It can reduce last-minute shopping trips. It can save money. It can wow guests at dinner parties. It’s environmentally friendly. It’s very tasty.
It can even help with your health and well-being. The benefits of growing your own fruit and veg are almost endless.
Daybreak. The first hint of the rising sun provides just enough light to glint off the dewy grass. Boisterous birds preen in the trees, showing off their silky-sweet voices. Before you even reach your allotment, its fresh aromas drift towards you on a light breeze. You look ahead, proud of the perfect rows of canes and trellis. Branches of a fruit tree groan under the weight of an abundance of juicy treats. Your hand reaches out, caresses a glistening apple, twists it from its branch and you bite into its perfectly balanced sweet-tart flesh.
This is the dream for many would-be Monty Dons. The reality of owning and maintaining an allotment means quite a lot of hard work and cold mornings. But the rewards for many mean it is so worth any amount of frost and toil.
How often have you lovingly prepared dinner to find you don’t have the herbs to finish it off? And even if you have some dried – or even fresh ones sold in supermarket cellophane – they’re not a patch on ones you grow on your patio. Here, tubs of mint, chives and rosemary are easy to maintain. And easy to grab during your next dinner party!
The instructions on packets of herb seeds say which conditions suit them best. Think about where you are going to grow them (is it inside or out? shady or sunny?) and place your pots accordingly.
Your very own veg patch
Growing veg in raised beds or a patch of garden is the next step up from a few pots of herbs on your patio or kitchen windowsill.
First, think where to put it. An area that gets plenty of sun will help your plants grow. Shelter from the wind will also protect those that grow above ground. Wicker hurdles (or similar) will help prevent buffeting, but they will also throw shade onto anything planted too close to them.
Clear the ground of all weeds before you begin. If necessary, cover it with clear plastic sheeting until they die back. This also dries and warms the soil, which gets you off to a flying start. Remember, if you want to go fully organic, you need to clear your patch of all weeds and roots. A couple of inches of mulch will deter them from growing back.
Your dream allotment
If you want to take it to the next level, a large-scale allotment is ideal.
As with a veg patch, you need to start with a blank canvas by clearing your patch of all its brambles and weeds. Covering it in plastic sheeting is more important on a bigger site, as it means you can remove it in stages to make your allotment more manageable. Again, if you’re going organic, you should completely clear it and only use non-chemical weed control.
It’s a great idea to plan your plot. Do you want a shed (great for storing tools and sheltering from the cold and rain)? If the site doesn’t have one, you could also consider installing a compost toilet (check if permission is needed). Then, you can bring in compost bins and any other larger items needed to maintain your plot.
As you would with a garden veg patch, you also need to consider the amount of sun, shade and wind that comes across your plot.
What grows where?
Soft, woodland fruits like redcurrants, raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries can grow in shadier areas. As can beetroot, chard, kale and lettuce (it’s a good idea to start them off in brighter conditions and transplant them later).
Tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, meanwhile, are warm-weather plants, as are corn, melons and pumpkins.
Most staff at local garden centres are very helpful and will be happy to advise you on your allotment aspirations.
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