Winter is the perfect time to plan your allotment. And with a little help, you can grow more than ever before. We asked our favourite bloggers for their top tips. Whether you’re an allotment newbie or a seasoned plotter, here’s plenty of golden advice…
How to plan your plot
Planning an allotment from scratch can seem like a daunting task. Some people use computer programmes to map their beds and plan a rotation schedule while others figure it out as they go along. Here’s how our experts plan their growing space…
“I tend to spend time over the festive period, auditing the seedbox,” says Punam of Horticultural ‘obbit. “I take a look at the seeds that were used… This gives me a good idea of what I have enjoyed sowing, what didn’t quite make it to the kitchen worktop and what I might want to re-visit.”
Other gardeners start with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Liz of Holding on 4 says: “In the past I’ve used online planners, but find the easiest way to plan is with paper, pencil and an eraser.” Alan of Alan’s Allotment agrees that mapping his beds on paper helps him organise his thoughts: “I have a drawing of both of my plots and I use those to plan and rotate my beds.”
Stephanie Hafferty of No Dig Home has a great way of organising her crops. She splits her produce into those that require frequent attention and those that need less time and effort:
“I grow food in my allotment, front garden and back garden polytunnel…I mostly grow veg which needs more heat, attention or regular picking at home (herbs, salad, soft fruit, aubergines, tomatoes etc), and plants like sweetcorn, courgettes, potatoes, squash and celeriac at the allotment. A key part of my planning is making sure I’m growing year round, thinking about successional growing to make the most of the space.
Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment takes a much more relaxed approach: “Generally, I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. Mainly because life and the weather can often lay waste to the best laid plans…I tend to plan, on average 5M2 at a time, mainly to avoid disappointment.”
How to make your allotment more productive
Making your allotment more productive means maximising succession planting, rotating crops to get the most from the soil, and using every spare inch of space.
Liz from Holding on 4 plans her summer crops around hard-working vegetable beds that are still full of winter brassicas, root veg and herbs: “So, at the start of the year I plan what will go into the empty beds and also what can go in later, after I have harvested the winter crops.”
Should you worry about crop rotation in your allotment? Not according to Liz:
“I don’t worry too much about crop rotation because, with successional planting and interplanting, most beds produce two, three or four crops per year. For planting seedlings and sowing seeds later in the year I just put them in wherever there is a space. I simply try to avoid planting the same family of plants that were in the space immediately beforehand.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sue of Green Lane Allotments takes a high-tech approach to the question of rotation:
“In some parts of the plot we operate a three year rotation and in other parts a four year rotation. Using an application called GrowVeg we have set up a plan of our allotment. Plans are stored each year and the application flags up if any crop is being grown in the same place too soon etc. We also keep notes on when each crop is sown so we have a ready made sowing guide for subsequent years.”
How to decide what to grow at your allotment
Every one of our bloggers recommends planting the things that you most love to eat. But other considerations play a part, like how much water different crops need. It’s also good to concentrate on the things that are expensive to buy, or those that rapidly lose flavour while sitting on a supermarket shelf. Some crops, like lettuce or spinach, taste infinitely better when picked and eaten on the same day. Here’s how our bloggers choose what to grow…
Historically, Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment grew the expected potatoes, carrots, sprouts, runner beans…etc. “However,” he told us, “this year I’m going to be growing things I like to eat. Raspberries were a good start in that, but I’m also going to be growing asparagus, gooseberries and blueberries this year too.”
Michelle of Veg Plotting explains that space is the determining factor, whether she’s growing at home or at her old allotment: “I look for varieties that are productive and can grow in a smaller space. Blight resistance in tomatoes is key, as well as taste, as I can only grow them outdoors.”
Sue of Green Lane Allotments grows a mixture of veg, fruit and flowers on her plot, but she says: “Vegetables and fruit are grown based on what we like to eat. For us there is little point growing things that we don’t enjoy eating.”
John of Allotment Gardening agrees: “I don’t see the point in growing things you don’t like to eat, so that’s my starting point. We decide what we’re likely to want, add a bit to compensate for the inevitable failures and then work out a cropping plan to provide that.”
Allotment growing is the perfect way to provide your whole family with healthy food. Over at Alan’s Allotment, he gets the whole family involved in making the decisions: “When I first got my allotment we had a family meeting to work out what I should grow.”
Some allotmenteers grow extra crops to swap with their neighbours. Others run honesty box schemes or make a little money by selling their surplus. For Liz of Holding on 4, the produce she grows needs to appeal to more than just her own family:
“ As I grow almost all of the fruit and vegetables for our family and also offer a local veg box scheme (up to 20 families in 2020), I try to choose a wide range to give us plenty of variety throughout the year. Varieties are chosen for their taste and for quality over quantity.
