Starting an Allotment: Top Tips and Tricks
Interestingly, "Under the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act, where there is demand,
is the duty of the local authority to provide residents registered on the electoral roll with allotment space.
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!
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.
6.5 is ideal for most crops or plants that you may choose to grow. Nutrient and bacterial content is at its peak
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!
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
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.
- Next divide your vegetable crops into the following groups; Brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, kale, swede, sprouts etc), Legumes (peas, runner beans, broad beans etc), Onions (including garlic, leek, shallot), Potatoes (which includes tomato), and Roots (beetroot, carrot, celeriac, parsnip) and aim to rotate each space every year. Please see www.rhs.org.uk for further advice on crop rotation plans.
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 tailored 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.