Allotment life: year 1

I can hardly believe it’s the end of the growing season for us already! We took on a 64 square metre, overgrown plot in April and decided to just get stuck in and see what happens. Partly because we thought getting a plot was a few years away yet so we didn’t have a plan. Anyway I wanted to write a post about our experiences; with a few tips in to help others decide if they’d enjoy having their own plot or not. So beyond all the lovely photos of homegrown food and sunny plots, what is it really like to own an allotment? In short, it’s great. Hard work at times but totally worth the effort.

Overgrown allotment plot

I was really excited to get a plot. Although when we started digging the ground over I had a fleeting moment of panic. Can we really manage this much land? The initial dig is the hardest hurdle to overcome because at that point, so much work lay ahead and you have to keep sight of why you’re doing it. But once you get there it’s fantastic. Your allotment becomes a supermarket that’s always open and full of fresh delicious food with zero food miles. And the best bit of all? You haven’t had to rely on anyone else for that food; the things you’re eating started life as a tiny seed grown in your humble soil.

Hands holding potatoes

Top lessons

Weeds, weeds and more weeds

Path made from stones and bricks

Weeds are the worst thing about owning an allotment plot, they’re relentless. As soon as we accepted that we would never get rid of them all, we were a lot happier. Top lessons learnt:

  • Cover soil you aren’t using, don’t leave the ground bare
  • Weed little and often
  • Get a hoe. It saves your back and your time. Hoe on a dry, sunny day most weeds will be pulled up from the roots and then shrivel up on the surface of the soil in the sun.

Don’t compare yourself too much

Naturally when you first get your space you have a nose at what other people are doing. It’s very easy to feel like you aren’t doing as well as everyone else, you’re behind or don’t know enough. One of our allotment neighbours told us to remember that most of the other plots are owned by people who are retired and have time to come every day – so of course their plots are going to look perfect!

Mulch

We mulched our beans with a thick layer of well rotted manure (compost) to slow weeds and preserve soil moisture. The plants that weren’t mulched definitely needed more watering. Mulching is definitely worth doing if you are worried about having enough time to water.

Bottle top watering

To help more water reach the roots of your plants, water into a plastic bottle. Cut it in half, remove the lid, poke it upside down in the soil, pour the water in and let it soak into the soil. It will reduce the amount of water evaporating/running off the surface of the soil.

Watch your eyes

With canes all over the place propping up this and that, it’s very easy to bend down and come face to face with the top of a cane; I’ve done it. Think of your eyes and put an old tin can or milk bottle on the end. Sounds silly but it could save an eye! Works for bums too – boy does that hurt!

Star crops

Runner beans

If you want a high yielding crop which requires little effort, grow runner beans. We picked a whopping 16.5kg of beans over the Summer and ate them with nearly every meal for weeks! Keep them watered in hot weather (mulch helps) and you’ll be rewarded with plump tender beans. Keep your fingers crossed for a glut so you can make runner bean chutney.

Jars of chutney

Onions and garlic

Poke onions sets/garlic cloves into the ground, let them do their thing for a few months and hand weed around the bulbs. Easy peasy! We harvested 7.7kg of onions and 27 bulbs of garlic back in July – the onions are gone and we only have a few bulbs of garlic left.

Muddy garlic in box

Cornflowers

These really brighten up the space, make great cut flowers and attract beneficial insects like bees and ladybirds.

Bee on cornflower

You will change

Let me show you this ‘x’ I grew

Think of someone you know who has cute a cute baby; this is how you will become about your vegetables. See my Instagram feed for evidence. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rain, yesss!

While everyone else is moaning about another rainy day over the Summer, you’ll be rubbing your hands together with glee at the thought of not having to go and water the allotment after work. And when people say, “not more rain” don’t cheerfully reply with “at least the allotment will get a water” because they will look at you like you just ripped the head off a puppy and ate it.

The value of our allotment

I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of out allotment produce and finding its equivalent value in supermarket prices. We’ve grown £256.46 worth of food since April!! Not all of it is profit because we had to buy a few things (like a hoe and a fruit net) but we are definitely in the green. Good times!

Are you thinking about taking on an allotment? If so, what are you most excited or concerned about?

9 Comments

  1. I just found you because I was looking for a crochet scarf pattern, which I found here 🙂 and then I started snooping around. I love your blog. Thanks for sharing. Your blue dress is pretty, and I love your curly hair! We have a garden in California, but are moving to Oregon, so my SO built planter boxes for me that fit into the back of the pickup so I can take my ‘babies’ with me. They are in fresh soil now in the boxes in the truck as of today (with peat moss lining the bottoms) and they are watered and i hope they like living in OR as much as they liked northern CA. CA climate is amazing for gardens and I’m a little concerned about the cooler weather up north for some of the plants. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration!

    • I’m glad I could be of help with the scarf pattern and you like my blog! Portland is on my list of places to visit someday 🙂 Pick-up planters are a great idea – leaving plants behind is sad so if you can take them with you it’s a bonus. They can be pretty amazing at adapting to different weather, they might just need some extra TLC for a while. Best of luck!

  2. I read your post late last night and was too sleepy to comment – well I now have to tell you I dreamt about your allotment! It was a good dream. What amazes me is how much you produced in its first year – a lot of work and dedication but I’m sure relaxing and stress reducing.

    • How funny Kriss! Well I hope our allotment was bountiful in your dream. We owe some of our success to allotment folk who helped get us started – with things like advice and a few spare strawberry plants…

  3. Your enthusiasm for the plot has been infectious and following along on instagram has been a joy, your pride shining through.That’s a huge saving! The weed thing is the thing that would scare me the most (that and the fact that I am far too lazy!)
    Thanks for joining in. And now I am off to imagine the chutney dolloped on top of some crispy cheese on toast!
    *NOM*

    • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it Annie. There have been times when I started to wonder if I was talking about it too much. But it’s hard not to. Referring to the weeds as ‘bastard weeds’ is very good for morale 😉

  4. I remember ‘spying’ on the allotment when you were just inquiring whether any plots had opened up, and I must say I am sad that I didn’t get to see it in real life this year! Gardening changed me, and I can imagine going to this scale changes you even more. Maybe I will be around next year to see it in real life!

    • Ah yes! We peered over the gate and spotted those leeks didn’t we!? I’ve taken so many photos of vegetables that hopefully you haven’t missed out on anything 😉 If you’re back next year we’ll send you home with some goodies. Your trug has been great for carrying beans and potatoes home.

  5. Interesting to hear about your first year Gemma, we got our plot at the end of May and we still have so much to dig over. I like the idea of keeping a record of how much you grew in monetary value as I think that’s a great way of reminding yourself why on those wet and bleaker days. I’m hoping that we’ll make much more headway with your plot this year. My onions are in and the garlic will go in soon, and I’m hoping for a bountiful crop, but sounds like I might need a few more onions 🙂 #hdygg

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