Organic garden produce
Having an allotment is not an easy undertaking, but it is well worth it! And most importantly it is a huge step in helping the environment and providing cheaper organic food for you and your family. During National Allotment Week which is run by the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited, allotments are promoted as a great way of pursuing and living a healthy lifestyle. If you are still not convinced keep reading…
Reasons for having an allotment plot.
- Fresh Air. Being out in all of the elements may (eventually) lead to a great sense of peace.
- Community.You will make new friends, share ideas and possibly even crops. For the most part, having an allotment inevitably means that you will become a part of a community with a common goal.
- Keeping Fit. Working on your own allotment whilst growing great food will give you a superb general work out.
- Organic Food for very little. If you practice organic growing techniques on your allotment, then your food will be healthier and tastier without having to pay a premium.
- Helping the environment.Having an allotment is also a way of doing your bit for the environment. When you buy food at your local supermarket, how ‘local‘ is it? A lot of goods may have been shipped or flown from far flung places around the globe. Hideous chemicals may have been used to control pests and disease whilst growing your foods, causing the negative impact to the surrounding environment. At least when you grow your own vegetables, you know where it has come from and what it contains.
- Cheap Food!A pack of onion seeds for 25 pence, could mean a crop of about 300 onions!
Below are some great tips from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited on how to start your own allotment.
Obtaining a Plot: Most allotments are run by your local council therefore firstly you should contact them for a list of sites within your area and to obtain details of availability or waiting lists, rent, etc. Some sites are privately owned and administered and your local library may be able to assist you in their location, although sometimes the best way to locate them is by speaking to local businesses, neighbours, to point you in their direction.
Rent levels vary from county to county and can range from £1 to £70, however the national average is approximately £25. The amount of rent charged usually depends on what facilities are available i.e. water/water butts; car-parking; security fencing. Visit several suitable sites and speak to people on the site to ascertain if they have any problems with vandalism, trespassers, etc. If the site is well-tenanted and appears lively then this can be a good sign. Many sites have formed active associations which offer their members a trading hut, members hut, hold regular meetings, allotment competitions, fund-raising events, etc. and therefore is an excellent way to meet new people and be part of your local community.
What Tools?:It is essential that you have a spade, fork, hoe – and don’t forget your watering can. It is also useful to have a fork and hand trowel. It is worthwhile investing in good quality tools as these can last a lifetime and save you money in the long run. However if you don’t want to invest too much at the beginning it is worthwhile checking out the second-hand shops or car boot sales for a bargain.
Check your tenancy agreement to see if you are allowed to have a shed as this can save you a lot of time and effort transporting your tools back and forth.
What To Grow?:Grow crops which you, your family and friends enjoy eating before getting too adventurous. Crops to begin with are early potatoes, peas, salads, onions, and beetroot. Also try beans, broccoli, cabbage, and for fun pumpkins and squashes.
Check your Soil Type:It is important to know your soil type as this will make your time on the plot easier therefore you should carry out a pH test to ascertain if the soil is alkaline or acid. If your soil is on the acid side apply garden lime before planting out brassicas as they prefer the soil slightly alkaline. The test will also provide you with the levels of important nutrients such as potash and phosphate. If low, increase by adding plenty of organic matter or by using balanced fertilisers (which also includes nitrogen). If high, only add nitrogen which is lost quickly from the soil. It is only necessary to test the soil every 3-4 years.
With sandy soil it is much easier to clear weeds as it is easier to work with, however it requires considerable organic matter and therefore may take a while to improve. Clay soil holds water and nutrients well but may take a bit of work to get it into a condition which is easier to work with.
Crop Rotation:By adopting a rotation system you will help prevent soil-borne diseases building up as you are not growing the same crop on the same piece of ground each year. It also helps to make best use of the nutrients in the soil. A four year rotation is advised however there are no set rules on how you should divide your plot – it will depend on what you like to eat and what you can grow.
A simple plan is as follows:
Anything that doesn’t fit into these groups can be fitted into any area. The next year, rotate the groups either way – however always move them in the same direction
• It is a tenant’s duty under the Allotment Acts that the plot remains in a good state of cultivation and free of weeds and to keep your boundary hedges cut and trimmed.
• Check the conditions of your tenancy agreement – you may be required to obtain permission before erecting any shed/greenhouse, if you wish to mulch with old carpets, light bonfires, etc.
• Protect new plants with bottle cloches (2 litre bottles can be cut to suit)
• Raise plants in pots then plant out sturdy plants
• Grow varieties which have resistance to disease
• Keep a note of what you have planted and where as labels don’t always stay put in windy weather! This can also help you with planning for the following year
• Hoeing in dry weather ensures the weeds will die
• Start a compost bin immediately and recycle as much organic matter as possible
• Use a water butt to collect rain water off the shed
• Grow annual and perennial flowers as these attract pest-eating insects and are important if you are organic gardening—they also look good in a vase!
For more information please visit: National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited