Taking on a new allotment

If you’re lucky enough to be offered an allotment (and most people I know are still waiting … still waiting ….) it will come in one of three forms:

Brand new – these are rare, but increasingly local authorities are recognising the value of creating new allotment sites – here you’ll have to contend with whatever was on the land before, builder’s rubble, industrial waste or grass.

Fallow – a lot of plots haven’t been worked very much (or at all!) in recent years, either because the allotment holder hasn’t been up to it, or because (as is often the case) they’ve agreed to pay their rent by direct debit and while the money’s been going out regularly, the plot-holder hasn’t! It’s amazing how often an allotment holder will just ‘forget’ about their plot and not visit it for years. On fallow land you’re going to have a problem with perennial weeds that will have got a good hold, and you may find that neighbours have been using bits of your plot as annexes to their own, which can cause friction if they’ve taken over ‘your’ raspberry canes or compost bin …

Well-worked – if you’re lucky, you’ll get a plot that has been lovingly looked after by its previous allotment holder. There can still be issues to deal with though. Perhaps the previous plot holder wasn’t organic and you are. Perhaps he or she had strong preferences permanent plants like gooseberries or asparagus which you detest and complain when you dig up their prized crops (yes, your former plot holder is usually around somewhere, watching critically from the allotment of their crony and criticising your every move). Above all, you need to know if they’ve been using a crop rotation system and to fit in with it.

The standard system is potatoes into heavily manured soil, legumes (podded plants) into the same bed a year later, brassicas (cabbage family plants) into the same bed the year after that. Then you either let the bed lie fallow, or plant a green manure, or go back to potatoes again! If you break the system you will probably find that the soil is too exhausted to grow potatoes, or doesn’t have enough nitrogen (given by legumes) for brassicas.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, March 29, 2008


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