Go find some bargains!

This point in the year is a great time to grab a bargain at your local garden centres and DIY shops. Thinking for the winter and following year ahead you can pick up all sorts of tools and materials that will be sold cheap as it is the wrong season to be selling them.

For example, we have grabbed some mini polytunnels of varying materials that we can use to help warm a patch of soil next year and protect those seedlings next year from frost and predators, and they were better than half price! Fertiliser is another good bargain find, as it’s not used as much this time of the year, so large buckets go cheaply.

So do get hunting now as it’s never too early to start prepping for next year.

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The planting begins!

My apologies for this late post, but it’s been a bit busy around the home.

IMG_0917IMG_0918Planting has started down in the allotment and everyone is excited. The other week we transplanted all our onions, shallots and garlic. I know there are some people who directly sow their plants into ground but we decided to grow them inside first then transplant them out. So far this has seemed to have worked very well!

To transplant them we used a pencil to ease them out and then using a dibber, we made holes in turned over soil. To get a straight line we used string.

Along with the onions family, we have planted out early potatoes and sown a row of carrots. As an experiment we are also starting some carrots inside and transplanting them out. We have heard that transplanting root crops can be risky, but thought we would give it a go and see the difference between techniques.

Again being warned off by many people we are going to try Asparagus. I shall be writing a full piece on Asparagus and the steps we took to plant it, so won’t say anymore here.

We were a little late with the beans and peas but have managed to get in our first batch. The broad beans were looking a little sorry for themselves in the greenhouse but have now perked up and are doing well. The runner beans however have flailed a bit. We think it may have been due to a frosty night and us not protecting them, so we are keeping an eye on them to see if we can still use them, otherwise we may cheat and buy some seedlings from a nursery!

 

Edited by Laboro Marketing Solutions http://www.laboromarketingsolutions.com

 

Being part of your allotments community

To succeed in your allotment, it is important to not make it a fortress and keep people out. Being part of the allotment community is beneficial for everyone. You can help people who are perhaps less abled or just need an extra pair of hand to put that mesh up. People will also be willing to help you out, whether physically or advice on what works on the site and certain techniques.

 

Friends & Family

Get your friends and family involved too. Don’t necessarily get them to do all your work but get them to help pick a few peas and beans, or like me promise them a beer and deck chair to sit and relax on during a summer’s evening!

 

Working parties

We recently took part in our first allotment working party. It’s where the committee set up a day where they get as many members as possible to come along and do a few of the community chores. At our last one I helped put up some rabbit fencing. There was also a bonfire and some edging up of the communal paths.

These are all chores that are essential to the running of the allotment so it’s nice to have a part in it, and it also gets you to meet other members you wouldn’t normally see. Once the season is in full flow they occur once a month, but you don’t have to attend every one if you can’t and it isn’t for the full day.

 

Social events

A few times across the year our committee organises events to get the members together. We haven’t been to one yet but I hear most of them occur in a pub! All sorts can be organised, ranging from christmas meals to BBQ’s on the allotment. If you are not part of the committee do still put ideas forward.

 

It is a hobby

Remember most importantly that this is a hobby. I know at times when you are pulling out weeds and digging over it feels more like a chore, but the results you get are worth it. Think about enjoying those carrots and potatoes that you lovingly took care of, roasting in the oven with a nice side of roast beef. Or a wonderful summer salad to go along with all that BBQ’ed meat! So make sure you remember to enjoy yourself once all the hard work is done with!

 

Edited by Laboro Marketing Solutions http://www.laboromarketingsolutions.com

 

Update on the Berwick allotment

With the height of allotment season just around the corner I thought I would let you know where the Berwick plot is in its preparation stages! 

As you can see from the picture, our plot is finally dug over! It may have taken us a little longer than intended but lazy Sunday mornings got in the way! Plus there was no real rush for this. We added manure to two thirds of the plot to add that extra bit of nutrient to the soils, but keep in mind not all vegetables enjoy the manure.

 

Storage area

Our compost/storage area is near completion. We have levelled the area out as much as possible and added a layer of geotextile and wood chippings to ease long term maintenance of weeding, and this stops it from becoming a mud pile!

We have assembled a compost bin, and left room for another one next year and bought in our pea sticks and canes ready for use on the plot.

The only thing left to do is to make a storage box for all our tools as we are not allowed a shed on site, and to also find a couple of chairs so I can sit there with a beer on a hot summers evening!

 

Potatoes

Last weekend we got round to chitting our potatoes. This was done late but it’s fine as potatoes do not have to be planted straight away and they do not technically have to be chitted, it just gets the process started quicker then it would underground.

They are currently sitting in various points around our house where they get some natural light but stay warm.

 

 

Seed

 

As we don’t have a greenhouse and much room inside we have done the next best thing and bought some pop up greenhouses. For the price you pay you get a lot for your money. We have been able to get crops started as early as possible thanks to these contraptions, and it will certainly help us down on the allotment.

