So, you got the call and an allotment is all yours. You head down to be shown the plot and your heart sinks. It’s a complete mess, but unfortunately, there is nothing else on offer.
What next? How are you going to clear the overgrown nettles, brambles, weeds, and grass and get yourself some lovely, crumbly soil? What if you’d been given the plot above, which happened to an RMS read Rob (thanks for the email Rob)?
A fairly straight forward answer to this question is to rip out the big stuff and then rotovate. Rotovators can be hired for a day, and before a weekend is out there is every chance you’ll have soil to sow into.
The trouble is, a rotovator has a number of downsides. For a start, the machine won’t kill off all the weeds. The soil is clean for a while, but rotovators cut up roots and actually multiply perennial weeds such as couch grass and bindweed.
Rotovating can damage soil structure too, especially heavy soils such as clay. A water-resistant barrier is often formed, causing poor drainage and preventing roots from growing deep enough.
You might not be popular with neighbours if you rotovate on a windy day if the roots from weeds blow all over the place.
Rotovator Positives and Getting Growing Quickly
The traditional approach to removing weeds and getting a plot back on track is good old fashioned hard graft. The obvious advantages of this are a weed-free plot, masses of satisfaction, and a retained soil structure, but digging out all those weeds and bushes is very, very time-consuming. Some of my local plots are in an almost non-returnable state, and this approach could mean no growing at all for the first year of rent.
And this is where I have sympathies with a rotovator. I hate seeing newcomers giving up veg growing as their plots were covered in weeds for the first season and they just couldn’t see when they were actually going to be able to sow seeds. A rotovator, however much of a short cut, means beginners can get going virtually from day one and begin their journey towards the amazing buzz of harvesting homegrown produce.
The Importance of the First Year
Of course, weeds come back but clearing a plot by hand can take more than two seasons, and any decision should rest on how quickly you want a productive plot. But that first year is so important for a new grower as it defines whether they’ll continue or not. Spending months toiling with no light at the end of the tunnel can kill enthusiasm, yet a good first summer’s harvest and a grower is hooked forever.
The romantic in me loves the idea of taking time to return a plot to production, free of weeds and with a lovely, fertile soil structure. However, I also take great pleasure from seeing people growing fruit and vegetables and if it means newbies get some decent, usable ground then I’d absolutely consider a rotovator.
Blimey, that’s as close to an opinion piece as I reckon I’ve come on Real Men Sow. Of course, I am into balanced advice, so later this week I’ll publish some non-rotovating methods I’ve used or witnessed to clear overgrown plots.