There are lots of sites out there to tell you how to sow, plant and grow fruit and vegetables, but not so many that pass on the hard earned wisdom that has been acquired through years of trial and error. These are a few of my do’s and don’ts that I’ve learned along the way, I hope they may prove useful if you are starting out on an allotment adventure.
DON’T let it become a chore. There will always be times when it does feel a little that way – you’ve been away for a while, the weeds have taken over, why do I need to grow these onions anyway when I could just go a buy some and save myself the hassle? I’m sure we’ve all been there. But remember the reason why you’re doing it. Getting out in the fresh air, being at one with nature, de-stressing from a hectic family and/or technology overload, getting huge satisfaction from growing your own. Whatever your reasons might be for starting a plot, keep that in mind when/if it starts to overwhelm. If it constantly feels like nothing but a chore, then you really need to question why you are doing it.
DON’T give up too quickly on a crop that fails first time. There are so many crops that have been great for me one year and not the next and vice versa. Sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s down to a particular pest or disease, but next year it could all be different. Try, try and try again, and only then give up!
DO take a flask of tea or coffee and a snack with you. You will always be there longer than you’ve anticipated, and you’ll always be very glad you did. Don’t forget water on hot days, it can be thirsty work.
DO be open to advice from fellow plot holders, and ask if you need it. We’re mostly a friendly bunch who are keen to support new plot holders, and our heads swell with pride if we’re able to pass on our knowledge.
DON’T leave it too long between visits. We see so many new people who are so enthusiastic to start with, dig over the beds, feel very good about themselves, and then disappear for several weeks while the weeds grow back again. Those freshly dug beds don’t stay like that for long, nature is invincible. Little and often is the key, so …
… DO dedicate a small amount of time on every visit to weeding. Weeding is a chore, it is the equivalent of hoovering or ironing, but the longer you leave it the more there’ll be. Try and see it as a ZEN like activity that allows you to properly look at how well things are growing, and even if you’re only popping down there, try and put the hoe around one or two beds. I read somewhere that you should dedicate a third of every trip to weeding, which I think is probably about right!
DON’T feel you have to dig over the entire plot in one go. It is okay to leave some areas covered over with black plastic, weed suppressant fabric, or even sheets of cardboard. We did all of that, and planted as we cleared the soil, bit by bit.
DO keep a few essential toiletries in your shed if you have one. Mine include a large tub of antibacterial wet wipes for hand cleaning, tissues, plasters (just in case) and a stick of sweat proof sunblock for the sunnier months.
Talking of which, DO be very aware of the sun. I don’t want to sound like everyones mum now, but even on a cloudy day when you’re out there for several hours, it’s so easy to forget that strip of back that is exposed every time you crouch over.
Enjoy it, learn from it all, but trust me on the sunscreen!