If you’ve been lucky enough to secure an allotment (many people in some parts of the country have to wait months, if not years, on a list) then it’s worth spending a few weeks before the spade hits the soil planning how everything is going to work.
First things first, spend a day up on the allotment just getting the feel of the place. Bring a tape measure so you can measure the dimensions of your plot as accurately as possible, particularly where any trees are. Notice which parts of the allotment see the sun at which time of day and note them down. Then sketch everything out on a large sheet of paper.
Next, consider what plants you want to grow. Most allotment holders are interested in growing their own fruit and vegetables, but some also grow flowers. It makes sense to pop into somewhere like Spalding Bulb for inspiration and guidance regarding the types of flowers, fruits or vegetables you might want to nurture. Think about how you want your allotment to look, in terms of bed arrangements, placing of furniture or buildings, compost bins, and then compare that against your budget. See what is and isn’t possible and continue redrawing your sketch until you have it right.
The most vital thing for any allotment is a good set of equipment. You want to have somewhere on-site to keep it, because you can’t be lugging tools back and forth every time you visit. Many allotment holders opt for a small shed, but if you don’t have the space, or can’t afford one, then a large, secure and weather proof tool-box will do the job. Obviously you won’t want to leave any expensive tools in that though due to the risk of theft, so if you can put a shed on your allotment, then do. Position it so it won’t overshadow the beds.
Do you need any special equipment such as greenhouses or polytunnels? If so you’ll need to allocate space and budget for them too. Position them east to west, so that they see the maximum amount of sunlight, and keep them away from trees.
You also want to have at least two compost bins, and given that they can get smelly, especially during warm days, it’s best to keep them as far as possible from any seating areas. Knowing the usual wind direction can also help.
Before planting you may need to clear your allotment of weeds or turn the soil. While you can do this by hand, if you can buy, rent or borrow a piece of specialist equipment to do this then it will save a lot of time and effort. It’s worth asking around to see if any of your neighbours have something they can lend you.
One critical thing to bear in mind when arranging your beds is to leave enough space in between to pass with a wheelbarrow – this is somewhere you’re going to be spending a lot of time, so convenience is a must.
Remember that your beds needn’t all be rectangular. You can get creative with your arrangements to suit the shape of your plots – circular, triangular or L-shaped beds are common and can be quite aesthetically pleasing too. Grouping them together helps with seasonal or annual crop rotation that helps to keep your soil healthy, and prevent the spread of disease and pests. Raising your beds can also make them more accessible, useful if you have bad joints. It also helps to prevent weeds, and is suitable if your soil isn’t the best quality.
Lastly, if you have a water source, make sure that your beds are laid out so that you can ferry watering cans or the hose over to them easily.
This is the basic preparation, now it’s time to get out there and start having fun. Bring a chair and a few magazines so you can have a rest once in a while, and enjoy the prospect of getting fit, growing your own food and becoming friends with your fellow gardeners!
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