Back in March 2018, I got the keys to my allotment plot. My plot is on the edge of a beautiful park and a five minutes walk from the flat we were supposed to move into in March, but ended up moving in November (but, hey, that's another story!)
I took on half a plot from March to September, and as I didn’t have a full year with the plot, I only paid £31. Bargain! Before this, I had only ever grown a few vegetables in pots on my patio. Stuff like tomatoes, lettuce and beans.
This is what I learnt in those first few months on the allotment:
1. Grow less, in larger quantities.
The prospect of having ample space to grow meant I got a bit excited and dug beds which had multiple plants. Whilst this was a great way to learn about what certain plants needed, and which angle the plot got the best light from, it did mean that I had a measly harvest from some plants. Next year, I’m going to dedicate beds specifically to one type of vegetable, to try to increase the harvest from the vegetables I eat the most.
2. If you don’t want weeds somewhere then- cover the ground!
I was very luckily when I took on the plot as the previous renter had covered the ground with sheeting, which mean the soil underneath was softer and virtually weed free. When I harvest vegetables from beds this year, I am going to be sure to cover the ground with these sheets again, as it made it so much easier to prepare the ground to plant into.
The ground could also be covered by vegetables to avoid weeds, much closer together. I recently visited a SPIN farm, and was so surprised as to how many plants they fitted in compared to what I have on my plot. By planting closer together, the SPIN farmers get higher yields, with less weeds, as there is no space for them to grow.
3. The other plot owners are happy to help out
My plot neighbours are lovely. They help me identify plants and lend me tools to use. The allotment community is really fantastic, they plan BBQ’s in the summer and bonfire nights in the winter. We even join up with other allotments to run joint master classes.
4. Try to figure out what is on the plot, before pulling everything up!
I started pulling up what I thought was a weed, which tuned out to be a lovely perennial flower which wasn’t yet in bloom. Luckily, the lady who is my plot neighbour told me just in time what the flower was. I’d cut it back a lot by that point, but luckily I didn’t pull it all up!
5. Learn to harvest seeds
I didn’t really think harvesting seeds was a priority on allotments, as seeds are so cheap at shops. However, I was lucky enough to attend the conference Terra Madre in September 2018, and listened to a talk about seed harvesting. I found out there about the value of seeds, and how not all seeds are created equal. F1 hybrid seeds are seeds that will produce a good crop the first year they are planted, but are unlikely be good to use the second year. If I use seeds which are native to England, and are not hybrids, I will be able to use them year after year, so long as I harvest them properly. Whilst listening to the seed talk, one lady spoke of how seed harvesting allowed her to eat the same produce her ancestors had, and keeping the seeds properly meant her descendants.
I’m definitely not perfect at harvesting seeds just yet, but I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos on how to harvest certain seeds.
At the start of October, I renewed my allotment contract for another year, and took on another half of the plot. My hope for the year ahead is to improve the allotments harvest by putting into practice all I’ve learnt. Hopefully, I will be inundated with produce next year, and will be able to blog about all the wonderful ways to preserve allotment harvest!
Watch this space, and we will give you an update soon!