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Your essential allotment rulebook

22nd June 2020

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Give some consideration to the allotment with this essential allotment rulebook - your crops will thank you!

Making the decision to cultivate crops on an allotment for the first time can be an exciting, but also an overwhelming prospect, but there are a number of questions you can consider that will help to expel any doubts that you might have. As a rule of thumb, a full-sized allotment is approximately 250 square metres, and this is big enough to feed a family of four. However, if this feels like too much to manage, half or quarter sized plots can be rented out. Before you add yourself to a waiting list, check whether there are any limitations that you should be aware of. These includes rules preventing fruit trees, greenhouses, polytunnels, sheds and find out if there is a problem with theft. Although, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for sites to experience theft.

Some plots will also be in better shape than others. Depending on how much time you’ve got to devote to your allotment, it might be wise to wait for a well-tended plot then inherit an overgrown one that will need a lot of TLC. But an overgrown plot, once cleared, can bring good returns.

Make some initial considerations

As you might imagine, allotments in different parts of the country will be subject to different weather conditions. A plot on the Shetland isles, for example, will have far more wind and rain that one in the southernmost tip of Cornwall. Ideally, your new allotment will be in a sunny position but this is not always the case. It’s therefore important to scrutinise the conditions on your site and to plan accordingly. The owner of a windy allotment might struggle to grow more tender fruits and vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers and might be better off growing half-hardy or hardy crops instead. Fruit that can be grown in shade include redcurrants, white currants, winecurrants and gooseberries, blackcurrant and rhubarb. The best choice of vegetables include beetroot, chard, kale, kale rabi and some lettuces.

Prepare the plot

If your plot is full of weeds then these will need to be disposed off. To do this, cut every weed down to stubble, lever them out by hand, making sure to remove the root as this is all the plant needs to grow back. However tempting it might be, resist the urge to use a rotavator – this tool will chop the weeds up and spread them around your allotment – causing them to multiply. You should then hoe the ground to remove any lasting weeds and dispose of them in general waste, by burning or adding to a hot compost bin (never cold).

The next thing to do is to assess the quality of your soil. In an ideal world, your allotment will have loamy soil - a mixture of sand, silt and clay, that is mouldable when rubbed between the fingers, and not sticky or sandy. Loamy soil is fertile, well-drained and easy to work with, which is why it’s the best sort for crop cultivation. However, if your soil is more clay, or sandy, don’t panic, as there are things that you can do which will help to improve it. Clay and sandy soils, for example, benefit from the introduction of lots of organic matter over time as this helps to break down the clods and bind the loose grains into more fertile clumps. You should also pick plants that will suit the particular growing conditions that you’re working with. Clay soils struggle with drainage problems, meaning plants can easily become waterlogged, especially during periods of heavy rainfall, so grow fruits and veggies that don’t need free-draining conditions. Crops grown on sandy allotments will need extra watering.

Work out what you’d like to grow, and what way you’d like to grow it

Traditionally, allotments are set out in a three or four year rotation and in rows. For a four-course rotation, grow potatoes and tomatoes in the first year, root vegetables in the second, peas and beans in the third and brassicas in the fourth. However, growers are now choosing to grow in squares, raised beds and to mix up beds. It’s therefore up to the gardener to decide what works best for them and what to grow.

It’s up to you to decide what you’d like to grow. However, it’s a good idea to start off with good beginner crops, such as lettuces, tomatoes, strawberries and carrots, as these are relatively easy to grow, and will give you great returns.

For more brilliant growing advice, visit The Grow Show now

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