This is the time of year when many people are taking on an allotment for the first time. Or if they're not totally new to it, embarking upon their first full year as a plot holder. At my allotments we've got lots of now people taking on plots. The slightly sad thing about this is that experience tells us that a percentage of these people will also quit their plot in their first year. For some of them that is because keeping an allotment is much harder work than they imagined and when they give it a go they realise it isn't for them. However, for others, it is with heavy heart that they give up their plot because they haven't been able to keep on top of the work or because they've floundered, not quite sure what they should be doing or not doing to get their own little patch of green up and running. So, on this basis, here is my advice for all of you who are new, or nearly new, to allotment growing this year:
- Read about crop rotation and decide how you are going to rotate your planting, preferably using a four year rotation if you can. This may seem pretty indepth thinking at this early stage but good early planning and soil care will help you get the best out of your plot in the long run.
- Make a list of what you want to plant and work out where and when you will be planting it. For my plot this plan is quite complicated because I insist upon growing lots of obscure cultivars. It doesn't need to be if you are sensbile enough to grow a smaller selection of crops which is probably wise whilst you are finding your feed! Good planning at the start of the season will make sure you get the best out of growing by planting each different plant at just the right time.
- Don't panic if you don't manage to cultivate the whole plot in your first year. So long as you keep it clean and tidy and don't let the weeds run away with you it'll be fine. And if you cultivate a small area and manage to grow something you really love to eat, that first allotment grown meal or snack should be tasty enough to inspire you to grow bigger and better each year.
- Grow things that you really want to eat - especially if you only have a small space! Potatoes and onions are cheap to buy so concentrate your efforts on growing more unusual crops that you know you will enjoy growing and that you can't buy on your local market. I do grow onions and spuds if I can fit them in, but only unusual varieties. And I would much rather fill my space with things like sweetcorn, pumpkins, tomatillos... the list could go on to include anything that we love eating but can't easily buy.
- Invest in a good book to help you on your way. I would recommend Joy Larkom's Grow Your Own Vegetables which has been an absolute bible for us. Or Monty Don's The Complete Gardener which is beautifully written, full of glorious pictures and also includes loads of information on growing flowers and other non-edible plants.
- Keep on visiting blogs like this to find out what other people are growing or get involved in online communities like UK Veg Gardeners. The online growing and gardening community is now very large and active and is a great place to share ideas, find solutions to problems and learn directly from other growers who have a little more experience than you.
Happy growing to all the new growers out there in 2012. Here's to a productive and tasty year ahead.