New Members Checklist
If you are new to allotment growing, it will take a year to get to know the seasons your site and what works best where including patterns of sun, succession planning, etc. We recommend keeping a annual diary of the work you do, what seeds your planting dates etc.
As a plot holder, you are responsible for the cultivation of your plot and the paths adjacent to your plot – so you must cut the path grass and keep it safe for walking.
There are many experienced growers on the allotment who are more than happy to offer what has worked for them in the past. Our international community often plants produce that is unique to their home land. The plot gives you the opportunity to experiment with varieties that are more tasty and not found in your local shop.
You should learn how best to store your produce so to keep your harvest extend through the year. In the UK, you are able to grow brassicas throughout the year and can continue to grow more delicate produce such as salad, spinach under cover in a polytunnel or cold frame. Learn about other storage techniques such as bottling (canning), fermenting, dehydrating or freezing so to extend your summer harvest throughout the year.
YouTube has a wealth of educational knowledge to offer new growers – a few links are offered on Gardening Links.
Frost Dates for Oxford:
- Our FIRST AUTUMN FROST is generally mid October (15 Oct)
- Our LAST SPRING FROST is generally early May (1 May)
Preparing the ground
Most plots require some cultivation of the ground (removing weeds, etc.) prior to planting.
- You may wish to till or no-till (no-dig) the plot to ready it for planting
- Depending on the season (winter or spring) you may wish to use a non-chemical weed suppression to kill off grass and weeds
- For non-chemical weed suppression, remove large weeds and roots(compost them). Strim/cut weeds grass near to ground. Cover with cardboard (remove tape, minimize heavy printed card). Cover with 50-70mm compost. Generally can plant with 6 months. Alternately consider black woven fabric (is sold in wide enough to cover plot width). Should be fully removed prior to planting.
- Generally ground needs rejuvenation once a year with top off of compost (20 mm) or compost/manure mix. Be careful NOT to use hot manure as this may burn your plant starts. Generally this means to let the manure sit 3-6 months prior to adding it to your plot. Speak to other plot holders for advice.
It is very economical to buy your own seeds rather than ‘plant starts’ you find at gardening centers or shops. Seeds will last over multiple years and you can ‘Save your seed’ from your harvest to use the following year. Real Seeds has some great free advice on how to save seeds.
- You will need to start the seeds 6 weeks to 3 months or more ahead of planting the seedling in your plot.
- The timing of when you start your seed starts is tied to when frost is and soil temperature when you plan to plant-out.
- Most plants should be sowed and grown as seedling to a size (generally 75-100mm) that is appropriate to ‘plant out’. We sow them inside with warmer conditions to get a jump start on germination and growth. This helps speed up fruiting and also the larger plants going into the ground will protect it (somewhat) against predators such as slugs and birds. Carrots, radishes, beets (for example) and can be direct sown meaning seeds go right on bed.
- Most seedlings sowed in December – March are started in containers or trays at home using south windows or perhaps with grow lamps. You may need to ‘pot-on’ the seedling to a larger size pot(stimulates healthy roots) but start with very small trays, that will help you save money on potting soil and space for early germination.
- Some seeds are very slow to germinate and need to grow to the correct size to plant out such as peppers while other such as cucumbers or squash germinate quickly so timing and the calendar it critical.
- Charles Dowding(no-dig gardener) has a great wall calendar that identifies when to sow seeds, when to plant out, but there are many free sources on the internet including Garden Action which gives a monthly growing guide for Oxford. to
- If you plan to sow perennial flowers, these seeds should be started as early as October-December for plant out in spring. Annuals such as Marigolds can start much later as they germinate and grow much faster.
- Onion(sets) and garlic generally is planted October 1 (depending on variety) as many they need to go through a frost as part of their growing cycle. Onions and leeks can also be grown as grown as seeds and planted out. (save money)
- Seed potatoes are sold in the shop
Wooden Beds or no-beds?
Throughout the allotment, you will see a diverse way of creating your planting bed. We have many gardeners that swear by wood-sided beds and others who direct plant into the ground. It’s personal preference.
If you prefer beds, consider recycled material or used pallet sleeves that you can find on the internet.
For paths, many just use the ground directly and others wood chips. Be careful using as mulch on your planting unless you are aware of the source which is free from chemical treatment.
Bed width or plant spacing consideration
No matter if you choose to have wooden beds or not, consider bed width and plant Module spacing for your plot.
Some plants may need to have mesh covering at different times of the season to protect harvest against white fly (carrots, leeks, brassica) or birds (strawberries) Other early crops may need fleece to reduce chance of frost damage. So how you support the mesh or fleece is one consideration. Many plot holders will use blue water pipe and set bed withs to approximately 1 meter.
Plant spacing should be considered for the bed width. Most seed packs advise of plant spacing as a function of how big the plant will grow. Most times the spacing is much greater than you need(clue: when you have two spacings on the seed pack).
If you have a 5-pole plot and wish to grow a great variety of produce/plants, have a look at Square Foot Gardening ideas, with or without beds.
Watering and rainwater collection
Throughout the allotment we have trough but encourage all growers to install or use the rainwater collection system on their plot. Rain water is softer and better for all plant material. Our trough system is chlorinated city water and can be damaging to plants.
Yes. Like all allotments, we have slugs.
- Best protection, keep your plot clean of material – slugs love to live under wooden bits.
- Prevention of slugs is through good daily inspection and when you find slugs physically remove them. Eventually you will control them.
- Many gardeners have poured beer in sunken yogurt cups(slugs drown). Also consider Nematodes every 2 weeks during growing season.
- Slug pellets are dangerous to everything in nature and ARE band in the UK.
Crop rotation and blight
Harvesting, Composting and Bonfires
You will have seasons of goodness, perhaps more than your family can handle, Share your surplus produce to others. We have a list and details of local groups which will help distribution any food donations
Plant waste grass and weeds should be composted for your use. Many plots may have black composting bins (up to 330 liters or 5 bags of compost) or self made bins often made of recycled pallets. Home made compost should comprise generally of 50% green waste (plants) and 50% brown waste (dried leaves, brown paper), but there is no exact formula. Depending on your compost set up(heat), it takes up to 12 months for the material to turn to black goodness. But will save you money in the end.
Compost is sold in the shop.
Wood cuttings and pruning such as bramble takes too long to break down and should be taking to the bonfire pile at Plot 156, which we do a controlled burn once or twice a year. You may bring other wood waste from your plot to this pile but please wood only (no painted wood, metal or plastic). Waste material from your site should be removed by you to your home or the Redhill Recycling Centre.
If you do not have composting bins, there are shared large bins across the allotment.
Your first tools
To start you will need a few hand tools: a pick, hoe, spade and hand tools. A wheel barrow is also good to have. Often you inherit tools with the plot, but have a look at FB Marketplace or Nextdoor for freebies.
Like all allotments in Oxford, there we have had break-ins. Most often just trouble-makers that break into sheds looking form power tools or sharp tools such as knives. Most often if a shed gets broken into the hand tools are just thrown around.
Storing any tool at the site is at your own risk Petrol power tools and fuel are not allowed to be stored at the site.