These are follow on tips from an original Ten Tips for Grow Your Own Beginners, from January 2011. I’ve been getting a few nice questions asking for beginner advice recently, so now the sun is out and we’re all starting over, I thought it a nice time to add some more tips that I’ve learned since.
Set aside some time
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.
Sow 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.
Show your face in the allotment shop.
I 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.
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.
Twitter is the new web forums! 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. 🙂
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.
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.
Grow pest and disease-resistant varieties where possible.
You might want to move on to trickier varieties later, but try to limit disheartening crop loss, to begin with. For example, ‘Below Zero’ leek is rust-resistant, and ‘Gladiator’ parsnip will stay free from canker.
Label rows and make notes.
Labeling 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.