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The information below  (How to start an organic allotment) has been "borrowed" from our friends at:


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the national charity
for organic growing

http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/

A Quick "Start-up" Guide to Allotment Growing

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The Golden Rule is - don't take on more than you can cope with. Allotment gardening is hard work and requires dedication - it's not as easy as gardening programmes make it look! But on the positive side, it's probably even more enjoyable than it looks on telly!

 

A whole allotment plot is traditionally 10 Rods square (a Rod is also called a Perch or Pole) which is equivalent to 5.5 yards. So a plot would be exactly 302.5 square yards or 279 square metres - that's about a sixteenth of an acre. It's usually rounded to 300 sq yds or 250 sq m - for ease of use - when calculating the number of plots for a given area. Having "rounded" sizes also helps when it comes to pegging out a site For an idea of how much area we're talking about here - think of something roughly about the same size as a tennis court.

 

For all - but those with the time, the stamina and self-sufficient ambitions, this may be on the large size for some beginners. A three-quarter or half-plot may be sufficient for your particular household needs. Furthermore, with huge waiting lists nationwide, splitting a whole plot, and then sharing it with the next person on the list makes good sense.

 

 

Right! Down To Work

First job? Knobble the perennial weeds (docks, nettles, couch grass etc.) before you start, particularly if you plan on growing long-term perennial crops, such as asparagus and soft fruit etc.

Fork out all their roots - not just the top bit -  but the WHOLE root. You can then smother the area with black plastic or old carpets to kill off any other less aggressive weeds and grass. You can't use glyphosate or ANY other similar poison on our Aeron Vale Allotment Society site because we are committed to organic gardening methods.
If you belong to an allotment group that doesn't mind using harmful plant poisons, and your allotment association or society does not stipulate that you mustn't use chemical weed-killing agents, then use glysophate (usually found under the trade name "Round Up") or a similar preparation - be careful - you don't allow it to drift on to your neighbours' plots, where it may damage their crops or cause animosity, especially if they are sensitive to your inorganic methods. You can use a combination of everything. In extreme cases, think about covering and forgetting about two-thirds of the ground for that first season, and just grow potatoes on the remaining third. Their cultivation can help break up the soil and cleanse it of some weeds. Who said it was going to be easy?!

 

Remember that some weed seeds can remain active in soil for many years. Never let weeds grow large and go to seed - hoe them out as tiddlers on dry days. Don't put the roots of perennial weeds in your compost bin. Boundary paths are weed hotbeds too, so mow and edge them regularly. No one wants foreign-looking allotments - all concrete paths, chain-link fencing and stifling rules - but good and tidy housekeeping benefits EVERYONE.

 

 

Raised Beds

Don't be surprised if the current love affair with raised beds causes raised eyebrows among some of the old guard, who regard them as a waste of space and prefer regimented rows. Each to his/her own, but defined beds enable you to improve soil selectively, crop intensively - and with paths of (slug/snail unfriendly) bark, mown grass or even Mypex between beds, life is easier, particularly on winter-heavy soil. Don't make beds you can't reach across or you will have to tread on them; 4ft wide and about 12ft - 16ft long is regarded as a good size, while others favour smaller square beds.

 

 

Soil Improvement

This usually takes the form of an annual autumn or spring muck-spreading frenzy - it is an essential task. If your allotment association or gardening society can't organise communal muck supplies, get together with one or two plotters and share a delivery.

 

Although some enjoy the "catalogue" neatness of pristine expensive infrastructure, not spending money is actually a traditional culture of allotment growers. Most allotmenteers recycle wherever possible, often in very ingenious ways. Compost bins can be made from wooden pallets, old scaffolding boards and split tree trunks make good edges for raised beds. Ingenuity is honoured and respected amongst allotmenteers.

 

Crop Rotation and Protection is Key

As sure as God made those little green apples that give you belly ache, growing the same family of crops in the same location will inevitably lead to big problems. Certain pests only attack certain plant families. If you grow the same crops in the same soil the pests associated with that plant family will become an epidemic in that area. You may then find it very hard to eradicate them. Also, by growing the same plants in the same soil every year the nutrients that crop requires will eventually become depleted, resulting in poorer crops. There is more information on crop rotation in the "Basics" section of this web-site.

