The First Time

Ok, you've got your allotment garden, but how do you tackle it. It was Spring in 2005, oh I remember it well. " You have a choice of three" . Now when I have a choice of anything, I can't choose, that's me, but there was one in which I could see the vision, don't know why because all three were all overgrown and had been neglected for some time, to be honest I don't really know why I chose it. I didn't expect it to be cultivated and pre-prepared for me and neither should you,  treat it as a blank canvas, do sketches and plan how you want to lay it out, it's your Garden after all and remember it does not have to be permanent, your always changing things, that's part of the fun. One of the reasons I have written this is to give all first time gardeners encouragement when they first start. As a fellow gardener first said to me, "it's a hobby not a job", she was so right.

Safety

Please ensure you have this foremost in your mind. The correct clothes and footwear are essential at all times as well as the correct use of tools. Anything can be hidden under your foot, wood with nails sticking up, glass etc. Always remember tools come with safety instructions, read them, understand them and practice them. This is not only for your safety, but the safety of other gardeners as well. Good boots, gloves, safety glasses and even a hat are things you should always have to hand. If you have never been stabbed in the eye by a thorn, keep it that way, when trimming a hedge with shears I never expected this to happen, but when I bent down to clear up the trimmings it did, we all understand accident prevention, but by wearing the correct gear helps to protect you for the unexpected.

Getting Started.

Now remember Rome wasn't built in a day, and your garden is not suddenly going to do the same. Work slower than your normal pace, take regular breaks, do a bit at a time and don't tackle jobs bigger than you can manage, other gardeners are always willing to help, but remember don't abuse the kind heartedness of your fellow gardeners.

Some gardeners will cultivate from corner to corner, but remember their gardens are well established and that's the way they like to work. I prefer the bed system, this gives me four good sized manageable areas where I have paths for access, crop rotation is made easier and sets an easier challenge or target within my capabilities. Coupled with this I have lawn, flower and shrub, fruit, herb, onion and runner bean areas.

So for your first year, concentrate on getting 1 or 2 beds working and more the next year, so while you are working on other areas your growing and eating from your hard work done earlier. Remember gardening works to a calendar, time this right in your ground preparation and then your not always lagging behind. You don't have to grow every vegetable in your gardening book, concentrate on what you like and the right time in the season.. Remember its a community where everyone has the same interest, if you don't know, ask a fellow gardener for advice, you will be surprised at the abundance of information you can glean, for example what grows and doesn't grow well in our local allotment.  

The work begins

Chop down the over growth and weeds  I used a butchers knife. ( not recommended ), and get that compost heap started.

Mark out with string and prepare one or two beds. I dug mine with a spade, this enables you to remove as many weeds as you can including those extremely long rooted ones called docks. Ok this can be hard work but if the ground is well prepared now, its going to be less troublesome and more rewarding in the future. As I was digging mine I first started with a bucket, filling it up so quickly I must of spent more time walking back and forth to the compost heap, so I brought a wheel barrow, still filled it up fast but less walking. Once I had dug it once I dug it again with a fork, its surprising how much you can miss the first time, but it breaks up the soil even further, which in turn becomes easier, therefore less time to dig and easier to prepare for sowing and planting. Four of my vegetable beds measure 12ft by 30ft, I remember it took me seven days to dig just one and I dug it seven times, now it takes me hours, in fact I can dig two large beds in a day and still have time for other tasks

Yes I know I could of used a cultivator or rotivator, but these wonderful machines chop all your weeds into very small pieces and cost money, looks good at first but you will end up with more and more weeds. Remember eradication first, besides one of my many reasons I garden is health, fitness and freeing up my stiffening bones. I do ponder with amusement the amount of people who join the local gym club and pay lots of money to exercise, get an allotment garden and exercise all you want, fresh air is also free.

A weed killer is another choice, it's quicker, it's not natural, and you will still have to dig it. Besides, one of my concerns is all the sprays and treatments given to our shop bought produce, I have never sprayed anything except diluted salt or vinegar, my children's health is one of my priorities.

Planning your crops.

When your at home, its a good time to plan your rotation, what will you be growing and reading cultivation techniques, but remember your plan should include your beds for the next three to four years, so include all beds, even if they have not been prepared yet.

There is no need to grow exotic varieties, keep it simple and manageable at first, if you have a poor first year, don't despair and throw in the towel, rise up to the challenge and refuse to be beaten, I should know, on my first year I did not have one single carrot, parsnip oh the list goes on, but the blackberries were very nice.

And finally, what we grow also appeals to our local pests, my quickly learned rule is, if a crop needs pest protection and you can't protect it, don't grow it.

Examples of marking out your beds: