Keeping a tidy plot

“Wow your plot is so tidy, you must be there all the time?”. I have had this said to me numerous times so I would like to share some tips and advice that I hope will help those aiming to keep their allotment neat, tidy and productive without spending hours every day there.

We are at the plot less than people often think. At the end of the day we are both working during the week. Recently I haven’t been working Monday’s, but even then I have only popped down to the plot for an extra hour as a good opportunity to take a break from adulting (housework etc). Most of our allotment time is at the weekends, and even then we spend alot of time relaxing rather than working. We do pop down to water the greenhouse and polytunnel in the week, but we are on and off within 15 minutes or so. Last year I recorded the time spent at the plot on a week during July and we spent 6.4 hours actively doing tasks related to the plot. 20% of this time was at home processing crops or cooking so realistically we are talking about a long afternoon once a week actively at the plot completing tasks. This is for a 500 square metre plot which is double the size of most ‘full’ plots. Obviously this is dependent on your physical abilities, but having a tidy plot is mainly about regular organised attendance than slaving away for hours and hours daily.

Size of plot:
Be realistic in the size of the area in which you can actively manage weeds. If you don’t have the time to get around hoeing or hand pulling weekily at a mininum then the the weeds will start to increase quickly. This is the biggest limiting factor if you wish to have a ‘weed free’ plot. If you have taken on a new plot then start on a small area. Cover the rest and increase this over time. Most allotment plots have a minimum % cultivation rule. Build up your growing space over time. Here you can see the first season we had plot four where we had half the plot covered in ground cover fabric and planted pumpkins in this space.

Attendance all year round: To have a good chance of keeping a tidy plot it is a good idea to have your growing area prepared and ready by Mid April at the latest. Come the beginning of May you will only have a few weeks to get most crops into the ground and you won’t have the time for taming wild areas or other building/structural projects. Spend November to March working on the design of your plot, clearing overgrown or previously covered areas and other projects such as composting, building structures and permanent paths. By May cut your losses with unkempt areas and cover them for tackling another time. Last November we put up our polytunnel meaning that this Spring it was ready for action!

Disturb your ground minimally: By this I don’t mean don’t hoe – you need this to stop weeds in their tracks, but try to avoid continously turning your ground over. In doing this you will bring up weed seeds to the surface and they will keep germinating creating an ongoing flush of weeds to manage. During the growing season hoe where you need to and hand pull weeds. If you choose to dig to clear weed roots do this out of the main growing season. If you find you do have stubborn weeds popping through just keep pulling them weekly and they won’t have time to invade your beds. In our ‘No Dig’ beds we do not turn over the soil.

Get an organised plan and try to stick to it as much as possible: growing veg is a time-limited staged process – if you haven’t started your seeds at the right time they won’t be ready to plant out at the right time etc. Obviously there is a little leeway with this, but not that much. At first this can seem quite overwhelming so keep a journal of what jobs you are doing each week so you can adjust this over time to produce a clear plan. With experience this gets much easier! Many books do have good guides to follow, but working to your specific area, microclimate and growing conditions is key. If you are on an allotment ground try copying tasks completed by experienced allotmenteers the week after they do them!

Use May and June well: Once the risk of frosts is passed – get your plants out quick! This is the perfect time for weeds to germinate so you don’t want empty beds. Plants in pots need constant watering/maintenance – in the main they are much easier to manage once in the ground. In the same respect that your growing area is limited by the space you have cleared by early Spring, it is also limited by the time you can put in during May and June to get your crops out quickly. I find spending a few days annual leave planting helps take the burden off the weekends during this time.

Keep your paths well managed: If you have grassed areas around your plot then invest time in levelling and edging these during winter or early spring. Mowing and maintaining grass paths is a short weekly task if you have done this. If not, they can start to take over your beds or make areas inaccessible making everything take longer. Mulch any permanent paths well – you don’t want to be wasting time weeding paths! The majority of our paths are covered in woodchip.

Don’t waste time watering every day: plants in the ground do not need constant watering. Infact, they will grow better root systems if they are watered less regularly. When seedlings are newly transplanted they may need a little water, but unless we are in an ongoing drought situation then watering plants outside is a waste of your time. Use the time to weed and to mulch beds well. Plants undercover will need watering, but even then usually not every day! Weather dependent I water our uncover space every few days and the main plots very rarely -items in pots once a week and selective watering for some crops around their cropping times – e.g. when onions are bulbing up.

Finally remember your plot is a hobby which is meant to be fun and not a chore. Your plot doesn’t need to be a show garden. As long as it is productive and not affecting other plotholders due to masses of seeding weeds then it is fine! If you are new to allotmenteering it all gets easier over time as you find your way – be kind to yourself.