Allotment: Getting started

Signing on the dotted line

It hasn’t escaped me how lucky we’ve been to get an allotment. In June last year, an article on the BBC website suggested that there’s about 100,000 people in the UK waiting for allotment plots and that the land set aside for allotments has declined by 65% from a peak in the “dig for victory” and post-war era. This coupled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw more and more of us trying to embrace “the good life” and start growing our own, means that allotments have experienced a renaissance and in some areas are almost impossible to get hold of.

Even knowing how difficult it can be to get an allotment, it was still daunting and in fact, I took some convincing. I have no previous gardening/grow your own experience and the plot was overgrown and unkempt – you’ll see from the pics! I work full time, have a toddler and, and, and, and……..

The excuses were plenty and would have been completely justifiable had I decided not to go ahead, but thanks to a few pep talks and a visit down to the plot where I met a couple of the neighbours who were friendly and very encouraging, I decided to give it a go, that and the weather that week was blinding.

Best.Decision.Ever.

Clearing the plot

We spent the first week or so cutting back vegetation – having borrowed a petrol strimmer, sorting through rubbish and salvaging anything that looked like it might come in useful (tarpaulin, any wood that was still in decent condition, plant pots, netting) and generally just tidying the place up. At the time the local tips were closed, but the allotment holders collectively had a skip over the summer, so we were able to dispose of quite a bit of the unusable stuff. There’s still a huge earth mound and a bit of a dumping ground of plant waste which is awaiting the arrival of a compost bin, but that’s a task for this year.

We don’t use chemicals; herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, at all on the plot, so everything needed to be cleared manually and even though I knew that would make things a bit harder and that the battle against bind wind would never be done – for me, organic and chemical free is the only way to go.

Mending, clearing and eventually planting in the existing raised beds

Toward the back of the plot there were four wooden, connected raised beds and even though they were completely overgrown, we didn’t have many other options for planting space and so decided we’d give clearing them a go.

So how do you clear an overgrown bed? It’s a fairly straightforward but energy and time consuming task, particularly because as I mention above, we’ve gone down the chemical free route. So here’s what we did.

  • Remove all vegetation/ weeds – incinerating them not composting
  • Using a spade, dig dig dig, turn over the soil, removing weeds (including roots wherever possible), stones and breaking up clumps. This was made a little easier because after a run of warm weather (May), the soil was very dry
  • If dry, give the bed a light water before the next step of adding the fertiliser
  • Add an organic fertiliser and using a fork, turn the soil to incorporate the fertiliser – I used Westland Blood Fish and Bone Fertiliser Powder
  • Fork in a peat-free compost
  • And… ta-dah the beds were in some sort of state to start planting in

Buying and building the shed

There’s more about the shed in the post My top five allotment buys so far, but in short it was a must have. We didn’t have anywhere else to store the tools and stuff so it was definitely needed and instantly made the plot feel and look more presentable.

And finally, to give us a bit more space to plant and grow in, we built two new raised beds toward the front; one built from pallets that we recovered from the plot and another from a “DIY raised bed kit”, and also cleared the existing, overgrown beds along the front. In total, this gave us 9 growing areas for our first year.

We’re just getting started and there’s plenty to do in year two and beyond but hope you agree that it’s not too bad for a tidy up AND we even manged to grow some stuff. Take a look at Hits and Misses 2020 for what went right and what went.. not so right.

Plot 15b – May 2020

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