Getting Started On Your Plot
MAKING A PLAN
1.1 How to start and drawing up a plan for your allotment
It’s a good idea to draw up a plan of what you want to put where and what you think you might want to grow before you start work on your plot. This will change and develop with time but a little time spent planning before starting work can save a lot of heartache later!
Some things to think about when drawing up your plan include:
- the situation of your plot, which parts get a lot of sun and which may be in shade
- access for maintenance and watering
- soil condition and making space to compost on site
- the space needed for the plants you want to grow
- permanent planting areas (for fruit trees/bushes and long lived vegetables)
- where you want to put any sheds, greenhouses or poly tunnels (there are rules about these – see Section 8.1)
Planning ahead will help you organise your plot to get the best out of the space you have available. There’s a lot of information online and in books about how to start and plan an allotment:
- The National Allotment Society has a list of resources
- The RHS has guidance on how to plan your plot
Useful books include The Essential Allotment Guide: How to get the best out of your plot by John Harrison and The Allotment Handbook: The Beginners’ Guide to Growing Crops in a Small Place by Simon Ackeroyd
1.2 Allowable uses
Your tenancy agreement has some rules about allowable use:
- at least 50% of your plot must be under cultivation
- fruit trees must be on dwarf rootstock (M27, M26 and M9) and planted so as not to cause shade to your neighbours’ plots
- if you want to plant any trees other than fruit trees you must obtain permission from the committee
- hard landscaping and buildings must not take up more than 20% of your plot
- greenhouses and poly tunnels count as space used for cultivation as long as they are in use
- you cannot use your plot to grow vegetables fruit or flowers for commercial purposes
- you cannot keep livestock or bees without first asking the committee for approval
1.3 Paths boundaries and access
For most plots there should be a path on all four sides. The paths surrounding your plot should be at least 75cm wide (wide enough for a wheelbarrow). If you have incorporated paths into your plot you will be asked to restore them to the proper width.
Under your tenancy agreement you are responsible for the condition of the paths around your plot. This includes cutting the grass, keeping them weed free and free from trip hazards. Do not put carpet down on paths – this can become very slippery in wet weather and very dangerous.
We do strim some of the main access paths on our site between March and October.
1.4 Planting areas and raised beds
Planting areas and beds can be of any size – but when you are planning your planting areas think about access and being able to reach into the bed to weed, water and cultivate.
Recommended width for beds is 3-4 feet which means that you should be able to reach into the middle of the bed from the path on either side. Some people like marking out beds with planks or wood and others prefer gardening using raised beds.
1.5 Crop rotation
Crop rotation involves dividing your crops into a variety of groups based on their preferred growing conditions. Each year groups are planted in separate beds and then moved to a different bed the following year. In this way no crops should be grown on the same ground for 3-5 years (depending on how many groups you have in your rotation). Rotating your crops is a good way to avoid the build up of pests and diseases and keep your soil in good condition.
The Royal Horticultural Society has detailed advice about how to set up 3 and 4 year crop rotations on their site.
1.6 No Dig
The no dig system usually involves growing crops in beds that can be reached from narrow paths each side. The principle is that by avoiding digging you will not be disrupting the soil life. This is the important micro-organisms, fungi and worms, that help feed plant roots.
You will need a large quantity of organic matter to start a no-dig system. You can use home-made compost, leafmould, well-rotted manure, green waste compost or even bagged peat-free compost.
Two well known practitioners of No Dig in the UK are Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty. You can find out more on their websites and You Tube channels and both have published several books explaining No Dig.
- Charles Dowding’s website and you tube channel
- Stephanie Hafferty’s website and you tube channel
- TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
2.1 Tools and equipment
You don’t need a lot of tools to start gardening. Essentials include a spade, fork, hoe, rake and hand tools and gloves. A wheelbarrow can be a good investment and so can buying a good pair of secateurs.
2.2 Power tools and power tools safety
We do not have a supply of electricity on the site. Only use power tools if you are confident in their use. Please do not store power tools or fuel on your plot. If you are using power tools please always wear appropriate protective clothing and safety goggles. Always have a mobile phone nearby in case of an emergency.
