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New Allotmemt- help with designing needed

Hi all,

Ive just taken on a 125 sqm plot at an allotment site in Norwich. Its very overgrown with grass, there are tyres, an old broken wheelbarrow and a nice big heap of glass/broken laminate flooring currently shoved on the compost pile. Im a complete newbie, and I've been told the best thing to do first is to cut the grass down and cover half in black membrane whilst I work on digging the rest. 

Ive also inherited two apple trees, the tree at the front (no idea what it is or if it's alive!), a scattering of Autumn raspberry canes and a gooseberry bush. Id like to create 6 or so beds that I can grow veg in such as beetroot, butternut squash and purple sprouting (the list goes on). What is the best way to go about creating my beds and roughly how big should they be based on the 125sq m plot? Any help and advice would be much appreciated! I've attached a picture below of what it's like so far. When I met the allotment coordinator she did ask me if I was going to be having any 5"1 and 50kg I think I've got a lot of hard work to do as I'm on my own with this!

kind regards







  • CeresCeres Posts: 1,823

    I've spent three years trying to clear my allotment and I haven't managed it yet, but then I do have horsetails so I'm never going to win. I am doing the work by myself so my advice to you would be, spend as much time as you possibly can on the plot because it will beat you if you don't work very hard. The more you clear, the easier it gets and covering the newly cleared patches with something like cardboard or weed suppressant membrane will help you to keep on top of things. Plan out where everything is to go before you start so that you can get the paths in place, whether they be grass or bark chippings or whatever. The fruit trees and bushes you already have could very well produce good crops once you have cleared away the grass and weeds that are getting in their way. Get rid of the non-organic rubbish ASAP and get two or three compost bins to cope with all the lovely organic matter than will be produced over the coming years. A shed isn't essential but it certainly helps if you find it difficult to lug all your tools back and forth and it is somewhere to chuck all the canes and netting and what-have-you, not to mention somewhere nice and dry to shelter when it pees down (or somewhere to have a pee if you get caught short).

    Good luck with your plot. If you plant lots of nectar producing flowers you will have insects aplenty to help with pollination, and a pond or puddle is welcome to any wildlife in the area.

  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    I'd recommend (but others might disagree) that you use a no-dig system of beds about 4' (or 1.2m in new money) wide and in length just under half the width of the allotment with a path right down the middle and a narrower (just wide enough for a wheelbarrow) one between each two adjacent beds.

    This enables you to reach the middle of each bed from the sides and means that you never have to walk on the beds, avoiding soil compaction and all the evils that brings (although at only 50kg...).  You'd have to double-dig or at least bastard trench (you can look them up) all the beds to start with but after that it's just surface cultivation.  Except for spuds, once every few years, depending on he length of your rotation...

    ...I assume that you know about rotation?image

    ...and what have you got in the way of tools, and a budget to buy some?

    PM if you like - but there'll be plenty more advice on here!

  • Thank you both!

    I've got a shovel, a fork, a rake and a few small hand tools. My dads leant me a strimmer and I've bought some black membrane weed suppressant fabric. I've also bought some seeds and that's all I've got so far!

    I'm not 100% clued up on rotavating- I only know I've been told to avoid it for the first year as if I have weeds in the beds I may end up making future weeding jobs 10x worse.

    Thanks for your advice! Any more is well appreciated!
  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Don't rotovate.

    It would indeed chop up all those nasty roots into little bits, each of which would grow into a new weed to dig up.  And it would also chop up the earthworms, which are your friends - it is they that will do the rest of your digging for you in return for a ready supply of organic matter in the form of compost and manure.

    Get yourself a good spade (stainless steel for preference,and a good one at that), as well as your shovel and fork - these are your heavy duty digging tools.  If you're smaller than the average gardener you might do better with a smaller one, known as a lady's spade or border spade, but the job will take longer.  Alternatively, buy a crate of beer and invite your favourite members of the local Rugby team to help you.

    If the strimmer is a heavy duty one I'd start with that; cut the whole lot down as far as poss., rake it all off and consign it to a new compost heap.  Cover what you think you won't be able to cope with this winter with cardboard and the membrane.

    Mark out the beds in the other half with pegs and string.  Start digging, incorporating as much compost and/or well-rotted manure as you can lay your hands on.

    That should keep you going till Xmas!

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 9,006

    Good advice there Steve & Ceres.  The fact that rotovating kills worms is something I think a lot of folk forget!  Can't beat hand digging and, although it is hard work, it's an excellent way to keep fit.  Pick out every bit of root you see while digging Charlotte and that will help get rid of the nasty perennial ones.  My advice is to do one section at a time, and do it well.  That way you will see genuine progress and can feel proud of what you have done, otherwise it can be a bit daunting if you try (and fail) to do the whole plot in one go. image

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Hear hear.

    If you want a crop early next year, I'd plant some garlic and overwintering onions (such as Red Baron) as soon as you have a little bit clear, and also sow some Aquadulce Claudia broad beans (not too close to the onions as they don't get on well).  If you can get them started before the weather gets really cold you'll be eating your first baby broad beans in May, and garlic and onions soon after.  Maybe even spring greens if you can get some well-grown plants.

  • chickychicky SurreyPosts: 8,875

    Hi Charlotte - if you want some entertaining reading, but with lots of practical allotment tips sprinkled throughout, I can recommend Kay Sexton's books - Minding my peas and cucumbers, and the allotment diaries.  They inspired me, and made me laugh along the way.  They also have a really good explanation of crop rotation (as opposed to rotovationwhich might help you in future years.  Good luck with it allimage.

    We did not inherit the earth from our grandparents.  We’re borrowing it from our children.
  • Thanks so much for all the advice! I really do appriciate all of your comments. Can't wait to get down the allotment now!
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 60,525

    Hello Charlotte and welcome aboard image

    We're neighbours as I live close to Norwich - I have a small veg patch in my garden. 

    Have you come across this blog written by another Norwich allotmenteer ?  It may well be a chance for networking and mutual support image

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Do let us know how you're getting on; your problems and successes, thoughts and ideas, questions and comments!

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