An allotment is your own little piece of land to do as you will on – as long as it’s legal! But to get the best from your allotment it may be helpful if you are aware of some allotment/gardening conventions.
To take on an allotment is to become part of a community and, as in any community, it will work better if certain – possibly unspoken – rules are followed and etiquette is maintained.
Your Neighbours - Your allotment neighbours could become your best friends. They’re a source of advice, leftover seeds and even manual assistance if you’re trying to erect a shed with no help. A good allotment site will have an excellent community spirit: you’re all there for the same purpose and it’s to mutual advantage to work together.
So don’t: let your plot get overgrown and neglected so that weed spores are carried onto their carefully-tended plots; let your dog run – or do worse – on their plots; play heavy metal music very loudly on an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon. You might think your plants respond well to it but your neighbours might not; plant tall bushes or trees where they’re going to cast a shadow over your neighbour’s flower plot; light a bonfire on a windy afternoon; be over-enthusiastic with the chemical weed killers if you know your neighbours are trying to maintain a strictly organic plot. Be careful how you apply it so as to avoid it being blown or spreading onto their land.
Do: treat them as you would like your neighbours at home to treat you; ask their advice. They’ll be the local experts and will know all about the soil and conditions and what works well and what doesn’t. There’s no point trying to re-invent the wheel; offer to help them if you see if they have a particularly tricky job to do; share your surplus; be willing to learn from them.
Your Tenancy Agreement - When you took on the plot you and the site owner should have signed a tenancy agreement. This will give you certain rights but also some responsibilities. You are legally bound to maintain the plot in a reasonable condition and to keep your hedges, if you have them, trimmed. Each tenancy agreement will be different depending on the site. Some ban the erecting of sheds or greenhouses while others stipulate that permission must first be sought. Others may forbid bonfires. To avoid being given notice to quit just as your first crop of runner beans is appearing, check yours carefully to find out what you can and can’t do.
Don’t: - use chemical weed-killers or fertilisers if you want organic vegetables. When you start investigating you’ll find there are plenty of alternatives – even though some may mean much more hard work! Grow the same crops in the same place year after year. Crop rotation is one of the basic principles of food growing. Different vegetables will take different nutrients from the soil and if you continue to plant cabbage, for example, in the same bed repeatedly, the soil will become depleted and unable to support a healthy and flourishing crop. Expect to have a perfectly-maintained and productive plot in your first years. Allotment gardening takes a lot of work and commitment. A spell of bad weather or an attack of the killer caterpillar can cause havoc on your allotment but don’t let it deter you. Put it down to experience and carry on. Similarly if you break your leg or the children take it in turns to have chickenpox, and you’re all housebound for weeks, don’t panic: it’s all part of the fun of allotmenteering.
And finally, do: Think about the chemicals you’re using. Even if you’re not planning on going completely organic, one of the major benefits of growing your own is the ability to control what’s on your food.