9 February 2018

Allotment year 1: What I have learnt

So my blog post (thanks blog, see this is why I do it!) tells me that we had our very first allotmenting weekend on 10-11th September 2016.  So I am perhaps a little overdue for this 'first year' review post... But we had a long preparation time just getting our allotment ready for planting so I feel like our first 'proper' allotmenting year started last spring.

I am in the process of making plans and deciding what to grow for this year, so it got me reflecting back over our first year as allotmenters.

We dived into allotmening head first, with very little planning, next to no research and a 'try anything once' attitude. Bung the seeds in the ground see what happens... "I know let's plant some parnsips today..."  We had no plan and very little expectation.  But this in a vague way was our plan for year 1. Just to have fun with it, see what works and then adjust and learn.

Prior to this allotment I had only ever successfully kept some succulents and cacti alive and grown some courgettes in a pot on a very sunny and warm patio one summer in London.  So a HUGE plot with waist height weeds in Cumbria was going to be another story....

But it turns out I did learn stuff with my allotment and when I put my thinking cap on it turns out I learnt a bunch of stuff, so here goes...

Check my posts here and here and here for the story up to date... 

Weeds. Just weeds. Weeds are everywhere, they grow stupidly fast, you will never keep on top of them, and never ever ever get rid of them! A very depressing realisation when you stare lovingly at your beautiful brown freshly weeded soil, then come back the following weekend... I don't know how many times I have dug over the same beds.  I think my plan for this year is to be a little easier on myself and try to overlook a few of the weeds.

Covering up your beds will not stop weeds.  You may think this is a good idea, and other people seem to cover up the beds in winter but the weeds are still there just lurking, waiting for some sunlight and then BOOM! We experimented with covering up a bed and leaving a bed uncovered, both equally as weedy, both equally as much work. Covering up just delays the work really.

Allotmenting is a good stress relief. Attacking a huge weedy bed is joyous, seeing the change in your plot after all your hard work and that nice feeling of an achy tired body after a good workout. It's a good feeling. I even like weeding. Coming to a section with thin fine weeds and clearing them all delicately one by one until your soil is perfect and weed free. Simply just sitting there covered in dirt, your mind is free to focus on other things. It's just lovely to while away a good few hours outside.

It's a big commitment. A very obvious one, and we did know this from the start. But we learnt our lessons a few times over this past year. We would feel really energetic one weekend, and feel good after a day's hard work, leaving our plot looking awesome. Then sort of get busy with other things for a couple of weeks, re-visit to see our hard work undone, covered in weeds again, overgrown veg or everything nibbled by bastard slugs. Commit to your allotment, regularly. Set a schedule for it and stick to it. It's not really the sort of hobby you can leave and come back to, like, er crochet... commit!

Everything will probably grow.  Sounds a bit silly, I mean you don't put seeds in the ground and not want them to grow. But being the complete growing novices we were we thought it would be a lot harder than it was to actually grow stuff. We over planted and put far more seeds into each bed than necessary because we expected some to just not work. Well they did all work. I don't think there was anything we tried that didn't grow.  So my advice here is just to plant what you want to grow, don't over compensate too much.

Learn what vegetable shoots look like. Can you tell the difference between a parsnip shoot and a weed? Nope neither can I. I came to my bed one weekend and found that a lot of things had started shooting through, there were also quite a lot of weeds.  I am pretty sure I 'weeded' quite a lot of teeny parsnip shoots that day, sad times.  Another tip here is to sew in straight lines and put in markers!

Potatoes grow everywhere. Yup, utterly random but no matter how many times we have dug over our plot and no matter in which bed or where you are in the allotment we will find a potato! Odd red potatoes, small ones, huge ones, always potatoes. So you may think that you know where your potatoes are... but don't be astonished if you uncover some little hidden ones elsewhere too...

Bigga peas from the supermarket are a million times better than packet seeds. I think we were most excited about our peas! We had some peas from a packet of seeds from a garden centre and a box of dried bigga peas from Sainsburys. Mark read on some Facebook post to give them a go. I didn't think they would work, sounds silly but they are 'food' not seeds and probably over processed or something. We put both sets of peas round our fantastic frame Mark made, one side seed packet peas the other Bigga the difference was amazing! The bigga peas produced huge strong, thick bushes full of far too many peas for us to eat to be honest!

