Allotments are wonderful things, but they must be cared for and nurtured in order to get the best out of them. The type of soil you have, the way the sun hits your plot and direction of the wind will all play a part in the types of plants you’ll be able to grow. It is often worth having a chat with some of the longer established allotment holders as they will know instantly what does and doesn’t work on your site, thus saving you time and effort.
If however you need to clear your site of weeds before you can even see the soil, then we recommend not using a rotavator as some weeds, particularly the more persistent (couch grass, docks, nettles, bindweed) will be chopped up and will spread and multiply as a result. It may seem tedious, but cut your weeds back to stubble height and then dig them out, also regularly hoeing in dry weather is the best way to kill off weeds.
Traditionally allotments are set in rows, on a three year crop rotation system (brassicas, roots and then ‘other veg’), but today the style of allotment planting is much looser – with people choosing to mix up their beds, breaking up the formality of the rows. It is really up to the gardener to choose what works well for them, but the notion of rotating your crops is worth sticking to – as it helps to keep the soil in good condition and certain types of pests and diseases at bay.
It is also worth considering what type of crops you intend to grow, as some will take years to establish and will need a bed to themselves for the duration of their life (and as such will not be included in the rotation system) – for example, asparagus beds can last up to 20 years, cane and bush fruit are long term fixtures, requiring cages and netting, while fruit trees can outlive many generations of plot holder. Perennials such as rhubarb and globe artichokes also need to be thought about.
If your soil isn’t ideal, or you’re not sure the land you’re growing on has been treated well in the past, then raised beds are an excellent option. They allow you to access your crops easily, especially handy for weeding and watering and you can choose the type of soil you want to grow in.