Getting started on a new allotment plot

So you have got your allotment or are thinking of growing vegetables in your garden, where do you start?

There are many different ways to garden. Ask 3 gardeners the same question and you will usually get 3 different answers! This guide will give you some pointers and handy hints and tips but it is by no means definitive.

Survey your land

Look at the type of soil. This can be clay, sandy or ideally, loam. A clay soil can become waterlogged in winter and rock solid in summer; however it is often very rich in nutrients. A sandy soil can be very free draining and low in nutrients. The ideal soil type is loam; a humus rich, well drained and nutrient packed soil. If the land isn’t clear, then you can look at what is already growing (ie: the weeds), to give you an idea of what kind of soil you have. Try looking at this guide for help with this.


Think about what you want to grow. If this is your first attempt choose a few vegetables you enjoy eating and start with these. Don’t try to grow everything at once. You can expand your garden over time. It is easier to manage if you start simple. Consider crop rotation. Crop rotation is the growing of different crops in succession on a piece of land to avoid exhausting the soil and to control weeds, pests, and diseases. Not everyone rotates crops, but we have found this helpful when growing on an allotment ground as you are in very close proximity to others growing veg so can be very susceptible to their influence. Crop rotation can seem quite complicated. The most simple format is to split your area into 4 growing sections:

Group 1: Potatoes
Courgettes, marrow, pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers. (Potatoes can use up a lot of space so you can skip this group if you have a small plot)

Group 2: Roots and onions
Beetroot, parsnips, carrots, onions, shallots, garlic and leeks.

Group 3: Legumes
Peas and beans fix nitrogen from the air into their root nodules. Group 4 vegetables appreciate this.

Group 4: Brassicas
Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale swede and turnip.

REMEMBER: Pot – Root – Leg – Bra

Think about the location of permanent structures/features. A composting area is essential to manage the green waste your plot will produce. Do you want a shed, greenhouse or polytunnel? Other permanent features can be things like raspberry frames, fruit trees etc. It is up to you where you place these, but try to avoid being too close to boundaries or neighbouring plots. Think about how these will cause shade on your plot or on your neighbour’s plots. On an allotment ground you may have restrictions about the type, number, size or position of permanent structures so it is a good idea to check the regulations before getting too far into your planning process.

It is also worth noting that you need clear access for maintenance and cropping. 4 rows of raspberries may look good when they are small, but if they are too close together you could end up with the fruit being mostly inaccessible. Remember, you need somewhere to walk.

Do you want raised beds, are you going to grow in lines or blocks? Raised beds give you a defined area to grow your crops. They look neat and tidy and having permanent paths means you can easily cover these (slabs, woodchip, water-porous strong ground cover). This means you are not wasting time maintaining paths, but many argue that permanent paths and edges are slug havens. In theory they can warm up a little earlier and people often plant a little more densely in raised beds. Raised beds can be costly to build unless you are very lucky with recycling. You don’t need to fill raised beds initially. If you choose this method you can start by using your edges as a marker and fill them by adding organic matter over a number of seasons. Growing on open ground gives you flexibility on changing your layout. At Don’t Crop Me Now we mainly have raised beds with some open areas. We like the organisation and it means that, even in wet weather, we have clean paths to walk on to access our crops.


Unless you have taken on a fully clear plot you need a plan of attack. You may want to consider the ‘No Dig’ method or you may want to dig your ground. Digging helps remove weed roots and can be used to turn in organic matter like manure, but other schools of thought say that too much soil disturbance can damage the natural structure of the soil. Some people like to use a rotavator to get the soil into a fine tilth. Remember that if you rotavate ground with perennial weed roots you will chop these up and can make the situation far far worse. This also looks nice and neat, but you will have destroyed many of the invertebrates and fungi that are important for soil health. Your choice of method is a personal decision. The quicker you can on top of any weeds the more productive and under control your plot will be. There are pros and cons to all methods.

Remember you do not need to tackle the full area at once so whatever method you choose it can be a good idea to cover the area and start tackling it a section at a time. Suitable coverings include: a double layer of cardboard or a water porous ground cover fabric. You can use thick black plastic if you are planning to cover for less than a few months, but remember lack of water for long periods isn’t great for the structure of soil. Covering with carpet or blue visquene isn’t a good idea as they both break down and can be very difficult to remove in the long term. If the weeds are actively growing and they are more than a foot high then strimming before covering can help you get the covering nice and flat. Ensure the covering is well pinned or weighted down.

