Help,new allotment!

So I have been offered an allotment. I have wanted one for quite a bit,but I am very much an amateur. I grew some veg in pots last year with a bit of success but that is the limit to my experience. So after getting rid of the rubbish what should I do next? Do I need to strim it right back first? I really want to give this a go but feel a bit overwhelmed at the minute. 


  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 923
    Congratulations on getting your plot. Unfortunately yours is a typical case by the time a plot is released to a new tenant it is usually in this sort of state. Try not to be too daunted you have time. Rather than try to tackle the whole thing in one go think about what you want to grow & what style of growing you want to do, by that I mean do you want deep beds or to plant more traditionally in open rows, both systems have their merits. If you can get some landscape fabric such as Mypex you can cover parts that you do not want to tackle straight away. Clear a section or two to start either strim or scuff off the top (you can stack this upside down in a corner it will rot). Dig over carefully remove as much perennial weed roots as you can (you may have to do this more than once of there is couch grass or bindweed) Then when the weather warms up a bit you can get some crops in. Once you have some things growing you can start to tackle the next bit. Unless you are very fit do little & often so you wont be put off. The National Allotment society produces very good advice on starting off a new plot, & of course there is lots of advice on GW.

    AB Still learning
  • Hi Claire,

    I'm a newbie to, having got my first allotment this time last year. I'm sure you'll get loads of enjoyment from it. There are fantastic gardeners on here who will be able to give you much better advice than I ever could, but to kick things off I can give you some suggestions from what I did. It obviously depends on how much time you have and there are some people at our allotments who seem to spend loads of money on theirs. I didn't really want mine to be a money pit, nor could I spend all day every day there, so my suggestions would be:
    - rather than trying to tackle the whole thing in one go I would prepare a patch where you can plant some things for a quick fix while you work on the rest. Having some things growing will make clearing the rest that much easier.
    - each time I did a trip to the dump I collected a load of cardboard and laid that over the bits I wasn't going to work for a while. It looks like you've got lots of bricks to weigh it down. It worked surprisingly well to kill off the grasses and easy weeds. As Allotment Boy says you'll eventually have to dig out any deep rooted weeds, but it'll be easier.
    - Freecycle is brilliant. There's often garden table and chairs that come up, which I think is important for you to take a breather when you start. I also got a lot of compost and topsoil from Freecycle as we have pretty horrible clay at our place so I needed to ship stuff in. There's a lot more on offer through the summer as people start building their patios and things, so I wouldn't rush it. But once you know what kind of soil you've got people here will be able to give you advice.
    - I know we don't need it at the moment but I assume you know where you'll get water from in the summer.
    - If like me you've only got a little car (Toyota Aygo) get a good vacuum cleaner.
    Once you get going it will be really good fun and you'll be surprised by your successes and find yourself watching Monty Don saying "not like that Monty!".

  • LearnincurveLearnincurve Posts: 284
    I dug half my plot out last year, was horrible and at times I wanted to sit down and weep. Put black tarp over it over winter which I took up this week - a glorious beautiful workable blank canvas is my reward.  If I had to do it again I would start digging right now  last year I started late, and got held up by that nasty late frost, so by the time I got enough clear to start planting anything it was June. 
  • Congratulations on actually getting an allotment. I was only on the waiting list for a matter of weeks before recieving mine and when I chatted to the other plot holders found that some of them had been waiting for 10 Years + ........... Awkward!

    Our plots were very much like yours and we were luckly enough that the farmer put week killer down and rotovated the whole area for us before we began.  Thinking this was normal and ok I did contuinue to use weed killer on the worst bits of my plot the following year. I have now come to realise how damagining this is and how much it upsets the natural balance of the land. I highly reccomend The Living Jigsaw book by Val Bourne, she explains how creating a natural balance allows lots of pests and diseases to be controlled by nature. I now use cardboard and week surpressant fabric as well as green manures to prevent weeds.

    My biggest top tip is to not use a rotovator - thsi will chop upall of your perennial weeds and just make matters worse!

