Once you’ve cleared the allotment of rubbish and cut back the weeds to near ground level you should have a good look round to get a feel for what you want from your plot.
You will need to consider:
- The size of your plot
- How much time and money you can invest?
- What type of beds do you want (traditional, bordered or raised beds, what size and shape)?
- What else do you want: shed / greenhouse / compost bins / seating area to relax?
- How you will water your plants?
- Where to put the everything?
I recommend having a wander around the allotment site to get some inspiration; especially good when your site neighbours are working their plots and will no doubt be willing to offer advice to the newcomer.
The size and shape of your plot
An obvious one this. People often measure it to the nearest foot or metre. I can never be bothered with this and simply use strides as my measure. Mine is 16 x 30 strides. Simply walk from one end to the other and count your steps.
I’ve never needed to measure it any more accurately than that. My beds are 2.5 x 15, 3 x 15 and 3 x 15 strides. If you need to convert these to metres or feet simply measure your stride and use that to calculate actual distance.
How much time and money?
Time available will obviously depend on your work and personal life style, whether you have a family or partner, and what level of ‘pass’ out you can agree with them. For example, I’ve managed to secure Sunday mornings during the winter with the addition of a couple of evenings during the week when the days start to get longer. Although this is really the minimum I’d recommend for a medium sized plot. Obviously the more time you can spend on the allotment the better it will look.
With regards to cost, once you’ve paid your rent (mine is £10 per year), purchased your seeds (probably £20-30), and acquired some basic gardening tools (absolute minimum being a fork and hoe) the rest are really a luxury and can be done without, although your yields and enjoyment of the allotment will be greatly improved if you can invest in some of them (for example, a shed, wheelbarrow and netting to protect your crops). Although most of these can be built or acquired for free or fairly cheaply if you are patient and keep your eye on freegle or freecyle.
What type of beds?
There are two main types of bedding systems (raised and traditional). I’d personally go for the traditional layout unless the soil is a heavy clay with poor drainage (gets boggy in winter), where raising the soil above ground level improves drainage. The traditional layout is the least expensive due to the initial outlay, for the materials to create the raised bed system, and to purchase the compost / topsoil to fill them.
I won’t go into the detailed pros and cons of each but suggest you do some research if you’re unsure . Obviously your plot may already be set out a particular way with raised beds etc and this may sway your decision. These links might help:
- Royal Horticultural Society: Raised Beds
- Simons Allotment: Debunking the raised bed myth
- Charles Dowding: No dig growing
- Helen Johnstone: Advice on allotment style
How will you water your plants
This is one often overlooked by the first time allotment-er, but is a key to successful growing in hotter weather. The reason I mention it now is to make sure you consider it in your planning. You will need to consider whether you’ll capture rain water or bring what you need on site. Also if you’re planning to install a shed or greenhouse make sure you include space for a few water butts in your layout.
You may be lucky enough to get an allotment on a site with mains water. If that’s the case find out where the nearest tap is located. I would also ask a plot neighbour whether there is often a queue to use it. It’s a pain if you only have a 30 minute window to pop down and water your allotment only to find a queue to use the hose. You may also want to consider rain water capture facilities if the taps are far from your plot or if it’s regularly over subscribed.
Where will you put every thing
Now work out where everything will go. I originally did this by drawing the plot on paper and marking everything on that. Graph paper is good for this but not essential. It can be difficult to keep a track of the schedule for sowing and planting if you have a medium to large vegetable garden.
I highly recommend you use an allotment planning tool or software. Being its creator I obviously lean towards and use vegplotter.com as it was designed for managing the sowing and planting schedule from the ground up, is the most easy to use (well I am biased) and is available on any device with an up to date browser (including phones and tablets). Having an vegetable garden planner can really help you to organise and get the most out of your allotment / fruit and vegetable garden.
Whilst plotting your layout don’t forget to think about:
- Beds for permanent crops (fruit bushes/trees, rhubarb, asparagus etc.)
- Beds for rotational crops (brassica, potatoes, leeks etc etc.)
- Compost bins
- Shed / Storage
- Water storage