Gardening Mental Health Mindfulness Self-Care

How to TRULY start an allotment in 20 steps


I tweeted recently about giving up my first allotment however, I do have plots on another site that I can spend more time and energy on so it’s not a loss.


I have been thinking about what I leave behind – memories, my first ever shed, experiences, and the beginning of my gardening journey.


It made me think about just how hard it is as a new allotmenteer. I really had a baptism of fire at that plot and I can really see how a lot of plots are given up on in their first year. Mares tail, covered in perennial weeds, uncultultivated for 10 years, used as a burning site for the 10 years, mostly in shade under unmaintained trees which in times fell on our plots, and heavy, stony clay soil that floods EVERY year without fail, making winter crops rot. Looking back, it took too much work and was actually, really quite shit.


I do believe that social media portrays that it’s easier than it is and I am extremely guilty of that sometimes as I really want gardening to be inclusive regardless, but I do say when I have worked my arse off to other gardeners as they appreciate the work, time and knowledge that has gone into what I’ve done.


There is a level of understanding that goes into gardening and my first year was an absolute FLUKE in my opinion, but I quickly learnt as I went along to the most minimal extent that I could get away with, having a new baby, job, and home at the time. Immediately, this little piece of land became my escape.


Rather than dwelling on the past and my memories of that little patch, I thought I would use it constructively to write a guide on being a new allotmenteer, the mistakes that I made, and the things I look back on which absolutely makes me cringe. I can honestly say that I have completely changed as a person due to gardening and the community and have been welcomed into it with open arms regardless of my ability at any point. I’m not saying that I have super experience, because I don’t. I literally learn something new every day and I keep going back for more. I can’t get enough.


So, here are my tips for starting an allotment for the first time:


  • 1. You don’t know it all, you never will know it all, and you can’t learn it all in one go.

This is a difficult pill to swallow I know, but the sooner you accept that you will probably never know everything, you might be prepared for the rollercoaster journey that is your allotment. There will be highs, lows, blight, carrot fly, onion fly, aphids, badgers, pigeons, and much more. Not everything ‘bad’ that happens is a disaster – it’s all part of the lesson. Every season, or growing season, is different; climate change is also affecting how we grow our food and the seasons a lot less predictable. If you got upset over every plant you lose, it wouldn’t be fun. Sometimes you just have to Elsa that shit and ‘Let It Go’.


  • 2. Trust your instincts


If you think the last frost hasn’t come, don’t risk planting out your tender plants for what I like to call the ‘planting out race’ on the gram. You’ve spent that whole time nurturing those babies, a week or two might save them. You can always plant out a sacrifice plant as a test. That way, you won’t lose your whole crop in one go.

Another example of this is planting out or sowing seeds on specific dates each year. Again, be flexible with your own schedule whilst being aware of the timeframe too.


  • 3. Absorb inspiration from fellow gardeners


I think it’s safe to say that gardening is pretty trendy at the moment – there are a lot of gardeners out there who share your values and beliefs. Inspiration doesn’t always come from social media – visit NGS gardens, RHS gardens, estate gardens, national collections, even your local park. Find what you like and what inspires you. Be humble about it – show people why you’re inspired by something or someone.


  • 4. Grow what you like to eat and see


There is absolutely no point in growing plants you don’t enjoy or don’t eat. If you want to grow giant pumpkins and it makes you happy, go for it. If you want edible flowers, grow them.

Don’t grow courgettes if you don’t like them because trust me, you’ll get 1000 of them. Put you time, effort and energy into what you enjoy and want to see. This way, it’s easier to choose your crops and plan your planting time. Who wouldn’t want to make their lives easier?


  • 5. You can’t really be afraid of spiders anymore


Fear of spiders? Forget it. I can’t say that I ENJOY a spider touching me still, but I am not running half way down the street when I walk through a web now. They’re great additions to your garden. Just leave them be and you’ll forget about them soon enough.


  • 6. Chemicals & peat? NO!


Herbicides, pesticides, poisons, traps, pellets. Why would you want to harm any part of the ecosystem in your growing space? Why would you use weed killer next to the food that you’re growing to eat?

There are ways round weeds and yes, it involves physical work, but it does work. There might even be a way to use these ‘weeds’ – nitrogen-rich plant feed from nettles or vegan honey from dandelions for example. A weed is just a plant in the ‘wrong’ place. Find a use for them and you might come to appreciate them.

Research into growing plants to sustain wildlife cycles rather than killing them. For example, fennel supports the whole lifecycle of a ladybird. The ladybirds eat aphids. The aphids appear, the ladybirds feast. Having bugs on your plot is natural and without them, you would struggle to grow.

Disrupt the biodiversity as little as you can and it will reward you.

Don’t use peat. There are many alternatives and it’s non-renewable. Our peat bogs are diminishing. It’s not necessary for non-commercial means. Do some research.

Plus, your plot neighbours will thank you for it too.


  • 7. Take unwarranted advice sometimes

Yeah it’s annoying and people will flood you with advice, but sometimes you need to swallow your pride and take it or keep it on the back burner for later. Passionate gardeners are knowledgable and don’t give advice unless they think it’ll make a difference. They WANT you to love something as much as them as it brings them joy. Don’t judge us crazies who have verbal diarrhoea when asked for advice on a new plot – we really do want you to do well!

You’ll always get that person who will spray ‘Round Up’ all over their plot, rather than cultivate without, but thankfully it’s becoming less common and accepted.


