Allotment planning is a very personal thing. At the end of the day you will want something that is unique to you yet fulfils all your needs. I know those that laugh and tease (in good spirit) those who have seating areas in their allotment, considering them a waste of time. I know others who consider a seating area as essential to their allotment experience. They like to sit and think about their plans, share wine with friends or have a BBQ. So, as I say this is a very personal thing. However, there are many things that everyone will want and to consider in their allotment design.
What to Use to Design Your Allotment
There are many different things that you can use for allotment design. Some of the following depend more on how you wish to work then any particular right or wrong way.
- Pencil and paper
- Pencil and graph paper
- A list
- Excel or other computer software
- Specialized allotment design software. Just pull a line of carrots and there they are all neatly spaced out for you.
Actually I found I used a combination of things. My journal combined with the Half hour allotment book to work out the plants and also the on-line software and grid paper.
Size of Allotment
The size of your allotment will naturally determine what you can and cannot plant and how much of each you can plant, or at least it will determine the bread of plant. For example, if you have a large allotment you may get away with a small apple tree or two, if you have a tiny plot you may have to decide if apples are worth it or if you want to invest in some cordons. The size of the allotment may also determine your planting style. There are several to choose from or you can use a combination of styles.
Planting Style, The Dilemma of Rows Beds and Squares
The traditional style is to plant in rows. Not all plants suit rows, like sweetcorn for instance that are better grouped for improved pollination. Also rows are harder to maintain and may result in compacted soil where you keep walking over it. Then there are beds raised or otherwise. Raised beds are great to control planting and weeks and if you struggle with bending down. These beds take up more room as you have more paths between them.
Finally there is square foot gardening which is just what it says. Small square foot areas of plants that are easy to get to to harvest or weed.
WHICH IS BEST?
I first joined the allotment people showed me around the whole 122 plots telling me all about them. Others showed me their own plots in detail. They explained what they were doing and why. I also looked at and found out about the failed plots to find out why they didn’t work. This resulted in a lot of information that was useful but also conflicting. Raised beds and square foot gardening was sworn by, by one person but frowned on as a waste of space by others. Which is right? In my view both are right. Square foot gardening does all it says but it does also take up a lot of space as does beds. Rows do take up less space but can result in compacted soil. (A way around this is to stand on boards).
My own view is if you want to do lots of beds for whatever reason make sure you have more space. If like me you only have a tiny 1/4 sized plot then either don’t go for beds or find a way to use them but not take up so much space. For instance have smaller paths rather than a whole 3 foot wide path only have a 2.5 or 2 foot one. 2 foot is probably the smallest I would go. I have smaller and they are just too small.
The Plots in My Allotment Site
Taking note of what other gardeners do is a great way to learn and may help you choose your own method and design you plot, however you do not have to follow them blindly. Cherry pick what is right for you, you can always adapt it later. They all do it differently and if they are all growing things successfully then their way works even if they disagree completely with each other. What I found was this.
A number of plots were owned but overgrown with very high weeds. These gardeners came in dug over for hours or even days then left it for days or weeks and when they came back they were back to square one – a plot full of high weeds. You only have to look at the early pictures of my site to see how quickly the weeds grew. Tim didn’t have any weeds, but a couple of weeks of neglect and well you can see already the weeds rule!
Some people had 2,3 or 4 plots. These are the super enthusiasts who love their plots and for the most part don’t have too many other hobbies. Though one couple did. These plots are the ones who had beds raised or otherwise. One couple who run the allotment club and are super enthusiastic are the ones who did the square foot gardening (though not all their plot were that small).
One lady was particularly impressive. She had started her plot this year and had a double plot that was well maintained and full of neatly lined crops. This lady is young, slim and fit.
Another four plot lady is retired and spends a lot of time on her plot, she is fully self sufficient and stores, freezes and pickles her produce. She also used beds with paths.
At the top of the site is a small plot that is easy to overlook, it was only by talking to one of the other gardeners that I made a special trip up to look at it. It is tiny, only half a plot or more accurately half of my plot size one rod or pole big. This lady has packed her small space full of plants. No seating, one path down the side, a couple of plastic covers. Mostly rows. Every part was stuffed full of plants. She didn’t use large rows of things she didn’t need.
Deciding on What to Plant
What you want to grow is an importance part of your design. This was a hard one for me who goes more for design than straight rows (still fighting with it now!). I know one person who grows nothing but specialist primroses, others who have everything. I took all the information about the allotment from all the other people there, what I could see thrived there, what people had done to cause them trouble and also what I wanted to grow let my brain play with it then came up with a design – several actually.
Do you need or want areas for:
- (Huts or greenhouses if allowed) we aren’t
- Paths, so you can get to your produce to weed and take a wheelbarrow along them.
- Compost and/or water butts (you may have water on site near you too)
- Somewhere to store your tools (you may have a central shed for this)
How you decide on and arrange this will be determined by your own personal preferences and needs. See my starting an allotment page for ideas.
A good rule of thumb is a permanent place for your fruit.
Veg usually takes up most of the space. You need at least enough beds to do a minimum of a three though preferably four year crop rotation so that you do not encourage disease and pests. So you will need equal size beds for this so your crops can be rotated.
Herbs are an important part of some peoples cooking so you may like to grow the ones you use.
Some people like cut flowers some use them to attract useful bees and insects to their other produce.
Seating is a matter of preference and plot size. Fro me seating is vital as I love to sit and think, I need a break and it helps me relax. Just a couple of chairs is enough.
If you have a small plot you may want to keep hut and green houses to a minimum as they take up a lot of space. We aren’t allowed them on our site and to be honest my plot is far too small for anything other than basic tool storage.
Paths are important as you have to be able to move about your plot. I inherited a central one so decided to keep it at least for a time. A good idea may be just to see how it goes or to experiment. Maybe just split your plot with seating, fruit, and veg.
Water may save you carting a heavy watering can to your plot from the water supply. A compost bin may be something you want to save you buying compost, though your site should have somewhere for weeds that cannot or should not be composted.
Site Location & Direction
Last but definitely not least is what plants you want to grow. You probably have a good idea already. You need to know what will grow easily, how much space it takes up and if you are trying to save money is it really worth the effort.
You will need a list of veg, fruit, herbs and flowers as well as knowing how long they are in the ground for.
I did fruit first as that is the biggest commitment.
Popular fruits include
- Currents, black, white and red