Looking for allotment ideas to help you master the art of growing your own? Allotments usually have long waiting lists, but once you get a plot, it will be more than worth it – not to mention the bumper harvest of fruit, veg and flowers you’ll benefit from.
As far as waiting lists go, in 2013, the National Allotment Society found an average of 52 people were waiting for every 100 plots. And results from the 2018 State of the Market Report (Allotments) by The Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) proved that there’s still a high demand for allotments, with the average waiting time between six to 18 months.
But growing your own food isn’t the only benefit. Allotments play a key role in helping people to gain skills and joy in gardening, live healthier lifestyles, develop friendships and strengthen communities. Here are some top tips for allotment newbies…
- Top 12 herbs and how to use them
- The Allotment Gardening Year
- Benefits of Community Gardens
- What is a community garden?
- Benefits of community gardening
- Community Gardening Storytelling Project
- The Benefits of Community Gardens
- There’s nothing better than tucking into some delicious organic fruit and veg. It’s even more satisfying when you’ve grown your own.
1. It’s all in the planning
With all the excitement that comes with getting your new plot, sometimes the planning stage can be cut short. ‘Before digging, it’s vital to draw up a plan on paper, bearing in mind the type of soil you have, the way the sun hits your plot, the wind direction and access pathways,’ explains the experts at The Greenhouse People.
You need to equip yourself with good quality gardening tools (fork, spade, wheelbarrow, gloves and storage) and don’t be overwhelmed by the size of the task ahead. A wild allotment plot is a sign your ground is fertile, but it’s best to wait for a rain shower to dampen the soil before you start digging.
Tip: Try to speak to more experienced gardeners at the allotment who will know instantly what does and doesn’t work, saving you time and effort. You’ll also gain a green-fingered friend who can help you through your first year.
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2. The power of perennials
These crafty plants are perfect for allotment beginners. Literally meaning ‘through the years’, perennial fruits and herbs – such as tomatoes, strawberries, garlic, basil and blueberries – typically live more than two years, returning each spring from their rootstock.
‘Perennials’ hearty growth can deplete the nutrients in the soil so keep up its quality with compost or well-rotted manure before planting,’ The Greenhouse People suggest. ‘Don’t be tempted to remove the dead foliage during winter – this will attract small insects and give back nutrients to the soil without you lifting a finger.’
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3. Companion planting
Companion planting is key to making the most out of your space and the quality of your produce. Certain complementary plants forge mutually beneficial relationships helping to repel pests, improve pollination and provide nutrients.
For example: Lettuces, radishes and other quick-growing plants sown between hills of melons or squash will mature and be harvested long before the vines need more room. Additionally, leafy greens such as spinach grow well in the shadow of corn.
Tip: Remember, growing members of the same family close together increases competition for soil nutrients. Disperse onions, chives, leeks and garlic across your plot, instead of keeping them close together.
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4. A greenhouse
Sometimes the unpredictable British weather can mean the plant projects we’ve nurtured so tirelessly turn out to be less successful than hoped.
‘However, adding a greenhouse means you can ignore and evade almost all seasonal changes and weather conditions throughout the year,’ say The Greenhouse People. ‘Extreme temperatures, excessive rain or droughts will not cause any serious problems to greenhouse gardening efforts, giving your much-needed flexibility when it comes to any forms of complementary gardening.’
Tip: Think about adding an electric or gas heater. Along with overhead lighting, it can extend the growing period for warm season plants for even longer.
5. Herb heroes
Planting herbs throughout your plot can help to repel insects with their strongly scented leaves. For example, sage repels cabbage moths and French Marigolds are great to grow with tomatoes because their strong scents repel aphids.
The benefits extend beyond protection, as the addition of herbs can enhance the flavours of other plants too. For example, growing basil alongside tomatoes and lettuce enhances the flavour of both.
Tip: If you grow the herb wormwood you can make a tea that, when poured on plants, repels slugs.
Top 12 herbs and how to use them
Why: Works well with tomatoes or fish, or use to make a traditional pesto sauce.
Which: For Italian-style cooking, look out for sweet Genovese or Napoletano. For variety, try Greek, lettuce leaf or aniseedy Thai.
Why: Excellent in sauces, soups, stuffings, dressings and salads, and as a garnish.