So far we have sown everything that we can plant in March, the one thing we did forget was to stagger the sowing of crops to stop them being ready all at once, but we can tackle that hurdle when it comes to it!

 

 

Propagator

Another little handy tool is the propagator. Because we do not have access to constant warmth inside the house we have hold of a couple of small propagators, not the electric ones just the basic. In these we have planted the more exotic crops such as peppers, chillies and aubergines. They need a little extra push to get started as they are not used to our climate and the propagators really help with this, as we can leave them inside in a sunny spot and they will gain that much extra heat.

 

That is it for us for now. Come the end of the month we will have our plot fully ready and begin the first batch of planting. Once the current seedlings are moved to the allotment the next round of later crops will be sown. I hope that everyone else is on track with their plot and do let us know what you are up to.

Edited by Laboro Marketing Solutions  http://www.laboromarketingsolutions.com

Make your own compost bin

To save money we are trying to make as much as possible ourselves. This coming weekend I will be making a storage box for our tools (We aren’t allowed a shed on our plot), but last weekend I constructed my compost bin. With a bit of muscle and squashed toes we did it!

There are a few different ways you can tackle a compost bin, but the best results have been the ones built using wooden pallets. These are good because they are normally hardwood so will last longer, and are well constructed as they have to take a lot of weight.

Ideally if you can get hold of a pallet with sides it makes it a lot easier, but you can use flat pallets too. Your best bet to find pallets are to pop down to a local builders merchant or nursery. They tend to have an abundance of pallets lying around as they can’t use them all, so you will normally be able to take them for free.

This guide is based on pallets with sides.

 

Step 1

Source your pallets. You will need two for this. Don’t worry if it comes with bits of plastic or other material on it, it doesn’t need to be spotless! You want to get two pallets of the same style so they will sit on top of one another comfortably.

Image 1

 

Step 2

Find bits of wood to place in the bottom of the pallet. It doesn’t have to be a perfect fit, and can overlap. It gives the compost a base, so when you come to putting waste in or turning it over there are no holes for it to fall through.

Image 2

 

Step 3

With the second pallet remove its base. Use any tools you feel will do the job. We used a saw, claw hammer and crowbar. Most pallets will take a bit of elbow grease to remove the bottom, but they should come off as one lump. Try and leave it so there are a couple of strands of wood overhanging. This will help connect the two pallets when you put this one on top of the other. Also check for any nails left, as you don’t want any potential for catching yourself on them.

Once you’ve removed the bottom then depending on the final height of your compost bin cut away a bit of a door. We did this for ours as the bin would have been too tall to make it accessible.

Image 3

 

Step 4

Place the pallets on top of one another. It’s up to you whether you secure them to one another with screws or not. We haven’t done this at the moment as it means we can lift the top pallet off when we want to gain access and while the compost is low the top pallet isn’t needed.

Image 4

A compost bin can be a very easy and cheap thing to make for your allotment. Be inventive and use any materials you find. If you’ve made compost bins using other methods let me know and I can share it with other people.

Edited by Laboro Marketing Solutions. http://www.laboromarketingsolutions.com

 

 

 

Tools for setting up your Allotment

There is a plan in your hand and you a raring to dive into your plot and get digging, but what tools do you need to get you digging?

There is of course a big list out there of different tools that help you dig, weed, sow, prune etc but you won’t need them all at the same time. This is good to know as tools can bring a big cost.

If you are starting off at the same time as boot sales, then head down to them and pick yourself up some bargains. We plan to do this when the time comes to get the extra tools we need. The local tips can also be useful. Generally old tools turn up, some might have a broken handle which can be easily fixed. Or put some tools on your birthday list!

Now the tools I am listing here are just the tools that we have used so far. You might need to use something else on top of these depending on your plot, or maybe only half of the tools listed.

 

GLOVES

gloves

Always handy to have when you are playing around with soil and manure, or moving objects such as bricks. Don’t risk damaging your tea holding hand! You won’t need heavy-duty gloves for this, just ones that give enough protection.

 

 

 

WHEELBARROW

wheelbarrowVital at all stages of your allotment. The wheelbarrow makes transporting your materials that much easier. Probably the more expensive tool to get, and they don’t show up at boot sales as much. But you can get a half decent new one for £30-£40.

 

 

 

HOE

005071623A famous tool in the allotment world. It’s worth getting rid of any weeds before you start digging over, no matter how few. The more weeds you get rid of now, that much less you have to deal with later. They come in all different shapes, but they all do the same so don’t fret about which one to get. You will always find these second-hand, so don’t worry too much about buying new.

