As a kind of beginner-turned-improver at allotmenteering, people often ask me what to grow first, where to start, what can they do in a small space, etc. Well, if I was digging a veg patch or taking on an allotment all over again, these are my top tasks and tips:
Which Plants Should you Start Growing as a Beginner?
Plant easy vegetables first
Ease yourself gently. I grew cauliflowers and aubergines, which all died pretty quickly, leaving me deflated. Fortunately, I was saved by the onions, curly kale, garlic, lettuce, and perpetual spinach. These all grew well without having to spend every waking hour watering and tending them.
Grow tomatoes and strawberries
If I ever needed convincing that your own food dramatically outstrips the taste of shop-bought alternatives, then toms and strawbs are the crops to do it. The tomatoes are like sweets, and there is a divine taste to homegrown strawberries that can’t be matched unless freshly picked from the plot
Even if everything else failed, it’d be worth it just for these.
Plant vegetables that are expensive to buy
I’ve been working out how much money I save growing my own using my Veg Savings Spreadsheet, and one thing I’ve noticed is how cheap some veg is compared to others. If you’re short on space, a butternut squash at £1.67 a kilo is a bargain hunter’s dream when considering most packets contain about 10 seeds, while potatoes take up a lot of room for a 40p saving every 500g.
Follow These Gardening Tips before You Grow Your First Plant
Understand the Soil
Check out the condition of the soil. Having moved from an allotment to my back garden, I have learnt how important this is. Most allotments will have decent soil through years of regular use, but getting to know your soil will help your harvests no end.
For example, clay is fertile, holds water and nutrients well, but is difficult to work when wet. On the other hand, sandy soil is much easier to work, and unlike clay, warms up quickly come spring. However, it loses nutrients fast and dries out once the weather gets hot.
Keep things Small and Manageable
Even if you are lucky enough to get a full-size plot, don’t feel pressurised to use it all. An allotment can take time to get used to, and one thing I’ve learned recently is that smaller is much easier to manage.
A smaller space will also give you more time to focus on what’s important, and I’m a great believer that 10 good harvests are better than 20 average ones.
If you do have spare space, you could fill it with bulky, easy to grow crops like potatoes, or you could experiment with green manures. Simply covering the area in a black tarpaulin will keep the weeds down.
Check out Where The Sun Falls
Figuring out which part of the allotment gets the most sun is important when deciding where to plant crops. If you have a shady spot, consider rhubarb, and other plants that do well in the shade.
You’ll also be able to see where to put sun-loving veg, such as tomatoes.
Some tech-savvy growers use time-lapse cameras to see where the sun falls throughout the day, but I reckon a few tea breaks at different times of the day will work just as well.
Grow Your Plants and Seeds in Pots
Sowing seeds in pots of multipurpose compost costs more money, but I reckon you’ll get better crops. I find sowing directly can be tricky sometimes, especially if the weather is dry and the surface becomes crusty.
Germination in pots gives you more control, and the chance to keep a good eye on your new babies. By sowing in pots and planting out, you won’t get patchy rows, either.
Start Planting Your Seeds ASAP
Just plant. Plans are for next year. Buy some seeds, follow the instructions on the back, and get it planted. Some worked for me and some didn’t, but I got a great idea of how to grow vegetables, what area of my plot gets the most sun, and other knowledge that proved invaluable in my second year.
And boy was I proud of what I did manage to grow.
Tips To Make Your Gardening Process Efficient
Don’t spend too much money
You might find that running an allotment is the pits! You can buy veg in the shops for much less effort, as the Daily Mash points out!
I’d say the only tools that are necessary to get you going are a spade, fork, hoe, rake, and trowel, and you’ll find many of these if you inherit and an old shed.
Set a specific time for Gardening
Even if you inherit a tidy plot, it will take time to get on top of the work required to run a productive allotment. Things do get easier, but you have accepted that time and graft is required. My first year was spent working out how I could fit the plot around the rest of my life. Once you master this and get a routine going, you’re not such a slave to the plot.
Find a nearby Allotment Shop
love our allotment shop. A few minutes spent in there on a Saturday morning provides lots of nuggets of information, especially if you get chatting to the guys that run it.
Due to offers from big seed companies, the goods there are often much cheaper than the garden centre, too.
Label Rows and Take Notes
Labelling rows sounds obvious, but being an ‘I’ll do that later’ kind of guy, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve forgotten to do this.
It’s really useful to know what you grew the year before, and when you sowed the seeds. A little pocket diary is dead handy for quickly jotting down notes for comparisons.
Find an Online Gardening Community
Need help and don’t know where to go? Online web forums are full to bursting with knowledgeable gardeners. Register, post a question, and an hour later you’ll have several suggestions on how to solve your problem. www.growfruitandveg.com/grapevine is a nice, easy to use forum with lots of friendly, experienced posters.
Facebook and Twitter
There are thousands of friendly, enthusiastic growers of all different experience levels, sharing tips and knowledge 24 hours a day. Try looking for the #allotment hashtag to find some grow your own tweeps.
You can follow me @realmensow. I’m always more than happy to bore the hind legs off people about veg. I write a blog about the subject, after all. 🙂
Start a blog and take lots of photos!
This didn’t help me learn what I was doing, but my plot has changed so much over the last four summers that it’s incredibly rewarding and entertaining to look back at the differences. Starting a blog is a great way of sharing that with other growers from all over the world, as well as keeping a record of things that worked, and things that didn’t.
Of course, these are only my experiences, based on nothing but trial and error, but hopefully, they’ll be of some use. If you’ve got an allotment, let me know what helped you, and if you’re just starting out, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on!