How to Start an Allotment

It is natural to feel excited in the moments just before seeing an allotment plot for the first time. As your allotment chairperson takes you towards your 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.

How to start an allotment - mature plot

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 …

How-to-start-an-allotment-overgrown-plot

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.

Related pages:
Allotment planting design
Essential allotment tools
How to build a polytunnel
How to make no-dig beds
Allotment sheds
Allotment compost
Allotment Planner & Record Keeper (Digital Download)

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.

How-to-start-an-allotment-plastic-sheeting

See tarpaulins on Amazon UK.

A large tarpaulin or plastic sheet will prevent weed re-growth. If your budget will stretch, purchase ground cover with a weave that allows water to pass through. It may take longer for weeds to die, but soft ground is much easier to work. To stop the cover blowing away, weigh it down with bricks, pegs, or any heavy items you can find nearby.

Step 2, How To Start An Allotment – Digging Over

Without light weeds will die, even perennial weeds with tap roots if the cover is 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 break down.

Covering the ground will immediately put you in control of your plot, allowing you to peel back the cover in stages to clear sections when time allows. Clearing a plot is exhausting work. I took the best part of 12 months before I had fully prepared all corners of my first 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 the guide on allotment planting design.

Digging can be very hard work, but these tips can make it easier:

  • Dig in wet months (spring and autumn)
    Moist ground is heavier but easier to work, and you will be able to remove weeds by the root. Dry ground covered with grass can be rock hard, and almost impossible to penetrate with a spade or fork.
  • Dig small areas at a time
    Try limiting a 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, any ground that has been dug over can be covered over until a better time.
  • 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, and you will save yourself time and frustration by having what you need.

As any gardener will admit, digging (and weeding) is an ongoing and neverending task. Nevertheless, it will be considerably easier in the second year – provided that you remove as many 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).

How-to-start-an-allotment-bind-weed

The best solution is to methodically dig them out from the soil, carefully lifting them up 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 known plant with a tap root (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.

How-to-start-an-allotment-dandelion

Good luck!

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