What now? Starting a vegetable patch from scratch can always be daunting, especially when you’re on an allotment site surrounded by pristine plots with nosey neighbours staring judgingly at the waist high grass and weeds you’ve just taken over!
What you need is a plan, so here are just a few things you might want to consider..
- WATER AND LIGHT
First things first – let’s talk elements. Find out sun direction and hours of light you tend to get. Do you have water sources like a tap and will it be available all year round? If not, where can you store and how can you collect rain water? Check out the post below from Steph and Josh (@adayintheleaves) for how they built a rain collection structure.
Next, how exposed is your site? How much protection do you have from wind and rain? I’m talking from experience when I say that wind can literally destroy your growing plans unless you have extremely firm foundations and super hardy structures. It’s best to check if there are any areas prone to flooding too.
Then you can start on permanent structures like your greenhouse, polytunnel or shed. You can get some fantastic deals on cheap second hand frames on facebook marketplace or ebay. It’s worth considering how shadows can be cast from these structures and affect what is planted around them.
Raised beds are expensive and don’t last many seasons if you’re using wood but for those with back problems, taller beds like these or these can save you hour of aches and pains, plus they do look very smart! However for your first season I’d recommend just preparing beds straight into the soil, especially on an allotment where you may have to leave behind your permanent structures if you give up the plot after the first year. The expense really isn’t worth it.
When planning your beds I think it’s important to factor in how far your arms (and back) can stretch across when weeding and harvesting as well as enough space down the paths to move a wheelbarrow. The best way to utilise your space is to have long beds which are no wider than about 1M.
3. PERENNIAL PLANTS AND WEEDS
Some of your space you might want to dedicate to perennials. This may be a herb bed, artichokes, asparagus or even fruit bushes or trees. You need to ensure that these patches aren’t in awkward locations and you’ll be happy to leave them there indefinitely.
It’s often very tricky to determine what is a plant and what is a weed. After all, a weed is just any plant in an unwanted place. Raspberries are delicious and mint is heavenly scented but when they have taken over your plot, they too are as much a pain as creeping buttercup!
You’re going to want to start tackling weeds as soon as possible. Many weeds will take a lot of effort to eliminate. While rotivation and double digging has long been the standard for clearing and renewing your soil, it can actually chop up roots like bindweed into new plants, actually doubling your problems down the line. One of the best ways to start out is using no-dig; laying down a thick layer of weed suppressant – something like black tarpaulin or cardboard over your beds is a solution for ‘waiting out’ the weeds!
Next, I’d recommend everyone to compost. This can happen in a number of ways but the simplest way is to just start a heap! You can keep it enclosed by building some pallet walls round or you could start some darlek bins; Maybe you already have some? I have a fabulous worm composter by Subpod which has transformed the way I look at waste. I’m looking into getting a bokashi bin too. Bokashi composting allows you to compost things that aren’t ordinarily ‘allowed’ in, limiting how much waste you send to landfill even more.
For 10% off everything on subpod’s website you can use my affiliate code RACHEL10
It’s always important to think about wildlife. You are going to be growing outside and that means you will have competition from other creatures nibbling at your veggies. But why not try to encourage a balanced ecosystem by providing bug hotels, ponds, bird feeders, wildflowers or nesting boxes, using a no-dig method and eliminating any pesticide use.
This won’t, of course, keep all of the slugs away or stop foxes digging up your onions but you’ll get better plant pollination and have a healthier soil microbiome. Plus who doesn’t love that excitement from spotting the elusive hedgehog!
6. WHAT TO GROW
Then it’s just the plants. Talk to your neighbours and find out your worst pests in the area. This will tell you what precautions you need to take and what veg to just not bother with until you feel more confident. The number one rule for growing I’d implore you to stick to though is..
Only grow what you love to eat!
While a courgette plant is very productive, if you hate the taste – what’s the point! Go for easier crops and try to grow a few new things each year. Check out my blog post on what 10 easy veg you should grow!