I have an anniversary. I have been an allotmenteer for 10 years; I think that qualifies me as one of the ‘old girls’!
I made it through the struggles of taking on an overgrown plot; I’ve learnt to be patient with the rhythms of growing and felt a deep satisfaction when after four years, all 10 rods were finally under cultivation. It has held my interest and passion, the battle of the bindweed and horsetail continues and the plot brings me a deep sense of calm and well-being.
Here are my ten tips for successful allotmenteering:
- Everyone does it differently: There are no rights or wrongs, choose a cultivation and growing method that works for you. Raised beds, digging, no-dig, rotavating, organic, or a bit of everything. I started out with raised beds and then discovered that I needed larger areas to grow potatoes and brassicas.
- Don’t try to eat the elephant whole: Or in this case, dig the whole plot in a weekend. That’s why I started out with raised beds; one 8×4 rectangle at a time eventually joined up to become 250 sq ft of cultivated soil.
- Re-use, repurpose and recycle (aka skip diving): You know what I mean; the windows that become a coldframe, the blue water pipe as cloche hoops or a polytunnel, doors as compost bins or work benches and 101 ways with a pallet. All I’ll say about skips is it’s best not to climb in one while wearing the day job suit and heels…
- Grow what you like to eat: Seems obvious but I found myself growing radish and chard because everyone raved about them; personally I think they are the Devil’s veg but each to their own.
- Experiment: Try new seeds and varieties and decide what you like. Save seeds and see what germinates. Try out new techniques, have a go at taking cuttings.
- Failing is learning: So that complicated structure for the beans fell over, the fancy cane builders don’t work, carrot fly will ruin the entire carrot and parsnip crop and storm force winds will send a polycarb greenhouse on a long trip. I know these things because it went wrong first time around and I’ve adapted my approach.
- Portion control: Your plot will invariably grow more than you can eat, preserve and store. 16 tomato plants in a good year produced two full carrier bags of fruit every other day! My neighbours would run and hide!!
- Share: One of the joys is how generous plotters are; in accepting new members, in sharing seeds, plants, cuttings, produce and knowledge.
- Sit for a while: Remember this is your hobby and you’re supposed to enjoy it. Take a break from the digging or weeding and look at what you’ve achieved. Every shed should have space for a camping stove and kettle.
- Love your compost heap: Throw on everything except pernicious weeds like bindweed, horsetail, ground elder etc. and it will reward you with an annual supply of rich, crumbly goodness for the soil. Make as much space for your heaps as you can, ideally one should be in progress, one brewing and one ready. An hour spent turning and emptying a bin is equal to at least four hours in the gym.