You’ve got a new plot – but where do you start?

We would like to welcome our new growers, who have taken on a plot this year. Unless you are very lucky, your plot will be untidy and overgrown, and you are probably wondering how you’ll ever clear it. And you may not have had much experience with growing vegetables, and you feel overwhelmed with how much information you need to take in.

So where do you start? It depends what time of year you get your plot. Those who got to the top of the waiting list early in the year have the advantage of starting to clear their plots before the weeds got going, and have had some time to plan what they’d like to grow and clear some ground. But for those who have only just got their plot the task can be daunting.

How do you deal with this?

How do you deal with this?

One way to approach it is to work on a bit at a time. Chop the heads off any flowering weeds to prevent them setting seed, and dispose of the weeds either in the green manure bin at the local tip in Mountsorrel or compost them. If you can get a heap really hot, which involves having plenty of weeds and a means of keeping them in one place, such as a compost bin or by covering with black plastic or a piece of carpet, you can get the weeds to compost relatively quickly. Alteratively you could put them in a black Dalek style bin and wait at least a couple of years. Then cover any ground you’re not working with something that will exclude the light to stop the weeds growing, such as thick cardboard (bike shops are a good source) or Mypex, a breathable black cover. Both will need to be well weighted down, as our site is surprisingly exposed and it gets very windy at times.

Then work on a small part of your plot at a time, digging up the weeds and covering any ground you’re not going to use right away. Don’t be tempted to use a rotovator, as this will chop up the perennial weeds and they will resprout from each fragment. Chip away at it, and you will get your plot cleared, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first!

Our soil is very light, and will need added nutrients, especially if you plan to grow organically. Get a compost bin going early on and add your vegetable waste from food preparation, lawn clippings and some paper shreddings or crumpled newspapers. You probably won’t have enough compost for a while to add to your soil, so dig in bought compost – the site shop sells it at a good price - or well rotted (old) manure, if you can find a source free of aminopyralid weedkiller. Aminopyralid stunts and distorts some vegetables, and can leave your crops unusable. You can concentrate the compost or manure around your plants at first and work towards adding nutrients more widely as you go on.

Even if you get your plot in mid to late summer, you can still grow salads such as lettuce, radish and rocket from seed, you could get growing herbs from the supermarket and split them up into individual plants, get plug plants from nurseries, ask around to see whether other plot holders have spare plants, buy garlic and shallots ready for autumn planting and start sowing over-wintering vegetables such as spring cabbage, broad beans, winter salads and oriental brassicas.

You will need to learn about crop rotation, pests and diseases, what to sow or plant when, how to bring plants on...it’s endlessly fascinating, and even plot holders with decades of experience are still learning. So start small, be consistent and visit often, accept that some things will do well and others won’t and they won’t be the same things next year, grow only what you enjoy eating, cover your brassicas against cabbage root fly, your carrots against carrot root fly and your alliums against allium leaf miner, and most of all, enjoy it. There’s nothing like eating a vegetable straight off a plant you’ve grown, and this will sustain you when it all feels a bit too much, as it will sometimes. Being on your plot when the sun’s shining, the insects are buzzing and the vegetables are growing well is magical, and it makes all the work worthwhile.

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Syston Allotment Society Newsletter © 2017 - Jackie Stanley