How to Start an Allotment
As your allotment chairperson takes you towards your new plot you are likely to pass characterful garden sheds, flower beds, weed free ground, and plots sporting the whole range of fruit and vegetables you intend to grow.
You may even be imagining the taste of future harvests, or showing your plot to friends and family.
But then reality hits when you see your plot for the first time! You see 150 square metres, or more, of unkept, overgrown, and derelict land …
But do not give up! This is how nearly all allotmenters start. If a plot had not run to seed, likely as not, it would not have become available to you.
The purpose of this article is to share an approach to getting started to make the task quicker and more enjoyable.
Step 1, How to Start an Allotment – Control
Starting with the good news. A wild allotment plot is telling you that your ground is fertile – a really wild plot may be the best possible one to inherit!
The first step is to stop the wildness getting any worse.
- Remove any rubbish that may be on your plot
- Cut everything down to ground level
- Cover the ground with a large tarpaulin
A good way of cutting everything down to ground level is to borrow or hire a petrol strimmer. You may find that your allotment association has one just for this reason, or can put you in contact with another plot holder who does.
A large tarpaulin or plastic sheet will prevent weed re-growth. If your budget will stretch, purchase ground cover with a mesh that allows water to penetrate. It may take longer for weeds to die, but soft ground is much easier to work.
Step 2, How To Start An Allotment – Digging Over
Without light weeds will die, even perennial weeds with tap roots if left on long enough. The nutrients are not lost though, as the goodies contained in the plants will return to the soil as they slowly rot down.
From your perspective it gives you time and flexibility. This will immediately put you in control of your ground, allowing you to peel the cover back in stages in your own time.
Based on my personal experience, I took the best part of 12 months before I had fully prepared all corners of my plot.
Step 3, How To Start An Allotment – Starting To Grow
Before digging, it is a good idea to make a plan for how you want to use your space. You may want to see our guide on allotment planting design.
Digging can be very hard work, but these tips can make it easier:
- Dig after heavy rain
Damp ground is heavier but much easier to work, and you will be able to remove weeds by the root. Dry ground covered with grass can be rock hard, almost impossible to penetrate with spade or fork.
- Dig small areas at a time
Try limiting any one digging session to no more than 1 or 2 hours.
- Sow as you go
There is a huge psychological lift from seeing seeds germinate. A gardener can experience a trough of despair when they realise the scale of the task in front of them. Seeing plants germinate can make all the hard work seem worthwhile. If it is the wrong time of year to sow seed, simply re-cover the ground.
- Equip yourself
Turning a wilderness into a beautiful vegetable garden is hardwork. Investing in a good set of tools (fork, spade, wheelbarrow, gardening gloves, storage box/shed etc.) does not need to be expensive, but you will save yourself time and frustration by having what you need. Buying or sourcing these items can be exciting in itself, and help sustain your motivation during the hard work.
As any gardener will admit, digging (and weeding) is an ongoing and never ending task. Nevertheless, it will be considerably easier the second year around – provided that you remove as much of the perennial weeds as possible.
How To Start An Allotment – Perennial Weeds
Two of the most common types of perennial weeds are:
- Plants that spread through their roots
- Plants with tap roots
Plants That Spread Through Their Roots
Couch Grass (shown below) is particularly common, as is bind weed (that looks like ivy and climbs all over plants smothering them with its flowers and leaves).
The best solution is to dig them out methodically from the soil, carefully lifting them from beneath to unearth their root systems. Any root left behind will regrow into a new plant.
Plants With Tap Roots
Dandelion is perhaps the most well know (shown below) but you will discover many others on your allotment plot. Damp ground will help you to dig deep to remove the roots entirely.