Top tips for National Allotments Week

Posted on: 09 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

Amateur gardeners and Allotment Associations are again being called on to further successfully raise the profile of allotment gardening by supporting National Allotments Week.

National Allotments Week is now promoted by the National Allotment Gardens Trust in partnership with the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. The initiative, which this year runs between the 9 - 15 August, aims to promote awareness of allotments, both locally and nationally.

National Allotment Gardens Trust wishes to encourage as many gardeners as possible to support the initiative, and to promote the social benefits of allotment gardening which include benefits to health, education and community well-being. The initiative is also designed to highlight the benefits of allotment gardening/culture to councils across the United Kingdom who are at present not providing or not presently able provide this invaluable community resource.

By promoting allotment gardening, says the NSALG, the public will see the benefits of raising vegetables, fruit and flowers for both eating and exhibiting. This, the Society believes, will help to promote gardening, vegetable-growing and consumption as a healthy pursuit and lifestyle.

Top 10 tips for allotment gardening

1. First things first

Congratulations on obtaining your plot! Don’t do too much digging straight away; the best time to start on your plot is in the autumn, but this will of course depend on when you get it.

Start off at a steady pace: we recommend half hour a day, this should be sufficient to keep your plot tidy and weed free. If you can’t make it every day, then you can put the hours in at the weekend.

If your plot is overgrown, cut it back to a short stubble before you start digging. Watch you don’t over do it, should you injure yourself now, you’ll be put off coming back.

If you are a novice gardener, it might be worthwhile asking for a half plot; then when you be-come more experienced and confident, see if you can upgrade to a standard full plot (250 sq mtrs or 300 sq yds).

2. Remove weeds

The ‘long term’ object is to remove every trace of weeds, including the roots. This might mean a lot of hard work initially but avoid using a rotovator as some weeds, particularly the more persistent (couch grass, docks, nettles, bindweed) will be chopped up and will spread and multiply as a result. It may seem tedious, but regularly hoeing in dry weather is the best way to kill off weeds.

3. Which Tools?

Five essential tools are needed: spade, fork, trowel, rake and hoe. It is worthwhile investing in good quality tools, since these can last a lifetime and save you money in the long run. However, it is worthwhile checking out the second-hand shops, car boot sales or internet auction sites, for a bargain.

4. Check your Soil Type

It is important to know your soil type as this will make your time on the plot easier. You should carry out a pH test to ascertain if the soil is alka-line or acid; you can pick up a relatively cheap and simple kit from most garden centres. If your soil is on the acid side apply garden lime before planting out brassicas, since these prefer the soil slightly alkaline.

The test will also provide you with the levels of important nutrients required, potash, phosphate. If low, increase by adding plenty of organic matter, or by using bal-anced fertilisers, which includes nitrogen. If high, add nitrogen only which is lost quickly from the soil. Test the soil every 3-4 years.

Whatever your soil type, it’s worth forking in plenty of garden compost, well-rotted manure or other bulky organic matter to improve the fertility, texture and its ability to retain moisture during the dry season.

5. Which Crops?

Grow crops which you, your family and friends enjoy eating before getting too adventurous. Crops to begin with are early potatoes, peas, runner and French beans, salads, onions, beetroot, courgettes, broccoli, cabbage, pumpkins and squashes.

6. Crop Rotation

If you want to keep crops growing well for years to come and avoid a build up soil-borne diseases, it’s worth adopting a simple crop rotation system. A four section yearly rotation is best, there are no set rules on how you should divide your plot – it will depend on what you like to eat and what you can grow.

A simple plan is as follows:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Peas/beans
  3. Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage)
  4. Onions/roots (carrots, parsnips)

Anything which doesn’t fit into these groups might be fitted into any area. Keep a note of what you have planted and where, as labels don’t always stay put in windy weather! This might also help you with planning for the following year.

The following year, rotate the groups either way – however, always move them in the same direction

7. Start a compost bin

Save money and make a simple wooden frame for potato peelings, fallen leaves, pruning and grass clippings, these will rot down to make excel-lent homemade compost. You may find it useful to have two—one for older compost that’s ready to use and one to fill with new material.

8. Sow seeds

It’s important to sow seeds at the right time: April/May is better for seeds sown in the open. Before that, the ground may be too cold and wet. Only hardy seeds should be sown outdoors. The less hardy need protection and should be sown under glass in a sheltered spot or greenhouse. Check the packet. Plants grown in a greenhouse or frame need to be gradually acclimatised to cooler outdoor condi-tions before being planted out.

9. Planting Seedlings

Seedlings should be planted into a moist soil and lightly watered in. Once established, wetting the surface with a light watering will only en-courage a lazy root system. You can protect new plants with bottle cloches (2 litre pop bottles can be cut to suit). Raise plants in pots, then plant out sturdy plants and also grow varieties which have resistance to disease. If you have a shed, a good idea is to harvest the rainwater, but don’t use it on your seedlings as it may contain algae.

10. Enjoy it!

This is the most important one of all. Get to know people on your site, as fellow plotholders can give you lots of advice and encouragement. And remember - it’s also a tenant’s duty to keep boundary hedges cut and trimmed and their plot free from weeds, so make sure you do your bit!

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