Find out how to get your garden ready for 2020 and see great results later in the season.
After putting your name down on the allotment waiting list, and finally getting the call that one is yours, you’ll likely be eager to plant your first fruit and veg. However, it is a good idea to get some basic prep done before you start sowing to make sure you get the best from your space. As a rule of thumb, a full-sized allotment is approximately 250-square metres and this is large enough to feed a family of four. This space may need some TLC before it is fit to grow a crop in, unless you’ve inherited a well-tended plot that is pretty much good to go. If this size of allotment feels too much to manage, half- or quarter-sized plots are often available to rent out, too. These will require less prep, but there are still a few things that will need doing before even the smallest garden bed is fit to grow your dinner in.
Location, location, location!
Allotments in different parts of the country are in the hands of differing weather conditions. Plots in the south, for example, will generally be subject to less rain than those in the north. Ideally, your new plot will be in a sunny position but this is not always the case. Considering this, it’s important to scrutinise the conditions on your site and to plan for what you’ve got. The owner of a windy or shady allotment might struggle to grow more tender fruits and vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers and might therefore be better off growing half-hardy crops instead. Fruits and vegetables that don’t mind being grown in shade include redcurrants, rhubarb, beetroot, chard, kale and kohl rabi.
Obviously, one of the most important parts of any garden is the ground in which you will be growing your fruit and veg. There are a few different schools of thought on this, including digging and no-dig methods, growing green manures, covering empty soil and so forth. Each school will have its own ideas on how, what and when to plant something so it’s a good idea to read up on each one before getting started. There is no right or wrong answer as it is dependent on the type of ground you will be growing in, what you want to grow and how much time you have at your disposal. If you sit firmly in the camp that believes giving your soil a good dig over is best for its health, there are also a number of ways you can do this. Tillers and rotavators are available in a multitude of shapes, sizes and powers, and you can get forks, spades, hoes, trowels and weeders in all different lengths and weights – from small, slight hand tools right to hefty, long-handled ones. Another factor that will influence your decision is the type of soil that you have, whether it is heavy clay, light and sandy or anything in between. You can find out what you are working with by taking a handful of earth, adding some water to it and feeling it between your fingers. Clay soil, for example, will feel lumpy, slimy and sticky when wet, whereas sandy soil will crumble easily away in your hands. Soil quality can vary dramatically in one part of the garden to the next so save the good soil for growing most of your veg in, and boggier parts for fruit bushes such as cranberries or other structures. Although it may seem tempting to dig grit into the heavier soils, this doesn’t actually have much of an impact without the quantities being extremely large – far better is the practice of digging in plenty of organic matter, such as manure, or bark that has broken down. Sandy soils will also benefit from the addition of a well-rotted, moisture-retentive organic matter being introduced, such as leaf mould or your very own garden compost.
Work out weeds
If your plot is full of weeds, these will need to be disposed of. To do this, cut each weed down to stubble, lever them out by hand, making sure to remove the root as this is all the plant needs to grow back. However tempting it might be, it’s not recommended to use a rotovator on a weedy plot, as this will chop the weeds up and spread them around your allotment, causing them to multiply. You should hoe the ground to remove weeds and dispose of them in general waste, by burning or adding to a hot compost bin (never cold for perennial weeds).
Gardening tools and sundries
If you have done some kind of gardening before, you may already have a collection of tools, trays, pots and canes – if you do, this is a good time to take stock of what you have. Pull everything out from where it is stored – wipe down tools and assess them for any damage or disrepair, clean pots and cloches with warm soapy water to wash away any lingering pests or diseases, check over plant supports and make a note of anything that needs to be replaced. Also have a look at any fleece or netting you have in your shed and check it for rips or holes. This helps you to easily identify what you need for the 2020 growing season, and what is already lurking at the back of the shed. The same goes for donations of bits of gardening kit from friends, family and new allotment neighbours. The growing community is a friendly and helpful one, so you may find you get plenty of offers of people’s second hand and spare tools. This is lovely, but do check what you need first, otherwise you may end up with a shed full of things you wont use.
We would argue that one of the most enjoyable parts of the growing season is to take stock of the seeds you own, deciding on the varieties you’d like to try,
and going through catalogues in order to find them. To do this, it’s worth asking your allotment neighbours what has grown well for them, as they will likely have similar conditions to you, the fruit and veg you do and don’t enjoy (it might sound obvious, but there is no point in growing something you don’t enjoy eating), and any crops you have seen that have particularly piqued your interest. When ordering seeds, remember to keep in mind the space you have to grow, and the amount of time and care certain plants need. It’s also a good idea to bear in mind the amount of storage space you have. Lots of fruits and veggies, including squashes, potatoes and apples, can be stored in boxes in damp-free conditions until needed. You will therefore need to make sure you’ve got somewhere to put them in the event of a glut. Making sure your choices tick these boxes means you don’t run the risk of many unopened seed packets remaining in your stash
for years, bought on a whom, and being overwhelmed with veg that you can’t store very easily.
Pruning trees and bushes
This is a job that many gardeners are apprehensive of, but it is an important part of plot preparation to help keep fruit trees and bushes producing healthy growth and bumper harvests. To combat your fears, don’t be afraid to ask more seasoned growers for advice! Also, there are plenty of hints and tips to be found online – our forum (which can be found at growfruitandveg.co.uk) is home to many helpful, friendly gardeners more than willing to share their own personal techniques on this, and much more. Before getting started, make sure you have the appropriate kit – a sharp pair of secateurs and pruning saw are a must. Sharp tools minimise the chance of damaging the plant as you work. Also, a ladder is always useful for getting to those higher branches safely.
This project was kindly supplied by our sister brand Grow Your Own. For even more gardening projects and advice, visit growfruitandveg.co.uk