To be honest I never thought I would have an allotment, I’m not naturally ‘green fingered’ (I don’t think) plus it had always seemed like something you would do later on in life, not in your early 30’s! But when we were offered an allotment plot last year at an annual price of less than a flat white and a pain au chocolat (I’m not kidding) it seemed silly to say no. We were no longer getting our weekly delivery of local fruit and veg from the farm due to our move from Manchester to Hertfordshire and I was really missing the taste of freshly grown produce. ‘Why don’t we just grow our own?’ I thought.
The trend in people wanting to grow their own food is on the rise, especially with the greater awareness of sustainable eating and desire to eat locally grown produce. The demand for allotment space is growing, The National Allotment Society say there are around 330,000 plots in the UK already but to meet the increased demand an extra 90,000 plots are needed!
I feel lucky to have come across my bit of green space but I’m under no illusion that this is going to be easy! I am a novice so I’m certain that I will make many mistakes along the way. Nevertheless, I’m going to give this a go and blog my progress as I go.
Why have an Allotment?
What am I hoping to get out of this?
- Fresh, great tasting vegetables (and maybe fruit) with the satisfaction that I’ve grown them.
- Learning a new skill – I know nothing about growing food!
- Physical activity – all the sowing, digging etc will be a fun way to be more active
- Mental health – being outside gardening is known to help promote good mental health, reduce anxiety and helps you to relax
Preparing the Plot
Our allotment plot is quite large so we decided to start on just one section. The area just looked like an overgrown mess so we began by clearing any rubbish away and turning over some of the soil to loosen it and flatten out the area. We didn’t do much digging because we decided to try an method called ‘no-dig gardening’ to plant our first batch of veggies.
The no-dig method avoids the need to turn over the soil as you basically create a new plant bed by spreading out compost. It has reported benefits such as protecting the bug life in the soil as you don’t disturb the worms as much. It’s also a less back-breaking method of gardening.
We decided on a raised bed to create our first vegetable patch. Instead of traditional wooden sides we used hollow, concrete breeze blocks. They aren’t the prettiest (I might paint them later on) but they will last for years, plus the hollow middles double up as mini plant pots! We arranged them in a long rectangle as neatly as we could.
Next we were advised (by allotment savvy relatives!) to cover the ground in cardboard which will decompose into the soil. This is to minimise the weed growth. I’ve learnt that this is known as ‘sheet mulching’.
Next we filled the raised bed with multi-purpose compost, loosing the compost with our hands to make it the right consistency. The hollow middle of the breeze blocks were filled part with soil and part with compost.
To fill the raised bed (and mini breeze block pots) 22 bags of compost were used.
Lastly, we covered the whole plot with plastic sheets, this will protect the soil and stop the weeds growing. We will leave it like this for the next 2-4 weeks before we plant our seeds and bulbs, just returning to water the soil as required.
Alongside our raised bed we thought the soil looked rather good so we turned it over and mixed a bag of compost into it. Like the raised bed, we covered it with cardboard and the plastic sheet. So we have accidentally got ourselves another vegetable patch next to our raised bed, but not using the no-dig method. I guess we can compare the growth of our crops in the two.
So that’s it! The plot has been prepared. Whilst we wait a couple of weeks or so my next job is to plan what we should start growing.
Written by Lilia Malcolm, February 2019
(Cover image downloaded from Unsplash.com)