Guest post from Peggy
Growing Your Own
This guest post comes to us courtesy of Peggy who writes at Organic Growing Pains.
Allotments have been a way of life in the UK for years but really only catching on here in the last few years.Why did you decide to join the GYO movement? Was it like me looking at the country of origin on what I was buying in supermarkets and knowing that the 'healthy' veg I was eating was probably anything but and did not taste the same over the years. Whatever the reason welcome aboard and enjoy the growing experience, if you are reading this and still thinking about getting a plot,the waiting lists are growing fast!
When we took over our plot it was sadly overgrown and we took one bed in hand and grew salads,peas, strawberries and spring onions. Over the 4 years we have gradually worked over the whole plot and last year took over a second one!
I know anyone taking a plot on Lowel Organic allotments is in the very lucky position of getting a brown site turned over and manured by their very helpful Landrace pigs. A whole plot is still a lot of work in one season unless you have lots of help. Decide what veg you buy most of, what you would like to try if it was available fresh and if you have children involved they need to see something growing quickly! Peas and runner beans almost grow while you are looking at them,the kids love to see them growing up their stakes and podding fresh peas with a satisfying 'pop' cannot be beaten.
If you are going to have fruit bushes then you have to plan a permanent bed for them, we have ours running along the path at the top of one plot and a rhubarb bed in the same position on the second plot. The first year you can grow anything anywhere, after that you have to rotate crops and believe me there is a lot of conflicting advice out there! We are using potatoes, roots including onions (which some will say are a separate group) legumes and brassicas for our 4 year rotation.
Keep notes!! You may think you will remember where you had what but by the time you come back to the plot next season you may well have trouble remembering
The growing season is late this year maybe up to four weeks in some places so there is still plenty of time to get in potatoes etc. We are only putting in first and second earlies this year as the dreaded blight gets to the main crop which are in the ground longer and organic blight spray is expensive to maintain a healthy crop of spuds. Go for the taste of your own early spuds when after all they are at their most expensive.
What do you need to start apart from the designer wellies? Tools are the most costly item to build a collection of,I think car boot sales are a good place to look and also you will find people selling off their excess plants there much cheaper than the garden centres.
In your first year you may find it easier to buy plants than get lots of seeds going but believe me you can get a lot of tomato plants from a packet of seeds for 2.35, one plant will cost you more than that! On the subject of seeds, don't plant a whole packet as we did in the first years, a few seeds in a tray will give you about 10 plants which is more than enough of anything! You can stagger your harvest by sowing a few seeds about 4 weeks apart to have a supply of veg over a longer period, we had cauliflower coming out our ears one year! Once the seed packet is open I put them into a zip lock bag in an airtight plastic container in the end of the fridge,all of the seeds kept this way since last year have germinated successfully this year.
Parsnip seeds are the only ones needed to be bought fresh each year, so swap some left over ones with another plotter for something you don't have
Peat pots are another expensive buy, make your own eco friendly pots by rolling newspaper around a suitable sized container, stick a bit of masking tape to hold it together .A great rainy day occupation! When planting out just pop the whole thing in the ground with no root disturbance..
Becoming a plotter makes you more eco aware and let me tell you, you will soon become a hoarder! Toilet rolls and kitchen roll holders (cut in two) filled with compost, become root trainers for plants with a long root system like peas, beans and sweet peas,they grow quite happily and can be planted out in their pots which disintegrate over time allowing the roots to grow into the soil.
Egg boxes are the ideal container to chit the spuds in.
3 litre plastic bottles or if you are lucky enough to lay your hands on 5 litre ones, are ideal as mini cloches for tender plants.The cut off top makes a funnel to water plants at the roots, I put one at the base of each tomato plant to make sure feed and water get to the roots.
Butter cartons ,washed and cut into strips make ideal outdoor plant labels if you use a permanent ink marker.
Aldi & Lidl and some supermarkets sell soft fruit like plums & peaches etc in deep plastic cartons which have holes ready cut in the bottom and domed lids,they are the perfect mini propagator for small amounts of seeds.
The above stores are doing gardening specials for the next few weeks, buy up netting of all sizes, you will need it to protect brassicas from pigeons and the cabbage white butterfly.When you want it, they will be finished with their specials and you will pay a lot more for it elsewhere.
Raised beds or not? We found during our previous wet summers raised beds with paths in between were better.You will need timber of various sizes for stakes and boards for the beds.Scaffolding boards are ideal and can be picked up quite cheaply due to the recession.
I can guarantee every time you pass a skip on the roadside you will cast avaricious eyes on the contents for 'handy 'sized boards and carpets!
Carpet is ideal for covering beds not in use to keep down weeds and stop nutrients leaching in wet weather, not the underlay which is rubber coated and just breaks into pieces eventually.
Old clothes airers on stands are great for drying onions!
One thing I have learned not to scrimp on is the seed compost, buy the best you can find, preferably non peat with John Innes added, don't be tempted to buy the 3 for the price of 2 bags of compost etc, your seeds need the best start you can give them.
What you plant is a personal choice, if you don't eat it don't grow it, but do grow something just for fun like a pumpkin or sunflowers.
Make your plot colourful with flowers,some of which are edible like nasturtiums, marigolds and calendula to attract bees and butterflies to your plants
Most of the private allotment sites have BBQ and picnic areas but believe me the most important piece of kit you will buy for your plot is the deck chair!
Nothing can beat sitting out on a summers day with the all important cuppa, looking at your plot growing, listening to the bees humming as they pollinate your plants and the sense of achievement is priceless, Enjoy!