Turning my garden into an allotment: week one, the tidy.

The motivation.

Two weeks' ago I read an article about the benefits of an allotment; a patch of land that you rent and grow vegetables on. Seems that for a rental of £30 per year you can pull out £800 worth of produce from a modest plot of land. Well, provided you put the effort in I guess. Anyway, I've had allotments in the past. They never worked for me; just too much effort motivating myself to get there in the first place. Put all my tools in the car, drive over, do some digging, put all the tools back into the car, drive home. It's too much isn't it? I did get some great food out of mine, true. Costing that great food was a bad exercise - must have cost me five times what the supermarkets were charging, and that excluding the time effort.

So no allotment.

However, I do have a garden. A garden that I've maintained as a lawn for fifteen years. In all that time it's only been a proper lawn once or twice. I rake it, seed it, mow it, put air holes into it, put drainage in. In the summer it goes brown and dies, in the winter it is mud.

So this year I'm giving up on lawn. I'm going to turn half my modest garden, and some of the patio, into an allotment. The only issue being my modest garden is only a few degrees away from facing North. I'll have to use raised beds in the sunny areas and think about vertical gardening in others. The other issue being that it is the family garden; it will still have to look nice and function as an entertainment space.

I'm also dubious about the £800. That sounds a lot for a modest outlay. Fairly sure that if I invested £30 on a plot, I'd not make £770 profit from it. If you've ever done any gardening, you'll know full well that any trip to the garden centre can easily result in a £200 spend. I suspect the truth is more likely that I'll get a bit of veg out of it, spend a few hundred pounds here and there, and have to ignore any labour costs. Hence I'm not going to chuck money at this; I'm going to do it as cheaply as possible and will try and keep a record of my spending.

How do you go about the conversion?

Well the first thing to do is not to go mad and attack it all at once. You have to hold back the initial enthusiasm and attack it in planned stages. If you go all in, clear all the old plants and start digging away, all in a day or two of rage, at some stage something [the weather generally] will stop you for a week or two. In that time your motivation goes a little. You return to the work only to find that the weather that stopped you has trashed all of your work. Worse it looks like a total bomb site and you'll have no idea where to begin.

Put the spade away.

Firstly go through your area and clear out all of the junk. Really go for it. Don't keep things that are obviously rubbish but "may be useful one day!" Broken pots, dead plants, plastic crap, rotten wood. Bin it all, really clear that area out. Only once you've removed the rubbish should you start.

Do I start digging now?

Well that depends on your garden, the time of year, the weather and what you want to do with it. There's no point digging over a wet lawn. Don't dig mud.

January is when you want to start the process in an ideal world. I'm not digging, I'm not planting. I'm clearing stuff away and constructing raised beds. I'm looking at patio planters. I'm planning.

Two year's growth.

My garden has essentially been left alone for two years. One bad summer, and the one good summer, well we had builders in and couldn't get to the garden. All the peripheral trees and bushes have gone mad. They've not only reduced the size of the garden by 50%, they're a mess!

My first task thus is the slash and burn exercise. The pine tree went in entirety, the apple tree got cut back, and others trimmed.

To the right of where the fire is was the large pine tree and an apple tree that had gone mad; both were 30ft tall. They had to go. Straight away the garden appears bigger and more fresh. It looks a mess, because it is. Nothing that a few week's sun can't cure. The lawn is damaged, but only by being trodden on. It'll recover soon.

This is looking upwards to where there was a large Laurel bush and a few smaller variants. Essentially the mud patch was bush. What's the point of that when this is the most sunny area of the garden? This will be home to a raised bed or two. There is no lawn to grow back; this will need seeding around the beds or paths put in.

Indeed I've already put in one raised bed.

Here I cheated. The local council gave out plastic planters a few years ago, and I've never used them. They sat in a corner. Here I put down a solid pallet for a base, placed the plastic tubs on top and then covered the sides in wood taken from other junked pallets. it must be said, pallets are ugly yet still better looking than green plastic boxes. Hopefully I can grow some decent tomatoes here.

As an aside, the wood store, raised bed and sedum planting area behind, took 17 pallets to construct. That's a lot of wood for some very basic structures. Do not underestimate the amount of wood you'll need.


As you can see from the above, even a modest amount of work consumes resources. The pallets were, ahem, free; all I used to make this was my time. If you have to buy wood to construct such things, then the £800 vegetables you could theoretically get, well they soon start to look expensive. There's no point chucking money at this, so think about what you are doing and why.

No digging.

As you may see, apart from clearing a few bushes I've not engaged in any digging. Just too muddy. I'd make a mess, compress the soil and get disheartened by the process. I'm going to go away and construct the raised beds, buy some seeds and get propagating indoors when the weather improves.

So far my work to date has taken four days; two weekends. That's quite a lot of time and as you can see, it's a mess. Having been here before I know not to give up. What may look horrid will soon clear thanks to a bit of spring sun. The key is not to go too far too soon. I've done enough for now; let the garden rest a bit, go have a cup of tea, play with the kids or go for a bike ride.

Off to buy seeds.

That's it for this week. I'm off now to buy seeds, some compost and to start on the raised beds.

Spend this week.

£45 on screws, weedkiller and a new saw. £20 on black fence preservative. This is not for the fence, but the raised beds.