Saturday, 10 March 2018

Allotment planting plan - a step by step guide

It doesn't need to be complicated, but it's worth planning your vegetable garden or allotment for the year. It doesn't take long either. Want to see how I did mine?



Things are starting to get interesting at The 80 Minute Allotment. I typically have between 1 and 2 hours a week to spend looking after my plot, growing my own food. 

It's a precious breathing space for me in the fresh air and peace and quiet away from the distractions of modern life. 

If you also have a busy life but want to grow your own in whatever space you have, it's a good idea to start with a plan. 

If you want to, you can spend hours being very precise about the tiniest details of dividing up your plot and allocating every tiny piece of it to growing something all year long. 

That's not for me. 

I prefer not to over complicate things, but whether you're growing your own on an allotment, or in a vegetable patch in your garden, it's a good idea to have some idea in advance of what you're going to grow.

I've put a couple of affiliate links to useful items in this post. The Green Fingered Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk. My promise to you is that there are only links to products I'd be willing to buy myself. If you do click through from this site and buy anything, I may receive a fee - just so you know.

Why create a planting plan for the vegetable garden?

Different vegetables need slightly different growing conditions, are best sown or planted out at different times, and will grow to different sizes at different times of year. 

Even a rough plan helps to group together plants that do well in similar conditions, and make sure the taller ones don't shade out the smaller ones. 

A basic plan helps you get the most from each crop.

It also enables you to work out how many of each plant you can grow in your space, and buy the right amount of seed, bulbs or plants accordingly.

I have a crop rotation system in place on my allotment (see below). My planting plan makes it easy to stick to this arrangement. 

The process is simple, and the same whether it's for a veg patch in your garden or an allotment. Here's my step by step guide to making a plan:

Making your allotment planting plan

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Decide what to grow

First things first - in very general terms, what do you want to grow? My advice is grow things you or your family like to eat, not just what all the magazines and websites are telling you to grow. 

I hate sprouts, so why on earth would I grow them? Cabbages are not very popular in my house, but at least three of us can stomach Savoy, so they are in my plan for this year.

I don't have enough spare time to spend hours researching all the varieties of each vegetable. The exact variety will only be chosen when I come to buy them, from what's available at the store at the time. 

GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: If you are new to growing your own, I suggest looking for varieties listed as disease resistant, bolt resistant, and/or high yielding. This will give you the best chance of success, and you can experiment with different and more unusual varieties later on, as you get more of a feel for what it takes to grow things and what best suits your climate and conditions.


I have seeds of some varieties left from last year, which I'll use up, and some ideas of my preferred varieties from the brief descriptions in the Expert Vegetable Notebook mentioned later, and those with particular characteristics mentioned in the RHS Encyclopedia of Gardening, which is another valuable source of information (affiliate link):



If you're interested in growing some of the more unusual varieties, why not check out these articles by some fellow bloggers Annabelle and Richard, with examples of what they're growing: 

Decide how to layout your plot

Next - are you happy to have parallel rows of veg all the way down your plot? That's nice and simple, but maybe you want more of a potager feel with a more imaginative layout of separate areas.

If you've got a small space why not try square foot gardening? You can read about that here:




What I've done on my plot is create 4 different beds for vegetables, each about 4 metres long and 2 metres wide. These are arranged around a cross shaped path which gives access to all of them. I have a separate area containing strawberries and raspberries.

Introduction to the 80 Minute Allotment


Allotment paths from recycled bricks



The 80 Minute Allotment Layout Green Fingered Blog
The 80 Minute Allotment layout

A Four Year Crop Rotation Plan

The reason for 4 beds is because I use a 4 year rotation system, so that each group of vegetables only grows in the same piece of ground every fourth year. Each group has it's own bed and moves on one place in the rotation to a new bed each year.

There are different versions of crop rotation. Some are 3 years and some 4. It doesn't matter too much, just do what suits you best. 

The aim is simply to avoid growing the same thing in the same place year after year.

This helps reduce problems from pests and diseases, and some vegetables benefit from following others in the rotation. Peas for example leave plenty of nitrogen behind in the soil, so it makes sense to follow them with brassicas and other leafy vegetables, as nitrogen helps leafy growth. 


