Essential Allotment Tools and Equipment
Many novice allotment growers have an aspiration, or dream, to return a profit from dirt. The line of thought is something like seeds are very cheap, perhaps £2 a packet, and from this it is possible to grow a year’s supply of any particular crop.
And then there is reality! My experience is that allotment growing is like many types of business, where investment is needed to get going. Featured below are what I consider to be the essential tools required to start growing. My quick calculation is that this is an investment in the region of £200-£500 – not including your time investment and cost of seeds!
Over the years, the initial investment will be repaid and more. Tools should last for many years, an experienced gardener will learn to grow more with less, and perhaps just as importantly, an allotmenter will learn their favourite crops and ways of storing them over the winter months.
Water Pump (or other water supply)
Access to water, and how easy it is to water your crops during the height of summer, is the most important consideration of all regarding planning your allotment. If you can, choose a plot near a tap or water pump. This will save you much time and energy.
Watering Can (ideally two – one for each hand)
Bigger is not always better, but my suggestion is to buy the biggest watering cans you are able to carry. This will reduce the amount of trips you need to make between your water supply and your crops. Two watering cans are better than one as it is a more equal load on your shoulders and back.
An indispensable allotment tool. Over the years this is the tool I use the most at the allotment, from preparing new beds to turning the soil over to suppress weed growth at the end of summer. For an alternative to a spade, try a google search for an ‘azada’.
Forks are indispensable for breaking up the soil, and are also great for lifting roots such as brambles and tap rooted weeds. They are also useful for turning earth to lift out couch grass and bind weed.
This is probably the tool I use least of all those ones shown on this page. Its role is important nonetheless.
I reach for my rake at seed planting time. First step is always to dig over the bed to loosen the soil. Second step is to rake, to create a lovely level surface that will make it as easy as possible for seedlings to burst through after germination. They are also useful for collecting weeds and other debris that may fall onto your plot.
During the first year of having an allotment I did not use a hoe. This was a stupid mistake, as I wasted a huge amount of time on my hands and knees picking weeds out of the ground by hand.
A hoe can do the same task in seconds. The important trick is to allow sufficient spacing between the crop rows to make it easy to get a hoe into. Hand weeding is then only required to pick out weeds growing close to the plants themselves.
Hoeing on hot days is particularly effective as the weeds quickly dry out on the surface of the soil.
One of the star tools of the allotment – important for tasks like transferring muck, taking weeds to the compost heap, or best of all, transporting heavy crops like potatoes or beetroot back home.
My two best tips are to remember to store a wheelbarrow upside down so that rain water does not collect inside and rust the body. My second tip is to buy a puncture proof solid tyre. This will avoid needing to pump up the tyre (a flat tyre requires much more effort to push), and the frustration of needing to fix a puncture.
You may like to see this page that lists further considerations for choosing an allotment wheelbarrow.
Garden incinerators burn garden or allotment waste at very high temperatures quickly and efficiently. They are certainly a popular accessory at my local allotment.
Before you burn, check the regulations and rules that apply where you live. You don’t want to cause a nuisance to your neighbours, or burn anything that causes air pollution.
You may like to see my page on how to use a garden incinerator.
The more muck, the bigger the crop, and the better return for all the effort of watering and weeding. At my local allotment there is a communal supply of muck that we all share, and that is paid for out of our annual subscription.
If your local allotment does not offer a similar service, my tip would be to visit a local stables to see if it’s possible to take away their muck (often for free).
An ideal way of receiving muck is by the trailer load. Large quantities make sense if you need to pay for delivery – and you can simply pile it up in a compost heap and let it rot down for when needed.
Gardener’s gloves will inevitably get muddy, dirty and fall apart. That is the life of a gardener’s glove.
My advice is to buy cheap and replace when needed. The picture of the garden glove shown here is a perfect example. The mud dried around the shape of my hand whilst wearing it, and I was able to take this picture, hand free, by simply placing the glove on the handle of my wheelbarrow.
A vital tool. My recommendation is to purchase a hand trowel in as bright a colour as it is possible to find. On numerous occasions I’ve needed to walk around my allotment wondering in which crop I had left my hand trowel.
Its uses are numerous, from acting like a hoe to weed from within a row of crops, to loosening the soil around carrots before pulling them up. My favourite hand trowel task is carving the shallow channels in the soil that I use for planting seeds. This, and harvest time, are my favourite moments at the allotment.
A very cheap way of keeping grass and stinging nettles under control. Good for small areas only.
There are certain tasks that strong scissors are not strong enough for, like cutting the heads off lettuce or cabbage.
I like to grow a lot of fruit at my allotment, and good bypass secateurs make a cleaner cut when pruning fruit stems, canes, and branches.
My suggestion is to avoid the cheapest secateurs and purchase a good strong pair. These will last much longer and will be able to cut thicker stems without fear of breaking.
I like twine because it is both cheap and excellent value.
Lots of plants need tying up at the allotment. Twine is very useful defining seed rows prior to germination. Wigwams made from branches or canes would not be possible without garden twine to hold them together. Tomato plants would fall over without being supported.
Perhaps best of all, garden twine is a natural product that will rot, avoiding the need to worry about needing to throw away or tidy up old twine at the end of the summer.
Having just written about garden twine, it is natural to also include a tool to cut it with!
Scissors are extremely useful for tidying up crops before taking them home, for example cutting the stems off beetroot or the leaves off carrots. I like to use weed suppressing fabric at the allotment to save my time, and scissors allow me to cut this to the required width and length.
Allotment plots are often surrounded by grass paths, and it is likely to be your responsibility to maintain those around your plot. If this is the case, a strimmer can be an excellent time saving investment.
Wireless electric strimmers are portable, light, and relatively easy to transport to and from an allotment plot (if you are worried about storing it in your shed). You may want to purchase a spare battery or two for an electric strimmer to ensure you have enough cutting time. Expect to pay in the region of £100.
Petrol strimmers are more powerful, and cut faster, but are arguably more time consuming. Sometimes they are difficult to start, and you will also need to store the petrol.
You may like to see this page that discusses allotment strimmers.
Ideally you will inherit a plot with a shed already standing on it. If not, you will need to find a solution to storing your tools. Some kind of dry storage is vital to preserve the life of your tools and to shelter in on the odd(!) occasion when you are caught in a rain shower.
A plastic storage box can be a good alternative to a shed. It stands about chest height and costs in the region of £100. Many of my fellow plot holders opt for a garden shed – an outlay usually double the cost of a storage box.
A storage box is really a minimum investment. It is the first step that opens the door to garden furniture, or even barbeque equipment, to make a plot an area of relaxation – even a back garden – to be enjoyed on long summer nights.