Allotment help and advice
Allotments are great but not for the faint hearted. Here is some top tips from our experts on how to plan, plant, harvest and maintain any allotment.
Plan, plan, plant. There's nothing better than getting your hands on your first vegetable plot. It's a great feeling, because suddenly you have the space to grow whatever you want. But before you jump in with both feet, have a think about what you'd like to get out of your plot - it'll make all the difference later on.
Step one: Make a wishlist
It's time to do a bit of daydreaming - the wouldn't-it-be-lovely kind. In your head build your perfect vegetable plot and then write down what's in it - the plants you want to grow, the furniture and equipment you'd like, even the buildings you'd love to have.
Step two: Decide your priorities -
Having made your wishlist, you'll soon realise that you can't unfortunately have it all. So start with the basics, and then aim to add a few of the luxuries on as you go.
The stuff you can't be without:
A shed or large toolbox to keep your kit in.
At least two compost bins.
The stuff that's nice to have:
Somewhere to sit when you're having a breather.
Walls or solid fences to train fruit trees against.
A leafmould bin and/or third compost bin.
Some fruit cages to protect your efforts from the birds.
And if you're really keen:
A coldframe - handy for hardening off seedlings and as extra growing space.
A greenhouse for growing tasty tomatoes and cucumbers.
A polytunnel (like a greenhouse).
Now that you've got an idea of what's going on in your plot, it's time to start thinking about where to put it. So we recommend you sit down (again) and plan it out on a piece of paper.
It's important to measure your plot as accurately as you can - not just the boundaries but also the positions of things like trees (it'll help you get the most out of your plot).
Making a sketch of your land will help you plan where everything goes. Use a scale of 2cm for every 1m for larger areas like allotments, or 4cm for every 1m for smaller vegetable patches.
Get the big stuff in first
Cut out graph paper shapes (to scale) for items like your shed, compost bins and greenhouses, and then move them around on your drawing until you're happy.
Place sheds to cast as little shadow on vegetable beds as possible.
Align greenhouses east to west to maximise light, and avoid putting them under trees.
Compost bins can be smelly - so don't put them near your seating area.
Get from A to B
Your main route through the vegetable plot should be simple - you'll curse yourself if you make them complicated when you're moving a full wheelbarrow. Start where you come in and cut across to the other side.
Then add routes to places you'll visit a lot, like sheds and compost bins. As a guide paths should be wide enough for a wheelbarrow (about 1m in width).
Get the beds right
As you're doing your paths, develop the layout of your vegetable beds. You can be as creative as you like - so try rectangular or square grids, and even L-shapes or triangles.
Groups of three or four beds are very practical, as you can rotate crops around every year so pests and diseases don't build up. And don't forget beds for permanent crops like asparagus, artichokes and fruit.
All that's left to do is pick up your spade and get gardening!
How-to find yourself some land The great British allotment is enjoying a bit of a revival at the moment, as people jump at the chance to grow fresh organic food cheaply for themselves and their families. With a few tricks up your sleeve you can too.
Here's how to get your ten rods of land:
Visit the Council
Pop to your local council - they're the ones who run allotment sites. Get a list of all the sites in your area, and then visit them. This will focus your search, as not all sites will suit you. You might not be happy growing near a major road, or fancy with no piped water supply. Once you've got a shortlist, call the site managers and put yourself on their waiting lists.
Play the waiting game
It can be really disheartening to hear it'll be at least two years before you're handed the keys - but patience pays off. Even the most daunting waiting lists can melt away as people's circumstances change.
Call the allotment manager regularly to let them know you're still interested. Keep an open mind to less-than-perfect compromises, like sharing, or taking on a plot that others have refused because it's too neglected.
Use some tricks of the trade
Get to know the lucky people who already have a plot on the site. Some may appreciate the offer of help in exchange for a spare corner to grow your own vegetables in.
If allotment sites are in really short supply locally, you can also take matters into your own hands. If you can find six other people who want an allotment, and locate a piece of suitable land (try asking local farmers), then by law local authorities must help you get set up.
A revolutionary thought perhaps - it doesn't have to be an allotment. Dozens of schemes are helping people to grow their own, so find out what's happening in your community.
Garden share schemes like the one in Totnes, Devon, match people with a garden and no time, with would-be gardeners. You get a patch of land, and hopefully, make a new friend at the same time. If you don't have a scheme local to you - why not start one yourself?
TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has set up a similar scheme nationally called Landshare (www.landshare.net). It matches landowners and veg-growers across the country. So tap in your postcode and see what's available near you.
As the New Year brings a fresh beginning, start as you mean to go on and keep on top of those jobs like weeding and pruning. You can also start sowing tomatoes, chillies and onions seeds indoors for planting out later.
Start chitting early potatoes, sow chillies in heated propagators and give your ornamental borders a final tidy before the new season really begins.