Allotment problems – dealing with the plot

And the plot may thicken, or flood, or have a lovely topsoil of hardcore and old asbestos tiles or be a kind of allotment thoroughfare over which everybody drives or walks, or it could turn out that the previous plotholder has grown a wonderful crop of onion rot, potato blight and carrot fly for many years!

It’s not easy to turn down a plot, especially if you’ve been on a waiting list for years and years, but what can you do if your heart sinks when you see the patch that’s up for offer? You might think there’s nothing to be done, but actually there’s quite a lot and over the next couple of weeks I’m going to devote some time to exploring how you can improve your plot offer, or negotiate it into something a little more like a vegetable des res.

This week – flooding plots!

These come in two types – the kind where the whole site floods and the kind where only your allotment and those nearby flood. If it’s the former, check the byelaws – allotment land is supposed to be ‘fit for purpose’ and if it floods every year your allotment association may be able to mount a complaint that leads to new land being assigned – that’s a long term process though.

If it’s only your plot and that of a few neighbours:

Get together to lay ground drainage and dig ponds – short lengths of pipe can be dug into the ground wherever there’s a slope so that they run the water off downhill and at the lowest point of the plot (hint, it’s where the most water gathers!) a pond will take most of the water off your land fast. A nice deep pond can be used for hand-watering in summer and if nothing else, you can enjoy growing waterlilies.

Lift solid paving – it’s amazing how much rain runoff happens because people have laid concrete, tarmac or paving slabs. Normally water takes 4 – 6 hours to soak the soil to subsoil level, at which point it is saturated and will start to flood – so that’s 4 – 6 hours of rain before flooding. But runoff happens within three or four minutes of rain falling on a non-porous surface, so if you calculate the area of paving slabs or solid paths you have, that much of your plot will start to flood after about five minutes – scary isn’t it? Of course that water will still soak into the soil, but it’s got up some speed by then and will tend to coast over the soil surface, eroding your topsoil and running as fast as it can towards the lowest point, where raindrops tend to hit and stick, and require a lot of water to fall fast to become runoff.

Raise your beds – even a few inches is enough in plots that are just a bit marshy, but up to a foot is necessary in really boggy areas. More than that is probably not going to be cost effective for you, although you might want to go to two feet, if you can afford the wood, the soil to fill them, and know that you’re going to stay on your plot for years to come.

Plant water-hungry plants – many crops are water hungry in summer, not so many in winter, when rain tends to be heaviest, so try to make your corner plants and hedges ones that will take up a lot of water: any bog plants will thrive, willows and elders take up a lot of water from the soil but remember that if your plot actually floods, it may not be safe to eat your produce, depending on where the floodwater has come from …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, April 21, 2008

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