How To Choose The Perfect Allotment Plot or Garden Site
Allotments & Gardens: How to Choose The Perfect Allotment or Garden Plot That’ll Produce Great Crops With Less Effort.
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The perfect plot, it’s the dream of every aspiring allotment holder and gardener. Somewhere to grow succulent, tasty, nutritious, prize crops; enjoy a brew, picnic or even BBQ and keep physically and mentally fit.
But there are many potential setbacks when selecting an allotment. The worse seems to be that many seem to be a state of neglect; often full of noxious weeds; sometimes full of household, building and commercial waste and take months to get right.
Even worse, allotment associations and councils often expect a rent from the plot when it’s in this state.
In this article I look at how to evaluate a new plot or garden. I do it from the perspective of someone that took over a neglected market garden and turned it into a successful, profitable enterprise that allowed me to produce huge volumes of crops for the supermarkets and local market stalls.
Though my perspective is that of the commercial grower, everything I comment on applies to the amateur gardeners and allotment plot holder. In fact, its probably even more important to them.
General State of the Plot
As indicated above. Plots of land often come in a state of neglect. In a perfect world We’ll be taking over land from a gardener that has really looked after the plot and they’ll be leaving a shed, greenhouse, established fruit trees or whatever. That’s heaven for a new plot holder.
But the reality is that plots usually become vacant when people can no longer cope with them, when someone has been ill for a long time, or where someone has died. That often means that for the last months, or even years, the plot has been neglected and it’ll show.
In the very worse cases the plot will have been used as a dump. There will be everything from old mattresses and supermarket trolleys to concrete blocks and asbestos waste.
My advice in this case is to ask the allotment association to tidy it up before you take over, OR you walk away. you really don’t want the problem of sorting out Japanese knotweed or asbestos waste. It will cost you both financially and emotionally.
I’m not just thinking about how far from home the land might be. It’s also about where in the allotments it sits. Miles from the gate, in that damp corner isnt going to be a good choice.
By aspect I mean the direction it faces. In the UK the best plots face south or south west. South east is also worthwhile. The reason is that they catch the sun. A steep northern slope may never get an sunshine and isnt going to help your plants.
Another aspect consideration is the slope. A very gentle southwest slope is ideal as it catches the sun, warms up faster in spring and is likely tone well drained.
My market garden was very gently sloping to the south and it contributed to our success.
Land that is shaded is going to be slower to warm up in spring and will grow less than land that gets full sun. So check out the plot at various times of day. Does it get sunshine all day? Is it shaded by trees or a factory for much of the day? It’s easy to shade crops but hard to increase sunlight when overshadowed.
If we avoid all shade we could also be courting trouble. Windswept sites are hard on plants. They are colder and there’s a risk of plant damage from hight winds. And coastal windswept sites are even worse. They are windy and often salty. Trees on the cost are often stunted and wind-pruned on the windward side.
Getting the shade, prevailing winds mix isn’t always easy.
Avoid Frost Pockets
A frost pocket occurs when cold air descends into a hollow, such as behind a hedge, in a depression or even in a narrow valley. these are the areas that always freeze when other areas catch a slight breeze that blows the extra cold air away. Getting the balance between windswept and frost pocket is an art in itself.
Check if the soil is predominately sand, gravel, stony, chalk, clay, peat or ideally a wonderful loam. And see how deep the soil is. It can look wonderful, but if there’s bedrock a couple of inches down it will grow very little.
Is the Soil Acid or Alkaline?
Ideally it will be around pH 6.5 to 7. As it gets further from those figures it will support fewer crops. So it’s important to know what you have. Conduct a pH test or check for pH by checking the weeds that grow!
Acid soils can be limed to reduce the pH but chalky soils are harder to change. Bear this in mind.
And just because one plot in an allotment is the perfect pH it doesn’t mean the one next to it is. pH can change in a few feet as its affected by what has been grown, the manures added and a number off other things.
Is the land prone to flooding? Are there blocked drains or ditches?
One of the reasons a gentle slope is a good idea is because its least likely to flood!
But even land on a slope can flood if ditches higher up the slope or hill become blocked.
Land that floods each winter is never going to offer the ability to crop winter crops such as cabbage, leeks,Brussels, parsnips etc. What a waste of a plot!
Weed Infested Allotment and Garden Plots
A weed infested plot sounds like bad news. But is it?
What might be worse is a plot that will not grow weeds because there is no fertility for because the soil is damaged in some way. It could be due to chemical spillage, the burning of noxious substances or similar.
Weeds can be indicative of soil fertility, soil type and soil conditions. Some weeds call me grow when the ground is frequently waterlogged, when the pH is high or low and when the sale has specific fertility levels.
Clearly the ideal situation is to take on a cultivated weed free I’m problem free plot. But weeds can be our friends and indicate problems and opportunities.
What we don’t want to say are invasive weeds such as Japanese knot weed.
Access and parking
The ability to park a vehicle near your plot is worth considering. The other consideration is how easy it is to access the plot on foot. Steep slippery narrow slopes and puddle ridden overgrown paths are something to look out for.
Watering & Irrigation Opportunities
The location of any taps and rules about watering are an essential consideration. In hot summers access to water can make the difference between having a crop and failure. Some allotments have taps strategically located around the site and other have none. Some have water tanks and some have none. And even if there is water, is it easy to use, is there sufficient pressure, and will the water all be gone by the time you get home from work and down your plot?
Sheds, greenhouses, tunnels, compost bins and more can make an allotment or garden plot. But the bylaws or regulations might prohibit all or some of these. For example my home has a wonderful garden but my deeds say I can’t keep poultry … but doesn’t mention cows, pigs, horses, hamsters and white rats.
I’m not sure if anyone in my area knows I’m prohibited from keeping poultry or would complain if I did. But it’s there in black and white.
Back on the allotment a lot of people like to have a shed or other structure where they can boil a kettle and make a drink or even cook a meal.
Allotment heaven is where the shed has hot and cold running water, a toilet and electric. Don’t laugh, some people have generators, and portals for when they stay the weekend at the allotment!
Vandalism, theft and arson are but a few of the problems allotment holders report each year. So a good fence and locked gate is something to consider. But having said that sometimes the thieves are apparently other allotment plot holders!
Certainly consider taking basic tools home so they can’t be stolen. Though this might not be easy if you have too travel by bus or bike.
Allotment prices for full or half plots seem to vary considerably across the country. When I had an allotment eight years ago I paid £8 a year for a full plot. But don’t be surprised with a rental charge of more than £70 as this report indicates.
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