New allotment? Brian Kidd tells you how to get started

Get your winter digging done before Christmas.
Get your winter digging done before Christmas.
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It is great to receive your letters and, as you know, I rarely mention names. There were three this week from readers who have been allocated an allotment, all needing advice on how to make a start. There was also one from Dave, who lives at Fareham, whose plot seems to have quite a lot of clay. I hope this week’s article helps you all.

If we plan ahead it helps because we need to get the digging done before Christmas.

We also need to manure or incorporate well-rotted compost where potatoes, beans, peas and the marrow family are to be planted.

Winter digging can be done quite quickly. Make sure the wind is in front of you as this will prevent backache.

Dig a trench a foot wide and a foot deep with the soil either set to one side or put into a wheelbarrow.

Manure is now put into the trench and then digging can commence.

Try to twist the spade so the upper part of the clod is buried. This gets rid of annual weeds and buries the seeds.

You should leave the clods as large as possible so the winter weather, particularly frosts, can break down the clods into a lovely tilth by next spring.

On heavy clay, dig in lots of straw or strawy manure and again leave the clods as large as possible.

Now spread an inch of sharp sand all over the surface; during the winter this will work its way into the clay and there will be a permanent improvement.

Do people do this?

No.

Why? They prefer to moan about the clay!

If, however, you have tried this you will know it transforms clay.

The next area to be dug will be where cabbages and Brussels sprouts are to be planted.

This time do not incorporate manure, just dig the ground. Once dug and left rough, scatter four ounces of garden lime over the surface. All cabbages respond well to liming.

The root crops, carrots, turnips, swede and radish, must not have manure or compost.

The ground is dug rough and it’s important not to walk over this during the winter because in spring when there is a lovely tilth, fertiliser needs to be applied using blood, fish and bonemeal at a rate of four ounces a square yard and raked into the surface 10 days prior to sowing the seeds.

It is imperative to rake to a depth of three or four inches for these crops and a plank is very useful for walking on the ground, particularly if conditions are sticky.

A light forking with a prong, leaving the worked surface for a couple of hours, will reduce moisture and makes raking much easier afterwards.

A very good book about vegetable growing is The Vegetable Garden Displayed, published by the Royal Horticultural Society, is available at Wisley.

Go online – an excellent Christmas present for the gardening love of your life.

THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP

Spring cabbages, which should be ready for picking in May, need protection form pigeons and slugs. Get nets for the pigeons and crushed egg shells for the slugs. Dry the egg shells in a hot oven and crush with a rolling pin.