Anne’s Patch: Ten top allotment tips

22 March 2020

This will be my sixth year as an allotmenteer and I can confidently predict that this year I will a) make not just one, but many mistakes; b) do something I’ve never done before; and c)harvest and maybe eat my own bodyweight in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and gooseberries, writes Anne Akers.

Allotmenteering is a long-term relationship, nothing happens quickly except perhaps the spread of pernicious weeds such as couch grass, creeping buttercup and bindweed.

In my first year, I had hardly anything to show for all my hard work, apart from a few leftovers courtesy of the previous occupant.

I took over 31A at the Gatescroft Allotments in the centre of Calverley in the summer of 2014.

It was too late to plant allotment staples, like potatoes, onions peas, beans and soft fruit, but the plot was in such a state, I couldn’t have planted anything anyway as the weeds had taken over, with couch grass establishing itself as my nemesis.

On the plus side, it was facing south, so likely to enjoy lots of sun, but the weeds, oh those weeds, that was going to be a lot of digging.

I did make it a little harder for myself, turning down a few free sachets of the weedkiller I was determined to grow organic and I wasn’t keen on using glyphosate, which has been linked to cancers.

I’d like to say I’ve come a long way since then, and I have, but there is always something new to learn and more to do on an allotment.

A friend just took over a new allotment, and asked what I’d learned so far, so as an Anne’s Patch starter for ten, here’s my top ten tips.

1.       Plan.

Over the winter is the time to order seeds, choose bushes and trees and do lots of mapping out where your purchases/gifts/cuttings will go in the comfort of your own home and a glass of something warming in your hand

2.       Good soil equals good crops.

The more you turn it over and add nutrients, the better your crops will be. Add poo, well rotted and full of goodness (cheap if not free), compost (make your own, or buy it), or a fertiliser such as Growmore (not as cheap), which has nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, key ingredients for good growing.

3.       Be nosey.

What grows well on your neighbour’s plot or on the rest of the site? Poke around and follow suit, there will be a reason you don’t see certain crops, many may have tried before you!

4.       Get to know your neighbours.

They’ll know all the idiosyncrasies and history of the site. They will also give you advice, whether you want it or not!

5.       Couch Grass

The teeniest tiniest couch grass root left in the ground will return to laugh at you. Get the whole lot out!

6.       Have somewhere to sit.

After all that hard work, you need a proper seat where you can plonk yourself with your flask of tea and contemplate the harvest to come. And while we’re talking about comforts, very few allotments have official toilets. My advice is mind how you go, a nettled bottom is very uncomfortable……

7.       Leave room

Make sure you leave room between rows to weed and harvest. I’ve planted crops too close and ended up standing on them!

8.       Only grow what you really like …

… and what’s expensive to buy in the shops. I never grow carrots, they are cheap and a faff to grow if you want to avoid carrot fly. But potatoes…oh yes, nothing tastes better than first earlies dug up and in the pan within the hour…

9.       It’s about missing out

Accept that if you did the sums, taking into account all the work you put in, it would be cheaper to just buy from the shops … but you’d miss out on so much.

10.   Enjoy it

Whether you have an allotment, or grow a tomato plant on your windowsill. There’s something rather wonderful about cultivating those plants and seeds, then enjoying their fruit.

See you next month.

Check our more of Anne’s allotmenteering columns here.

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