Some people may choose to use weedkiller. The main weedkiller you can buy without a license is glyphosphate. Be aware that glyphosphate needs to be used during active growth (i.e. between March to Sep-ish). If you have taken on a plot with bad infestations of stubborn weeds then weedkiller alone is unlikely to kill all the weeds. You would still need to deal with many of the roots and it won’t affect any weed seeds within the soil. Weedkiller isn’t an easy answer to weeds and work will still be required. I am not going to talk about the pros and cons of weedkiller – do a little reading and make your own choices. In most circumstances it is realistic to dig or mulch weeds.

First steps

If you have taken a plot on in the growing season try to avoid letting weeds ‘go to seed’. There is an old gardeners saying of “one year’s seeds is seven years weeds”. Another reason to cover and tackle one area at a time! Weeds can really creep up on you if you are tending a large area! Ideally you need the size of area active that you can check over weekly during the growing season. If you are planning to dig any weeds out then it is better to dig little and often than trying to tackle the whole plot in one afternoon. If you aren’t used to it you can injure yourself. The same for moving barrows and barrows of manure for ‘no dig’. Take things a little at a time and build up the physical activity so your body can adapt to it.

Get something growing:

Once you have cleared an area get something planted. It is a good motivator if you can be harvesting some crops! Salad crops, radish/lettuce are quick growing crops during the summer. If you have taken a plot on near the end of the season then planting overwintering onions and garlic is a good start during September, October or November.

Use the local knowledge:

Talk to fellow plotholders, they know the site, what works well and what doesn’t – don’t be shy! It may feel like everyone wants to give you advice. It is human nature to have strong beliefs in methods that have worked for you. Listen to everyone, make friends and then use their ‘gems’ to develop your own way. Sometimes doing something ‘different’ can cause a little stir on allotment sites. When we first started nobody was using raised beds and our movement towards ‘No Dig‘ was controversial! Gardener’s can be very passionate about their ideas. Don’t worry too much.

Essential tools:

You don’t need lots of expensive equipment. A hoe, trowel, decent fork, watering can, good gardening gloves and a wheelbarrow are essential. If you are going to dig then a strong spade is needed. If you are particularly tough weeds like brambles you may find a mattock or pick axe is needed to get the woods out. There are many gardening ‘gadgets’, but if you have these basics you can tend your plot. Other helpful items include a: shovel, sweeping brush and netting/fleece suitable for plant protection.

When/how often to visit:

Be mentally prepared that weeds will grow. You need regular visits to keep on top of the weeding. You don’t need a rigid plan, but do need to adapt your lifestyle to fit it in. The 30 minute allotment is a bit of a myth, on an incredibly well tended and long established plot, maybe! The best maintained plots are by owners that are there frequently. You must decide on a routine that suits you. Some plotholders come once a week for nearly a whole day; others come every day for shorter time periods. It is up to you to develop a system that works for you. Plan when you will be able to visit your plot. Ideally allotments need a minimum weekly attendance during the active growing season. If you don’t attend reguarly then the weeds will take over and you won’t get the advantage of eating your lovely produce. Even outside the main growing season there are lots of jobs to be done. The tidiest and most productive plots usually have plotholders who put some significant effort in outside the main growing season. However, you don’t need to be there every day!

If you can’t attend every day or so then consider how you will manage a greenhouse or polytunnel in the summer. Perhaps a drip system would work? Find a pattern for your allotment that fits around your life, but also remember you will need to adapt to this. If you want to grow your own food you need to be present.

Time of year:

This makes a huge difference on the approach you can take. If you take on your plot at the end of the growing season or in winter then you should focus on clearing and preparing the ground for spring. As mentioned earlier, planting overwintering onions, garlic and even broad beans or peas is a good motivator. This is probably the best time to take on a plot as, during the winter, most weeds are dormant so you can really have a good chance of making a really good start. If you have taken your plot on during the growing season then strimming down the weeds or covering up straight away is essential. You can then clear a small area and start planting crops. It can be very disheartening to go back a few days later to see all the weeds sprouting up again if left uncovered!

There are many ways to get on top of a plot and there are no right or wrongs. That said, there are recommendations:


  • Ask for advice off other plotholders
  • Plan how you want to use the area carefully
  • Cover up areas you are not working on
  • Make a compost heap
  • Consider the layout of permanent structures


  • Rotovate without removing perennial weed roots
  • Spend too many hours digging or barrowing at the start
  • Make a big pile of weeds and leave it uncontained/big mounds of soil
  • Put perennials in the compost heap (unless you are very confident of producing a hot heap)
  • Plant permanent structures very close to boundaries of your plot.

Good luck!!