With National Allotment Week (12th-18th August) upon us, it seems like the ideal time to turn the spotlight on to the many benefits of growing our own, ranging from getting to go outdoors and enjoy some fresh air, to getting to cook your own produce.
To help you make the most of your space, Dobbies Garden Centres ambassador, Huw Richards, fills us in on his top 15 tips for helping you to make the most of your space...
1. Keep on top of your grass, and if you can, encourage neighbouring plots to follow suit. Having long grass provides slugs with ideal breeding and hiding places, so do your bit to help lower slug damage.
2. Carrots are a firm favourite - however, due to their popularity, most plots grow them, and subsequently, carrot footfly becomes a concern. The good news is there are three easy ways around this. Firstly, grow resistant varieties, like resistafly. Secondly, grow them under a permanent 17g fleece; and thirdly, grow it in a container that's about 2ft high as carrot footfly doesn't fly above the height.
3. If the allotment doesn't run its own seed swap, establish one in early March with other members - it's a great way to exchange excess seeds for vegetables you're not currently growing. As a gardener, it’s pretty much impossible to have too many seed packets, so it's a great way to make the most of that hoard. Aim to start plant swapping by late-April.
4. Succession planting is a great way of increasing your harvest, yet it's still an underutilised method. Succession planting winter vegetables after the spring and summer harvests lets you have fresh food all year round.
5. Water early in the morning instead of at dusk. If you hydrate them in the evenings, you're likely to encourage slugs to venture towards your seedlings to feast on them overnight.
6. If you are plagued by slugs, raise as many salads and brassicas in modules onto a windowsill in your home. Allow them to grow as big as possible before transplanting them - larger plants are less appealing to slugs and subsequently stand a better chance of survival.
7. If you're pushed for space or have a shady corner, put your leafy greens, including kale and lettuce, there, so your sun-loving crops get the brighter areas. Lettuce grown in the shade helps to reduce the chance of early bolting, and means you get to enjoy longer harvests too.
8. Having a dedicated runner bean and squash patch in your garden can be grown in year after year. As they don't need rotating, it saves preparation time in the long run and means a bit less planning.
9. If you're particularly pushed for time, focus on 4 to 5 crops. For instance, potatoes, squash, runner beans, beetroot and leeks are all easy to grow and can result in significant amounts of produce. It's worth picking your favourite 5 veg and focusing on them.
10. Have a notepad on you at all times so you can jot down anything that occurs to you - for instance, the raised beds may be that bit too long, or the compost could unnecessarily be in a sunny spot where something else could grow. Then, when winter comes about and there's less to do, get to work on everything you noted down.
11. It's worth trying some new varieties of vegetable each year. If you're not happy with one, simply note down the name so you know not to try them in the future, while if one does particularly well, add them to your yearly regulars. Try adding some more unusual vegetables that you have previously never been grown too.
12. Have you ever tried no-dig gardening? It's a great way of helping you to cut down on the amount of compost you use and has the additional benefit of cutting down on the number of weeds too - what's not to love?
13. Whether you have a small patio, garden or balcony, try to grow salads and herbs there in containers - that way, you don't need to go to the allotment for every harvest. Cut and come again lettuce is especially great for this, as it lets you enjoy them in as fresh a way as possible, and also gives you extra space for longer term crops.
14. How about growing some flowers around your allotment's boundary? Marigolds and nasturtiums are companion plants, attracting beneficial insects to your plot to ensure you get to pollinate your plants, while also helping pests. A case in point; cabbage white butterflies are attracted to nasturtium plants, which reduce damage to brassicas if they're not netted.
15. Lastly, look at your success, not your failures. Not everything you grow will work out, but with gardening, there's always next year. Don't let yourself get caught up in what's gone well and what hasn't; instead look at what happened and make the most of what works well.
Images courtesy of Dobbies Garden Centres