2.3. Storing your equipment
Please store all your tools safely and do not leave them visible on your plot.. Keep tools clean, sharp and well maintained. Always wear gloves and appropriate protective clothing when using tools. Security mark your tools to make them easier to identify.
- ACCESS TO WATER AND WATERING EFFECTIVELY
3.1 Access to water
Most plots are within easy reach of either a tap or a drip tank. Hosepipes can be connected to taps for a short time to enable you to water your plot. We expect you to have consideration for your neighbours and not to leave your hosepipe connected to the tap for more than 15 minutes. Hosepipes must never be left unattended and must be held in your hand at all times when watering your plot. Sprinklers and irrigation systems are not allowed and if you are seen using them your tenancy will be terminated.
3.2 Mains water supply, taps and drip tanks
Our water supply is turned off in November and on in Spring (usually around the middle to end of March). All our taps and drip tanks across the site are numbered. If one is leaking or not working please email us to let us know so that we can repair it quickly.
3.3 Efficient water use
There are some simple principles for using water efficiently on your plot.
- Use a watering can and not a hosepipe so you can direct water to where it is needed – on the soil and not on the plants
- Water your plot in the early morning or later evening to avoid the risk of evaporation or scorching your plants.
- Remember it is more efficient to give plants a thorough soaking every few days rather than water the surface of the soil every day.
- Dig in organic matter to improve soil texture
- Mulch your plants to help retain water in the soil.
Advice on how to water efficiently
- Garden Organic on how to water well
- The National Allotment Society has a lot of information on how to water well and conserve water and a lot of downloadable leaflets about water conservation and collection on allotment sites
3.4 Hoses and sprinklers
If you use a hose pipe limit your connection to a tap to 15 minutes so your neighbours can also water their plots. Hosepipes must be held in your hand when in use and not left lying on the ground. The use of sprinklers is strictly forbidden and those found using them will have their tenancy terminated.
4.1 What can you grow
Your tenancy agreement requires that you keep your plot in a good state of cultivation. This means that you must use your plot to grow mostly vegetables and fruit.
Check the websites of The National Allotment Society, Garden Organic and the Royal Horticultural Society – all have advice on helping you decide what to grow.
Most gardeners suggest you think about the vegetables and fruits you like to eat – after all there’s no point in growing something if you’re not going to enjoy eating it!
4.2 Where to begin
If you’ve not grown fruit and vegetables before you’ll learn as you go along!
There are a lot of resources online from organisations like Garden Organic, The National Allotment Society, and The Royal Horticultural Society. Magazines like Kitchen Garden and Grow Your Own have their own websites filled with resources, videos and podcasts. Check out your local library or book shop for vast range of books about how to grow fruit and vegetables.
But also speak to your neighbours on site – there’s a wealth of experience which is easily accessible just by talking to your neighbours.
4.3 Fruit trees on your allotment
All new fruit trees and bushes must be grown on dwarf rootstock (M27 M26 and M9) and planted so as not to cause shade to your neighbours plot. Rules for new fruit trees and bushes (planted after August 2021) are:
- you must not plant any new trees (other than fruit trees or bushes) without the consent of the Committee
- trees should be planted at least 45cm/18 inches within the boundary of your plot
- trees may be grown as espaliers or cordons as long as they do not cast shade on neighbouring plots
- fruit trees and bushes must be maintained in a good condition and regularly pruned and not allowed to overhang neighbouring plots or cause obstructions to the pathways
- new trees and bushes should not be allowed to grow to a height greater then 2m
We encourage you to grow trees and bushes in containers which will allow you to take them with you if you end your tenancy or move to a different plot.
If you have existing trees on your plots we encourage you to manage them within the spirit of the rules set out above.
4.4 Weeds weed removal, weed killers, disposing of weeds
Try and keep your plot free from weeds and do not let weeds set seed! When taking on a new plot it may be hard work to clear existing weeds but careful weed removal at this stage will reap benefits later on.
