Newton Abbot & District Co – operative Allotment Association Ltd
THE WORLD OF ALLOTMENT GARDENING
These notes have been compiled for beginners, so please accept our apologies in advance if you are a seasoned allotmenteer. You may have better ideas of your own; that is one of the joys of allotment gardening – we continue to learn from each other all the time.
What is a Plot?
Historically a plot was a ¼ of an acre, but Allotment law has changed over the years and in the main a plot is around
10 yards for a full plot, which means one sixteenth of an acre. We also rent out half and quarter plots for those members requiring a smaller challenge. Paths do move over the years and we apologise if your plot is not exactly the size it was when originally set out.
What tools do I need?
The basic tools you will need are as follows – a fork, spade, hoe, rake, and trowel. Forks and spades come in two sizes; the smaller often called “border” fork and spade. For good digging the larger ones are needed, choose a comfortable height when picking your spade and fork. Also handy are a ball of string and two sticks to give you a straight line across the plot for digging or sowing.
The Devon Spade
Some members favour the “Devon Spade” others hate it; it really is a matter of taste. The Devon Spade has a very long handle and is triangular as opposed to square in shape. We recommend you ask a fellow member who has one to show you how to use it and ask if you can borrow it for half an hour to see how you get on. It is all about technique. If you can master it the amount of bending you have to do when digging can be drastically reduced. Mole Valley Farmers have a good range of reasonably priced tools (You can use your privilege discount card).
How often we have seen new members arrive at a plot that has not been tended for six months and make a decision to hire a rotovator for the day to save digging it over to get rid of the weeds! Up to £80.00 and several hours’ work later, the plot looks immaculate. Not a weed in sight, ready for planting. Then it rains solidly for two weeks making planting impossible. The new member returns to the plot they left in a pristine condition only to find that it has more weeds growing on it than before they rotovated it. Why? Rotovation of a plot covered in weeds simply cuts every leaf and root up and creates hundreds if not thousands of new weeds, they take root and your weed problem is increased dramatically. So save your rotovator until you are weed free or just suffer from surface weeds.
Paths and “Common Areas” must be maintained and a cheap petrol Strimmer is the ideal tool for this job. However safety precautions are a must. These precautions apply to everyone from the beginner to the most experienced allotment gardener. Strimming don’ts: wear flimsy open toed shoes or sandals or shorts. Strimming do’s: wear goggles (or a helmet with mesh guard), gloves, a good pair of boots and a shirt with sleeves. This may seem excessive to the beginner, but a Strimmer will flick stones at you with great speed and force and your legs, arms and eyes should be protected. Some people are also allergic to the sap from some weeds; hence covering the legs and arms is advisable. Prevention is better than cure.
The power of the sun on your neck when bending to weed or plant should never be under estimated. Wear a shirt with a collar turned up to protect your neck, some favour a baseball cap with the peak turned back or a straw hat, whichever you choose always protect yourself.
As you turn your plot you will get to know the soil. Start with a spade moving on to a fork later to break down the clods and lift roots. Try not to bring soil at the bottom of your trench to the surface. If you have ordered some manure, you can mix it as you go. Throw large stones to the side of the plot and collect them in a pile, if you have to net your crops because of birds they come in very handy for weighing down the edges.
Before you begin work on your plot you have to make an important decision, “shall I use weed killer or not?” Make this decision before you start cutting or strimming down the weeds, because it works best on uncut weeds and grasses. If you apply it after you have strimmed the plot, re-growth will occur, so make the decision before you start.
If you decide on using weed killer only apply it from a watering can on a wind free day, remember your fellow allotmenteers! Weed killer blown on the breeze can wipe out whole crops across several plots and you will be far from popular. Arguably the very worst weeds are bindweed and couch grass. Both have roots that if broken when being removed from the ground just grow again. Be careful if you use weed killer on bindweed growing near crops. The weed killer is absorbed by the leaves and travels down the weed to the roots that if wrapped around the roots of raspberry canes for example, transfer the weed killer to the raspberries and can knock them back or even kill them. Alternatively start at the top of the plot and working down, systematically dig them out.
If your plot has turf growing on it, cut it into squares and stack it upside-down. It makes excellent soil as it rots down and gives bumblebees a home! Alternatively bury it upside down at the bottom of a trench, along with other small surface weeds.
