Allotment holders are living the good life

Top tips from a 'grow your own' advocate

Eating produce from your own back garden or allotment can be the best bit of growing your own food, according to Diane Appleyard. But you have to think about variety or you will end up with gluts rather than meals. Her trick is to grow “a lot of things but not in vast quantities”. Any excess goes into chutneys, jams and cordials.

Diane inherited the growing bug from her Yorkshire grandad and now tendsto her own vegetables on her Bristol city allotment. She particularly remembers the parsley edging around his flower beds and mushrooms growing in dark boxes. Here are some other time-honoured tips to help get your plants to your plate.

To double-dig…

If, like Diane, you come from a line of gardeners, you will know all about double-digging. This back-breaking technique involves digging a trench the depth of a spade, setting the soil aside and then loosening the subsoil another spade’s depth. This is recommended for new beds and crops, such as carrots, that root deeply. Nowadays, there is also a school of thought that says double-digging is only good for chiropractors.

.…or not to dig at all

The theory behind this method of preparing your beds is that you don’t disturb the soil. You simply spread your beds with a layer of compost or mulch that smothers weeds and provides food for worms and other soil life that do your work for you. But don’t be in too much of a hurry to throw away your spade. You’ll need it for perennial weeds, such as nettles and docks, and for lifting deep-rooted vegetables.

Variety by the square foot

Use a raised bed to maintain a varied vegetable garden in a small space. Instead of planting in rows, you create a grid and sow each square foot with something different. Some plants, such as tomatoes and cauliflowers, require a square foot all to themselves, while others, such as radishes, peas and beetroot, can be planted more densely.

Go into compost production

Compost requires a mixture of nitrogen, carbon and moisture. Some gardeners speed up the chemical processes for a good rot by adding urine to the mix (one part urine to eight parts water, and stir well, the cognoscenti reckon).

You probably learnt about crop rotation at school and gardeners swear by it for ensuring healthy soil. TheNational Allotment Society recommends rotation on a three-year cycle of brassicas, followed by root vegetables, followed by other vegetables including legumes. So for example in bed A, plant broccoli in year one, carrots in year two and beans in year three.