There is nothing better than perfectly placed wooden benches to admire your allotment. You will also need a place to rest, as cultivating a piece of land can be challenging. It also will complete the perfect picture of your sacks rammed with produce, from carrots through to potatoes, and the cup of tea shared with a neighbouring land-tiller.
Depending on where you live, getting an allotment can take a while. Some areas having plenty of spaces ready for growing. However, some other places will have a significant waiting list. If you are allocated your allotment, it is unlikely that you will find your plot in perfect condition. As much as you would hope for a well-cared-for plot of land, you are more likely to get something that is wild and overgrown. Your first step will be to remove the old growth, treat the soil to some manure and get yourself some on-site storage.
This beginning point will be hard work – but rewarding in the end. Here are seven steps to help cultivate allotments for beginners.
Clear the rubbish. You will likely find a lot of broken glass, netting, metals – basically, all the junk that has been tossed in by passers-by. They will see a derelict piece of land and not treat it with respect. Protect yourself here. You need sturdy shoes and some heavy-duty gloves to complete this part of the job.
Your overgrown allotment will need attacking with loppers, a strimmer, some secateurs and a shredder. You will feel like you are doing a lot of destroying, as opposed to growing, at this point in your allotment journey. However, revealing the soil is an essential part of your trip. Again, you will need some decent gardening tools (this hoss wheel hoe from Easy Digging can help immensely) as well as some protective gear. Generally, weeds come with spikes and stings.
Your wilderness will have become home to some wildlife. You may find the odd hedgehog, frog and maybe even the occasional snake. Don’t just ram through the area with a heavy-duty trimmer. Instead, go slow and relocate any wildlife that is in your way. A lot of the creatures will disappear when you start making noise – but is still worth being careful.
Some perennial plants will need digging out at the roots. The previous owner may have planted strawberry runners or other fruit bushes, which can take hold quite quickly again. If you want to use some of these bushes, dig them out and store them in compost and replant when you are ready.
Some sites may have completely grassed over. You would then do well to hire a turf cutter, which will make this job significantly easier. If you don’t want to go to this expense, make sure you have a sharp spade and a lot of energy.
It might be tempting to get the soil to a base layer but then leave in those smaller weeds and rocks. Picking out these smaller debris can be time-consuming and dull. However, removing these items will make your job so much easier down the line. Your plants will grow better, as your soil is in better shape. You can always drag in some little people labour – and pay them by the stone. You can also collect the rocks together to help you later with a path or as drainage for the bottom of pots.
It is possible to prepare your soil without digging. You can lay black polythene over your plot for a few months, denying the weeds of light and moisture. Then, you can add about 4cms of organic matter – and your land will be ready for planting. This no-dig gardening is becoming something of a trend. If you get your plot in winter, it is also a realistic plan for the first few months of owning your allotment.
If you do want to till the land – think about hiring a rotavator. This will turn over the soil much more successfully. Once the soil is turned over, you can start think about allotment layout ideas.
Most soil would benefit from some added organic matter – whether it is chicken or horse manure. Conditioning your soil before planting makes a lot of sense.
You will need a water butt. This is a barrel that will collect rainwater and give you a ready supply for your garden. You will be lucky if there is any other kind of water supply at your allotment.
If you are going to struggle to water regularly, you should be careful what you plant. Tomatoes, for instance, are shallow-rooted and need regular watering. You could always add mulch to your soil to help plants keep hydrated. A thick layer of bark chippings can also lock in moisture and will also work to repel weeds.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.