Which: Both curly and flat-leaf varieties are resilient and will keep going well into autumn, and even winter if protected with a cloche.
Why: The aromatic foliage is versatile for cooking and attractive to wildlife.
Which: Lemon and golden varieties look lovely in pots. Plant creeping thymes between gaps in paving for subtle scent.
Why: Its subtle aniseed flavour is greatfor soups, sauces, egg dishes and more.
Which: Curled chervil is a popular variety with pretty foliage and grows quickly from seed. Sow regularly for a constant supply.
Why: A staple in French cooking and a classic way to add oomph to potato salad.
Which: Look out for French tarragon. The leaves are best used fresh but they can be stored or dried in an air-tight container.
Why: Delicious added to rice, couscousand curries. Add the flowers to salads.
Which: Coriander is quick to go to seed (called bolting) so try a bolt-resistant variety such as Santos and pick leaves young.
Why: Strong and pungent, this is a classic herb for Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking and is often used dried rather than fresh.
Which: Look out for dwarf variety Kent Beauty, Common or Compact Greek.
Why: A classic accompaniment to lamb, pork and chicken dishes.
Which: Most varieties are suitable for culinary use. Once established outside, rosemary will keep growing for years.
Why: Use in soups, stews and potato dishes. Dried is fine as the leaves retain their flavour.
Which: Common bay has dark, aromatic leaves but also look out for hardier Angustifolia and Aurea varieties.
Why: Use for everything from tea to mojitococktails and mint sauce for lamb.
Which: Common varieties include apple mint, English lamb mint and spearmint (also known as garden mint).
Why: The leaves work well with chicken and are good in classic sage-and-onion stuffing.
Which: Look out for common sage or try the broad-leaved variety. Buy as a ready grown plant or grow from seed or cuttings.
Why: Commonly used for potatoes and fish or add to soups, sauces and salads.
How: Grow from seed, simply by scattering in the desired location after the last frost and cover lightly with soil.
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Olivia Heath Digital Editor, House Beautiful UK Olivia Heath is the Digital Editor at House Beautiful UK, uncovering tomorrow’s biggest home trends, delivering stylish room decor inspiration and rounding up the hottest properties on the market.
The Allotment Gardening Year
By Sven Wombwell
Working an allotment garden in the UK is an all-year-round commitment. Make your plot as productive as possible by following this month-by-month guide, and get the most from your soil.
Check out catalogues for seeds, fruit bushes and any other crops you’ve got a mind – and the space – to grow. January is often the sales season at garden centres, so get re-stocked and save yourself some money.
Sort out clean pots ready for the sowing season, and check that your propagator works, if you’ve got one.
Pick your winter crops, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbages and leeks. As soon as the soil is clear, give it a good dig over and add some organic matter where appropriate.
January is still early to sow most vegetable seeds, but you can plant your first onions now.
Have a good tidy up on your plot, removing any debris.
Complete all your digging this month so the soil has a chance to break down a bit before you plant your crops.
Cover areas of soil to be sown with seeds next month with black plastic or fleece to warm it and prevent it from getting too wet.
Sow more seeds indoors in trays. You can start off tomatoes, onions, celery and peppers, amongst others.
Plant fruit trees and bushes as soon as the soil thaws out.
March is the main month for sowing many crops indoors. You can also plant some outside at this stage as well (broad beans, for example).
Dig up the last of the crops which have been in the ground over the winter (including parsnips and leeks, for example).
Plant asparagus in well-prepared, weed-free soil.
Towards the end of the month you can plant out the first potatoes. Also plant onion sets, shallots, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes.
Apply fertiliser around fruits and vegetables and mulch around fruit trees and bushes.
Start feeding all plants in pots and make sure that they don’t dry out.
Look out for early-emerging pests. Organic or chemical controls can help you avoid the problems of slugs and snails attacking young seedlings, aphids – or blackfly – covering broad beans, and greenfly attacking the new shoots of plums and currants.
Keep going with sowing seeds outside – April is often the best month to sow because the soil is getting warmer. Continue to sow seeds in the greenhouse.
Plant your potatoes.
Keep weeds under control by hoeing around your fruit and vegetables.
Under cover, sow fast-growing tender vegetables such as courgettes, French beans, marrows and runner beans.
Continue to look out for pests. Deal with slugs, snails and aphids, and put codling moth traps in apple trees at the end of the month.
