Inherited an allotment? Chances are you’ve got a spot of clearing to do before it’s serviceable for your needs. It doesn’t take long for nature to reclaim back what was once its own – in less than a few weeks, a once-loved allotment can turn from show garden to shambles. Councils will often clear the plot before your tenancy starts, but don’t take this as given. When we took on our own abandoned plot, it hadn’t seen sight of a shiny spade nor shears for a good few years – broken cold frames, rotten carpets, all kinds of detritus littered the area. Be prepared for multiple trips to your local municipal recycling facility, but recycle what you can on site – old tyres make great planters for pumpkins whilst discarded wire baskets will protect young plants from pigeon attacks.
Hack it back
Having cleared the heavy debris, you’ll need to hack back vegetation. If you are feeling physically pumped and can get your hands on one, a good old-fashioned scythe is a great tool for such a task. Working from side-to side, moving forwards as you go, swathes of ground can be efficiently cleared. Scything is arduous work, so if you’ve got dense scrub and thick brambles to contend with, it’s probably worth pulling out the big guns and deploying a petrol brushcutter. It goes without saying, but make sure your clothes are fit for purpose – steel toe capped boots are essential, protective trousers, gloves, ear defenders (if needed) and eye/face protection are a must. The same goes if you choose to use a scythe or a similar, lo-tech bladed option – don’t go full on Poldark: leave your shirt on and make sure you wear appropriate PPE. It’s also worth conducting a cursory sweep of the area before commencing. Have a poke around in the undergrowth and check for hidden obstacles that could damage your tools or skulking animals that could meet their maker at the sharp end of a swishing blade.
Easy does it
Only clear what you feel is manageable in your first year of allotmenteering. Fight the temptation to raze the entire allotment – you’ll just have the stress of beds to fill, and most of your time will be spent trying to keep the weeds from marching all over their old stomping grounds. If you’ve taken on a big plot, it might be worth cutting back half the first season, then half the next. Check your allotment tenancy agreement (or have a look on your local council’s website). Most will state that 75% of the land rented needs to be cultivated, but a politely worded explanation letter to your allotment association should buy you a bit of time. Allotments need regular attention – around 4-5 hours a week for a large plot– so don’t bite off more than you can chew!
Your vigorous vegetation clearing endeavors will inevitably create piles of organic matter. Try and compost as much as you can on site. Set aside an area on your patch for composting, and start building your compost collection. A shredder can come in handy for the thicker, woodier matter, and you can use the clippings for weed-suppressing mulch when you’ve finally got your plot up and running. You can always light a bonfire to get rid of any larger pieces of wood, broken frames etc. but to ensure that you don’t incur the wrath of your fellow plot holders. Try to light bonfires in evening and make sure you extinguish the embers before you leave. Keep the ash though – it’s a great source of potash, and alkaline soil loving plants such as asparagus, okra and gooseberries will love it spread around their roots.
Next time: Preparing the soil and plan for planting.