 

 

GEOTEXTILE MEMBRANE

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA material not a tool I know, but this stuff comes in handy to control those weeds! We’ve put it under our brick paths and compost area, as it gives them a bit of stability, but will also control weeds in those areas so we can concentrate more on the vegetables we are growing, rather than picking weeds out of the gaps between our bricks. You will find this at any nursery or places that sell plants. They are normally sold as big rolls which you cut off, so make sure you have a general idea of how much you need.

 

STANLEY KNIFE

040210765Comes in handy more often than not. Makes light work of the geoxtextile (when sharp) and anything else you need to cut to a general shape. Can be picked up for a few pounds from the likes of Homebase.

 

 

 

FORKS

bulldog-premier-garden-fork-p175-226_zoomAnother well known tool in the allotment world. At this stage a fork is used to help turn the soil over. There are different sizes and weights, so pick the right one. You will always find these second-hand, so don’t worry too much about buying a new one.

 

 

 

SHOVEL

31391-square-mouth-builders-shovel-with-hardwood-shaft-001You can of course use a shovel to turn soil over, but you won’t get it breaking up as much as if you used a fork. We’ve used the shovel so far to scoop up the manure. We got very well rotted manure to use on our plot so a shovel was perfect for it. The shovel can also come in handy at this stage to edge up. We had grass encroaching on our edges, so used the shovel to cut it off.

 

 

POLYTHENE SHEET

31L4lTc0xYLIf you are using manure on your allotment, we have been recommended to cover it with plastic afterwards. This keeps the area warmer, helping the manure to rot down quickly and keep in its nutrients. You don’t necessarily have to do this, especially if time is short. Any plastic will do, but the more heavy-duty you get, the more heat retained. You can get black polythene sheet from any nursery or building merchants. Cheaper to buy off the roll.

 

SAW, SCREWDRIVER, SCREWS

0000004074014_001c_v001_zpDepending on your plans for storage of tools and compost these can come in very handy. We’ve decided to make our own. We’ve got hold of pallets with sides that we are using for compost bins, and some damaged plywood to make a storage box for our tools. A handy tip for getting cheap wood is to go down to a builders merchant and ask for any damaged sheets. They can’t sell them full price, so you get a good discount.

 

 

5035048206669_001c_v001_zpIf you are planning to build any cages for certain vegetables, then these will come in very handy. When buying a saw, make sure you get one made for wood to ease cutting. Saws can be bought relatively cheaply. Screwdrivers or drills can become very expensive. You can use hand screwdrivers, but I’m not keen on spending all day doing that. Look on places like eBay for a good bargain, or keep an eye out at places like screwfix where they have some very good deals pop up occasionally. Or better yet, borrow one from someone else.

 

In summary don’t buy everything at once, and don’t necessarily buy it all new. There will be more tools you will need on your allotment, but I will discuss them when it comes to the time that you will be needing them. After this your plot should be more or less ready to go, with just a few more things to finish up which I will explain in another post.

Sorting out a rotation plan for your plot

In my last post I brushed on the topic of a rotation plan for you plot. I wanted to go into a bit more detail about this as it’s also new to me, and I think it is a very important base to a successful crop.

A rotation plan is essentially a system which moves the vegetable and fruit groups around your plot each year. You can get anything from a 3 year to 5 year rotation system, which basically means it would be 5 years until the same vegetable group would be in the location where it started in year 1.

This is done for 2 main reasons. Firstly it stops your soil being exhausted by the same crop taking the same nutrients each year. It also reduces the risk of disease establishing and becoming difficult to get rid of. So you can see why this is so important to the success of your plot.

Below are the vegetable groups you will be using in your plot, and what vegetables are included in each group.

Vegetable families

You can be flexible with how you design your rotation. If you have a decent size then try to go for the 5 year rotation plan. Our plot is twenty by 5 metres, which is plenty big enough to fit that in. If perhaps you are doing this in your back garden or a smaller space, then don’t feel like you have to squeeze it all in. Go for a 3 year rotation plan, or just ensure that you do not plant the same crop in the same place each year. And of course if you really detest the vegetables in the Brassica group then don’t plant them! Below is an example of a 3 year rotation plan.

Rotation plan

Amongst this you will also be able to sneak in certain crops. Not all crops need to be rotated, and if you find a bit of space then slot them in there. These crops include courgettes and squashes, along with leaves such as lettuce and spinach. These can essentially be fitted into your overall rotation plan, which if you look at my plan below shows how I have achieved this.

Sketch plan of our plot

Lastly, if you have the space then set aside a bed for more permanent crops. There are a variety of crops out there that are perennial , which means they take 2 years to produce anything. These include crops such as asparagus and artichoke.

To summarise; create a rotation plan that suits your plot and your needs. Once decided, separate your plot either by raised beds or paths. Make sure you have a plan drawn up so you know what the next stage is the following year. After all this the next stage is prepping your plot. In my next post I will be looking at what tools are helpful to achieve this.