Hello and welcome!
If you are an allotment newbie, you’ve just picked up the keys to your first allotment garden and you’re wondering where to begin – stick around.
In this blog I share my top 5 tips for allotment beginners. I’ve had an allotment since 2014 and I’ve learned many skills ‘by trowel and error’ over the last six years of keeping an allotment. Below you’ll find a few tips I wish I’d known at the start – so save yourself some time and take a look!
Tip 1: Weeding
Even if you want to take a No Dig approach, it’s important to start by weeding your plot carefully. Certain weeds such as bindweed cannot be killed by covering and mulching, and you’ll find that if you weed well now before you plant up the soil you’ll have a far easier time! Pay particular attention to any areas where you want to plant perennials, as once these are in the ground it will be much harder to weed around them.
If your new allotment is in a particularly bad state when you start, a great tip is to cover the whole plot using a weedproof membrane, uncovering small manageable sections at a time to work on them. This has the advantage of killing off most of the weeds (although not bindweed as I said before – you will still need to dig this out!). I now cover any vacant areas of my plot every winter so that I have a great starting canvas in spring! I have linked the brand of weed membrane I use here.
If you’re in a hurry and prefer to clear the land manually, for example with a strimmer, do watch out for wildlife. It’s a good idea to loudly poke around in long grass before you start to strim, to allow wildlife like hedgehogs to escape.
Tip 2: Layout
Observe your plot as much as you can before you plant it up, taking note of any particularly shady areas, which areas get the most sun, and whether anywhere is especially windy. Use this information to plan your allotment before you start to plant. Remember to think about pathways, and placement of water butts and a compost heap. Now is a good time to decide whether you want to be dig or No Dig, and if you want raised beds.
Don’t get too hung up on using a 3 or 4 bed rotation system, this is not actually necessary for most home gardeners unless you find you have problems with pests and diseases. Instead try to match shade tolerant plants such as salad crops and beets to shady areas, leaving space in full sun for the plants that need it.
Tip 3: Choose what you grow intentionally
One of my favourite aspects of being an allotment gardener is the sheer variety of seeds available. I like to research my choices carefully, choosing to grow crops that are difficult to find in shops, like pattypans or purple tomatoes, or crops which are expensive to buy but easy to grow, like soft fruit. Make sure to only grow things you actually want to eat, and to be careful about growing an appropriate amount. In my first year of growing I sowed a whole packet of tomato seeds and while I do love tomatoes, nobody needs 72 Gardener’s Delight seedlings!
Tip 4: Equipment
It’s very easy to think you need to go out a buy a lot of new gear but I’d say not to get too caught up on equipment and tools at the start. This is because if you’re just starting out you won’t be sure what tools you like or method of working you want to use. I consider a digging fork, spade, rake, Dutch hoe, onion hoe and a trowel to be all you’d need to start off with, they don’t need to be an expensive brand and are often available exceptionally cheaply as second hand job lots.
Tip 5: Community!
One of the best things about keeping an allotment is the instant community of like-minded growers you’ll find in your fellow plot holders. I’ve had many an interesting conversation with my plot neighbours, as well as offers of help, seed swaps, gifts of extra plants and produce and a valuable source of friendly knowledge. Don’t be afraid to use this! Many allotment associations hold annual shows and many of these have a beginners category available for entry by new growers only, which is another great way to meet like-minded people and get ideas and advice.
In the same vein, the online growing community has been one of the nicest groups I’ve people I’ve come across, especially on Instagram. I’ve had many helpful conversations, great garden chat and picked up loads of tips from the lovely people there. If I ever have a question there is always someone who can answer it, and conversely I’m always happy to answer any questions, so why not join our growing community if you haven’t already! I’ll leave a list of links below.
So there we have my Top 5 Tips for Allotment Beginners! It’s not a definitive list but hopefully you’ve found this useful if you’re just starting out. If you’re an allotment newbie do drop me a comment or send me an IG DM to say hi! If you’re a more experienced grower please drop your top tip in the comments below and share the knowledge!