. Consider borrowing a strimmer if you don’t fancy trimming entire bushes back with secateurs!
Then comes the weeding, which is potentially the longest job. So much so that we’ve dedicated a section to it…
Clear the weeds!
Depending on how severe the weeds are you can either remove them by hand or cover them with sheeting to starve them of sunlight.
Removing them by hand will involve spending a lot of time on your knees, rummaging around in the dirt. It’s hard work and slow progress, but seeing a freshly weeded bed is very satisfying.
One thing to remember: don’t throw weeds in the compost! They’ll just infest your pile with weeds.
If you go for a sheet, you can throw it over the top and forget about it until next year (or at least the end of the next growing season). The weeds will die slowly as they are starved of sunlight, leaving a nice fresh bed for next season. Weigh down the corners and sides with stones to prevent the sheet from blowing away when it’s windy.
Also consider a sheet that water can run through: the weeds will take a bit longer to die off, but it’ll be easier to work with wet ground when it’s time to plant things.
Prepare the soil
With all the weeds removed, you can prepare your soil for planting.
Breaking up the soil will make it easier to plant into, and mixing in compost or other organic matter will help to replenish any nutrients that may be missing.
If you’re feeling especially diligent you can do a PH test to find out the condition of the soil. This will give a clearer picture of what nutrients – if any – need to be restored.
A simple soil PH tester
Finally, the reason you got an allotment in the first place!
After lots of planning and preparation, you should now have beds of fresh, healthy soil to plant into. Refer back to your plan to see what needs planting and when.
We really recommend not waiting for the whole plot to be cleared before planting begins: you can plant in each bed as it becomes ready. This gives you the motivational boost of knowing that things are growing, even though there’s still work to be done.
The majority of seed packets have instructions on how and when to plant, so we won’t give instructions for every plant. What we will say is that it’s important to take heed of these, especially the recommended distances between seeds. They may seem ridiculously big considering the seed size, but you’ll be surprised how big your crops might grow.
This is a long term investment, but having an awareness of the concept is useful when starting out.
As your plants grow, they’ll take certain nutrients from the soil. Different plants take different nutrients, meaning that the soil can become depleted over time.
(If you did a PH test earlier and noticed any issues, this is one possible reason why.)
Crop rotation is an organic gardening method designed to overcome soil depletion by rotating plants between beds over growing seasons. The idea is to alternate which nutrient is depleted each year, allowing the others to replenish and for the soil to stay balanced.
The groups usually used in crop rotation are:
- Brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli).
- Legumes (peas and beans).
- Root vegetables (carrots, parsnips).
You may decide to plant potatoes in a bed one year, then brassicas the next, then legumes, then roots.
In a neighbouring bed you would plant roots first, then potatoes, then brassicas, then legumes.
In the next bed: legumes, roots, potatoes, brassicas. And in the final bed: brassicas, legumes, roots, potatoes.
At the end of four years, each bed will have been used to grow each crop once and – in theory – the soil in all four beds should be healthy and nutritious.
Looking after your allotment
It’s good to get into the habit of visiting your allotment often. Even if there’s not a big list of tasks to be done, regular contact with the space helps you keep an eye on things, and nip problems in the bud.
As we mentioned earlier, try to get help from friends and family. You could organise regular work days where people can drop in and out, offering tea and biscuits in exchange for their hard work.
Allotmenting can – and should be! – a social activity
The rules and regulations often state that you must not let your plot run to seed. If it becomes too overgrown, or if landlords have any reason to suspect that you are not taking proper care to maintain it, you risk losing ownership.
What time of year should you start an allotment?
Each month brings different considerations in allotment ownership. Spring is all about planting. Autumn is harvest time. Winter is for maintenance and making sure crops are protected.
If you’re wondering what jobs to do in your allotment in a particular month, we recommend the monthly jobs section of the National Allotment Society website.
And there you have it…
Allotment ownership is hard work, but it is immensely rewarding. It’s hard to find an allotment owner who isn’t immensely proud of their space.
The benefits are real. You get to spend time outdoors, which is proven to be good for you. You stay active and get fit. You grow healthy food that you can use in your cooking and give to your friends and family.
And there’s nothing more amazing than seeing something come to life that you planted with your own hands.
Hopefully this guide has gotten you excited about allotment ownership. There are a lot of practical considerations, but you won’t look back.