You must cultivate your plot to minimum standards. When the site is inspected, there must be evidence of planting and growing of fruit and vegetables. In the first year one third must be cultivated, in the second year two thirds, working up to a well managed plot in the third year and thereafter.
If you are lucky you will take over a plot that is in quite good condition. If it needs work you will find most weeds can be managed by regular weeding in Spring and Summer, ideally by hand pulling, forking or hoeing. Try to get rid of them before they flower and drop more seeds. Weed killers containing glyphosphate, such as Round Up, cannot be used anywhere on the site since a vote at the 2017 AGM.
You don’t have to dig the whole plot – you can just create just one manageable bed at a time (possibly raised) until the whole plot is cultivated. Weeds need sunlight to grow, so when you have cleared a patch of ground cover it immediately with cardboard, black plastic or weed matting (which lets through water but not light). Don’t use old carpet which contains nasty chemicals and is hard to remove from the ground when it starts to disintegrate. If you cover grassy or weedy areas for a season, the vegetation will break down and the ground should be much easier to dig. Weed matting is sold in the Trading Hut. Mulching your plot will also help to suppress weeds. We have deliveries of free eco compost (made from our food waste) twice a year (details by email.). You will need a layer of at least 6mm to suppress weeds.
Some weeds are more difficult to get rid of. These include bindweed, ground elder, bramble and mare’s tail. Cut them down as much as possible and cover them to exclude light. We do not advise ever rotavating your plot – it can increase weeds by chopping the roots up so that they can multiply.
Improve your soil with manure or compost which you can buy, or make you own compost or collect leaf mould. You can make organic food for your plants with comfrey or nettles. No chemical fertilisers can be used on Field 3, which is designated as completely organic.
Look out for seasonal tips on the website and in our newsletter. Watch what your neighbours do, and ask their advice. Walk around the site and look at all the different styles of allotmenting and decide which ones you like. Most plot holders will be very happy to show you around their plots and answer your questions.
We want you to succeed, so ask if you need support. You can be paired with a mentor when you take over your plot, who will be happy to share their experience with you. Above all, keep coming and working regularly, especially in the Spring.
What can I grow?
Vegetables, herbs, fruit bushes and dwarf stock fruit trees which grow no more than 3 metres high, so they and won’t overshadow your neighbours’ plot and are easier to harvest. Fruit trees and bushes must be planted at least one metre from your boundary. You can also grow flowers, dig a pond to encourage frogs, toads and newts, but your plot must mainly be a place to grow fruit and vegetables.
Please don’t plant hedges or put up fences. Allotments are not private gardens – if you want more privacy, in Summer you can grow runner beans up canes to screen your plot. Shrubs grow too big, blocking light from neighbours’ plots and can be difficult to dig up, cut down or remove. There are some plots which cannot be used because shrubs and trees have grown so large that the ground is completely shaded. They may look beautiful, but if they are in the wrong place, they will make it very difficult to grow crops.
What happens if I don’t achieve the minimum standards?
If you know you have not done enough then talk to the Rent Officer before the inspection in June. If at the inspection it seems unlikely that you are going to achieve the minimum standard by September you will be sent a letter and will be given guidance on how to achieve the standards. If you haven’t achieved the minimum when the site is inspected again in September your tenancy may not be renewed in October when rents are due.