How to choose between old favourites and new varieties
While it’s important to concentrate on growing the crops you most like to eat, it’s fun to try new varieties as well. If you start small, you won’t have much to lose if something doesn’t work out. The huge benefit to having an allotment is being able to grow things that you can’t buy in the supermarket.
John of Allotment Gardening says: “The best tip I can offer is to grow your ‘bankers’ – that is, the varieties you can bank on, but to try something new each year.”
Alan told us that he likes to mix it up: “I also like to try growing something new: last year was Kiwano, this year I have two varieties of melon.”
Stephanie of No Dig Home expresses a similar excitement at trying out new varieties every year:
“Plants are chosen mostly based on what we like to eat but every year I also try out different varieties to explore new flavours, or for recipes I’m wanting to try out. I grow a lot of different kinds of veg – usually around 20 different aubergines, 12 kinds of basil, 20 different squash, over 30 varieties of tomatoes, several kinds of sweetcorn… it is a real passion.
Michelle of Veg Plotting agrees that this is what it’s all about: “Allotment life is about what works for you and finding the tastes you love. Try some varieties you can’t buy in the shops and be amazed.”
8 top tips to get the most from your allotment
When it comes to getting the most from your allotment, the quality of your soil has a huge impact on the size and quality of your produce. Feeding the soil and keeping the weeds down will give your crops the best chance to thrive. Then you need to make sure you sow your seeds correctly. Here’s what our bloggers suggest…
- Feed the soil
“I ask a lot from [my] raised beds each year, so I concentrate on feeding the soil whenever I can. During winter I mulch with well-rotted compost, composted wood chips and used duck bedding and in the spring and summer I add nettle and comfrey tea. I also chop and drop comfrey leaves on the beds in between the growing plants.” – Liz from Holding on 4
- Keep on top of weeds
“We make use of weed control fabric and grow many crops through this. It makes the war on weeds manageable and means that our crops have less competition for space, and moisture etc. We also feel there are added bonuses in that the fabric cuts down on evaporation and being black helps warm the soil.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
- Try the ‘no-dig’ method
“For the allotmenteer, no dig gardening means less work, fewer weeds (because annual weed seeds are not exposed by digging), fewer slugs and other pests, and less watering: the compost mulch conserves moisture. It also increases biodiversity, the compost mulch supporting many different wildlife including black beetles, which prey on slugs!” – Stephanie of No Dig Home
- Follow the planting instructions on seed packets
“To ensure best crops… read what it says on the back of seed packets and also look on the suppliers’ websites and take notice of the growing advice.” – Alan of Alan’s Allotment
- Pay attention to local conditions
“We time our seed sowing to coincide with when the conditions are right which is often later than specified on seed packets. Later sown seeds usually catch up whereas seeds sown too early when the ground isn’t right rarely flourish.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
- Invest in strong and healthy plug plants
“Don’t be afraid to buy plug plants if you don’t have the time or space to grow from seed.” – Michelle of Veg Plotting
- Add some flowers to the mix
“We grow flowers for cutting, and to make the plot more attractive to pollinators and other wildlife. They also make the plot more interesting for us.” – Sue from Green Lane Allotments
- Look after your back
“I found converting my allotment to a raised bed, no-dig, peat-free system was very rewarding and saved a lot of time. I’m applying the same principles at home with some raised containers. My back’s loving the lack of bending down!” – Michelle of Veg Plotting
Allotments are about more than gardening
Having an allotment is about more than just growing things. It’s about connecting with other people in the allotment community, reducing your carbon footprint and making healthy, homegrown ingredients the centre of family mealtimes. Here’s how to make your allotment your “happy place”:
- Be philosophical
“Be prepared to have failures and don’t let this dishearten you. Even the most experienced gardener will have some failures most years. Each year you will find that some crops do better than others.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
- Keep it simple
“Don’t make it a chore. Going with a particular job in mind and completing that job, in my opinion is the way to go. Once you complete that job, not only is that positive reinforcement for the next visit, but means that anything that comes after is a bonus.” – Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment
- Invest in some chairs
“I take at least a few minutes every day to sit and observe, to appreciate what’s growing and to listen to and watch the insects, birds and other wildlife. [It] isn’t all about work, it’s also about enjoying the fresh air, the plants and everything that lives in the garden… and the freshest, tastiest fruit and veg we’ve ever had!” – Liz of Holding on 4
We hope you’ve enjoyed this expert guide to getting the most from your allotment. Here’s wishing you a productive, fruitful and joyful year on your plot.
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