Starting a vegetable garden planting plan

So the starting point for my planting plan is to put the 4 groups of vegetables that form the rotation into the appropriate bed for this year.
The 80 Minute Allotment Planting Plan for 2018 Green Fingered Blog
The 80 Minute Allotment Planting Plan for 2018 
On my plan for this year you can see that Bed 1 will contain alliums (Onion family), Bed 2 will contain roots, Bed 3 will contain Brassicas and Bed 4 will contain Legumes (Peas and Beans).

All these groups have moved round clockwise from where I grew them last year. Last year the peas and beans were in Bed 3, which should contain some extra nitrogen that will help the cabbages this year.

So there are 4 beds with four groups of veg. I'll show you how I planned each bed in a moment.

Planning a fruit garden

In addition to the 4 vegetable beds, I have a permanent area at the top of the plot devoted to strawberries, and the raspberries I planted recently.

Grow Your Own Raspberries

These are semi - permanent crops which stay in place all year round so do not rotate like the vegetables. However, strawberries become less productive after their third year and should be replaced. This is cheap and easy to do, as they can be propagated from runners:

How to grow new plants from runners - A Beginner's Guide

At the end of the year I'll remove the oldest strawberry plants and plant new baby ones in fresh ground at the bottom of the plot which I haven't cultivated yet. I might then put courgettes in the space vacated.  


How far apart do I plant my vegetables?

So I've decided where everything will grow, based on moving the different groups according to the rotation principles, and allocated space to the fruits.

The next step is to plan how each individual group will be planted.

In some cases I will be sowing seed direct into the ground. In others, I'll sowing in pots indoors and planting out seedlings when they're ready. 

To work out how many I need and ensure there is enough space for them (they'll all be planted at different times) I've checked basic info on spacings, both between individual plants, and between rows.

There are all sorts of ways of getting this information, but I've found The Expert Vegetable Notebook by Dr D G Hessayon incredibly useful. It's clearly laid out, with a wide range of vegetables in alphabetical order, with a page or two on each one that includes descriptions of common varieties and how and when to grow them. 

There's also space to record your own sowing, planting and harvesting dates for reference. This serves as a guide to what worked, or didn't, that helps you decide when is the right time to do things on your plot.

Most usefully for me, the information on suitable spacing of plants and rows is clear, and due to the layout, very quick and easy to look up. I referred to it throughout the process of putting this allotment plan together. If you want a copy you can get it here (affiliate link):
 



Now I'll be honest, I don't use a tape measure or anything to make sure I stick to the exact spacings recommended, that's just unnecessary effort - I'm just not that scientific about the whole thing. 

What the information does allow me to do is a rough calculation of how many plants I need to sow and plant, and roughly space them enough to give them the room they need, even if it's just by knowing how many should be in each row.

For now all I want to do is estimate the number of rows I can fit into each bed, and roughly how many plants I can fit in each row. Here's how I worked out what will go in each of my beds this year:

How to work out how many plants to put in each row

Here's an example: The recommendation for most onions is to plant them 10cm (4 inches) apart. My main vegetable beds are approximately 4 metres by 2 metres, and for no particular reason, I'm growing the alliums in horizontal rows, each 2m long.



By dividing 2m by 10cm, I can fit about 20 onions in each of these rows. In fact I've planted about 14 per row so far, to give them a bit more space in the hope of them getting bigger than in previous years, when they've been a bit on the small side. 
Plant list and spacing calculations The 80 Minute Allotment Planting Plan for 2018 Green Fingered Blog
Plant list and spacing calculations



How many rows of vegetables can I fit in my plot?

This of course depends on the vegetables. To work out how many rows will fit in each of my beds, I drew a scale plan of the plot on graph paper and allocated the recommended space per row. 

You don't need to draw a plan to scale but it helps, even if you do it roughly.



In the case of my onions, the recommendation is to leave 23cm/9 inches between rows. This is the same for shallots and garlic, but 30cm/12 inches for leeks. By marking rows to these widths on my plan i can see how many will fit in. 