In dry weather, water newly sown and planted crops.
Plant out leeks, brassicas such as cabbage and calabrese, and celery and celeriac.
Continue to sow salad crops and herbs regularly.
Sow more French beans.
Put the tender plants that are growing in the greenhouse outside to get them used to conditions before planting out at the end of the month (this is known as hardening off). If you don’t do this, the change in conditions can ‘shock’ the plants and check their growth.
Plant out tender veg: either your own-grown plants, or just buy ready-grown ones.
Protect strawberries from damage from slugs, from getting dirty with straw or mats, and from birds with netting or fleece.
Keep weeds under control by hoeing.
Keep removing the side shoots of tomatoes and feed them once a week. Make sure that you don’t allow tomatoes in growing bags or pots to dry out.
Stop cutting asparagus in the middle of the month. Mulch the rows with compost and give some fertiliser to build up the roots for next year.
Thin out apples, plums and pears if the branches are laden with small fruits.
As soon as strawberries have finished cropping, cut back the foliage and remove any runners that grow from the mother plants.
Cover blueberry bushes and other soft fruit with netting or fleece to protect them from birds.
Cut down early peas and broad beans that have been harvested. Leave the roots in the soil to add nitrogen to it.
Be prepared to spray potatoes against blight. Lift and harvest your early potatoes.
Continue to sow salad crops, and keep weeding among all your crops.
Prune blackcurrants as soon as the berries have been picked.
Mulch around squashes and pumpkins with compost or manure and keep them watered well.
Sow Oriental crops such as pak choi and Chinese cabbage. Also sow spring cabbage and fennel.
You should have lots to harvest this month – pick it while it’s young and fresh.
Pull up any crops that have finished and sow fast-growing salads in their place, or if you’re not using the ground for crops until winter or next spring, sow green manures.
Sow overwintering onions and plant special new potatoes for Christmas.
Summer prune apples and many other fruit bushes and trees.
Continue to sow Oriental vegetables, salads and herbs. Sow endives for winter.
Pinch out the tops of tomato plants to prevent fruits being formed that won’t ripen.
Pick sweetcorn and squashes as they mature.
Start to harvest apples and pears as they reach ripeness.
Dig up potatoes as soon as they finish flowering and if the foliage starts to yellow.
Stake Brussels sprouts and other overwintering brassicas to help them stand up to winter gales.
Harvest all squashes before the first frost damages them. Finish lifting and storing potatoes.
Dig over bare soil. Put all green plants and annual weeds on the compost heap.
Plant garlic and broad beans.
Cut back Jerusalem artichokes and pull up sweetcorn.
Pick the last tomatoes from plants in the greenhouse.
Clean out your greenhouse, if you have one, and make the most of any under-cover growing space.
Order seed catalogues and fruit catalogues.
Clear the soil of crops that are past their best.
Pick up and pull off yellowing leaves from brassicas.
Harvest leeks, celery, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and the last of the carrots and beets.
Check the ties on trees and cover brassicas with netting to prevent bird damage.
Dig over any bare soil. Empty the compost heap and dig this into the soil.
Prune your fruit trees and bushes.
Clear rubbish off your site and have a general tidy up.
Benefits of Community Gardens
What is a community garden?
Community gardens are places where people come together to grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. They do this by renting individual or shared plots of land within the community garden. In Waterloo Region, community gardens are run by churches, neighborhood associations, non-profit organizations, community agencies, clubs, private landowners, municipalities… just about anyone.
Benefits of community gardening
Community gardens offer people and the community many benefits. They provide opportunities for both recreational gardening and food production, in underutilized spaces. Community gardens are also great for the environment. Food grown locally reduces green house gases produced by long distance transportation of food. Gardens also contribute to biodiversity of species and help to support populations of pollinators. Finally, community gardens bring people together and may reduce crime rates in the neighbourhood by increasing visibility and engaging citizens in positive initiatives
Community gardens contribute to a healthy lifestyle by:
- providing fresh, safe, affordable herbs, fruits and vegetables
- helping to relieve stress and increase sense of wellness
- getting people active, which improves overall physical health
- providing social opportunities that build a sense of community and belonging
- giving people an opportunity to learn and share knowledge on gardening, nature, and cooking
Community gardens benefit the community as they help:
- build welcoming, safer communities
- improve the look of neighbourhoods
- reduce pollution by sequestering carbon and reducing the shipping of food over long distances
- support pollinator habitats that are necessary for community well-being
- reduce food insecurity
- connect people to nature
- educate people on where food comes from and provide opportunity for people, especially in urban spaces, to engage with their food system
- provide an inclusive meeting area where people of all ages and cultural backgrounds can come together to share experiences and knowledge
To support community gardens and temporary farmers’ markets in our cities, please check out The Food System Roundtable’s Food Spaces, Vibrant Places campaign.
