It’s really exciting when you’re offered an allotment. However, it can be quite daunting if the plot has been without a tenant for a while. Clearing a plot that has become overgrown can be hard work but incredibly satisfying. The way to tackle it will depend on what you have to work with. Some plots have good basic structures such as raised beds, a green house or shed and perhaps some perennial plants. Others will be full of junk, broken glass and perennial weeds. It will also depend on the time of year that you get your plot. We acquired ours at the end of September and towards the end of the “growing season”. As there wasn’t a huge amount that we could put in the ground at that time, we decided to concentrate on clearing and planning the plot.
I did quite a lot of research on how to go about clearing it. Some older resources suggested using glyphosate on the whole plot to kill weeds. Even our allotment secretary suggested this; it didn’t sit well with me. I had a chat with my husband and we both quickly came to the conclusion that we didn’t like the idea of using chemicals on the plot for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we didn’t want them near our children. Secondly, we also felt a responsibility to try to protect the environment of our plot. I’m not particularly bothered about the research regarding the “safety” of glyphosate. Lots of chemicals have previously been thought of as safe and later discredited. However, that is not to say that I haven’t used chemicals either. Since we acquired our plot I have made some small applications on hogweed.
Another suggestion was to cut the weeds down and go “no dig”. This has been made popular by Charles Dowding in recent years. The number of weeds are reduced as compost is piled onto the growing area and you literally plant into the compost. This is simplifying the process of no dig which has huge benefits for soil health. I liked the idea of this but in practical terms we couldn’t financially afford to bring in well rotted manure and compost to cover all of the growing areas that we needed. But watch this space, we haven’t ruled out no dig in the future.
We finally decided to clear the weeds and cover the ground until we were ready to dig the following Spring. It can be really easy to become overwhelmed by the weeds. Its important to not get too disheartened and try to balance expectations about them. I think its more about living with and managing them. Invest in a Dutch hoe, and make weeding a regular part of the allotment routine. I wonder if one of the reasons that people give up their plots is because they underestimate the weeds.
Have a look at what weeds you have. Many annual weeds can be easily pulled and if they haven’t gone to seed, you can put them on the compost heap. We used a weed whacker to clear the perennial weeds such as brambles and dock then covered the whole space with heavy duty plastic sheeting to block out the light and smother anything that was remaining. Some “weeds” are very beneficial to attracting and supporting insects and you may want to dedicate some space for them.
My main tip would be, don’t uncover the ground again until you are ready to use it. 2 1/2 years since we started work on the allotment, we have only just removed the last of the black plastic cover. When an area is not being used, we then cover again. It stops and controls weeds and saves us unnecessary work. Once the plastic was down, we could sit back get out the seed catalogues and plan the plot.
If you’re about to clear your plot, good luck. Take is steady and remember that it will all be worth it in the end.
All the best T x