Views from the Allotment Path

An insight to successful plot Management

It is always encouraging to see new members taking up plots with buckets full of enthusiasm. It is however disappointing to see the enthusiasm wain and the plot spiral into an unruly tangle of weeds and lost crops.

This page sets out to provide some guidance to avoid the struggle and despair.

The path to failure (a familiar tale)

It sounds dramatic, but I want to share the process which I see time and time again.

Its spring, and a new tenant arrives with a spade and some plants (not to mention the new gloves and Wellies). They are faced with a plot which they only saw a month ago when choosing which vacant plot to take. At the time, the ground may have been largely weed free, but now, they face a green carpet of rapidly expanding growth. Not to be put off, they diligently start to clear a small area for their first install of fledgling crops, stand back in pride and and dream of the fruits of their labour. Two weeks go by and they return with more plants, canes and a shed. They give the previous toil a cursory glance and proceed to erect the shed. The day runs out and the plants which were due to be planted are left next to the new shed ready for the following visit…..three weeks later…..been too busy with one thing or another and the return visit can only be short, just to check around. Where are the plants that were so carefully installed all those weeks age….probably consumed by slugs or just swamped by the weeds, the heart sinks and a quick squirrel around the area that was first cleared and planted confirms they have vanished. A tray of shrivelled veg sit in dry compost…what were they?….oh yes…never mind. Its early summer now and a planned visit with a multitude of colourful seed packets is met by a Jungle and less than friendly looking natives on the neighbouring plots. Don’t worry, they say it will be sorted today, and with that several hours of sweat and toil takes place. Weeds pulled, compost heaps created and seeds sown. Encouragement from fellow plot holders comes in the form of surplus plants which are welcomed with open arms…and dually planted in hastily cleared patches. Weeks pass and the noticeable absence of the plot holder is noted by neighbours and reported to the committee. Weed seeds are now blowing freely from said neglected plot to every corner of the site……to every-bodies discord. The Shed disappears one day and the plot is returned to the vacant list.

There are many more tales which could be told, but for one reason or another its a similar route to failure.

Key Principles to Success

If you follow these simple steps, I believe you stand a far greater chance of success with less effort.

  1. The best time to take on an allotment is in late Summer or Autumn. At this time of year the race to plant and sow has passed and you can take your time to clear and plan your plot. Also, remember the weeds don’t grow so fast heading into winter.
  2. Look around at how other plot holders have planned out their space, talk to people. This will help in your plot planning. Think about what you want to achieve, will you need large volumes of crops or smaller, more varied selections. this will have an impact on how you divide up areas. Are you prepared to winter dig your entire plot, if not you may want to consider raised beds or permanent paths to reduce footfall on the soil.
  3. If you intend to erect a shed, consider where the shadow will fall
  4. So, you have planned your plot, put up the shed and install the paths. Now dig the soil over with a FORK, not a spade, spades are for digging holes! A fork will help fracture compacted soil below the digging depth. Don’t be persuaded to double dig, its not necessary and hard work. Take your time digging and get out any roots or weeds you find. Couch grass or twitch can be problematic, so can columbine. You won’t get every bit out most can be removed.
  5. Add organic matter after you have finished digging on light soils, or in spring on heavy ones. If you have access to good manure its worth the cost. Clear any weeds when they appear, don’t leave them. In spring, before planting, rotovate  or fork over the ground.
  6. Use a plank to walk on over open ground to avoid compaction. Compacted soil will have poor drainage and will be troublesome dig the next winter.
  7. Weeds, don’t give them a chance, if the soil is wet, hand weed. If dry,  use a Dutch hoe or hand weed. This is the one area where people fail to keep control. Think about this, which is preferable? 15 -30 minutes each week weeding or spending hours trawling through rows of crops, not finishing and being faced with a greater challenge at the next visit. I know which I prefer. Every time you visit check for weeds, its worth it in the long run.
  8. At some point in the season you will need to water you crops, its best done in the evening so the plants have a chance to take it up. Consider crop spacing, a good ground cover reduces soil moisture loss.
  9. Consider the varieties you plant, some say F1, these are hybrids with uniform growth and disease resistance/tolerances but remember the plants will mature at a similar time, who needs a dozen Cauliflowers at once. If the variety is not a hybrid it may be an open pollinated strain which generally gives a more erratic cropping span, which may be easier to manage.
  10. Finally, the best advise I can give is little and often, its far easier to manage your plot by spending an hour or so pottering about keeping on top of things several times a week than leaving things for a couple of weeks or so before  spending hours trying to get things tidy. Once you are in control you will be able to judge how many hours you need to stay on top. You will be surprised how little that is and fellow plot holders will be in awe of your skills.

                   Planning + Control = Success

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