A guide to taking on your own allotment plot or vegetable patch
Planning your space
The size of your allotment plot, where it is positioned and the type of your soil will affect what you can plant. It’s often a good idea to chat to some more established plot holders to see what’s worked for them over the years and to make a plan of what you’re going to plant and where, depending on the position of the sun, wind, shadows from surrounding buildings etc. Long lasting plants like fruit trees and asparagus plants will require cages and netting so it’s best to position these somewhere permanent, maybe on the outer edge of your plot, as moving them will stunt their growth.
Have a think about whether you want a shed on your allotment plot to store your tools and equipment and ensure that it’s accessible, not forgetting the shadows it casts as this could affect your plants. You’ll want some space for a compost bin, too. By adding kitchen waste and loose cutting, compost is a brilliant fertiliser for enriching the soil.
In the simplest terms, plants have ‘plant friends’ that when planted together can gain a competitive advantage to their growing success, such as warding off pests, providing structural support and so on. Equally, some plant species have conflicting species which they would rather not grow alongside.
Marigolds produce chemicals that repel whiteflies. They are great for planting around fruit trees. Brassicas like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and turnips all benefit from chamomile, coriander, mint, rosemary and sage. Garlic is a great companion plant for roses to help repel aphids. To find out more about companion planting, have a look at the Thompson Morgan planting chart.
Clearing your allotment
We took on an allotment a couple of years ago as we’d always loved the idea of growing our own produce but little did we know how much work would go into getting the plot ready for planting. The site was covered in couch grass which is nearly impossible to remove. The last thing you want to do is to use a rotavator on it as this will chop up and multiply them across the space, making the problem ten times worse. After months of work and then returning a few weeks later to find the space overgrown again we decided to change tack in the autumn and to chop everything back and cover the plot in polythene sheeting. Over the winter, the couch grass and weeds slowly died underneath and by spring we were able to start putting in some raised beds.
It’s actually amazing what you can create with very little budget: you just need a bit of imagination. Allotmenteers like to be frugal with their plots, recycling and reusing old materials to make something new. We made our raised beds from old pallets (using a pallet splitter which makes it ten times easier) and by knocking some posts into the ground and attaching the panels to the sides with decking screws, it started to take shape.
Bamboo canes are a gardener’s essential accessory. They’re strong, durable, versatile and long-lasting and perfect for staking plants.
Hazel wood is also a good alternative – it’s malleable enough to bend if you want to make an arch or to create fencing, should you need it to, and looks rustic and charming.
Chicken wire is great for climbers which need support as they grow. You can create a trellis-like screen for plants to grow up.
We used free bark chippings from a tree surgeon to line our pathways. Make sure you know what type of tree has been shredded as some can create carcinogenic fumes or spread disease amongst your plants.
You don’t necessarily need a greenhouse, but we find it helps get our plants off to a flying start. We picked ours up from Gumtree for less than £100 and with the help of family and friends, we erected it on-site.
Alternatively, there’s no problem with sowing your seeds in pots or trays on the windowsills within your home. When your seedlings begin to outgrow their trays/pots, repot them into larger containers – or, if warm enough, start transitioning them outside. It’s important to harden off young plants before putting them out in the garden or your allotment, otherwise they will be shocked by the sudden change in temperature. To do this, set trays/pots in a sheltered spot outside increasing the amount of time they’re out there. Start with 2 to 3 hours, then increase slowly over the course of a week or two.
There’s always a little bit of trial and error when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables but the rewards outweigh the hurdles when you sit down to dinner on a summer’s evening and tuck into your homegrown produce. So I encourage you to give it a go. After all what’s the worst that can happen?… A few hours in the fresh air never hurt anyone!