Please do not use carpets or fake grass to supress weeds. You can buy weed matting or use sheets of cardboard – though please do make sure these are weighted down to stop them blowing onto your neighbours’ plots.
Once you have cultivated your plot using a mulch can help suppress weeds. A mulch is usually made of compost or leaf mould and needs to be applied in a 50-75mm (2-3 ins) layer to suppress weeds.
We encourage you to use cultivation methods to clear weeds rather than using herbicides which can have a long lasting effect on the soil.
Garden Organic have a comprehensive guidance about weeding.
4.5 Inspection and cultivation standards
We inspect plots at least twice a year. You must make sure that we can see into your p lot or allow us access to inspect it when asked. Some plots are overgrown when a new tenant starts and we know that it may take time to bring them back into a good state.
If at inspection we have concerns about your plot we will write to you asking you to make improvements. If we do not see these improvements by the next inspection you may receive a non-cultivation notice.
Notice of non-cultivation
This is a notice which Is issued if you have failed to make improvements after out first letter following inspection. If we issue you with a formal non-cultivation notice we will expect to see improvement in cultivation within 1 month. If you fail to make these improvments we may ask you to give up your tenancy.
Asking for support
We are keen to support people who are suffering temporary issues which prevent them from cultivating. If this is the case please contact us. Our Garden Membership Scheme is designed to help you cultivate by letting you bring a friend or family member to help out on your plot over a short time period.
5.1 Why compost
Compost is a natural, nutrient rich medium of decayed organic matter. It is a product of the breakdown of dead plants and other organic material such as fruit and vegetable peelings. As this organic matter decomposes with the help of earthworms and micro-organisms it produces valuable compost which can improve your soil and feed your plants.
5.2 Making compost
There are many different ways to make compost including rotating barrels, darlek bins, hot bins, storing material in builder’s sacks or building a bin from timber and posts. Compost as much green waste (old stems and leaves and stalks and prunings) on your plot as you can – putting this material into a green waste bay is depriving your plot of much needed nutrients.
Read more here:
- The National Allotment Society guide to home composting
- Garden Organic’s guide to home composting
- The RHS guide to composting
- Search YouTube for videos to show you different methods of composting on your plot
- ORGANIC AND NON-ORGANIC
6.1 Growing organically
Many people are moving toward a more organic approach to gardening.
As part of our agreement with Sustainable Merton the Rose Avenue part of the site is committed to growing organically and pesticides, herbicides and non-organic products are not to be used on Rose Avenue plots.
We also encourage growers on the Farm and Horseshoe to adopt organic growing methods to benefit the environment and wildlife. See also:
- Garden Organic’s Principles of Organic Gardening and How to Start Growing Organically
- The RHS Guide to Organic Gardening
- Bob Flowerdew’s website has a “Best of Bob” section with a wealth of resources about gardening organically, composting, mulching, growing a huge variety of fruit and veg growing under glass and how to preserve your produce.
6.2 Pesticides, herbicides and non-organic fertilisers
Pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers can be hazardous and have serious environmental implications. We recommend minimising their use.
If you do use them remember:
- always to keep products in their original containers
- follow the instructions for use carefully
- measure any amounts used accurately do not guess
- wear appropriate protective clothing
- do not contaminate neighbouring plots
- think about the harm to beneficial wildlife and insects
- check you are not using old products which have been banned
- do not throw containers away onsite – take them home and dispose of them safely in line with guidance from your local waste management and recycling centre
- BUILDINGS ON YOUR PLOT, STORING MATERIALS AND WASTE DISPOSAL
7.1 Sheds, greenhouses and poly tunnels
Depending on the size of your plot you might want to think about including a shed, greenhouse or poly tunnel.
Because Rose Avenue plots are smaller than the rest of the site we ask people to keep any buildings to a maximum of 6ft x 4ft (1.8mx1.2m). Sheds on the Horseshoe and Farm can be larger but again any new shed must not be bigger than 7ft x 5ft (2.1m x 1.5m). If building a new shed you must take care that it does not cause excessive overshadowing on neighbouring plots. If your new shed is bigger than the dimensions set about above we will ask you to reduce it in size. Sheds must be well maintained and structurally sound.
