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Hint 1 - You never win the war against weeds

Weeds are stronger, faster growing and harder to kill than vegetables and flowers.   It is not just a case of digging them in and thinking you have won the war.   Within a short period they will be showing their heads again.   Regular hoeing and digging out the roots of perennial weeds is essential to a well maintained plot.


Hint 2 - Safety Matters

Always follow sensible safety procedures, in particular top canes with small plastic bottles or special cane caps, don’t leave chemicals laying around, especially unmarked ones in food or drink containers.  Don’t leave you tools laying about, stepping on a rake looks funny on a postcard it feels rather different if you do it.   Make sure you know if any parts of the plants you are growing are poisonous.    


Hint 3 - Never be afraid to ask for advice


Most Allotment holders are only too willing to answer questions and inform you of what vegetables and fruit seem to grow well on your particular Allotment Site.   If you are making a start towards the beginning of the growing season you stand a chance of being offered any spare plants they may have.   Most plot holders end up with a surplus of plants from their Greenhouses and Cold Frames. These often end up being sold off cheaply to help the Society Funds or given away to other plot holders.   It really does pay to ask a few question before you go charging off to the nearest garden centre, it could save you a lot of money.   Always remember that most Allotment Site Shops not only provide you with access to cheaper seeds, fertilisers and compost, they are a great place to meet people and get that free advice.


   Hint 4 - Make sure you have read your Site Rules & Bye-laws.


When I was Site Secretary one of the main parts of the job was either writing to because they were not cultivating their plots or contacting fairly new members because they were breaching the site Bye-laws, a common example would be planting fruit trees right next to communal path. Make sure you understand what is and what is not permitted, if you are unsure ask a Committee Member or the Council Allotment Officer first.


    Hint 4 - You will need a Basic Set of Tools  


Before You Start Gardening you will need to have a basic set of gardening tools.  They don’t have to be the most expensive tools in the shop, but they should be strong enough to do the job.

A spade with a blade that bends or a hoe with a weak handle will be of little long term use. Good secondhand tools are fine.   Most people consider the following tools to be essential to start work on an allotment.   If you are starting out and cash is short buy either a spade of fork at first.

Fork & Spade. - Chose one that is the right height for you and is well put together.  The blade or prongs should not too large for you to work with, soil is heavy and there is little point in having a spade or fork that you cannot physically manage.


Trowel. - For Planting Out.


Rake. - Make sure that the handle is up to the job, some rakes with hollow metal handles bend very easily in use.   Choose a rake that does not have a very wide head, it will be more use to start with.

Hoe. - For me the how is one of the most useful of all gardening tools.   There are two basis types, the Dutch Hoe which has a straight forward facing blade and the Draw Hoe which has a downward facing blade.  The Dutch Hoe is much more useful to start with, especially for controlling weeds.


 Hint 6 - Getting Started


Most allotment plots need quite a bit of work doing on them when you take them on. You normally have at least a weeks notice that your plot is now available.  Spend some of the time thinking out what you want to grow, and what you can plant at the time of year you are getting the plot.   Have a look at a basic crop rotation chart to see what crops are best grown together, it is much easier to sort this out before you start planting.   Allotments are capable of providing a succession of vegetable crops through out the year with a little careful planning.


Digging

Will your plot need digging, almost certainly.   If your plot is badly overgrown, it may pay to cut back or strim off the excess weeds and long grass start digging. Don’t do too much digging at one time when you start. As with any form of exercise, it’s important to work at a steady pace. Whilst digging a plot over is best done in the Autumn or early Winter, if your plot is covered in weeds and the soil is compacted you will need to dig it over when you start.


Prepare for Planting

As you dig you are also preparing your plot ready for planting, remove the roots of perennial weeds like dock, bindweed and dandelions (our particular speciality is couch grass!). Be sure to remove the entire white root below the soil as most perennial weeds come back from even the smallest piece left behind. It takes longer, but the hard work will pay off in the future.

Make a simple wooden frame or use a plastic compost bin to hold discarded vegetable matter, which will rot down. You may find it useful to have two - one composting and one to fill.   It may be best to remove perennial weeds like bindweed to the Council Tip, they seem to have nine lives when left in a small compost heap or bin.


Sowing Seeds

It’s important to sow seeds at the right time; April/May is best for seeds sown in the open. Before that, the ground may be too cold and wet. Only hardy seeds are normally sown directly outdoors. The less hardy may need some protection, especially if sown early in the season and should be sown under cover in a sheltered spot or greenhouse. Check the packet.   Some seeds can take a while to germinate, make sure you clearly mark the areas you have sown, it can help to leave a string line in until they come up, this help you work out what is a weed and what is your newly sprouting seed.   

Young plants grown in a greenhouse or heated frame need to be gradually acclimatised to cooler. outdoor conditions before planting out.

Seedlings should be planted into a moist soil and lightly watered in. Once established, wetting the surface with a light watering will only encourage a lazy root system (all just under the surface no deep roots that are essential for good crops).   Little and often is bad advice for watering, it is best to give a through soak as and when it is needed.


On our site it is very important to remember that birds, especially pigeons, love eating fresh young greens, we have to protect some crops with netting.   Ask you neighbours about this type of problem on your site, Deer, Rabbits etc also cause major trouble for some.


Hint 6 - Keep Smiling

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again is good advice for any gardener.


THE FIRST TWO YEARS ON MY PLOT

North Bournemouth Allotment Society Limited

Cornelia Road, Wallisdown, Bournemouth, Dorset, BH10 4FG

Handy Hints for New Plot Holders