    Good Luck

    If you need saesonal tips check out my blogs

  • Claire LClaire L Posts: 4
    Thank you all for your advice,it’s going to be a steep learning curve but I feel determined to do this. On the plus side the plot is local,10 mins in car or 5 on foot and I only work 3 days so I have a bit of time to commit to it. Now stupid question but when you put the cardboard down over the area you aren’t going to work on,would I put it down now as it looks in the pic or would it be best to strim it all back first? I can get hold of plenty of cardboard at work so that’s another good thing.
  • On mine I generally just laid it on top and weighed it down, but in places where some docks or dandelions were creating too much of a bump I cut them down with shears first. You're just trying to deprive them of light. It looks like you've got tufty bits that may make it difficult to lay flat so would probably want to chop them first. The biggest problem I had was the bind weed popping out of the sides or through any available gap, so I went around either tucking them back in or cutting them off every few days. Just remember I'm a beginner too so some of the more experienced gardeners may be groaning at this suggestion, but it worked well for me and is better than using lots of plastic. And when you're finished you can either dig the cardboard in or put it in the composter. Docks, dandelions, bindweed .... ahhh happy times and I haven't even mentioned the mare's tail yet.
  • GWRSGWRS Posts: 5,110
    Hello , lots of good advice already
    personally I would mark out paths and only do a bit at a time , most fail on our site who try and do it all in one go 
    my own plot had weeds taller than me when I started 
    my first job was to clear a site for a shed and a sitting area 
    this is a great site for practical hands on advice 
    best of luck 
  • Pauline 7Pauline 7 West Yorkshire Posts: 253
    Take plenty of photos, if you start to get discouraged you can look back and see what you have done,  not what still needs doing. ...........besides we like looking at photos. 
  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 923
    You're just trying to deprive them of light. It looks like you've got tufty bits that may make it difficult to lay flat so would probably want to chop them first. The biggest problem I had was the bind weed popping out of the sides or through any available gap, so I went around either tucking them back in or cutting them off every few days. 
    Paul I certainly would NOT groan at that suggestion you are absolutely right you are trying to weaken it by stopping it from photosynthesising. It is a good technique if you can be persistent enough.
    Clare L if you can get it strummed off first it will help when you lay cardboard or fabric down but as others have said it is not essential. I did not say in my original reply it is a good idea to draw up a plan of what you want where. It does not have to be posh or even to scale just a rough mark out of what you want where & what you put in. With the annual crops you will need to rotate (move them round to different positions) as the seasons progress. If you are anything like me you will not remember exactly so having it written down will help. A good crop for helping clear the ground is early potatoes. It works because of the number of times the ground is disturbed and their foliage suppresses weeds. If you get some in by early April (unless frost is forecast) you will have a crop by late June/ early July & a clean patch of well cultivated ground to plant something else. Good first earlies are Foremost, Swift & Rocket.
    AB Still learning
  • Firefly∆Firefly∆ Posts: 312
    I would imagine there are some great books out there, for newbie allotmenteers....

