Spring has sprung


We run our own private allotments on our farm, as I’ve mentioned before. Other the past 6 years I have seen many people come and go on the allotments. Why? It takes a lot of commitment, whether it’s at the bottom of your garden, on a window sill or somewhere that you have to walk or drive to. So with all this in mind,I’ve collected some advice for both new plot holders and old to help you have a really great year. I hope you appreciate some of these tips and if you have some of your own you’d like to add, I would love to hear them!

1.    Take photos before the season starts and as the season is in full swing. This way you can really see the progress you have made.
2.    Need advice? Ask other plot holders, look on the web or join in with web forums. People who like to grow, like to be asked for their advice and as long as they have time, they’re pretty happy to talk all day about it. But a word of advice; you will get lots of contradicting advice and some things will work for one person and not another. Don’t get disheartened. Try it and see if it works for you, if not move on and try something else. I’ve seen people transplant carrots and parsnips which is frowned upon, and yet grow the best ones at the allotments.
3.    Grow veg you like and don’t try to grow everything at once. There is no point having 5kg of peas, if you don’t like them and there’s no point in having tonnes of everything that you need to harvest at the same time, and or process for storing at the same time. The key is to choose varieties carefully, choosing one or two each year and to succession sow. This means plant the same thing but a few weeks apart so when you’ve picked all your beans from one row, you’ll the have the next one ready.
4.    Some expensive vegetables can be worth it, but quite often they’re not. Sweet potato for example can be bought as slips or plugs but can be darn difficult to grow in this country (and from what I’ve heard, no, the supermarket version is no good for creating slips to grow – you can, but they just don’t grow very well) The other things to watch out for is value for money. Potato seeds can cost you more than just buying a bag of potatoes from the shop, especially if you end up with blight or other problems that wipe out or stunt your crop.
5.    Remember why you’re doing this, when you’re slipping in mud or your back is aching from the hard work. Home grown fruit and veg is fresher and it tastes better. Grow some of the veg that you know will beat supermarket food hands down in a taste test: tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, peas and lettuce.
6.     If you’re starting out and just learning about growing your own, then try to start with the simplest and easiest to grow fruits and vegetables. Read up on what you want to grow, and if you’ve never done this before but it requires a complex frame, consistent growing conditions, lots of attention, cuddles at night etc. Don’t do it…. Yet. Save it for next year! It is so easy to get disappointed if it’s not a success.
7.    If this is your first year, don’t plan. Get the soil good is a must but just start growing. This will give you a chance of working out what works on your soil and where it might work better. Next year when you’ve got your confidence up, when you’ve worked out what you like and what you’re good at growing you can start thinking about cropping plans. Plants do better when they get rotated to prevent diseases and problems as well as making the most of what a different plant has left behind (or not) but this is only worth thinking about if you’ve survived the first year and still love it.
8.    The first year is the hardest. You will spend a lot of time working out how you want your plot, from layout of beds and paths, to putting up a shed. It might even take into a second year to feel you’ve managed to get yourself fully established. It will certainly take over a year (of a few years) for your fruit trees to be producing a decent crop, so think ahead. If you’re unsure of the commitment right now, you might not make the most of that lovely apple tree you want to plant (and cost a bomb to buy).You don’t even have to invest in a shed right at the beginning. It’s handy but it certainly isn’t a necessity.
9.    If you’ve taken on a plot that has fruit trees or vegetables left behind, take the time to learn about what you’ve gained before you make the decision to remove things. It can be so easy to get a plot and think you want it to be a blank canvas but some things can take a long to establish. If you’ve decided too quickly that you don’t want it and then change your mind, you might have to wait quite a few years for the same thing again. The same goes for sheds or tools you might inherit or buy. It doesn’t matter if it was cheap or expensive, it will still need to be maintained and looked after if you want it to last. Paint that shed and add more screws if it feels a bit wonky. Second hand on an allotment is not second best.
10.    Think hard about the layout of your beds. If you have your rows really long, how will you reach the middle? Walking across your bed can be muddy as well as compact the soil. Other things to think about it access. Will something that spreads like strawberry plants stop you from tending to another plant behind or next to it, or will fruit bushes that are planted too close together be hard to get at the fruits when ready?
11.    Don’t despair if your seedlings aren’t up as quick as you would like. Give them enough time because the weather conditions can slow things down as much as speed them up and you might find yourself with more seedlings than you’d like once you’ve reseeded! And most importantly make sure you know the difference between a weed and your seedlings! There have been many horror stories where people have pulled up their new plants thinking they were the weeds leaving them with nothing
12.    But the biggest tip of all is to ENJOY it. There will be moments when you’re fed up of the weather, the cold, pests and problems but on the whole it should be enjoyable and a pleasure to grow and to eat what you’ve planted. Otherwise what are you doing this for?