BRIAN KIDD: A year’s supply of veg, even from a half-sized allotment

New to allotmenteering? Try raised beds. Picture: Shutterstock
New to allotmenteering? Try raised beds. Picture: Shutterstock

BRIAN KIDD: The amazing life of plants and how to make them thrive

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It’s great to see so many new faces at the allotment.

Trouble is there is such a demand most councils have split vacant plots in half to cut waiting lists.

Instead of having a normal 10-rod plot 90ft long and 30ft wide, new tenants only get 45x30ft. But if this is cultivated well it will still provide vegetables all year.

Main problems faced by newcomers are ground which is very wet and/or where the soil is poor, perhaps on chalk or, worse, solid clay. Now’s the time to deal with these conditions.

Raised beds are good as small areas are easy to cultivate.

Use wooden edges. There’s no need to use boards like scaffolding planks. Raised beds need only be four inches higher than the surrounding ground. A bundle of wood for this job will cost less than £10 and if treated with a preservative will last about 10 years.

The bed can be the whole width of the allotment but no more than six feet wide so cultivation can be done from the paths. The only time you walk on the bed is when it’s being dug.

Dig the area where each bed is planned. Fix the edges with wooden pegs 15in long and screw the boards to the pegs.

The dug soil will already be higher than the paths but well-rotted compost, the contents of old growing bags and spent potting soil can be used to raise them higher.

Try to make compost on a grand scale. I produce about 30 barrowloads every year and am always looking for strawy manure which rots well if treated with one part urine to seven parts water.

Raised beds also make it easier to rotate crops so the same crop is not planted in the same place year after year.

Plan ahead. Dig in manure on beds which will be planted with peas, beans, potatoes, onions, marrows and courgettes.

All cabbages like autumn-limed ground fertilised 10 days before planting out. Fish, blood and bone is best for them.

Carrots will be excellent if planted where old growing bags have been used to top up the bed. They also like sand but keep them watered because if the peaty soil dries out, germination will be poor.

To stop carrot root fly, use plastic water piping in half-hoop shapes. Micromesh insect barrier netting over the piping will keep root fly away.

Most satisfying is ease of maintenance. Weeding can be done quickly because they’re easy to reach and you get into the habit of weeding before the weeds produce flowers. Compost them all.

Try one small bed and see how you like it. Some new plot-holders have made raised beds on their entire plot. They look good and are productive.

Having an allotment needs dedication. It’s not a five-minute wonder. It takes a lot of your time and tests your patience, but it’s one of the most worthwhile things you’ll ever do.

THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP

If you don’t have a garden but want to grow plants in pots on an outside windowsill, look forward to spring with miniature bulbs in pots.

Clay ones are best because they are less likely to fall over in the wind.

Chionodoxa, scilla, grape hyacinths, dwarf tulips and dwarf narcissus will all work well.