Community Gardening Storytelling Project
In 2013, Region of Waterloo Public Health completed a Community Gardening Storytelling Project that demonstrated how community gardening is a valuable health promoting and community building activity. Community gardens contribute to creating high quality urban and rural gathering spaces and they support people’s efforts to stay healthy. This stoytelling project interviewed 84 gardeners in an unstructured format to learn about the meaning of gardening in their lives. The stories shared by these gardeners revealed eight main reasons for gardening which were grouped into three themes: health, inclusion, and learning.
The Three Main Themes
Some gardeners spoke of how gardening helped them address mental stress, specifically describing how the role of gardening helped to decrease current stress and heal past trauma or anxiety. Gardeners spoke about the health benefits the act of gardening provided, such as increased physical activity and greater consumption of healthy food, including eating more produce and eating more of different parts of the plant. Many gardeners commented on the financial benefit of growing fruits and vegetables and for some, they gardened specifically to save money on food. These stories clearly showed the benefit community gardens have in promoting healthy eating, physical activity, and good mental health.
The gardeners interviewed shared comments about community building, which occurs when people connect over a common activity and build a personal social network. Gardeners spoke of the importance of involving children in gardening as a way to spend time with them and have them appreciate food. As well some gardeners mentioned how community garden plots contributed to preserving culture by supporting people to maintain traditional foods, skills, and language that linked them with their birth country. Community gardens lend themselves to including people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, ages, income levels and needs.
Gardeners shared stories of how they first learned to grow a few vegetables but then this spread to a curiosity about other vegetables or fruits and how to grow, prepare, and preserve these different foods. Their increasing knowledge led them to ask more questions which led to an increased respect for farmers and a growing concern about the environment and issues in the food system. Many gardeners spoke about how learning to garden increased their sense of control and confidence and expressed great excitement and pride about the rewards of their labour and learning.
If interested, you can read the full report, “Not Just a Passing Fancy” How Community Gardens Contribute to Healthy and Inclusive Neighbourhoods.
Benefits of being involved in a Grow Community Gardens:
- 1. Improves the health and wellbeing of those involved – Many people who come to our gardens talk of the garden relieving the stresses and strains of everyday life. Our gardens are designed to cater for people with a range of mobility and we work together to make sure that everyone can be involved.
- 2. Improves the quality of life for people in the garden – People report feeling happier and healthier through their involvement in the garden.
- 3. Connects people to their community – Many people talk of never seeing their neighbours, not feeling part of the community, having no say in what happens in their community – being involved in a Grow community garden enables people to connect with their community in a meaningful way – one that respects difference and promotes diversity
- 4. Provides a catalyst for neighbourhood and community development
- 5. Stimulates Social Interaction – Many friendships are formed at the garden and there are many examples of care and attention which those involved show to one another – last year one of our participants was away from the garden for a number of weeks – suffering from depression – off their own bat a number of the participant community gardeners made up a box of produce from the garden with a note about how he was missed from the garden. This was brought to his house and he was back the following week.
- 6. Encourages Self-Reliance – We work together to find solutions to challenges in the garden. Everyone is encouraged to make suggestions and undertake all sorts of tasks from making benches, planting trees, pruning tomatoes plants, organising an event to cooking something for our teabreaks the following week.
- 7. Beautifies Neighbourhoods – With a keen eye to transforming contested and disused space, Grow works hard to beautify a space which may have been an eyesore in a neighbourhood. We don’t do this in any convoluted way, rather work with local people to decide what is best, maximise flower planting at the edge of a site, keep hard surfacing to a minimum, plant trees and generally think long term with regard to neighbourhood renewal and biodiversity.