 

Pests, (particularly flying and crawling ones) can quickly get the upper hand. Hoops of hazel, cut from hedges (failing that, polythene piping from plumbing suppliers and cut to size), make good supports for protective meshes and netting. And which netting? Drapey "pond netting'' is easier to handle than that annoyingly springy nylon stuff that is hard to peg down and control!

 

 

Storage

If you live some distance away, a shed (with a water butt) is a boon, with hooks to keep tools (and that essential old fleece) off the floor. It also serves as a good cool and dark place to store crops - such as potatoes or carrots. And, (it should be added), an old chair is an essential!

 

Growing Don'ts

Don't grow too much of any one thing, get the hang of sowing seeds a little at a time every few weeks (a tough one, that - even though it's quite easy with a bit of acquired self discipline) and even if you don't practise classic crop rotation, at least don't grow the same crop in the same place twice for more than two seasons.

 

Obviously only grow what you like to eat, but there are definitely 'easy' and 'difficult' crops. Potatoes and leeks as well as onions (from sets) all belong in the easy camp. Peas and beans, too. Strawberries (netted) and autumn raspberries (no need to net) are a popular and easy must for some. Unless you live on the doorstop, grow cut-and-come-again salads at home since they need almost daily snipping. Parsnips are tricky to germinate; carrots need fine sandy soil (adding as much sand as compost before sowing helps). Without efficient mesh and netting protection ( to protect against pigeons and butterflies), don't grow any form of the space-greedy winter cabbage family. Chard and perpetual spinach, however, are long-life, relatively low-maintenance crops worth learning to love, if you don't already.

 

Free, or even cheap, food is sometimes a myth, certainly at first. Needless to say, allotment growing is more cost-effective if you buy (and share) seed, rather than plug plants. Once you are established, producing compost and saving seed from your crops, you go into a different economic league. Allotment growing is not ALL about economics anyway, it's mostly bout producing fresh, tasty, healthy and wholesome food for you and your family.

 

 

Finally, something slightly controversial:

Don't listen to the kill-joys. It is perfectly OK to grow flowers for picking on your allotment and it encourages pollinating insects. If your allotment group allows it - keeping bees is an excellent idea as they are the No1 pollinators on every allotment site in existence.


How to start an organic allotment
   
One of the best ways of getting a good supply of fresh chemical-free produce is to take on an allotment and grow your own. A plot of land ten by thirty yards which can be rented for as little as 10 per year (equivalent to 20p a week) can produce a large amount - and give you many hours of enjoyment too. However, sometimes taking on an allotment can be a daunting prospect: it may be neglected and covered with weeds; or it may be completely barren, with a soil that is overworked and lifeless. But don't despair - there are organic techniques for dealing with most problems.

The fundamental principles of organic growing are to build up the soil fertility, and to create an environment in which plants stay healthy without the use of chemical sprays. None of this can happen overnight, but it should nevertheless form a basis for your plans right from the start. The first step is to find out all you can about your plot: about the soil, the weeds, the surrounding environment; and what your neighbours can and can't grow. Only then can you really tell what needs to be done. This leaflet indicates what questions you should ask and what action you might take. Although it is primarily written with allotments in mind, many of the same principles apply to starting a vegetable or fruit plot in any garden.

The Soil

What type is it?
Rub some moist top soil between your fingers. A soil that is predominantly sand feels gritty; silt feels smooth - almost like talcum powder; clay feels sticky. Now try moulding it: roll some into a ball, then into a thin cylinder; see if this will bend into a ring. The more pliable it is, the greater the clay content: a very sandy soil will not even form a ball, whereas a clay soil is easily formed into a ring; silt forms a weak ring.

The different soil types have different physical characteristics which affect how they should be managed (see page 3). A clay soil is heavy and sticky when wet, and sets hard when it is dry. It is slow to warm up in spring. A silt tends to pack down excluding air and the surface easily becomes compacted. A sandy soil is easy to work and warms up quickly, but also dries out quickly in times of drought.

