How to get started on your organic allotment
If you are looking for a piece of land to grow vegetables, flowers or fruit , here are a few things you might want to take into consideration before making a decision .(if you have a choice)
The perfect plot to me would have rich soil (not too acid, not too alkaline, just below 7 PH) not overgrown with perennial weeds and free of chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers.
Open , sunny and south facing,but yet sheltered (from strong winds).
Not sloping too much, easy access to the plot and also water.
Ideally with shed, water tubs and compost area.
Look at different sites and take notes from neighbouring plots.
You have to be flexible and creative. For example if the site is exposed to prevailing winds, plant a hedge (long term) or use willow panels to create a bit of shelter. For a short term solution, I plant comfrey along the allotment which grows up to 1.70 m high, provides the bees with nectar and also extremely useful as fertilizer, compost exhilarator or mulch. (also cheap to buy , careful some comfrey plants can be quite invasive!)
You could plant a double row of runner beans (not the French climbing ones) on the exposed side and plant cucumbers and other tender plants in the shelter of the beans. If the plot is completely covered with brambles or other perennial weeds start clearing a small area and cover the rest (either black plastic, carpet (go for natural fibre or un treated and no plastic backing) or cardboard . Basically you want to create a “BLACK OUT” for the weeds.
To me, using cardboard (available in big sheets from the household waste sites or shops for free) is a good method. Lay them out on the ground overlapping each other (like tiles) after you attacked tough weeds like brambles, dock….. with a scythe, pick axe works well to get the roots out .Hold the card board in place with a thick layer of compost , rotted manure, or whatever you can get your hands on (if free from chemicals and pesticides) Some councils sell screened topsoil very cheaply. You also can add straw (again if untreated) or leaf as mulch. IF you have done that in autumn, you can feel pretty smart in spring, having an area for planting available without too much back braking work as the worms should have done most of it. By now the cardboard has probably almost disintegrated and you should have an area ready for planting, free from annual weeds (due to lack of light No germination) and the persistent ones can be dug out again.
Well done, now in spring is the time to come up with a plan! Before you get started, MAKE A PLAN How much space have you got and how much time – IF you got little space, prioritise what to grow. Plants like Courgette, pumpkins and calabrese need more space then leeks, lettuce,…
If your time is limited dry to use raised beds which are easier to manage.You don’t have to use hours with a spade in your hand, digging. I am a fan of “NO DIG” gardening and prefer to use mulch to keep weeds down, keep the soil moist and also the balance of all that little critters and microscobic live in the soil in place (see soil article)
Make a list of vegetables you like to eat or your favourite flowers . Some crops are easier to grow then others and some are best fresh and home grown. Lettuce for example is easy to grow, best when harvested fresh and quite expensive to buy. They grow fast, take up little space and can be even grown in containers. So you can get some good results without too much effort in a fairly short time.
Divide your plot in different sections. (crop rotation)There are many different systems for crop rotation. But the main aim is not to have the same family of vegetables growing on the same spot year after year, to prevent disease and depletion of certain minerals and nutrition of the soil .(club root stays in the soil for many years)I divide my plot into 4 main sections .
Section A would receive plenty of manure (best applied in autumn) for “heavy feeders”
Section B would receive little manure – for “medium feeders”
Section C wouldn’t get any manure but I would apply compost or leaf mulch and maybe sea weed or rock dust some crops like carrots shouldn’t grow in soil with manure and most herbs or also prefer less fertile soil.
Section D would have Green manure growing on it (see article )
To make it easier to apply the method of lunar gardening I group leaf crops together and have the fruiting vegetables growing next to each other and the root vegetables in another area. Decide what works for you.
Find out what sort of soil you got (see article) certain crops demand specific conditions (blueberries need acid soil, radish and parsnip prefer light sandy soil…..) Again, there are always ways round it, have a raised bed with added sand to change the soil condition) or grow in pots. For a head start raise your seeds in pots and trays or guttering.(needs pricking out and replanting)
IF you buy seeds, get good seeds (fresh from last years crop), which are available from this web site)
More about seeds next time .