Look at Bed 1 on my plan and you'll see I have drawn in alternating rows of onions, shallots, leeks and garlic, and have ended up fitting in 2 or 3 of each. One row of leeks, at the top of the plan has a bit of extra space that was left over. 

   
I went through the same process to roughly work out what would fit into each bed:

Spacing of alliums

Bed 1 contains the allium family. I planted garlic in late autumn and have planted some onions early in February.



This bed is divided into 2m rows. This bed is quite easy as all rows are the same distance apart, except the leeks which need a bit more space. I've ended up with 3 rows of red onions, 3 of white onions, 2 of garlic, 2 of shallots and 3 of leeks.

The onions need 10cm between each plant, so that's up to 20 per 2m row. So I need to buy 60 bulbs of each. Shallots and leeks need 20cm between plants, that's 10 per row, so I'll need 20 shallot bulbs, and 30 (3 rows) leek plants, which I will grow from seed.


Spacing root crops

In Bed 2 I'm growing carrots, parsnips and beetroot, which all enjoy similar conditions and have similar nutritional requirements so are grouped together. For the first time this year I'm going to try growing courgettes. These are in this bed only because it seemed the most convenient place with enough room. They are not part of the crop rotation.

Courgettes need plenty of space - 60cm apart. I've opted to put three in a 2m row at one end of this bed. This leaves the rest of the root crops to grow in rows 3.4m long. I've planned in enough room for 3 rows of carrots, which need less space than parsnips and beetroot, which have been allocated 2 rows each.

As you can see from my notes, my calculations were for 4m rows, but take a few off and that's how many of each I'll need for the slightly shorter rows.

Spacing of Brassicas

Bed 3 is for brassicas. These are also in vertical 4m rows. The first row is green broccoli. I can grow 12 of these in a 4m row, each 30 cm apart. My guide also suggests 30cm between rows. The second row is Savoy cabbages, which need the same. 

The third is Purple sprouting broccoli, which needs 45 cm per plant. That's 8 per row, and they also need 45 cm between rows. That leaves enough space for a row of curly kale and a row of red cabbages.

I've also included spinach in the bit of space left. Although this isn't a brassica (and therefore other versions of crop rotation will have it in a different group) it's grown for its leaves so I'm hoping it will benefit from the same conditions as the kale and cabbages which are grown for the same reason.

I've also planned to fit some lettuce in between rows. 

There'll be space for this while the brassicas are young, and as with spinach, being a leaf oriented crop they should suit the conditions in the brassica bed. I grow lettuce from seed and if things go well, end up with loads which I'll fit in anywhere around the allotment where there's room, as well as in containers outside the back door at home.


Spacing of Peas and Beans


Bed 4 is the legumes. I want to grow sugar snap peas, mangetout, french beans and broad beans. On the plan I have two 4m rows of dwarf broad beans, 20 in each row, so I'll be aiming to raise 40 plants in total. I usually sow them indoors in pots first, and some direct in the ground when the weather is warmer later on.

I may end up making one of the rows half broad beans and half french beans, depending on how the seedlings fare. Knowing how many I have room for helps me decide later on what space is available as plants develop. I can change things easily if I want to, without unintentionally taking up too much space with one crop that I didn't mean to.

The peas and longpod broad beans get quite big and need to be grown on supports. I'm trying them on teepees this year instead of in rows, so I've worked out how many I can grow on each structure using the recommended spacings. 

I've ended up with three teepees for peas, each with 12 plants, and two for longpod broad beans, each with 8 plants. 



GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: Make sure you allow for the fact that climbing plants and their supports will cast shade on anything behind them. Either choose plants that tolerate shade, or preferably, put your peas and beans furthest away from the sun, as I have. Put the shortest plants nearest the sun. Seed packets, plant labels and reference books will tell you how high they grow.



I hope that sharing my step by step guide to how I made a basic planting plan for my allotment will help you plan your own plot, whether you have an allotment or vegetable garden. It can be as rough or as precise as you want.  Make sure you subscribe to the Green Fingered Blog if you want regular updates from my 80 Minute Allotment on how you can grow your own in under two hours a week.




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