How good is its structure?
When it is moist, a well- structured soil should crumble easily in your hands -not turn to dust, stay in lumps or set like concrete. It provides the best conditions for soil life and for root growth. Dig a hole about two feet deep and look at the soil profile. Good signs are: a deep layer of dark topsoil; plenty of air pores and earthworm burrows; and long branching roots on any weeds or plants that you can see.

Soil structure can only be improved by the constant addition of organic matter - manure, compost, leafmould or any other suitable material that you can get. It is important to keep the soil surface covered, either with a crop or green manure (see page 11) or with a mulch of organic material. Only dig or rotovate the soil when it is really necessary, and avoid walking on it whenever possible, particularly when it is wet.

How well does it drain?
Water sitting on the soil surface after a rainstorm is an obvious sign of poor drainage, but you need to find the cause. It could be because of: The soil type: Clays and silts will tend to drain badly. Improving the structure will improve this. It can also help to use the bed system, that is to divide the plot into narrow beds which are worked only from the paths; organic matter is concentrated on these beds, which are never compacted and become raised above the original soil level.

A hard 'pan': Look again at the soil profile. If there are hard, compacted layers preventing the water from escaping, these need to be broken up. Such 'pans' can be caused by rotovating regularly to the same depth.

Bad site drainage: If the hole you have dug collects water and this takes several days to seep away, it means that the overall drainage of the site is poor. The only really effective way of dealing with this is to put in drains.

How acid or alkaline is it?
The acidity of the soil (its pH) is important as it effects its overall fertility. Measure the pH with a testing kit which you can buy in shops and garden centres, or send a sample away to be tested. It is important to take a number of samples from different areas of the allotment, since these could have been treated very differently in the past.

Over-acidity can be corrected using ground limestone, dolomite (magnesium limestone) or calcified seaweed. Correcting soils which are too alkaline is more difficult, but the constant addition of organic matter helps. A plot should never be limed without doing at least an initial pH test, because routine liming in the past may have made it very alkaline. On the other hand, use of artificial fertilisers tends to make the soil acid.

Soil management on a new plot
 

  • Dig only when the soil is just moist - not too wet and not too dry.

  • Avoid walking on the soil whenever possible, especially if it is wet.

  • The soil should be inherently fertile - but plenty of organic matter will be needed to improve the structure.

  • Add fine compost or leafmould to the surface of seedbeds or use it to cover seed drills: this will help prevent the soil from 'capping' - setting hard over emerging seedlings.

  • Use cloches to warm the soil, or raise early crops in the greenhouse or on a windowsill for transplanting later.

  • Grow suitable crops - see Vegetables and annual flowers section
     

Sandy soils

  • Add plenty of organic matter to improve the structure and help water retention. o Dig only when absolutely necessary - digging will cause the soil to dry out and also cause organic matter to break down more quickly.

  • Mulch to stop water from evaporating.

  • The soil is most likely to lack plant nutrients - use compost, manure and, when necessary, organic fertilisers.

  • Grow suitable crops - see Vegetables and annual flowers section

 

Is it short of plant foods?

Look how well any plants on the plot are growing. A vigorous crop of weeds at least means that the soil is not short of nutrients, even if it does mean more work to start with. In contrast, sickly stunted growth indicates that something is wrong. On a clear plot, sowing a quick growing green manure can similarly give you an indication of fertility.

Poor growth could be simply caused by the problems with drainage, soil structure or acidity already described. However, it could also indicate a shortfall in some element needed for plant growth. Excess nutrients, caused by over-use of fertilisers in the past, can be equally damaging.

In these cases it is helpful to send a sample of soil away for analysis - either to your local Ministry of Agriculture office or to one of the firms that advertise this service in gardening magazines. Sometimes your local College of Agriculture will also help. The analyses will usually tell you the soil pH and levels of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and sometimes magnesium (Mg) and other elements.

