If you’ve ever consumed organic vegetables and fruits, you’ve realised that there’s nothing that’ll ever be tastier or healthier. However, while sourcing organic fruits and vegetables from your local shop is convenient, nothing is more satisfying than growing your batch. Plus, it’s easier than you may imagine!
It all boils down to getting some land, being patient, and dedicating some of your time. If you don’t have enough land, a small allotment is still perfect for developing your passion. Read on to get some ideas on how you’d go about creating your small but stunning masterpiece.
Plan Your Allotment Appropriately
You’re probably excited about planting some fruits and vegetables in your new plot, which could cause you to cut short on planning. You must make a plan and commit it to paper before digging your plot of land. You’ll have to consider various factors like the wind direction, angle and amount of sunlight that hits your plot, type of soil, and access pathways.
You’ll also need to acquire top-quality gardening tools like a spade, fork, gloves, a wheelbarrow, and enough storage. Wild allotments signal that your land is fertile; however, you’ll have to wait for some rainfall to dampen the soil before digging. You may feel overwhelmed by all this information, but you’ll need to remember that it’s a step-by-step process.
Tip: Speak to more experienced allotmenteers to get advice on what may or may not work. This will save you time and misplaced effort. You’ll also have a friend that’ll orient you through your first year of allotment.
Keep a stock of perennials
Perennials are the perfect plants for allotment beginners. Perennial means through the years. This group’s plants and fruits typically live for two years and regrow from the rootstock each spring. The plants include strawberries, tomatoes, basil, garlic, and blueberries. The plants will reduce the hustle associated with replanting your fruits and vegetables.
Tip: Perennials grow heartily, which can desolate nutrients in the soil. You can improve its quality by applying well-rotted manure or compost before planting. You shouldn’t remove any dead foliage in the winter. The foliage will attract small insects that readily infuse nutrients into the soil.
Improve your allotment soil
If you are starting and don’t have any compost, you can purchase some bags from the store or strawberry and mushroom farmers. You could also get some manure from a stable and keep it until it’s well-rotted before using it. You can collect it in advance and store it for up to six months while planning what to plant.
Caution: Don’t use the manure too early since it may have pathogens, seeds, or weeds that harm your crops.
Once you are in full swing, be sure to have a compost heap for continual soil improvement. A compost heap is a great way to recycle organic materials and create a nutrient-rich soil amendment for your garden. Here’s how to make one:
1. Choose an accessible location to build your compost heap within your allotment. Make sure you can quickly reach it from key areas.
2. Gather a mix of “green” and “brown” materials for your compost. Green materials are nitrogen-rich and include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds. Brown materials are high in carbon and include dried leaves, twigs, and shredded newspaper.
3. Start by adding a 6-inch layer of brown material to the bottom of your compost bin or heap.
4. Add a 3-inch layer of green material on top of the brown layer.
5. Repeat the layers, adding water to moisten the materials.
6. Turn the compost with a pitchfork every few days to help aerate it and speed up the decomposition process.
7. In a few weeks, the materials should start to break down and turn into compost. Continue to add new materials and turn the compost regularly.
8. After a few months, your compost should be ready to use. It should be dark and crumbly and have a rich, earthy smell.
Remember that the exact ratio of green to brown materials and the length of time it takes for the compost to be ready will vary depending on the materials you use and the conditions in your compost heap.
To speed up the process, look for a dedicated hot composting bin, these will have the job done in 2-3 weeks.
Companion planting can help make the most out of your allotment and ensure that you have high-quality produce. Some complementary plants forge a mutual and beneficial bond that helps repel pests, provide pests, and improve pollination.
Leafy greens like kale and spinach grow well when overshadowed by corn. It would help if you planted legumes (climbers) together with corn. The legumes help convert Nitrogen in the air to Nitrates that corn uses, while corn supports legumes as they grow.
Radishes, lettuces, and other fast-growing plants should be sown between hills of squash or melons. They’ll mature and get harvested way before the vines need more room.
If growing carrots for the first time, consider planting mint or parsley to deter carrot flies.
Tip: You shouldn’t grow plants in the same family close together. Such plants become highly competitive for nutrients, which makes them experience poor growth. For instance, you should plant chives, onions, garlic, and leeks across your plot instead of planting them close together.
