So you’re now the proud tenant of your new plot. You look, you scratch your head, you stand and survey. The fact of the matter is, there is only one way to get a plot up and running and that’s hard work. I started with cutting through the bramble jungle, once cut down to ground level then the fun really begins. Digging out all of the roots, this is quite labour intensive but unfortunately very necessary it really is the only way to ensure they don’t grow back. If you’re lucky enough to inherit fruit bushes try and salvage what you can as these are usually quite established and still produce good fruit even if you decide to relocate. Just make sure when relocating that you dig down fair enough to get the entire root. I inherited quite a few raspberries on mine which I moved to a different bed and still managed to get a good crop, they fruited much better in the second planting season. I even discovered I had a yellow raspberry bush and they tasted so much sweeter.
After clearing the bramble, grasses and what seemed like 10,000 milk bottle tops (what’s that all about) the big dig started, it seemed to go on forever with moving old bottles and pieces of brick. I even came across several large pieces of old carpet. Sometimes people use carpet to suppress the weeds; you can buy much more environmentally friendly alternatives now thankfully. On our site we have a ban on carpet; we are only allowed to use horticultural tarpaulin.
Through the winter months when I am not using so many beds I tend to plant green manure. There are many different mixes to choose from, I personally use the clover mix but it depends on what soil you have as to which mix you choose. The green manure on the whole replaces nitrogen back into the soil. It is a fast growing plant sown to cover bare soil, perfect for allotments. The foliage smothers weeds and the roots prevent soil erosion, when dug into the ground while still green it returns valuable nutrients to the soil and improves soil structure. It is extremely easy to sow and grow, the only thing to remember is to make sure you dig the foliage and plant into the top 2.5cm (10in) of soil and to do this 3-4 weeks before you actually intend on planting or sowing as the decay in green material can hamper plant growth.
After digging, my allotment neighbour informed me he had a rotavator I could borrow. Some people dig, some people rotivate, it’s a personal choice. On our site its split down the middle, the older generation tend to dig whilst the younger ones rotivate (that sounds like a sweeping generalisation but it’s just what I have observed on our site).
Next step I decided I would have raised beds partly so I didn’t loose soil onto the pathways and also so I could use a lot of compost to improve the soil as it hadn’t been used for a long time. There was also a tiny lazy part of me that thought whilst watching my allotment neighbour dig from one side of her allotment to the other only to tread all over it, that surely it’s easier to concentrate on just digging the areas where your growing your veg. We are very lucky on our site we have a wood chip delivery and this is what we use in our paths between our beds, this makes life a lot easier and tidier. Many people use scaffold boards for their beds these are ideal if you can get hold of them, I personally used fencing kick boards.
Next purchase was a shed you need somewhere to store your tools and escape from the rain and most importantly brew a good cuppa. I purchased mine second hand on eBay for £77, my dad and my partner also added a veranda on the front as it gets quite stuffy in there in the summer. It’s a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by and it’s also turned into the site tea hut. You can have your shed as comfy or as basic as you like. I was lucky enough to be given a second shed 6×6 which became my t&t shed (toilet and tools) we don’t have toilets on our site so I have a camping toilet in mine. A lot of sites have size restrictions on sheds mine is 9ft x 8ft and must confess has become a home from home.
Once your beds are planned and your sheds are up, you can concentrate on your soil before planting and if you’re lucky enough to have a greenhouse it makes your growing season so much longer.
In my next post I shall give you some tips on what to grow and when.
Hi my name is Michelle, I was a contestant on BBC2 big allotment challenge 2014, and also BBC1 allotment wars. I have my own allotment and have done for 5 years now, so I will be discussing all things allotments from locating to preparing with you.