Small temporary greenhouses are allowed on Rose Avenue as long as they do not overshadow neighbouring plots. On the Horseshoe and Farm sites greenhouses must not exceed 8ftx10ft (2.4m x 3m) and poly tunnels must not exceed 10ftx15ft (3m x 4.5m).
7.2 Excessive amounts of material
Please do not use your allotment for storing a lot of materials – having a lot of material on site reduces the area available for cultivation and can pose a hazard to you and others. Only bring materials onto the site if you intend to use them immediately and if you have to store them make sure they are stored tidily and are secure. We will write to you if we think you are storing excessive amount of materials and ask you to remove them.
7.3 Waste disposal
When you take on a plot you may find rubbish and other material left by the previous tenant. We ask you to remove this from site and dispose of it carefully at a suitable recycling centre. Wood or bricks can be reused on your plot to make paths or beds.
Currently we provide a skip twice a year to help plot holders remove material which cannot be composted. We will publicise the dates when a skip will be on site and the skip hire company provides a list of what materials can be put into the skip. We will always monitor what materials are brought to the skip and how much individual plot holders bring. Misuse of the skip will result in this facility being withdrawn.
Bonfires are currently only permitted at limited times. Anyone found having a bonfire outside these limits is breaking the rules of their tenancy and this can result in us terminating your tenancy. Bonfires can cause major problems for the neighbours in the houses around our site and for people using the playground and recreational facilities. If bonfires cause complaints we reserve the right to ban them.
Bonfires are not permitted between 1 April and 30 September.
From 1 October to 31 March bonfires are only permitted between 18:00 and 19:00 on weekdays and 15:00 to 19:00 at weekends.
If you do need to have a bonfire you must following the guidance below:
- keep any fire small and under control at all times
- never leave a fire unattended
- never use an accelerant
- never burn anything that could cause noxious fumes
- do not burn damp or green materials
- think about wind direction and never light a fire if smoke may be directed towards houses playground or nursery around our site
- SAFETY ON SITE
8.1 Assessing risk
Health and safety on allotments is everyone’s responsibility. As a tenant you need to make sure your plot is as safe as possible for everyone. Tenants have a duty of care for anyone on their plots regardless of whether they have permission to be there.
To identify risk you need to think about hazards on your plot which have the potential to cause harm. This can include: buildings, fire, hazardous materials, sharp tools, trees, vegetation, ponds, water and fences. There are many other hazards – these are just some examples.
8.2 Reducing risk
Once you know what hazards exist you can think about how to reduce risk. Risk is the likelihood that a hazard may cause harm for example a sharp tool in overgrown grass is more likely to be a risk than one stored safely in a shed. Risks are identified as high, medium or low. High risks must be removed or dealt with immediately. Medium and low risks can be dealt with by taking suitable actions for example, store tools safely in a shed, keep hazard materials out of the reach of children etc.
8.3 Personal Health
Tetanus is an illness caused by bacteria in soil or manure which can enter the body through tiny scratches or puncture wounds. Your GP may be able to offer a vaccination.
First Aid – it’s sensible to keep some first aid supplies on your plot. There is also a First Aid box in the Communal Shed on the Horseshoe site and in the Wooden Shed on Rose Avenue.
Wash your hands and use gloves – there is a risk of illness from bacteria in animal manure and home made compost. Please wear appropriate gloves and wash your hand regularly (but please don’t get soap into the drip tanks on the site)!
Sun protection – please be aware of risks of dehydration in sunny spells and make sure you have adequate sun protection when working on your plot.
Please be aware that allotments can pose many hazards and risks for children. If you are a parent and bring your child/children down to the site please make sure that they stay with you on your plot and do not cause a nuisance to other plot holders.
Dogs are allowed on site but they must always be leashed, kept on their owners’ plot and not allowed to trespass onto neighbouring plots.