Digging the Plot
Start at the top of the plot and work across from one side to the other turning the soil uphill as you go. Position a plastic bin in the centre just behind you and throw weeds into it as you go.
Keep the paths across your plot and the area around your plants well hoed. This will keep weeds down and allow water to penetrate to the roots. The Swoe is not a new invention but many have never heard of them. Shaped a little bit like a golf club, the Swoe is a multi-purpose tool, it can be used to hoe around the smallest of plants, it will lift small weeds with ease and it is self-sharpening, manufactured by Black & Decker.
Use your rake to create a fine tilth for sowing small seeds. You can use the handle of the rake, or a garden cane, to make a small straight groove for sprinkling seeds in. When your seeds are sown cover them with the fine soil by using the back of the rake. If the ground is dry or rough, it may be worthwhile sprinkling handfuls of compost along the drill and then set the seeds in that to get them started. Always water seed drills before you plant your seeds.
The Compost Heap
Start your compost heap on the ground to keep it moist and allow drainage. For neatness some people set up a framework of wooden shutters or chicken netting. Alternatively containers can be purchased commercially from Teignbridge District Council. Most garden waste is suitable for your compost heap, leaves, chopped up hard stems, grass (if it is well mixed in) and kitchen waste, even tea-bags and eggshells (but not meat scraps or fast food that can attract rats). Pat it down, water it and cover with an old piece of sacking or even carpet. Nature will do the rest, as long as you do not let it dry out. Avoid the white roots of perennial weeds like couch grass and convolvulus. There is no need to mix in soil, manure, lime or additives of any sort.
If you have a crop that looks as though it is “ill”, consult your Field Manager and see if they or anyone else knows what it is. Once you have identified it and treated the crop alert your neighbours, this will prevent the disease from spreading across the whole field. Potato and Tomato Blight not to mention Onion Fly are three of the commonest diseases.
These ideally should be level and around two feet or more wide to give safe footing. Trim the edges periodically and throw the earth in to the plot away from the path to give a clear border. Some people prefer to put slug pellets around the edge of their crops rather than around individual plants.
These should be as infrequent as possible and only lit after 4.00 PM in accordance with rules laid down by the Landlords. The following is for your guidance only, but you may incur the wrath of local householders if you fail to follow them, you have been warned! – Collect woody plants and twigs, dry material and perennial roots; any diseased plants (such as potato haulms or tomatoes with blight) are also best burnt. Make a small hot bright fire with cardboard, paper or wood and a firelighter, so it burns with a blaze that is soon over. Do not pile damp weeds or old plastic or rubber etc. on it to make a smoke-stack as that is unhealthy, against the Council’s rules and annoys everyone, including surrounding householders. Use the compost heap, and take the rest home or to the dump.
Soil pH falls into one of three categories, neutral, which has a pH of 7, acid, which has a pH of between 1-6 and alkaline, which is between 8 – 14. pH Meters do not need batteries and are a real asset to the allotmenteer. Most vegetables (not all) enjoy a soil with a pH of around 6.5. You can purchase soil dressings to increase or decrease the pH of your soil to ensure that each crop is in soil that it likes. Swedes for example like lime (alkaline); dress the soil with lime by rows and leave it to wash in before planting.
In year one decide where you are going to grow your fruit and then split the rest of the plot into three, i.e. the top third in “Root Crops” i.e. Potatoes, the middle third in “Brassicas” i.e. Cabbages, and the bottom third in “Others” i.e. Sweet Corn. In the second year move your root crops down to the middle, your brassicas down to the bottom and the others up to the top. In year three move your root crops down to the bottom of the plot, your brassicas to the top and the others middle. This prevents any one crop exhausting the soil and the build-up of pests and diseases.
What They Like
Roots: Do not add manure or lime, a bottom dressing of 5:24:24 grade Growmore is best. Brassicas: Add well-rotted manure and 20:10:10 Growmore. Others: Plenty of well-rotted manure when digging.
Fruit Crop Tips
Strawberries benefit from the following process: after they have flowered and finished fruiting they will produce runners. These have new small strawberry plants on them. Put some compost in a small pot and weigh the runner down across it with a stone. When it has taken root cut the runner off either side. Plant new rows of strawberry plants below your current patch, increase this next year and the year after at the end of year three do this again and dig up your original plants, they are past their best. Then start all over again. A fruit cage is really a must for the serious fruit grower or the birds will have your crop. A wooden framework covered in fine mesh will do wonders for protecting your fruit.
