The following list was kindly submitted by a fellow plot-holder on the Alderley Farm site. If anybody else would like to submit their own list or ideas then please do!
1. Decide what you’re going to grow
In the first year, it’s good to grow a little of a broad range of crops to see what works best. Include those which are either expensive to buy, or taste much better picked fresh. Runner beans and salad leaves are a good choice. Or try French beans which are often less temperamental than runner beans. Potatoes are a good crop on soil which hasn’t been cultivated recently. They help to break up the soil, especially when you dig to harvest them.
2. Draw up a realistic work plan
It’s easy to try and do too much too soon and become disillusioned. Things will inevitably take longer than you think. Decide what your priorities are and draw up a list so that you can have the satisfaction of ticking them off. Aim to get a small area cleared early on so that you can alternate some of the hard labour tasks (digging) with some of the more pleasant tasks (sowing/planting/harvesting).
3. Work out a layout for your plot
Choose between the traditional method, where the whole plot is worked as a single growing area, or a raised bed system with several smaller beds and paths in between. A bed system will need more planning and effort initially, but will be easier long term as the beds won’t become compacted and so will need less digging. The raised soil will also warm more quickly and be less prone to water logging. Raised beds can be a way of providing a level growing area on sloping ground, reducing ‘run off’ when watering. Walking around the allotment site should provide some good layout ideas.
4. Build a compost heap
One of the most important aspects of growing vegetables is to keep the soil in good condition, so make sure your layout includes space for a compost heap. Home made compost is ideal for nourishing the soil and a good aim is to reuse all waste material from your plot. Again, walking around the site will provide ideas on composting methods and compost bin materials and styles.
5. Organic v. chemicals ?
Although most people these days would prefer to grow organically, it is important to be realistic. The key to organic growing is vigilance, so you will need to pay frequent visits to your plot to deal with pests and diseases before they become a serious problem.
6. Get a good set of tools
Don’t be seduced by the variety of tools available in the garden centres, but do try to invest in a set of good quality basic tools. A long handled fork and spade, a trowel and a hand fork will get you started. A couple of plastic trugs will also come in handy for collecting weeds and general fetching and carrying.
7. Don’t let the weeds win
If your plot is weedy, don’t try to dig it all at once. Concentrate on a small area at a time, but do it well, removing as many of the perennial weeds (eg couch grass and bindweed) as you go. Covering the remainder of your plot with a weed suppressing fabric will stop the weeds growing and seeding into neighbouring plots, so that you can take your time. Rotavating may sound attractive, but is usually not a good idea on a new plot. Couch grass and bind weed, which is likely to be present, will regrow from the tiniest piece of root. Rotataving will just chop them up so that you end up with more!
8. Beware predators
Whether you grow organically or not, you will need to protect your crops from predators. Netting will protect crops such as brassicas and fruit from birds, but make sure the netting is stretched tightly to stop them getting tangled in it. Beer traps will lure slugs away from choice seedlings. Or start plants off in containers and plant them out when they are bigger and better able to survive. Horticultural fleece over your carrots will keep off the carrot root fly.
9. Talk to your fellow allotment holders
Between them they have a wealth of experience, and will be a great source of information on what will and won’t grow well on your site, and how to cope with any specific problems associated with your site.