For the organic grower, one difficulty in interpreting the results of a soil test is that they only indicate the nutrients directly available to the plants. In fact, much more can be made available in an organically managed soil through the extra activity of the microorganisms. Clay soils, for example, contain large reserves of most plant foods even though this may not show up in an analysis: the answer here is not to add nutrients to the soil, but to release those that are already there: for example, by adding organic matter and growing green manure crops. Soil analyses will also usually recommend chemical fertilisers, whereas organic gardeners will want to use those of natural origin - based mainly on ground rocks, animal products and seaweed. However, Elm Farm Research Station do an analysis specifically for organic growers.

Whatever type of analysis you have, you can compare the figures for your soil with the recommended levels or indices that it gives. If they are only slightly low, you can probably correct them with regular supplies of manure and compost. If they show up major deficiencies, then it may be worth applying ground rock fertilisers - particularly on light sandy soils which have few natural reserves (see table). These fertilisers are released very slowly over a number of years. In the interim, as well as compost and manure, you may need to use other quicker acting organic fertilisers such as bonemeal, hoof and horn, and seaweed meal.

Ground rock fertilisers



Does it contain persistent pests or diseases?

Unfortunately, allotment sites can be infected with diseases which last in the soil for many years - such as clubroot (on brassicas), and whiterot (on onions, garlic and leeks). The microscopic pest, potato cyst eelworm (which is one of the most damaging pests of potatoes) could also be present. Ask neighbouring allotment holders if they have any such problems, and look at their crops.

If you are taking over an allotment which has become heavily overgrown, wireworms and leatherjackets are possible problems. (See page 12 for books on pest and disease identification).

There are cultural techniques which will help cope with most of these pests and diseases, although in the case of severe clubroot or whiterot, the only course of action is to avoid growing susceptible crops completely. Also keep on the lookout for larger pests such as pigeons and rabbits - fencing and/or netting may be necessary. Whether problems are obvious or not, it is unwise to grow too much of any one crop in the first year on a new plot. Grow a whole range of crops and check them regularly for signs of trouble.

Weeds

What weeds are there on the site?
Only by identifying weeds can you decide how they are best dealt with - there are good reference books to help you (see page 12). As well as looking at the leaves and flowers, it can also help to dig some up and look at the roots.

A plot overgrown with weeds may not be as bad as you think - they could be shallow rooted annuals, such as fat hen or chickweed, that are easy to remove and provide good material for your first compost heap. Clean bare land, on the other hand, could hide deep roots of pernicious perennials such as creeping thistle.

There are no spray-on weedkillers that organic growers can use but there are many other ways of coping with weeds. These are summarised here; more details are given in Step by Step 'Weed Control without Chemicals' (see page 12).

Digging or forking
This traditional method of dealing with weeds can be very effective, if hard work, and has the advantage that the land is available immediately for sowing or planting. Forking and removing roots by hand is good for tap-rooted weeds such as dandelions, and also for shallow rooters such as creeping buttercup and couch, provided they have not formed a dense mat of roots. Don't burn the roots that you have taken out: put them in a covered heap and leave them to break down.

Digging and burying the weeds is another method that works well for annuals and shallow-rooted perennials. The deeper they are buried the better - but it is important not to dig down so far that the topsoil becomes mixed with the subsoil. These methods are best reserved for small areas that you want for immediate use.

Rotovating
This method can quickly clear annual weeds. However, if there are perennial weeds with persistent roots present, it may make things worse, because individual pieces of chopped root can regrow. To get rid of such weeds, you will need to rotovate several times at two to three week intervals when you see regrowth starting. And even this will only be really effective if the weather is dry. Rotovating can also destroy the soil structure.

Mulching
Weeds need light to grow, so if you cover the soil surface with a material which excludes the light, they will gradually die. Suitable materials include cardboard, black polythene and old carpet. How long it takes to clear the land depends on what weeds are present and the time of year. The mulch will be most effective in the main growing season when the weeds are trying to push through and the roots exhaust themselves most quickly. One growing season is sufficient to kill annuals and shallow-rooted perennials. Weeds with deeper roots such as bindweed will take longer to clear, and some with corms or bulbils such as celandines can be very persistent.