- 8. Produces Nutritious Food – Food costs have risen significantly in recent years. Organic food is often beyond the reach of many, especially those in receipt of pensions, disability allowances or benefits. Being able to grow and cook fresh organic produce makes a real difference to diet and health. Many people who would have limited the range of vegetables they would have used, tend to increase the range and quantity of vegetables and fruit they cook with every week as result of involvement in the garden. Children involved with the project begin to identify and eat vegetables they would have never considered before.
- 9. Reduces Family Food Budgets – Not only do those participating every week benefit from a reduction in the cost of buying food but we have also been able to donate surplus food to a range of organisations including Bryson Asylum Seeker Service. Many asylum seekers receive vouchers instead of money and often cannot afford to buy fresh produce.
- 10. Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and health – The health and wellbeing benefits of community gardening are well documented for e.g. Studies (like the one conducted by Lackey and Associates) have shown that community gardeners and their children eat healthier, have more nutrient rich diets than do non-gardening families • But one health benefit that you might surprise you relates to asthma in children – where a recent study of community gardens in the US found that ‘Eating locally produced food reduces asthma rates, because children are able to consume manageable amounts of local pollen and develop immunities.
Gardens can be areas for recreation and exercise. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a 48.4 percent increase in frequency of physical activity in addition to a 5.1 percent median increase in aerobic capacity, reduced body fat, weight loss, improved flexibility and energy
All of Grow’s participant gardeners report a reduction in stress through their regular community garden participation as well as a general feeling of wellbeing. Exposure to green space reduces stress and increases a sense of wellness and belonging (Bremer et al, 2003, p. 55). “A ten percent increase in nearby greenspace was found to decrease a person’s health complaints in an amount equivalent to a five year reduction in that person’s age”
- 11. Preserves Green Space – Developing and maintaining garden space is less expensive than parkland area, in part because gardens require little land and 80% of their cost is in labour. • Community gardens provide a place to retreat from the noise and commotion of urban environments and can often renew interest in an unused brown field urban site, transforming it into a vibrant, green hub of a local community
- 12. Food Production – Community gardens allow families and individuals without land of their own the opportunity to produce food. Oftentimes gardeners take advantage of the experiential knowledge of elders to produce a significant amount of food for the household.
Urban agriculture is 3-5 times more productive per acre than traditional large-scale farming.
Local agriculture conserves resources by shortening the commodity chain, saving on fuel demand.
- 13. Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connection – Community gardens offer unique opportunities to establish relationships within and across physical and social barriers including:
- Inter-generational exposure to cultural traditions
- Cultural exchange with other gardeners
- Access to non-English speaking communities
- A recent study found that compared to residents living near barren areas, those closer to green common spaces, are more likely to use them and as a result more likely to interact with neighbours.
The Benefits of Community Gardens
There’s nothing better than tucking into some delicious organic fruit and veg. It’s even more satisfying when you’ve grown your own.
If you’re thinking of becoming involved in a community garden in your town or city, there are many benefits to you and the community – as Paul found out when he spoke to urban horticulturist Emma Daniel in the middle of inner city Sydney at the Paddington Community Garden.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING:
- Growing your own fruit and vegetables gives individuals and families direct access to fresh organic produce giving great nutritional benefit.
- Keeping a garden plot helps keep you physically fit.
- Community gardens are environmentally sustainable and generally completely organic
- Gardeners don’t use chemical fertilisers or compost systems; instead household waste is used to create organic composting systems, reducing landfill.
- Community gardens green urban environments and re-green vacant lots
- Gardening is mentally stimulating and adds to an individuals knowledge and expertise.
- There is informal learning from fellow gardeners and there are also accredited training courses through schools and tertiary institutions.
- Workshops are often held at community gardens regarding composting and fertilising.
- By diversifying the use of open space and creating the opportunity for passive and active recreation, community gardens improve the urban environment.
- Community gardens are social spaces where friends, neighbours and relatives congregate to not just garden but hold community events, hold cooking classes and swap produce.
- People come form all different backgrounds and ethnicities.
- Community gardens develop community identity and community spirit.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW IF YOU WANT TO BECOME INVOLVED:
If you’re a novice there is always someone to get you started and provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to start a plot. You’ll only need a minimum of equipment as most tools are communal within the garden.
To find and start a garden near you, visit the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network website at www.communitygarden.org.au