In the allotment first time….. some tips.

Selecting an Allotment plot?
Here are a few guidelines to help you out.

The aspect or direction of slope in a garden or allotment is important and will determine the number and variety of vegetables that can be grown. Aspect cannot be changed but it can be improved. A Northerly aspect is much colder than a Southerly one and the latter will warm up faster and will have a greater number of growing days than the former. Easterly and Westerly aspects are intermediate.

Shelter plays an important role in keeping off chill winds but can slow down the drying process in wet weather. Trees and hedging plays an important role in the provision of this shelter, speeding germination and assisting growth and development of plants. Artificial shelter can be provided by fencing of wood metal or plastic.

Too much shelter is often provided in small gardens at the cost of light. Usually there is no shortage of sunlight in mid-Summer even in the most shaded garden but it is the amount of direct sunshine that falls on the garden in April and May and again in Autumn that really matters.

Vegetables do not like to compete with the roots of trees or hedges and the roots usually extend further than the branches overhead. Roots compete for nutrients and moisture and are second only to weeds in competition.

Perennial weeds are those that are already established and come back into growth year after year. Scutch Grass or Couch is one of the worst and hard to eradicate. Bindweeds (a few types) are very difficult to eliminate and can re-grow from the smallest bit of their delicate (easily broken) roots left behind.

Bishop Weed or Gout weed is hard to eradicate. Thistles including the Creeping and Sow thistles are hard to trace all their roots but are usually indicators of good deep soil. Docks are good indicators of deep soil and a good sharp spade is needed to dig them out.

While Nettles are often so hated by most people because of their stings they are indicators of good deep rich soil. The roots of Nettles, unlike the Bindweeds which break so easily, are tough and can be easily pulled or dug out using a spade.

Soil basics.
The test for drainage of the soil is to dig a hole 30 cm X 30 cm X 30 cm deep and after a heavy spell of rain observe how high up the water comes. When the rain has stopped note how long the water takes to drain away. if all the water is gone within a day then you have no problem with drainage. If it takes 2-3 days to drain away then the soil needs to be drained using either pipes or a trench of stones going from highest point to the lowest point.

Vegetables like a medium loam soil mid way between sandy and clay or peat. The soil should have the ability to allow roots to penetrate easily and give a supply of nutrients as demanded. A soil that does not have sufficient available nutrients cannot give them to the plant. Humus or organic matter in the form of compost helps to bridge this gap and that is why composting is an integral part of good vegetable growing

More debate about this topic on our forum, click The Irish gardeners forum.

The author of this piece Michael Brenock grew up in Mitchelstown, County Cork, in a market gardening family. In his early career as a horticulturist, he worked on various local authority schemes designed to encourage home gardening and self-sufficiency, until the demise of such schemes in the 1970s. He also worked at Teagasc developing commercial vegetable growing. He has always kept his own garden and supplied his family with fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, which he still does.He combines the old ways with a scientific background and modern techniques.
He is the author of the Irish Gardener’s Handbook How to grow vegetables, herbs, fruit, published by O’Brien Press.

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