Welcome. this page is intended for all those who are either new to allotmenting, or like us have grown old with the weeds, and think that maybe Supermarkets have their place after all! let's start at the beginning......
When anybody takes on an allotment, they will have their reasons, hope and aspirations as to what they intend to achieve. Whatever they are, they will change over a period of time. You will have your reasons, and I wouldn't dare to question them. However, you will find that gradually, the way that you work your allotment becomes more of a relationship, and that the land itself begins to synchronise your rhythm to to the ageless rhythm of the land itself. You'll find yourself working in seasons; the one we're in, and planning for the rest.
The worst part is beginning. If you're new to allotmenting, several things will hit you at once. The sheer scale of the thing is one. We call ours the Serengeti, because when you're on your hands and knees weeding, that's the size it becomes. You feel under pressure to work on it all at once, and start of at a sprint. Quickly this falls to a run, then a walk... Allotments are a marathon. You may be lucky to inherit a patch, recently vacated, that is in good order. Lucky you. Others may inherit a patch that somebody's struggled with for a couple of years with little actual effect. this means that it's covered with the National Collection of chickweed at one end and (in our case) what appears to be a bird sanctuary of sedge at the other end with roots so long that they were probably damaged in the bush fires in Australia.
As this has site has been put together in a bit of a hurry, everything allotment wise is on one page. Scroll down, and you'll find hints and tips about dealing with problems. I'll add to the basic ones when people start asking about matters (or weeds) arising.
Don't panic. you don't have to do everything at once. Your taming of the beast can be done in stages. First though, you need to see something for your labours. there's nothing worse that looking at a tangled jungle and not getting anything out of it except nettle rash and sore hands. Here's that action plan.
Ignore anything that is going to take a large amount of effort to clear. you can do that when you've got things going.
Find a patch that can be cleared relatively easily. You need a patch about 2 metres by two metres.
Cover as much as you can of the rest of the allotment with black polythene, and weigh it down.
Now really clear the 2 x 2 patch. Dig out nettles, weeds with purple flowers, and anything else that has large roots. Chickweed and small weeds can be dug in.Dig in and turn the soil upside down. Turn all of the weeds under, and make sure that there is no green showing. the weeds will die of lack of light, as will their friends under your black polythene. The main thing is that the ground under the polythene won't get any worse. Avoid the temptation to use old carpet. This is an invention of the Devil that will come back to haunt you when you find that the carpet that you laid has become a tangled, damp and unwieldy nuisance when you want it up.
Mark out your two metre patch with string or canes, into half metre squares. I've put a planting suggestion at the end of this. Remember, some things grow up instantly we call them weeds, and some are in for the long run. My plan includes parsnips. You won't be seeing those until at least October.
This is the 2m by 2m plot laid out on my allotment. It's plot 62 on Bridge Fen. Where there's nothing sown yet, I'll put in a quick growing crop, if I want, and get it out of the way before the main event comes. Sprinkle the sees thinly over the square. Forget rows, unless you like patterns, which can be fun. the idea is to thin things out, and eat them small. Allow a couple of weeks between sowing radish, lettuce and leaves so that you don't get everything at once. Seeds that work for me. Carrots, Chantenay are good. reasonable short, they grow quickly, as do the really dumpy carrots that you see. Parsnips take forever to germinate. Either plant radishes amongst them, or keep the square tidy while they do their thing. Don't make the mistake of weeding the parsnips out. the have nice serrated little leaves. Don't ask me how I know.
Time to start sowing lots of seeds then. Here's a list of things you can sow now.
In the ground:
Potatoes: These need frost protection 'till June. Keep the shoots earthed up, and cover at night. On the allotment, use fleece or, at a push, weighted newspaper. Go for a couple of rows of earlies, and a couple of maincrop; more if you have the room. We find Cara do bet. After all, it's what the farmer next door grows.
Brassicas: Go for Greyhound cabbage, cauliflower and a later flowering cabbage. Don't set more than 10 without leaving a gap of a couple of weeks. Even then, be prepared to do a lot of freezing!
Carrots and parsnips: Go for a row of really stumpy ones for a quick crop, chantenay for a crop somewhere around mid June, and Autumn King for big ones to store. Things to watch for: Carrot fly. They have two hits, April and later on. Use anti carrot fly powder, or keep them covered with fleece. We're going to try planting rows of garlic between the rows. Should keep the vampires off at least. Rats, who will dig up carrots when really hungry. Wire worm. You may notice small thin white things when digging. That's them. Try to avoid planting potatoes or carrots there.
Onion sets: not too late, but get a move on.Plant so that just the tip is showing. enjoy the sight of little green shoots appear. Watch out for the odd one pulled out by a passing bird, investigating whether it can eat it, and push it back down again. Eventually the roots will hold it in place.
On your windowsill: Courgettes, sweetcorn (try some of the 'baby' corn as well), french beans, runner beans, (end of the month: they can't go out 'till June) tomatoes, (grow at home if you can. They are susceptible to potato blight and can be a bit difficult on Bridge Fen.) cucumbers, (ridge for outside), Squashes, melons (good outside if we get the weather, otherwise under glass.) and more...
Matters Arising or things you need to know.
Wildlife.On Bridge Fen, there's more than you think. Most of it is intent of gnawing your stuff, or just plain eating everything that you've planted. Be prepared to protect your plants properly. The wildlife has all day and night to find a way in.
Birds can be a pest. Many classic CDs and DVDs have ended their days as bird scarers. Hang them on sticks set at an angle, so that they dangle and swing about. Either that, or use something like Des O'Connor's greatest hits, and hope that they've better taste. Use fleece to protect sensitive crops, like brassicas. We used to use small mesh, but the weeds grow through it. Use fleece instead. That also protects against butterflies.
Ratstend to take up residence near your compost bins, DON'T put cooked food waste in there; keep it to vegetation only. They will try to get your ripe sweetcorn, so when it's ready, either protect it (difficult)