  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 923
    Oh yes there are loads just about everyone has written a book on growing veg & some of them are actually useful but GW & RHS websites are as good as anything. 
    AB Still learning
  • LearnincurveLearnincurve Posts: 284
    And I have pretty much all of them lol. Allotment month my month by Alan Buckingham is the only one you need, it does have the usual how to start an allotment stuff at the start but also has a monthly guide in the middle and a crop planner in the back which is what you actually want to know about. 
  • Claire LClaire L Posts: 4
    Yes Pauline 7 I shall take plenty of photos. I’ve ordered RHS Allotment and planner book to browse through. Apart from potatoes,what other veg a good for a newbie to grow? And a rotovators a big no no?
  • LearnincurveLearnincurve Posts: 284
    edited 13 March
    Absolutly do not allow anyone on the allotments to pressure you into using a rotivator on a patch that has not been dug out or covered and cleared, they are either malicious or idiots. Scary horror movie music builds...Any weeds that come up from runners can multiply from a tiny tiny cutting and a rotivator will make thousands of them.... 
  • The lessons I learned last year (my first):
    Sweetcorn - brilliant, never occurred to me you could grow it in a UK allotment but it was really good. Unfortunately, I only found out after the season ended that you could make popcorn in the microwave, so can't wait for this year's crop.
    Beetroot - we've only just finished the chutney made from last year's crop.
    Courgettes - don't plant too many as they seemed to double in size overnight and we were trawling the internet for things to do with marrow. Ended up using them for sculpture practice.
    Cabbage and cauliflower - got butchered by just about everything. Attenbrough could have made another Life in the Undergrowth series on them.
    Beans and peas - fantastic and early in the year so you have something to show for your efforts. Broad beans were really nice and I'm hoping to plant a lot more this year. Runner beans just kept coming, which was unfortunate as I don't really like them but someone on the allotments gave me the seeds. Dwarf beans really good too.
    Kale - planted after other things finished and was really good through to Christmas - makes a nice soup with leeks.
    Carrots - destroyed by carrot fly, which was really disappointing because they took so long and looked really good until I pulled them up.
    Herbs - lemon balm and mint were good for making teas. I just bunged them in a caffetiere and poured boiling water on them and it was really nice. Good to have parsley, chives and things around, but I always forgot to bring them home from the allotment and only remembered in the middle of cooking. I think it's nice to have some herbs that you can ruffle their heads and get a nice smell while you're working.
    I've planted my fruit bushes and strawberries now, so hoping to get some fruit this year.

    I got all my seeds from Wilko, so for 50p a pack it didn't matter so much if things failed. As a beginner I wasn't that concerned by particular varieties or exotic things. I'll make my mistakes on the basics over these few years and then get more adventurous. I'd just go to the shops and choose the packets you like the look of. The final thing I've learned is to be a bit more brutal about thinning out. I was so excited that any seedlings were actually growing that I was reluctant to pull any up. but in the end that meant all my lettuces grew up rather than out so I need to get more ruthless.
  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 923
    And I have pretty much all of them lol. Allotment month my month by Alan Buckingham is the only one you need, it does have the usual how to start an allotment stuff at the start but also has a monthly guide in the middle and a crop planner in the back which is what you actually want to know about. 
    Oh so do I hence my comment  :) but I agree fully with your recommendation if you want to go a bit  more detailed there is Joy Larkcom  who has several books on the subject.
    AB Still learning
  • Claire LClaire L Posts: 4
    Does anyone have an opinion on raised beds, pros and Cons? Would they be better for carrots due to carrot fly problems?
  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 14,220
    I think you have to go above 24" / 60cm to miss carrot fly, but I might well be wrong.

  • Allotment BoyAllotment Boy North London Posts: 923
    Hostafan1 said:
    I think you have to go above 24" / 60cm to miss carrot fly, but I might well be wrong.

    No you are quite right, the recommended way is to attach stiff fleece round a deep bed there are systems that are sold for this, or you can make your own.
    In terms of raised  beds as always there are advantages & disadvantages  both ways. Beds enable a no dig approach, they warm up faster, they allow close spacing & high productivity. They can be made with boards or just soil piled up higher than surrounding level. Depending on your soil disadvantages can be, they dry out fast in summer, the rain can compact the soil down hard if you do not dig or use large amounts of compost or manure (especially on clay soil). The paths in between beds can harbour perennial weeds which can invade the beds. In my experience many people start with beds at first but then revert to the open ground system, but then my plots are on London clay where couch grass & bindweed are rife. 
    AB Still learning
  • My plan for this year is that I've bought a packet of the Resistafly Carrots and I've saved a load of coca cola bottles over the winter. So I'll sow the seed and then droop fleece over the bottles placed on top of short sticks pushed into the ground. I'm thinking to put parsnips under the fleece too, so I can cover that whole bed. That's my plan - but I bet the flies have got their own.
    Our allotments seem to be split roughly half and half between those using raised beds and those not. The end results don't seem to be much different. I imagine the raised beds provided quicker results when first built, but probably cost a bit.
    Forgot to mention before that I also started a pollinators' bed, in which I grew things like cerinthe, borage and lavender. Even though it's not a crop as such it was perhaps the thing that gave me most pleasure last year. When we did have a nice long summer evening I really enjoyed watching all the different type of bees and hoverflies.
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