Friday, 5 January 2018

Grow your own in under two hours a week: The 80 minute allotment

Grow your own in under two hours a week The 80 Minute allotment Green Fingered Blog
How much time do you need to grow your own food? 
Well, you can grow fruit and vegetables in under two hours a week, and The 80 Minute Allotment will prove it.


You don't need much time or money to grow your own food. Or too much space for that matter. Which is just as well for most of us. 

Grow your own in under two hours a week

If like me you've got work, family and other commitments, you might not have much time or money left to spend growing your own fruit and veg. I work in an office most of the week, and I'm married, with three demanding children, an addiction to playing golf, a mortgage, and an average size ornamental garden which I love looking after and spending time in.
 
Finding time to grow your own food around all of life's other commitments isn't always easy. I average less than an hour and a half a week at my allotment - sometimes more, sometimes less. That's not enough to maintain an immaculate looking, pristine formal garden with a perfect lawn, and weed free, show garden standard flower beds. But even eighty minutes a week is enough to grow plenty of lovely, fresh, organic fruit and veg.
 

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Time is not the only finite resource either. Many of us are on a limited budget, and I aim to spend as little as possible on growing my own food, to maximise the benefits from doing so. Apart from all the other demands on my wallet, I want producing my own food to be cheaper and more sustainable than buying it from a supermarket, if possible.

I'm not aiming for self sufficiency. That's not realistic in the time available, and on a plot the size of mine. I just want to enjoy getting some fresh air every week, and grow some of my own food, with the benefits this brings.
 

Benefits of growing your own food

  • Anything I grow will have zero food miles (my allotment is walking distance from my back gate).
  • I can minimise the time from plot to plate, making food as fresh and nutritious as possible.
  • I will know exactly what chemicals have been used (which will be as few as possible).
  • My growing methods will be as sustainable, low carbon and eco-friendly as I can make them, by recycling materials and minimising energy use.  

 

You don't need an allotment to grow your own

I'm fortunate that I've been allocated an allotment very close to where I live. Apart from a few containers I don't grow many edibles in my garden. But you don't need an allotment. You can grow your own food almost anywhere.
 
So whether you have an allotment, a veg patch in your garden, or even just some containers outside your back door or on a balcony, you can grow your own. And with a bit of creativity you can have home grown produce for next to no cost.

Wherever you're growing yours, my regular posts from The 80 Minute Allotment will show you what I do with my eighty minutes, and what you can also do, to grow fresh fruit and veg, cheaply and sustainably. 
 

Getting started to grow your own

I'm starting my fourth year on my allotment. It is very much a work in progress. If you are only just starting your veg plot or allotment, then check out my post on three things to think about right at the beginning:


One of the first things to do is clearing any weeds to make space for your crops. My allotment was so overgrown when I took it on that I still haven't turned all of it into a usable growing area, so is still one of the things I will be doing with my 80 minutes a week. If you're at that stage too then stay with me because even after you have cleared a small area you can start sowing and growing. That's exactly what it was like for me in year one - clear a small patch and grow something, then clear some more.
 
Another early task is planning your plot according to what you want to grow and how you want to use the area you have. I'll show you round my 80 Minute Allotment so you can see the state it's in right now and give you an idea of my overall plan.  
 

A tour of The 80 Minute Allotment

 
My allotment is 15 metres long and 4 metres wide. It's quite compact I believe, compared to many plots on municipal allotment sites across the country. It's probably no bigger than many people's garden vegetable patches, but of course many people have even less space in which to grow their own.  
 
I've broken my plot up into a strawberry bed, and four other vegetable beds. I operate a crop rotation system so that a different category of crop grows in each bed each year. This helps to reduce the chances of pests and diseases, and in some cases benefits particular crops. Planning a rotation is covered briefly in the post about getting started, linked to earlier in this article.
 
There's no shed on my plot, so at the top of my plot I have piles of canes, netting, sticks and other bits and pieces waiting to be used. They're stashed behind the lovely wooden seat I inherited from the previous holder, and next to the compost bins. Composting is an important part of increasing sustainability and growing better crops more easily, so more on composting another time.
 
Behind the compost bins is a hedgehog house, in the hope that it will attract hogs to the plot to help with controlling slugs. The hedgehog house was made for no cost, from recycled materials.     
Storage area and compost bins The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
The top part of the 80 minute allotment
The whole plot slopes slightly from top to bottom. At the highest point is the strawberry bed, which is about 3m by 4m. At this time of year the strawberry plants are not growing, just sitting waiting for spring to arrive. 
The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
The strawberry bed
Then we come to the four main beds used for a different vegetable crops each year. I decided to arrange four rectangular beds around a central axis rather than a traditional looking allotment plot with endless rows of veg all lined up in the same direction. This is just me wanting to be unconventional and make my plot different to others. I don't think it makes any difference to growing conditions or the amount of growing space.
 
The beds are a size that I can access all of them from the paths, without needing to walk between each row. One possible drawback is when growing taller crops like peas in certain positions on certain beds, they may shade other crops behind.  This hasn't become an issue yet, and certain crops do well in slight shade in any case, so it can be worked around.
Last year's brassica bed containing over wintering broccoli and kale The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Last year's brassica bed
The above bed was used for brassicas last year, and will grow root crops this year. At the moment it still contains some kale, cabbages and broccoli which grow well over winter and give us a moderate harvest through the coldest months. These will be harvested by the time the soil warms up ready to sow carrots and parsnips.
 
This year's brassicas will grow in the bed below, where peas and beans grew last year. Peas fix nitrogen in the soil which is good for cabbages etc. There are some small, late planted kale and broccoli in this bed already, which hopefully will be ready to harvest in spring. The metal and wooden frame you can see is an old sofa bed frame, which at some point I will use to provide netting over seedlings - watch this space!

Brassica seedlings in this year's brassica bed The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
This year's brassica bed
The third bed is almost empty at the moment, with just a few leeks waiting to be picked over the next month or so. The rest of last year's onions and garlic are stored in the kitchen and still feeding us! This bed will be used for this year's crops of beans and peas. The paths that run across and along the centre of the plot, between the four beds, are another no-cost project using recycled materials, aimed at reducing my impact on the environment. 
 
Last year's allium bed, empty apart from a few leeks The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Last year's allium bed
The fourth and final bed contained root crops last year, of which only a few parsnips remain to be picked. This year's garlic is already growing here and it will be joined by a variety of onions and leeks later in the year.
Garlic plants growing The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
Last years roots bed, this year's allium bed
Beyond these last two beds is the wilderness. Very overgrown and quite boggy at this time of year, I've yet to weed and cultivate the rest of my plot. I've recently dug weeds out of another few feet at the end of one bed. Part of the wilderness is covered in cardboard and plastic sheeting which will kill weeds and make the job of digging it over easier when I get round to it. That's a job for another day. After this initial weeding I'm hoping to transition to a no-dig approach, providing I can produce enough compost to mulch the beds sufficiently.  
overgrown section covered in plastic sheeting The 80 Minute Allotment Green Fingered Blog
The (as yet) uncultivated wilderness beyond
So that's how my allotment looks right now. I'll be back soon to tell you how I spent my next 80 minutes on the plot. Make sure you subscribe, to get regular ideas on how to grow your own in under two hours a week. And comment below to tell me how your plot is looking at the moment. What are you planning to grow in 2018?

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