Allotment advice to get stuck in to...
Whether you’re new to plot life, looking to get started with your own allotment, or you’re a long-time allotment grower – we’ve got you covered with some allotment advice, tips and plot ideas to make Maureen over at plot 168B green with envy.
We have lots of great allotments around Grimsby and Cleethorpes. They’re a good way to spend time outdoors, focussing on plants and nature whilst making some new friends with your plot neighbours.
You get to reap the benefits of gardening both for your mental health and wellbeing and in the things that you grow. What’s not to love?! So, let’s get stuck in…
What to do when taking on an allotment plot for the first time?
Asses your plot. You might have a lot of work on your hands before you even get to the sowing and growing stage. There could be a fair bit of weeding and clearing to do depending on the state of the plot you’ve inherited is in. On the other hand, you could be taking on a plot that has been well taken care of and has only recently been given up. This is what we in the allotment biz call: ‘playing the (p)lottery’.
Getting your plot cleared and ready for growing by the early spring ready will give you the most out of your plot for the year.
How big is an allotment plot?
It’s good to know before you start to plan what you’ll be growing and the size of the area you’re going to be working with.
In North East Lincolnshire, our standard plots are around 250 square metres – this varies slightly from site to site, which is reflected in the yearly fees. 250-300 square metres is often the standard around the UK, too.
For more details on our local plots, click here.
While you’re in the planning phase, there are a few things to consider:
Do you need a shed, greenhouse or other small structure on your plot? This needs to be applied for – unless there is already one on your plot in which case, is now your responsibility to repair and maintain.
Will a friend or family member be coming to help out on the plot, too? You might want to consider registering them for an I.D. so they can get their own key.
What kind of allotment is best?
There are different types of allotment gardening that you might have heard about before: no dig, double-dig, raised beds, veg only, growing under cover, fruit cage growing. It can be daunting at first to know what’s what, so we’re going to go into some of the basics.
The digging that is usually done to control weeds and incorporate nutrients and minerals through the soil is replaced by using a light-blocking mulch to suppress weeds and ensuring your soil is fed with well-rotted organic matter.
With no-dig growing, cardboard is often used as your base to trap and kill weeds by not allowing any light to reach them. You’d then layer on good quality compost, about 25cm deep, and rake over the whole cardboard area. If your plot is on a slope or you want to secure the border, you can use bricks or wood around the outside of the no-dig bed. Top tip: keep your no-dig beds narrow enough that you can tend to your plants without having to stand on the soil.
There are plenty of benefits to no-dig gardening but for anyone who might struggle with the physical element of digging, we’d definitely recommend it.
Raised beds can create a really neat and tidy look to an allotment, with pathways in-between to allow you to easily reach and tend to your plants without the danger of trampling your soil and crops. They can also be really good for improving drainage – we don’t want waterlogged beds and rotted roots now do we? But, be mindful that during dry summers, raised beds may need more watering.
We’ve told you about no-dig… now double that and double it again. Just kidding, we’re no good at maths.
Double-digging is the technique of digging not one, but two spades deep into the ground to excavate the soil, fork over the base of the trench and add new organic matter to improve the quality of the soil. The soil is loosened which can improve drainage, water absorption and oxygen levels. But, after hearing about no-dig, it sounds like a whole lot of hard work to us. Someone get the kettle on!
No, we’re not talking about dressing as a carrot to befriend the crops until they dish the secrets. We’re talking polytunnels and greenhouses. Remember, structures on a plot have to be submitted for approval but once they’re in, we’re cooking with gas (or should we say, growing with glass!). Be mindful that during summer, your greenhouse plants will need to be checked on and watered every day.
These are just the basics of gardening styles that can be done on an allotment. We recommend researching further (Gardener’s World is always a great resource for advice) or if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask us.
Problems and pests
There are a number of pests that can cause issues with your plants in an allotment. You don’t want all of your hard work to be ruined by an army of caterpillars or some slimy slugs.
Copper rings and tape around pots and containers can be an effective deterrent for slugs. Horticultural grit, small stones, crushed seashells and eggshells scattered over the top of the compost are uncomfortable for snails to trail over so can be a good deterrent.
Slugs are also attracted to the smell of beer so making a ‘beer trap’ can be an effective method of keeping slugs away from your plants. Sink a container filled with cheap beer into the ground with the rim just up to the surface for the snails to be lured into.
Birds, ladybirds, wasps and hoverflies all eat aphids so attracting wildlife to your garden can help control the aphid problem. You can usually wash them off with a relatively strong jet of water from a hose.
Strong-smelling plants like onion, garlic, sage and nasturtiums planted next to young, more susceptible plants can help deter pests.
If you notice webbing across the leaves and damage to your plants, it’s likely caterpillars have become a problem. If you spot caterpillars on your plants you pick them off by hand. Organic insecticides can also help control a caterpillar infestation.
Composting is a great way to feed your soil with organic matter while recycling waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Having your compost bin on your plot means that it doesn’t take up precious space in your garden and can be a chance to make friends on the plot. You could create a communal compost bin allowing other allotment friends to add their waste to the bin and share some compost when it’s ready.
Wildlife should be encouraged on allotments. For the most part, wildlife can be helpful, but squirrels and rats can be a problem. Squirrels can dig up bulbs, but these can be protected by chicken wire.
If you’re finding evidence of rats or mice on your plot, reduce feeding birds or other wildlife, and make sure entrances to places where rats and mice nest such as under decking, in sheds and other storage areas are blocked up and secure and the plot is generally as tidy as it can be.
Water is available at allotments in North East Lincolnshire on a meter and the charge is distributed between all tenants so installing a water butt not only to save water but also to reduce costs is a good idea.
As a part of NAViGO, we know better than most the positive impact that gardening and spending time outdoors can have on your mental health and wellbeing. NAViGO have even set up their own community allotment for their service users to benefit from – you can read more about the communal allotment here.