Your family has hankered after an allotment for a year or two. You've patiently waited as your name has crept to the top of the list. And you've dreamed about pulling up your own organic carrots as the children frolic nearby.
But what happens if you find your plot needs more time than you all realised? What to do if the children now groan when you mention what fun it would be to spend another sunny afternoon pulling weeds?
If you're lucky you will inherit an allotment that not only has been looked after but has a few things growing too. However, chances are it's unkempt and, quite frankly, your dream is turning into a nightmare.
Find out how to tend to your new plot without losing the plot.
- Plant nasturtiums between rows to suppress weeds. These plants are so easy to grow, look pretty, have edible flowers and (best of all) seem to thrive on neglect, which is handy if you do fall behind.
- To help keep weeds down you could also sow fast growing spinach, radishes or salads in between crops like broad beans, which take longer to mature. Sowing these is an ideal job for children who will delight to see the seedlings on their next visit.
- Butternut squash and pumpkins are also easy to grow, tasty and make a lovely alternative to courgettes, which are also great and prolific but sometimes a bit too prolific. They are ideal for children to start off in pots because they're easy to handle and are reliable. Plant out when the risk of frost has passed. They need a lot of space, so that's one bed taken care of.
- Paving slabs are wonderful laid onto bare earth between beds as they don't rot and do suppress weeds. I've tried all sorts of paths - bark chippings (messy and expensive) and carpet (great hidey holes for slugs, rots and doesn't work) and slabs have been the best. I recycled unwanted ones from our garden but if you had to buy I guess this would be the most expensive option.
- Raised beds are ideal for allotments, allowing you to work your plot in bite sized chunks, reduce digging, and easily improve the soil but (yes, there is a but) they also make superb homes for slugs and snails. The wood also eventually rots and then you have to start again which can make it a bit expensive if you have to buy the materials. I loved my beds but have removed the rotting wood and just kept the shape, edged with my paving paths. I think I have found my perfect solution.
- Consider taking on only half a plot. This, coupled with the raised beds, has worked for me. The only danger is that you will come to love it so much you will hanker after just a little more space. Of course, there won't be any because there are other poor souls who have been on the waiting list for a year. Or you could share with a friend. It'll be half the work for half the harvest but really, what else would you do with all those courgettes?
- If it does feel like too much work cover half the plot with weed suppressing material and concentrate your efforts on part of it. It won't look pretty but will be a lot prettier than weeds. Gradually you will utilise your whole patch.
- Visit armed with a plan so that everyone will have a job to do and no time is wasted wondering where you should start. Children love weeding but first ensure they understand which are weeds.
- Go to your allotment little and often. If the children fancy a visit just to "have a picnic" or play (as mine often do) you can do a surprising amount of weeding while keeping an eye on their antics.
- Make time also to visit without the children or alternatively with another adult who can keep an eye on them if your little helpers are particularly little. Unless you really do have eyes in the back of your head it is impossible to watch them and sow or plant at the same time.
- Try not to ever think of the allotment as another chore or work. To facilitate this make sure you have a chair near your plot so you can take time to literally smell the roses (or sweet peas) and a take a flask. Think of your allotment as a life-enhancing, spiritual, mental and physical tonic and you'll be itching to get there every spare minute you have.