Getting that phone call or email telling you that you’ve reached the top of the allotment waiting list can be a bit of a surprise. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have put your name down ages ago, been warned it could be a few years before you hear anything, then promptly got on with raising a young family and almost forgot all about it. Then comes the call or email and before you know it, you’re being shown your new plot and quizzed on what you’ll be growing by well-meaning plot neighbours. Scary!
I remember very clearly feeling a combination of excitement and panic. The trick is to remind yourself that this is a fun new adventure for the whole family, not something to turn into another long to-do list. To help ease you in gently here are some tips and ideas for getting off on the right foot.
So what do you do first? It’s a really good idea to start with a review of your plot as it is. Visit your plot armed with pen, paper and camera and take a good long look at it. Make a rough sketch of the plot with any plants, buildings etc. marked out, and take some photos because you’re bound to want to check something later when you’re at home.
While you’re doing all this think about the following questions:-
What plants do you already have, if any?
If your plot has some established plants that you can use then lucky you! Don’t be tempted to keep plants just because they are there though; if they don’t supply you with a crop you actually want then they’re taking up valuable space.
What type of soil do you have?
This affects what plants you can grow well. Other plot-holders might be able to tell you this, or you can buy small soil testing kits at your local garden centre.
Is there any obvious work required immediately?
Typical examples of this are lots of weeds or grass to clear – this is quite likely so be prepared. Look at our plot when we moved in!
Is there any existing structure to the plot?
Are there raised beds, a compost area, obvious pathways etc. – and do they seem logically placed and/or useful to you?
Are there any buildings available to you?
You may have access to a shed, greenhouse or cold frame. If so check what state they are in and whether you will need to make any urgent repairs e.g. broken glass or leaky sheds like ours:-
Think about the elements in relation to your plot
Which way does the sun travel over it? Are there any shaded areas? How exposed to the wind is it? This is crucial information to have when planning out your crops.
Does your site have access to water?
If you have access to water for a hosepipe you will need to work out how far away your nearest tap is and how much hose you need. If there is no water on-site you will need to setup some form of rainwater collection, usually using water butts.
Thinking about these questions will really help you to build up a picture of what needs to be done and in what order. The urge to dive straight in with planting is hard to resist, but if you can dedicate a bit of time at the beginning to getting things in order you’ll reap the rewards later on.
What are your tips for tackling a new allotment or vegetable garden?