Sheds & Greenhouses
A shed is not a must but it will mean that you don’t have to carry your tools back and forth in your car. There is always the small risk of theft so choose a good lock and cover your shed window from the inside. Never leave valuables in your shed. If you are unlucky enough to have something stolen please tell the Field Manager or phone the Secretary at one, also be sure to report the incident to the police – they act only on statistics of the number of complaints made! It is an offence to damage allotments or to allow others to do so (1922 Allotment Act). Greenhouses can be erected just about anywhere on your plot although it is best to consult the Field Manager and adjacent plot holders first to ensure there will be no blockage of light etc. Cold frames are very useful as are plastic cloches.
Water & Watering
Most people are divided on this but in general once a plant has established itself don’t water it unless it looks like it may die. A member has advised that during the years when we had droughts in the 1970’s he did not water at all, he just kept hoeing, keeping the earth around the root systems of his crops from going hard. He had scorn poured on him by other members who said it was all a waste of time, but when it did rain he had the best crops on the field. A good watering – in will usually suffice, after which the roots will search for water deeper down. Runner Beans, Courgettes and Marrows all benefit from lots of water the more the better. Fruit in general does not need watering unless there is no rain for a couple of months or so. Water Butts lined up along the side of your shed and connected together save water during the winter months and the Association money during the summer months. Be vigilant and report leaks immediately. Do not rely on someone else to report it; it is your rent that is leaking away.
There are plenty of books that will assist you if you are new to allotment gardening. The Vegetable and Fruit Experts by Dr D. G. Hessayon are widely available and very good. Don’t try too many things too quickly, see what is involved and learn from your mistakes.
Kings Seeds produce the seeds that you find in most branded packets. You can order them in the autumn through the Seeds of Success Shop at Decoy Field and they are inexpensive to buy. Catalogues are available and you can get one from the shop or from the Shop Manager.
Is almost guaranteed – Allotments meet our basic needs – finding a patch of land and growing food to survive. But they do far more than that – they let us grow sometimes beautiful things, let us work with nature still in this fast moving age, let us reconnect with the seasons and the soil. They also bring us into contact with other gardeners, who will offer advice and help. Never hesitate to ask questions, seek advice, or contact your warden or Secretary. Many members are glad to lend a hand if they can.
THE ASSOCIATION YEAR
As well as the normal pleasure that can be had from working your allotment there are annual events that take place each year that everyone can enjoy.
In the spring (usually March) there is the AGM. If you would like to be nominated to join the Management Committee that is the time and place to do it, you will be advised of the venue in advance and asked for agenda items you would like added to the agenda or for nominations you would like to make. This is where you can voice your opinions and (hopefully) put forward suggestions.
We have an Annual Field Competition (usually in July) in which you can participate. Each field is judged and the overall winner from each field wins a cup. The member with the most points from all the fields also wins the Lord Clifford Cup. Second Place receives the Alf Ashby Cup, and Runners Up all receive a “Certificate of Merit”.
In the Autumn- (September or October) we have a Social Evening, usually attended by our President Lord Clifford of Chudleigh D.L. This is where the cups and certificates of merit are handed out, we have a draw and a buffet is provided.
Also in the autumn we have a fruit and veg. show usually at the Keyberry Inn. All members are encouraged to obtain a form from their Field Managers and enter this fun day, cash prizes will be awarded if funds allow.
In September Kings Seed Catalogues are available, for ordering all your seeds for the following year from the shop at Decoy.
Then we move into the winter period and things slow down for a while. Rent Renewals usually go out in October and prompt payment is appreciated (cheques only please).
If there is one thing that drives the Secretary, Membership Secretary, Administrator and Field Managers crazy, it is members changing either their address or their phone number which means we can’t contact them. Please be considerate and save everybody time and inform the Membership Secretary of changes to your details.
There are other events that from time to time we become involved in through our link with our Landlords Newton Abbot Town Council.
This Starter Pack has been produced in order to help those who may be trying allotment gardening for the first time; we hope it will be of use to you.
Updated March 2018