GIY space invaders

Taking on an allotment not only makes you healthy and wise, but it makes you part of a social group too, says gardener Kitty Scully

GIY space invaders

IF you’ve been grabbed by the ‘grow it yourself’ buzz but are now feeling slightly perplexed due to lack of space, or the realisation that your balcony is north-facing, why not unleash that spring in your step further afield and lease an allotment?

Having an allotment far outreaches the benefits of simply accessing land to grow your own fresh food. It also encompasses the social aspects synonymous with communal growing, such as allowing like-minded gardening enthusiasts to connect and cultivate a support network where ideas and tips are swapped and tools, resources and produce shared.

Your allotment can also become an outlet for alfresco dining as well as being a stress-free, fresh air oasis, promoting exercise, calm and pleasure but at a cheaper price than joining a gym. After many years of decline, the last 5-6 years has seen an unprecedented surge in demand for allotments across the country, and you should check out www.allotments.ie to find a gardening space nearest to your home — and remember that every mile to drive could be a disincentive to go, so find somewhere as near to your home as possible.

Allotments are wonderful spaces full of potential, but like most good things, they must be cared for and nurtured in order to get the best out of them. If managed properly, a small plot can produce enough food to supplement a family’s weekly shop with pickings throughout the year. Frankly, it does require hard work and dedication, but even the smallest yield brings enormous satisfaction. Research has also shown that spending time in a garden or allotment can raise your serotonin levels, leading to a happier and healthier life in the long run.

When selecting an allotment, factors such as water and accessibility to drop-off points for manure deliveries are important. The variety of crops worth growing will be influenced by the soil type, aspect and wind direction. To save time and effort, it is certainly worth chatting with some of the longer established allotment holders to gauge what does and doesn’t work on your site.

If your plot is full of weeds and your time is limited, cover one part with black ground fabric in preparation for cultivation next year. There is also the option of sharing a plot as often the might of two forks is better than one. It is advisable to refrain from using a rotavator as some of the more persistent weeds (couch grass, docks, bindweed) will be chopped up, spread and multiplied as a result.

The simplest way to use your allotment is to create raised beds, especially if your soil is not in good condition and always remember to leave paths wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow. It is really up to you to choose what number of beds and system works best, but crop rotations are worth sticking to as they help to keep the soil in good condition and pests and diseases at bay.

Perennials such as rhubarb, globe artichokes and fruit bushes are also worth including, and permanent beds should be set up to cater for them. A composting area is a must-have and you can place this in the shadiest part of your plot. A rainwater butt will also be useful and, if you have ample space, a polytunnel will reap a multitude of rewards.

-Where to Rent Allotments: www.allotments.ie www.allotmentscork.com and many community organisations organise allotments locally — check out local resource/ community centres.

THIS WEEK IN THE GARDEN:

Still time to plant all those that didn’t get planted last week:

- Early potatoes, onion sets, spring garlic, jerusalem artichokes and shallots — outside.

- Broadbeans can be direct sown if ground conditions are right.

- Continue to sow leeks, spinach; salads; early cabbage; calabrese and kohlrabi into modules/seed trays indoors on a sunny windowsill or on heated mats in a greenhouse.

- Sow tomato seeds if you have a sunny spot inside for growing them on.

- Bareroot season is coming to an end, so plant hedging, fruit trees/bushes asap.

Jobs: Weed and freshen soil around soft fruits before mulching with organic matter.

- Continue to prepare beds and dig in green manures if ground conditions are right.

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