Mulching is a good way of letting one part of your allotment clear itself, whilst you concentrate on cultivating the rest. However, if you do not want to waste space, you can try planting through the mulch. If necessary, roughly fork or rotovate the ground and add organic material and/or fertilisers. For vegetables, put down the mulch (black plastic is the easiest material to work with), then make holes for your plants - choose robust ones such as broad beans, tomatoes and marrows. For fruit and shrubs, mulch round the bushes and trees after they have been planted. Cardboard held down with old hay or straw both keeps down the weeds and adds organic matter to the soil.

On a weedy plot you may find it best to avoid direct sown crops at first, particularly those with small seedlings such as carrots and onions. Transplants have a much better chance of competing with weeds and are easier to keep clean. Many crops that are normally direct sown can be transplanted if they are sown in modules (individual cells of compost - see Step by Step 'Growing from Seed').

The Environment

What is the climate like?
The situation of the allotment, as well as what part of the country it is in, will affect what you can and cannot grow. Is it on a warm south-facing slope or in a frost-prone valley?
How sheltered is it?
The effects of frost and wind can be very local even from one plot to another on the same allotment site.

The warmth of your site will determine your choice of tree and bush fruit and which vegetable crops you can grow - for example, in most years sweetcorn and outdoor tomatoes would not be worthwhile on a cold site from the Midlands northwards. It will also determine when you should sow and plant out (see Step by Step 'Growing from Seed'). You may want to make use of cloches or 'floating mulch' - polypropylene fleece which can be laid directly on top of a crop or seed bed.

Wind will reduce the yields of most vegetable and fruit crops considerably, and spoil the appearance of flowers - as well as simply blowing over tall plants. If the site is very windy, you could consider investing in some windbreak material. Most types consist of plastic mesh which you batten to wooden posts. They are expensive, but can be expected to last three to ten years, depending on the material. Alternatively, you could consider planting a hedge or shrubs (see below).

How diverse is the site?
Allotments tend to be thought of simply as places for production - whether it be of fruit, vegetables, or cut flowers. However, the more variety of plants and habitats for wildlife there are on the site the better. Organic growers rely on this variety to attract in lots of different creatures, from small mammals to microscopic bacteria and fungi. Each one has its natural enemies, so a natural balance is built up where pests are unlikely to get out of hand.

Some suggestions for creating such diversity are given here (for more details, particularly of plant varieties, see Step by Step 'Wildlife Gardening'). As well as encouraging wildlife, they can also help to make the allotment a more pleasant place to be and work. However, what you can do will sometimes depend on the rules of your individual Allotment Association, so always check these first.

Hedges: A hedge not only acts as a windbreak, but can provide valuable food and shelter for all sorts of creatures. You may be lucky enough to have one on at least one side of your plot - but if not, you might have room to plant one. A mixture of native species - such as hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, buckthorn, field maple and holly - is ideal. You would need to allow about 2m of the plot for such a hedge if it were not to compete with adjacent crops. Another idea for an open allotment site might be to suggest that the whole site is hedged. Grants may be available for such a project.

A small tree: There are many small trees or large shrubs that could be planted in an odd corner without causing too much competition to your crops. Birds will appreciate the higher canopy of leaves and any berries there are to feed on.

A pond: This can bring in a whole lot of new beneficial creatures, including frogs and toads who will help control the slugs on your plot. The pond doesn't have to be large, even one, two or three feet across will do. However, it should have at least some shallow edges, and if possible a depth of at least 60 cm (2ft). A flexible liner of polythene or butyl is probably the best way of making it waterproof. Site the pond in a fairly open spot, but have some low growing plants around it to give the wildlife some cover.

Piles of logs or stones: The nooks and crannies between logs or stones provide ideal homes for insects and small animals, so don't be too tidy. Alternatively, you could use such materials to make a seat or wall.

Perennial plants: Chosen carefully, herbaceous plants and small shrubs can provide pollen and nectar for bees and other beneficial insects and/or seeds and berries for birds. Ground cover plants and evergreen shrubs also give good shelter.

Annual flowers: These are easy to fit into the vegetable plot, and can be chosen to be of use to you as well as beneficial insects. For example, some of the best flowers grown for drying, such as statice and love-in-a-mist, are good attractant plants.

