10 Lessons Learnt

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As our first year on the allotment comes to an end, here at Rookie Towers we’ve been contemplating the lessons we’ve learnt during 2013, and what we might do differently (and better !) next year.  Here are our top 10 Do’s and Don’t for novice allotmenteers – if only we’d known this stuff 12 months ago !

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1) DON’T be too eager to sow / plant out – By early Spring last year we already had our new seed trays (filled with empty loo rolls) at the ready and expectantly awaiting seedlings.  Despite the unseasonal weather last Spring, we planted tray after tray of seeds and spent several months with them growing on window sills around the house, the weather being too cold to plant out.  When we did risk planting out, it was invariably too early and too cold, and we had to repeat sow many of our crops.  The advice is – ignore the seed packet instructions on when to sow and use common sense when it comes to planting those first seeds.  Yes, it’s exciting and you want to get started – but it becomes less exciting when the earth finally starts warming up and you are planting those seeds for a third time !

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2) DON’T plant Nasturtiums in small beds – It was with a large degree of naivety that we planted several Nasturtium seeds in each of our small beds, in our first attempt at companion planting.  Little did we realise they would grow so prolifically and take over the whole bed, and need to be dug up and moved elsewhere.  Nasturtiums are beautiful, and fantastic for an allotment as they attract plot friendly bugs, but only plant them in places you don’t mind if they grow huge and steal the show.

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3) DO plant more flowers – Despite our Rookie Nasturtium error, we were so pleased with the rest of our companion planting, and the decision to have a flower border on the plot.  We even got some comments from neighbouring allotmenteers – along the lines of ‘Wow, you’ve got flowers and everything !!’ which can’t be bad.  This year we plan to increase the amount of flowers we sow on the allotment and really go for a beautiful display.

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4) DON’T plant in tyres – Last year we merrily used old tractor tyres as raised beds, which is something that has traditionally been done for many years and seems to be a great way to upcycle.  This has recently become controversial however, due to the potential risk of toxic pollution into the soil when the tyres degrade.  In the coming months we’ll be moving our tractors tyres to a different spot in the allotment and plan to grow Dahlias in them !

5) DO use a horticultural fleece over Peas – It was so disappointing to pop open the first of our Peas last year only to find grubs had got there first. This year we’ll be using a fine horticultural fleece over our Peas when the flowers begin to show, to avoid the crop devastating Pea Moth.

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6) DO use protection – Last year we had inadequate protection against bugs and critters, particularly in our Big Bed of Brassicas.  Although we used netting over each line we planted, this just wasn’t sufficient, and for slugs, butterflies, caterpillars and mice breaking in was a walk in the park.  The mesh was simply not fine enough and tens of butterflies laid their eggs on our Cabbages on any given day.  It was also not secure enough around the edges – an inch gap for us is a wide open door with a Welcome sign for a slug or mouse.  Our Cabbages and Broccoli took the brunt of the decimation.  In the coming year we need to address the Bug War and secure our defense lines to prevent another easy victory.  Bugs – 1, Rookies 0.

7) DON’T use fresh manure on your crops – If you take a look at our blog post ‘Dung Dilemma’ you’ll see how last year we learnt more about horse poo than we ever wanted to.  In the coming months we’ll be avoiding the steaming pile of manure delivered to the allotments, no matter how inviting it looks !  Maybe when we’re over ‘manure-gate’ we can learn how to use manure to our advantage.

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8) DON’T use a chicken wire cage over Peas – As our Peas happily grew in their raised bed, we surrounded the bed with a chicken wire cage to protect them against small critters. On return from holiday, the Peas had put out hundreds of tendrils, latching onto every side of the wire cage in an attempt to climb higher.  My heart sank and I had to pull the cage off and snap every one of the tendrils.  Yes, they grew again – but it was so sad to have to rip off so much optimistic new growth !  Our subsequent Pea beds were covered with netting secured safely out of harms way.

9) DO collect as much rain water as possible – Last summer we were blessed with a long period of fantastic hot and sunny weather, for which we Rookies were totally unprepared.  Mr O had set up two lovely water butts next to our shed, with a system of guttering and pipes for rain water to run into – but after weeks of no rain, they soon ran dry.  As much as I am embarrassed to say it, our lack of preparation meant we had no choice but to fill vessels from home and transport them in wheelbarrows to water the thirsty crops. When you’re on a water meter this makes no absolutely no economical sense, and I also have a feeling it may be vaguely illegal.  Water is also surprisingly heavy on a hot summers evening.  The advice – for allotmenteers, big butts are no bad thing – the more the better.  This year we won’t get caught out !

And finally …

10) DO pick fast – During the months of allotment ‘glut’, some of our produce went to waste as we simply weren’t picking it fast enough.  This was particularly true of our Sweetcorn, which moved from delicious to inedible very quickly, as did our Peas, Runner Beans and Raspberries.  Some crops (such as Courgettes and Gherkins) simply grew faster than we could eat them.  Next year we’ll try and start picking crops when they are young and sweet, do (even more) preserving and pickling and donate more excess veggies to friends and family.

10 Lessons Learnt and many more yet to learn.  The challenges of 2014 await us …

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Flighty says:

    A good post. I agree with all you say, and it’s heartening that you’ve learnt from what you did or didn’t do last year. I especially like number 3 as I grow lots, perhaps even too many, flowers on the plot. xx

    1. Thanks Flighty – can’t imagine you grow too many, bet it looks beautiful ! 🙂

  2. We are just starting out so this advice is really helpful, thanks!

    1. Thanks, and wishing you lots of allotment luck (and good weather !) in 2014 🙂

  3. cwyl says:

    I love your post of top tips to yourselves and others. Such good advice!

    Some of those problems are things we had at the beginning, such as the nasturtiums going mad and taking over – they even seeded and it took nearly four years to completely evict them…

    Slugs cannot stand copper, so that might be a hint that helps this year. Copper tape should not pose crop poisoning worries like chemical dressings do, and means that any friendly thrushes or frogs can chomp away on the critters without getting ill or dying.

    If it is any consolation, we are heading into our ninth year, and some of these problems we have promised ourselves will not catch us out again; yet they do. Every year, the cabbages/broccoli seedlings are given a fantastic start (about 10cm tall and well onto second or third pairs of leaves) but when they are planted out, they somehow end up looking as if they have died. Whether the pigeons get them, or they simply suddenly need far more water, we have yet to fathom.

    We do get a few buggy problems with our peas, but it is hard to balance getting bees in to pollinate against keeping out the moths.

    And the glut is the worst problem – when you simply cannot face seeing much less eating another courgette it is hard to see that as an allotment triumph. Could you set up some sort of crop swap on the allotment to even things out?

    1. Thanks for reading and your comments. We have thought about copper tape before, but as we have lots of small raised beds I think it’d cost a fortune to copper tape them all ? But it’s definitely something to look into. And the ‘crop swap’ system is a good idea for the veggie glut – we did talk about setting up some sort of table in the summer months to that aim. Less talk more action this year I think ! 🙂

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