I read an interesting piece on the Daily Telegraph website today, which suggested new allotment holders were giving up growing veg because running a plot is a lot harder work than it looks on the tele.
I do sympathise with new plotholders struggling to keep up. I often spend three or four hours at the plot on a Saturday catching up because I’ve not visited for a fortnight. I reckon that you need 4 hours of spare time a week while the growing season is in full swing, and that’s just for weeding, tidying up, cutting the grass and watering. Factor in seed sowing, pest control, and harvesting, and suddenly a plotholder is a very busy boy or girl.
Low Maintenance Crops
Allotments are hard work and they are time-consuming, so you’ve really got to love what you’re doing, but there are a few tips I’d offer beginners if time is tight. For starters, there are plenty of crops that don’t require as much water and attention, such as beetroots, French beans, potatoes, leeks, onions, and spring greens.
Soft fruits are also brilliantly easy. Strawberries repopulate themselves, and my gooseberry and blackcurrant bushes ask nothing of me at all but still provide a heavy crop.
Perennials, such as rhubarb, asparagus and Jerusalem and globe artichokes (pictured, with strawbs) happily come back every year without the need for fresh sowings, and my rhubarb and globe artichokes, in particular, have produced big yields for minimum effort.
If finding time in the week for watering is tricky, try planting in grooves and recesses. My mum showed me this great method which keeps the water around the root for longer and doesn’t let it run away when the ground is hard.
Keeping Down the Weeds
Weeds are the biggest pain for the time-constrained plotholder. I’ve never found a successful, sure-fire organic way of keeping them down, and whoever does will become a very rich person indeed. I have seen allotmenteerists lay tarpaulin and plastic sheeting over the ground and grow plants up through slits. This doesn’t work for every plant, but hey, if you can keep weeds off half the plot, you’ve only got the other half to worry about!
Friends and Family
Getting friends and family involved is a massive help too. I took on a full-size plot, but the support of my mum and wife has been invaluable. It’s amazing how much three people can achieve on a plot together in an hour. I’ve also found that friends respond very well to a bag of freshly harvested goodies to take home and a slice of homemade cake.
There are loads of blogs out there describing how friends have taken on plots together. My work friends Dave and Russell have done this too. They both have families and busy lives so rented a plot between them and divided the area into two. I’m told Russell’s half is still a tip, but hey, I should have expected that having seen his desk.
I also like the idea of filling whole beds with green manures. If you don’t have the time to manage a particular bed, they’re a neat and tidy use of space and will restore vital nutrients to the soil. The manures will keep the weeds down too.
Do What’s Manageable
Of course, the best bit of advice is not to take on too much. I’ve come to the conclusion that a plot is not unlike a house: it’s nicer to have a small house that you can keep clean and lovely than a massive place that’s messy because you haven’t the time to get the hoover round.
If you’ve been inspired by the TV and are thinking of taking a plot on, do what’s manageable and build up. I bet you a butternut squash that more joy will be found from a bundle of small successes than a big old plot of mediocrity.