Companion Planting Guide for Allotments
|Main Crop||Companion Plants||Benefits|
|Tomatoes||Basil, Marigolds, Lettuce, Carrots||Improves flavor, repels pests, provides ground cover, improves soil structure|
|Beans||Corn, Squash, Nasturtium, Radish||Provides support, fixes nitrogen, attracts beneficial insects, deters pests|
|Cabbage family||Dill, Onions, Chamomile, Nasturtium||Attracts beneficial insects, repels pests, improves flavor|
|Peppers||Basil, Chives, Spinach, Oregano||Improves flavor, repels pests, provides ground cover, attracts beneficial insects|
|Carrots||Chives, Onions, Lettuce, Sage||Improves flavor, deters pests, provides ground cover, repels pests|
|Squash and pumpkins||Corn, Beans, Nasturtium, Radish||Provides support, fixes nitrogen, attracts beneficial insects, deters pests|
|Lettuce||Radish, Chives, Carrots, Spinach||Deters pests, improves flavor, provides ground cover, helps retain moisture|
|Onions||Carrots, Cabbage family, Chamomile, Beets||Deters pests, improves flavor, attracts beneficial insects, utilizes space efficiently|
|Cucumbers||Corn, Sunflowers, Nasturtium, Radish||Provides support, attracts beneficial insects, repels pests, deters pests|
|Herbs||Basil, Chives, Dill, Sage||Interplant with various vegetables to improve flavor, attract beneficial insects, and repel pests|
Consider the weather
Sometimes, the weather can be unpredictable, rainy, sunny, or frosty. Such weather affects your plant’s germination or growth. Your plants may even die when exposed to the extremes of such weather conditions. You could counter this by using a greenhouse, which helps you avoid problems with extreme seasonal changes and weather conditions.
Such changes will not seriously affect your gardening efforts and reduce the size of your produce. It will help you become flexible, especially relating to complementary gardening.
You can plant herbs with scented leaves throughout your plot to repel insects. For instance, you can use sage to repel cabbage moths, while French Marigolds are perfect when grown with tomatoes since their strong scents repel aphids. They also look quite pretty.
Using herbs has lots of benefits that extend beyond protection. Other herbs help enhance adjacent plants’ flavour. For instance, growing basil beside lettuce and tomatoes helps enhance each plant’s flavour.
You could create a dedicated herb garden section within your allotment, which is what I have done. Many herbs are well-suited for growing in a UK allotment. Some of the best herbs to consider include rosemary, mint, thyme, sage, and chives.
Rosemary is a popular herb known for its fragrant, evergreen leaves and its versatility in the kitchen. It is a hardy plant that is able to withstand cold weather and is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens. Rosemary is easy to grow and can be used in a variety of dishes, including roast lamb, grilled chicken, and even cocktails.
I also grow rosemary in pots, mixing them with flowers to create great-looking pots that are versatile.
Mint is another herb that is well-suited for growing in a UK garden. It is a fast-growing herb known for its refreshing aroma and flavour. Mint is often used in teas, salads, and drinks, and it is also a popular ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes. You can also make yourself a mojito while pottering on a warm summer evening. Bliss.
Thyme is a popular herb known for its delicate, pungent flavour. It is a hardy plant that can withstand cold weather and is often used as a ground cover in gardens. Thyme is easy to grow and is a versatile herb that can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and roasts.
Sage is another herb that is well-suited for growing in a UK garden. It is a hardy plant known for its pungent, earthy flavour and ability to withstand cold weather. Sage is often used in stuffings, sausage, and sauces, and it is also a popular ingredient in many Italian dishes.
Chives are a popular herb known for their delicate, onion-like flavour. They are a hardy plant that is easy to grow and are often used as a garnish or added to salads and dip.
Planting flowers will make your allotment a wonderful place to be, especially when you are in full bloom. If you want to plant some flowers around your allotment, consider some pollinator-friendly options.
Make access points
You should make good paths around your plot to help you reach various sections with different plants,.For instance, you shouldn’t have to walk over your cabbage patch to access your plot’s sections where you’ve planted carrots.
Doing this risks destroying the plants or spreading infections to other plants. Instead, make small but accessible pathways that can be used to monitor your plant’s growth. Ensure that you wear disinfected footwear when accessing such pathways.
When you are designing your allotment, decide on the materials to use to create paths – this will depend on your budget.
Learn, improve, and repeat
You should make notes, keep records, and make changes where possible. Learning constantly and applying positive changes helps improve the amount and quality of the product you get from your allotment.
Write down what works and what doesn’t to help avoid any issues that could affect your plants. However, you should take it steady and remember that learning and gaining experience when planting takes some time.
If you are a beginner, you should research allotments and find more ideas to help you grow healthy fruits and vegetables in abundance. Seek help from other people who are more experienced and get creative. Ensure that you water them adequately and weed them regularly. Have fun planting!
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!