Planning the Plot

You should now know enough to make a plan. It helps to draw an outline of the plot and mark on any existing features which affect it: for example, there may be a large tree nearby which shades one end. Make a list of things you want to include. You could need space for:

Fertility building
This means room for compost heaps to recycle material from your own plot and possibly from outside (see Step by Step 'Composting'). If you can also get strawy manure delivered from a local farm or stable, you will need space to stack it. In addition, you could grow your own compost activator and liquid feed by planting up a patch with comfrey or nettles. Although they are taking cropping space, none of these things are wasting space.

Built-in features
These might include a shed for storing tools and a water barrel, as well as features such as the pond and walling or log seat mentioned earlier.

A seed bed
Raising your own bare-rooted plants - of cabbages, leeks and wallflowers, for example - is better than buying them in, first because you can look after them well right from the start and second because you do not risk introducing diseases. These are both important factors in organic growing. Having a special bed for raising transplants makes it easier, because then there is no danger of neighbouring crops swamping them. In addition, the surface of the bed can be improved by adding fine compost or leafmould to help seedlings emergence.

Fruit

At one time, having fruit trees on an allotment would have left little space for anything else. Now, however, there are dwarfing rootstocks not only for apples and pears but for plums and cherries. Trees on such rootstocks also crop much earlier - perhaps after the second year, rather than after five to eight years for the traditional standard apple tree. Fruit trees could also be fitted in by training them on posts and wires as cordons, espaliers or fans - perhaps alongside a path or to divide one part of the plot from another. If your Allotment Society rules state 'no fruit trees', it is worth challenging them now that dwarfing stocks are available.

As already mentioned, what fruit you can successfully grow depends on how sunny, warm and sheltered the site is. It also depends on the soil - good drainage and a deep soil are essential for nearly all types of fruit. Given the wrong conditions, they will never thrive and will be more susceptible to pest and disease attack. For example, pears and many varieties of dessert apple are much more fussy than cooking apples.

Varieties that show resistance to diseases are also good choices for organic growers. This applies to both tree and bush fruit, and it is well worth looking up in books and catalogues before making your choice. Above all, however, buy good quality plants from a reputable nursery which you can be sure are free from disease. It is just not worth accepting gifts of plants, runners or cuttings from neighbouring allotment holders. They could bring in more trouble than they are worth. Similarly, old fruit on your site could be infected with disease. If so, remove these plants before you put in new ones.

Other permanent plants

As mentioned earlier, you may want to improve the environment of the plot by planting shrubs or herbaceous plants. They can be chosen to make use of spots where fruit and vegetables would never do well; in a shady or boggy corner, for example. You could also set aside an area for perennial herbs: they are useful for cooking and many attract beneficial insects. Thyme and chives are good bee plants, for example, and the flowers of fennel and angelica are popular with hoverflies. If you are growing any perennial vegetables such as globe artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb, you also need to keep them separate from the annual crops.

Vegetables and annual flowers

Rotation: Crops in the same botanical family should be grown together and moved round the vegetable plot so they do not occupy the same ground year after year. This rotation of crops has two main benefits: it helps to prevent pests and diseases from building up in the soil, and it makes better use of the plant foods, since different crops use up different nutrients. It also makes soil treatments easier. For example, all brassicas (cabbage family) need a rich soil so give the plot where they are to be grown priority when applying compost or manure.

You should aim for a four (or more) year rotation; it then makes planning easier if you divide the area you have set aside for vegetables into four equal plots. The diagram gives a suggestion for rotating the main groups of vegetables. Vegetables not in these groups together with annual flowers and herbs can be used to fill in the gaps. However, how much of each crop you have is obviously a personal choice, depending on what you like to eat, whether you have a freezer, when you go on holiday, and many other factors. Some may do better than others on different soils (see box), particularly in the first few years on a new plot before you have had chance to improve the soil structure.

Disease resistant varieties: As with fruit, there are vegetable varieties which have resistance to certain pests and diseases. More are being introduced all the time, so keep a lookout for them in the latest seed catalogues. It may be one way to avoid a problem.

