Marcia MacLeod

  • How to get growing

    Guest post by Marcia MacLeod

    It's the first day on the plot you've been lucky enough to beg, borrow or steal - but one look at all that empty space is enough to put anyone off, however hard you worked to get it in the first place. What should you grow? When and how? And where do you start?

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    A lot depends on whether the plot has been worked recently or was derelict, the type of soil and the geographical location. Newbies taking over an active plot should be able to plant most crops in the first year. It would help, though, to find out what the old plot-holder grew, and where, as some things, like carrots and brassicas (broccoli, cabbages, etc), should not be planted in the same place in successive years. The old plot-holder can also tell you what worked well on the plot and what didn't, although you can pick up a lot of local information from other people on the site.

    The key to a successful plot is to grow what you like to eat

    If the plot has not been looked after properly or has been unused for some time, you will probably have to clear the ground before you can start. Get yourself a big tube of ointment for bruised and tired muscles (or a bigger bottle of whiskey!) because that means digging. Although some people advocate a 'no dig' method, involving covering the soil with a thick layer of compost and leaving it for a couple of months, most growers get a sense of satisfaction from digging. If nothing else, it gives you time to think about what you want to grow.

    The key to a successful plot is to grow what you like to eat and to sow little and often to try to minimise gluts and provide a regular harvest of your favourite fruit and veg. Start with the easy things: potatoes, spinach and chard, lettuce, herbs, beans, courgettes, maybe a few carrots or tomatoes (although blight spreads on an allotment and producing blight-free crops without a greenhouse is difficult).

    But even with easy crops, the type of soil can have a huge impact on how to treat your plot. For example, carrots don't like clay as they find it hard to push down into the soil; try short or round varieties instead. Blueberries need an acid soil. Soil testers, available from many garden centres or online retailers, will provide a fair idea of the plot's make-up.

    Ask for advice from other gardeners and allotment owners in your area

    Soil is often dependent on the geographical location: most of London, for example, has clay. But local weather also plays a part. Allotmenteers in the south can plant many crops earlier and later than those living in colder climes: broad beans can be sown in March, instead of April or even May, and fast-growing crops like spinach, Swiss chard and lettuces can be planted as late as late August and still be harvested before frost sets in. Remember that instructions on seed packets are geared to the average customer and cannot take account of regional differences.

    For more advice, talk to fellow plot-holders, ask at a good garden centre, and read as many books and magazines as you can find, including Your Allotment of course!

    Marcia MacLeod is the, Editor for 'Your Allotment' Magazine. Your Allotment covers allotments in north London , but offers practical advice and information for allotmenteers everywhere. Check out www.yourallotmentmagazine.com for more details.

  • How to get an Allotment

    Post by Marcia MacLeod

    Whether it's the government's urgings for us to all eat more fresh fruit and veg and get more exercise, a growing awareness that the taste of supermarket-bought products cannot compare with that of just-picked, home-grown produce, or there's something in the soil, more and more of us want to join the grow-your-own club. But if you don't have a garden, where do you grow? There hasn't been such a demand for allotments since the days of Victory Gardens in and just after WWII. So how do you go about getting one?

    The first step is to contact your local council. The majority of allotments are run by the local authority, which allocates plots and manages the waiting list. They should provide a list of sites and an idea of how long the waiting list is - for believe me, you will almost certainly have to wait. Some urban sites have so many people wanting for a plot that by the time you are offered a few poles (a standard, full allotment being 10 poles, or around 6 x 60 metres), you'll be tottering around with a Zimmer frame as you water the tomatoes.

    A standard, full allotment = 10 poles, or around 6 x 60 metres

    Some councils will refer you to a neighbouring local authority which has more sites. Others will provide contact details of chairmen or secretaries of allotment associations (for nearly all allotments are an association or a society) which allocate plots themselves.

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    But if the waiting list is too long and you want to get digging, there are a few other things you can do. Contact some secretaries of nearby allotment sites and ask if they knew of any plot-holder who is finding it difficult to keep up because of age or infirmity and offer to help in return for a share of the crop. The person you help will be eternally grateful, because anyone who does not keep their plot up to scratch will almost certainly be asked to leave. Age Concern has initiated a similar scheme matching would-be grow-your-owners with elderly people who can't manage their gardens, which could be the next best thing to an allotment.

    Age Concern has initiated a scheme matching would-be grow-your-owners with elderly people who can't manage their gardens

    An awful lot of community growing initiatives are springing up around the country, too. The council should know of any in your area. These usually involve shared growing spaces on derelict or otherwise unused land; everyone working the 'plot' shares the results. It's not the same as an allotment but will give you a chance to learn a little about growing your own - and let you find out if you actually like it.

    And the time waiting for your own plot can be well-spent learning as much as you can about successful home growing - from books, television shows, Gardener's Question Time and magazines, not least Your Allotment!

    Marcia MacLeod is the, Editor for 'Your Allotment' Magazine.  Your Allotment covers allotments in north London, but offers practical advice and information for allotmenteers everywhere. Check out www.yourallotmentmagazine.com for more details.

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