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A Beginners Guide to Starting a New Allotment

There are many reasons why getting an allotment is a good idea. If you like gardening, growing your own food, cooking and eating, starting an allotment is excellent. There are lots of fruits, vegetables and herbs to produce along with more ornamental plants for an attractive plot, and growing your own food has many benefits too. 

Allotments can provide you, along with family and friends, a year-round source of healthy and organic food. You will also build your knowledge on what to grow and when to plant it, along with the best nutrition you need to provide the plants, and you’ll also be able to pick and choose what to grow, within reason, for the climate and area. On top of all that, working on your allotment is another way to keep fit.

Row of lettuce in an allotment

Maintaining an allotment is a commitment, and one of the hardest parts is getting a plot. In some areas of the UK, the waiting list is several years, in others just a few months. If you have a great plot of land, the first step is clearing it.

Clearing

Whether you have a brand new piece of land or are taking over from someone else, there will be a lot of debris and material to clear from the site. The debris you may have to remove includes broken glass, metals, netting and other rubbish. Old plant life, all the way to the roots, should also be removed, which will give you the chance to start fresh. Any perennial shrubs, bushes or trees you may want to keep should be stripped back too, and pulled up and moved into some compost until you come to plant them again. Use some weed killer to rid the site of any troublesome weeds.

When clearing the plot, keep in mind some animals may have taken refuge in the overgrown greenery, such as hedgehogs, frogs and toads and grass snakes. Don’t attack the plot aggressively when clearing, as this could cause injuries. Have a poke about in the grass first so the wildlife can leave.

Shoots of a plant in an allotment

Turf and Digging

On new allotments, you may have to remove the turf, either with a turf cutter or a sharp spade. Following this, you need to take out as many of the stones and weeds as possible; a mundane task, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to growing. After this, dig and turn the earth throughout the plot. Alternatively, you can do the no-dig option, which is very popular. Cover the plot with a plastic cover to kill the weeds, which will take a few weeks or months. You can then cover the weed-free area with organic matter, which can be planted into directly, and add some fertiliser on top of this. Fertiliser helps boost and break up the soil. 

Get The Essentials

There a number of essential items that are regularly used on an allotment, and having a secure place to keep them is needed. If you are taking over an old plot, the owner may have left its shed, but you should check its structure and security before using it. If there isn’t a shed, investing in one will be among the first of the major purchases you make for your allotment. Another significant investment is a water butt, so you won’t be required to be continually walking to the allotment butts or pumps (if they have any) or carrying water in your car.

Other essential items include the tools you will need; a spade, fork, trowel, hoe, rake and watering can. A good pair of secateurs and shears are also useful. Experienced gardeners argue an allotment is not complete without a compost bin of some kind. This gives you a place to dispose of weeds, cuttings and leaves which once broken down provide fantastic compost for free.

A trowel in soil

Planning

The next job for your allotment is planning, however much you are itching to start planting right away! Planning is vital in making the most of your allotment, as knowing what to do needs to be more concrete than a picture in your head. You need to do some research on the plot, such as soil type, pH levels and sun coverage, so you know when and where is best to grow your vegetables and fruit, in addition to understanding what will thrive in your allotment.

To maximise your plot, you might consider crop rotation, ensuring your allotment is always blooming with annual crops. A variety of crops help to keep the soil balanced and offers a range for what you can grow. Be sure to research the best time for planting seeds and bulbs, so you know which to rotate.

When it comes to planting, make sure you have easy access to crops; plots can be big, and lining out some pathways will make access to them easier. Alternatively, you could build raised beds.

Rows of plants in an allotment

Planting

Though a whole growing season can pass while you get your allotment ready, it is important as it will help your crops grow better as well as leave you feeling more organised and prepared.

Spring – spring is a busy time for allotment holders and gardeners, as seeds germinate in the warm and wet weather. In March, plant onions, shallots, potatoes, leeks, beetroot and lettuce and in April, add peas, parsnip, cauliflower and broccoli. By May, it will be warm enough for runner beans, French beans and spring onions.

Summer – summer is the prime growing season, and it is important you keep picking produce to stimulate growth. June is the last month for sowing, so put in anything in you haven’t yet, and also sweetcorn, courgette, squash and marrow, which can be germinated beforehand. July is good for quick growing salads and August is the time to plant savoy cabbage, late spinach, and hardy lettuce.

Autumn – during the autumn months, hopefully, the winter sun ripens everything, and you can plant some winter crops. Hardy lettuce, autumn onions and spring cabbages should go in during September. From October to early November, you can plant broad beans for an early spring crop. As you harvest crops, remember to dig over the empty beds, so rain and frost will kill off infections.

Winter – winter is the time to start planning for the next year and growing season. Keep an eye on the winter vegetables you have growing in your plot, and pick them when ready. In December, buy and stock up on seeds. In January, plant the dormant fruit trees and bushes and tomato seeds can be started in a propagator. If you are growing potatoes, February is the time to start chitting them; buying seed potatoes and placing them on a windowsill, so shoots grow through. You can also begin to forcing some rhubarb with a pot over the clump.

Onion on a wooden fence with more growing behind

Talk to Other Allotment Owners

Guides online and your own intuition can only get you so far when it comes to an allotment, and one of the best sources of information is from other allotment owners. Talk to the other plot owners next to you, or reach out online. There are Facebook groups, Instagram accounts and bloggers who are all happy to share their knowledge, offer advice as well as ask for some themselves, and talk to like-minded people.

When it comes to gardening accessories to help you out on your allotment, we have a great selection available online. A worthwhile investment is also some men’s or women’s shooting gloves to keep you warm when digging and preparing your allotment in the colder winter months.

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