Covering the soil: Try to arrange crops so that ones that are harvested at the same time are close together, since this makes soil preparation for the following crop easier. On an organic allotment, the soil should nearly always be covered - either with growing plants or a mulch of a long-lasting organic material such as hay, straw or leafmould. All too often you see plots neatly dug in autumn - this may be satisfying to look at, but it is not good for the soil. Its structure can be destroyed by heavy rain, and plant nutrients washed out, especially if you have just dug in manure or compost.

If there is a long gap between harvesting one crop and putting in the next, try sowing a 'green manure' - a crop grown specifically to be incorporated into the soil. Which green manure you choose will depend on the time of year and how long it has to grow. For example, mustard and phacelia are quick growing crops which will put on useful growth in 4-10 weeks between April and September. One of the most useful overwintering green manures is grazing rye - it can be sown as late as October and dug in in spring, providing valuable nutrients and organic matter. There are also a number of long-term green manures you could grow on a patch that you were setting aside for a year or more - they would stop weeds invading and give you extra compost material. (More details are given in Step by Step 'Green Manures').

Vegetables for problem soils



Is an organic allotment possible?

Allotment sites and societies are not noted for their organic outlook - bonfires, 'Growmore' and weedkillers tend to be the norm. But it is possible to run an allotment organically and the number of people doing so is increasing - at a time when interest in 'conventional' allotmenting is not. If you want control over how your food is produced, growing your own is the simplest way.

The ideal would be to have 'all organic' allotment sites. We know of none at present though some councils, such as Oxford, are discussing the possibility. If you are looking for an allotment, it is at least worth asking around to see which sites already have organic plot holders. There might be the possibility of creating an organic section on the site, and it is always pleasant to have like-minded people around.

Your local HDRA/organic group could also be of help here. The Avon group, for example, has compiled a list of organic allotment holders in their area who can be contacted for advice.

Once you have a plot, it can be worthwhile - if you have the time and energy - to get involved with the site management committee. A few positive organic options put forward at the right time can be worth far more than hours of anti-chemical campaigning.

If you do take on a plot that is far from organic, remember that it can take time to convert it to an organic regime. At the start it is all too easy to blame all failures on organic methods - and cynical neighbouring plot holders may be only too keen to do this. But don't give up. Follow the guidelines in this leaflet and see how, over the years, your plot gradually comes back to life.

The following should be of help not just in setting up your allotment but in managing it organically.

Step by Step Organic Gardening leaflets
from HDRA (address below)

What is Organic Gardening?
Growing from Seed
Weed Control without Chemicals
Gardening with Green Manures
Gardening for Wildlife
Pest Control without Poisons
Composting
On the Slug Trail

Books and Booklets

Raised Bed Gardening HDRA
Feeding the Soil the Organic Way, HDRA
The Photographic Guide to identify garden and field weeds, Roger Phillips (Elm Tree Books)
Guide to the Pests, Diseases and Disorders of Garden Plants, Stefan Buczacki and Keith Harris (Collins)
How to Make a Wildlife Garden, Chris Baines (Elm Tree Books)
Wildlife Gardening, Fran Hill (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)
The Organic Garden, Sue Stickland (Hamlyns)
Successful Organic Gardening, Geoff Hamilton (Doring Kindersley)
Planning the Organic Vegetable Garden, Dick Kitto (Thorsons)
Planning the Organic Flower Garden, Sue Stickland (Thorsons)

Organisations

The Henry Doubleday Research Association (address below), Britain's largest organisation researching and promoting organic methods of growing. Publishes leaflets, booklets, a quarterly newsletter, and an Organic Gardening Catalogue which lists a wide range of gardening books, seeds and sundries.

The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, O'Dell House, Hunters Road, Corby NN17 1JE. Campaigns for the provision of allotments; provides advice and various services for members who may be allotment societies or individuals.

Elm Farm Research Centre, Hamstead Marshall, Newbury, Berks RG15 0RH provides a soil analysis service especially for organic growers.

HDRA, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry CV8 3LG. Telephone Coventry (02476) 7630 3517