Grow only what you will eat. We were SO excited to get growing things on the allotment. We went overboard buying seeds, just anything and everything and threw them in. The first things to pop up were radishes, SO exciting to have actual vegetables we grew from seed. But er... do you actually like radishes? A little sliver of one in a salad every so often perhaps, but you can't exactly just knaw on them like a carrot. We had TOO many radishes. We LOVE pea pod peas and I don't think any reached a pan, all eaten raw. However we are just two people, we grew enough pea pod peas to feed a small army several times over! Rhubarb... do you like rhubarb? No neither do we... yet we grew loads of the stuff? why? And I won't even mention the huge baskets of onions and garlic we are STILL working our way through, stored in our out buildings! Don't get too excited, only grow what you will eat, easy!

Slugs are bastards. Yep big fat, slimy juicy bastards. Slugs will eat ALL your hard work. That's pretty much all I have on this one. I am hoping this year's lesson will be 'how to get rid of slugs' but so far all I have learnt is my passionate hatred for the ugly bastards.

Don't go to extreme measures until you need to. You see all sorts down the allotment, and you read things on forums and get 'advice' from people all detailing the best ways to grow your veg. The weird and wonderful contraptions and methods needed for keeping pests off and techniques for optimum growing etc. We were told that we need to do this and need to do that. Well we didn't really do any of it. Yes admittedly slugs are bastards and we will be attempting a slug solution this year but everything grew with very little intervention or fuss. Our strawberries didn't need a fancy cage, I mean look at them. They simply grew along the ground. Try things first, what works for somebody else might not fit you. Don't go to massive efforts to rectify the solution to the problem you don't know you have yet.

You will learn to ignore spiders.  You really will, you have to! I hate spiders, any 8 legged creatures I spy in my house and I used to full on freak out, I hate them. But my allotment is full of them, huge ones, teeny ones, weird coloured ones, they crawl everywhere. At first I didn't know how I would cope but I just learnt to ignore them. They don't do me any harm and I don't do them any harm, just keep digging they will run off in the opposite direction quick enough. Even now when I see them in my house, instead of screaming for Mark I just politely ask them to disappear and they don't bother me too much. (Ok you have my permission to remind me of this post when I am having a nervous breakdown the next time a large black hairy one crawls over my pillow! lol.)

Your allotment will never be 'Andrew's Garden'. Well it might well be if you happen to have lots of money to spend on it and don't have to go to work everyday. But if like us, allotmenting is a hobby, you have little spare funds and you work full time you will never ever have Andrew's Garden. This was a hard one for me to come to terms with. I expected too much and wanted desperately to have a pretty allotment. Ours is not pretty but it's functional. Concentrating efforts to our veg is probably better use of energy than caring overly about how it all looks (I guess... sob...)

Allotment people are the nicest people ever. This was a huge bonus for us, and probably something we hadn't really expected. But we stumbled on, and now feel part of a little community. New friends is always fab right. From day 1 all our allotment neighbours stopped to say hello and introduce themselves. Offering helpful advice and friendly greetings. Even giving us produce; the sweetest tomatoes I've ever tasted, amazing spuds, cucumbers, yellow courgettes, raspberries.... One neighbour let me have a go on her allotment digging her potatoes so I knew what to do and helped me identify my veg seedlings through the weeds.  We were even invited to an allotment community firework night too with homemade allotment veg soup and ALL the cakes. Allotment people are awesome. I think if you are looking for a new hobby and new friends allotmenting is the ONE!

Growing things is crazy exciting. It really is. I knew I would be excited to get growing, and I've been wanting to grow veg properly for years.  Every time we visited our allotment in the summer and some new veg had started sprouting or even better was ready for picking was crazy exciting, even more exciting than I thought it would be. I can't wait to go through it all again this summer and grow some new and different things.

Do you grow your own veg or have n allotment? What are you planting this year? What are your top tips to help me out in year 2?


  1. Your allotment posts are always so inspiring! I'm sorry I can't give any useful feedback or (bastard!) slug advice but I'm cheering you on from here :) One day I'll start to grow my own - perhaps if I start small with a herb garden?!

    C x

    1. Hi Cat, thanks so much for your super kind comment. Growing things is honestly SO easy and can be done anywhere. Get a big pot of a windowsill and you can be on your way. It's the time of year to get started soon.... x


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