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Starting out on an allotment: what to do first
5 Oct

Starting out on an allotment: what to do first

Posted By: rocket veg Category: Seasonal Tips

The ‘phone rings and a voice at the other end tells you that you are being offered an allotment plot. All that time on the waiting list and your name has finally come to the top – patience rewarded! After the elation, cold reality and the enormity of the task ahead set in, especially when you’ve paid a visit to the site and seen with your own eyes the weed and bramble-infested scrap of land that you are being offered. You might be one of the lucky few who take over a plot in near-pristine condition, where the previous tenant has been forced to give up for good reasons, rather than being told to quit because their plot was a right mess, but most new allotment tenants find themselves facing a bit of a challenge.

Early autumn is the perfect time to make a start and begin to get your new plot into shape, ready for sowing when spring comes, so here are a few helpful suggestions what to do first. This is neither a definitive list nor a comprehensive description of each task – more a few pointers from someone who has experience of taking on a neglected plot. Above all, remember that allotment gardening should be fun and ‘a little and often’ is better than a day of hard slog followed by a weeks of inactivity.

First…take stock

Before rushing ahead to tackle those weeds, take a good look and see what established plants might be lurking under the brambles and nettles. Overgrown fruit bushes – black and red currants, gooseberries and the like – should give you good service once they have been cleared and pruned. Seek out the corner where a few straggly herbs may be growing and see if they are worth rescuing. There may be some real treasures like asparagus lurking under the soil, so don’t be in too much of hurry to dig up any trailing white roots which you come across. Start by asking the person responsible for the allotment site if they have any idea of perennial plants growing on the plot.

Clearing weeds and unwanted vegetation

If you’ve inherited an overgrown plot, don’t despair. In spite of their thorns and stings, brambles and nettles are relatively simple to clear: put on a pair of sturdy gloves, cut the plant stems and foliage back first and then ease the roots free from the soil using a fork. Perennial weeds, generally the ones with trailing white roots (bindweed, couch grass, ground elder and so on) need to be dug out, a tedious but satisfying job. When it comes to tackling large areas of weeds and grass, to save a lot of heavy digging, cover the area with big sheets of cardboard to screen out light, causing plants to wither and die. Plastic sheeting weighted down with bricks or lengths of timber will work just as well but cardboard has the added advantage in that it will rot down over time, adding organic matter to the soil.

Any woody matter that you clear can be heaped into a corner and left to rot down, or burnt. Most allotment sites allow bonfires during the winter months but be sure to check before lighting – better still, compost as much green waste as you can.

Start a compost heap

Another job to get on with soon after you make a start on your plot is to make a compost heap. If you are unsure what kind of container will be best for holding all that green waste that your plot will generate, take a look at how other allotmenteers manage. Buying a plastic compost bin is a quick and easy option, but is unlikely to hold the quantity of green waste generated on an allotment and you’ll be better off getting hold of a few wooden pallets, the perfect size to create a compost container when joined in clusters of three.

That’s more than enough to get you going – happy digging!

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