  • 8. Enjoy yourself and stay within your physical and mental means

This is an enjoyable experience! Don’t make yourself miserable by setting unachievable tasks and goals. Work one day at a time, one patch at a time if you have to.We all have different abilities so don’t compare yourself to others. You are you and you’re going to spend a lot of time in your own head up there, so get used to your own company as well as recognising your boundaries.


  • 9. Ask for help


Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your plot be. It’s going to take some time, and no doubt that the plot you have inherited will need a lot of work.

Whether you need plant identification help, manual labour help, design, planting/sowing tips etc. – get the conversation flowing! Join allotment groups on facebook, follow hashtags on twitter and instagram, or even be creative with your questions on TikTok – find a friendly base. I obviously recommend #GardensHour & #GardeningTwitter on Twitter.

  • 10. It’s not the same as your home garden

As you know, I would long for my own garden, however there is something so different about allotments. I’m not just talking about an allotment community.

You learn to know your own home gardens inside out, especially if you’re a passionate home-grower who’s venturing out on their own allotment as well to grow their own food.

Your allotments may even have completely different soil, even if they’re close to you. There may not be a lot of wind breakage on your plots, and they may even be exposed to full sun. The environment is going to be different and it will take some getting used to, just like your home garden did.

I dream of a day where I can step outside into a back garden and casually water my plants, deadhead flowers and potter about with a glass of wine, just because I don’t have to travel and stand there at the allotment and share piss-weak water pressure at my plot in summer (because the people who don’t work their plots all year suddenly decide that on the hottest day of the year, their plot ((weeds)) need watering), when I could be doing 10,000 other things instead. It wouldn’t be the same doing it from my own back garden and it is part of the fun.

Find a watering schedule that works for you and your plants. If you can’t get there as often as you’d like, grow plants that need less maintenance such as onions, as they have a low nitrogen requirement and hardly need watering unless dry.

Growing to suit your schedule can take time because no one can advise you on it. The best way is trial and error. If it doesn’t work, adapt to suit the situation, try again next season, or grow something else.

  • 11. Have your own journey

This is your space. You make it how you want and need it to be. I do accept that some plots are very small too, so imagine what you want and need the space to be. Being new to gardening or allotmenteering doesn’t change that. Think of the colours you like, what you enjoy eating, what you’d like to try, the smells you like. Create a fully immersive sensory experience for your soul. It’s not just about growing vegetables!


  • 12. Be mindful

‘Mindfulness’ is a term that is banded around a lot. Suffering with chronic pain, I have been thoroughly managed by mindfulness and it’s not something you can just do. Like any skill, it takes practice, your brain is an instrument that you can learn to play to your own tune. Take pleasure in simple things, recognise the changes in season with anticipation, notice what you can hear, smell, see and feel. Recognise the processes and understand the present stages that your plants are going through as this helps you also recognise their needs.

I sound like a hippy now, but you do connect with your surroundings.

  • 13. Treat your neighbours respectively


Allotments can sometimes be hives of activity, depending on how large your site is. You share a common interest with everyone on your site so you’re all there for the same reason.

Treat each other with respect, even if you don’t agree on their methods.


  • 14. Wildlife cameras are a good idea


Seeing what goes on at your plot when you’re not there is quite fun! You may find you have a hedgehog, a badger has been eating your corn, or you have fox pups jumping all over your onions.

It may also show up that Doreen from plot 6 has been pinching your peas.


  • 15. Join your local horticultural society


I fully encourage joining a society in line with your interests. It’ a good way to meet other people, attend talks, and take part in shows and classes. The fees are normally minimal and if you have a passion for plants, it’s a great place to learn, regardless of ability.


  • 16. Research


Don’t bombard yourself with an overload of information. I find some step-by-step allotment books can be extremely overwhelming and rigid. There’s a lack of flexibility and variety that grates me for some reason.

If you like learning in that method, then go for it! However, you can do snippets of research to suit your needs and style. You might find that over time, you become interested in a particular plant or species. Research what you enjoy.

You can do a simple soil texture test at home by drying a handful of your soil on a low heat in the oven. You then add water to assess the behaviour of the soil. There are many tables online to follow and this will give you a quick and easy indication as to what your soil texture is in proportions of sand, silt and clay; therefore making it easier to decide what to plant. It will also give an estimate of where your soil varies in terms of pH, but the best way to get this is a simple soil pH kit that you can buy online. Understanding the basics will really help you thrive in the garden. Take your time to understand to the best of your ability.  


  • 17. Plan


I know it’s all too easy to go into a garden centre or Wilko and see the vast expanse of seeds or plants and get carried away. You can’t grow everything (even though you want to!). You do not need 9 different packets of beans and 40 packets of tomatoes. You’ll put yourself under far too much stress. Instead, plan for the space you have and by all-means grow spares to fill gaps, but really think about what you want. You may not have a definite allocated growing space at this time, but by cutting down on your jobs and what you need or think you need to start, you end up spending the time having the focus on what you really want to achieve.

Sort through your seed packets by the planting month, organise yourself. If you find out that you’re under too much pressure or running out of time, prioritise and drop some. There’s always next year.


  • 18. Get a bucket


Generally, allotments don’t have toilets. Get a bucket to pee in and get used to it pretty quickly. Your compost pile will thank you for it as it’s a natural compost accelerator.


  • 19. Volunteer


Volunteer to help maintain the site or any communal areas and you will learn so many new skills and gain experience. It could be helping trim the hedges, community apple picking or fruit tree pruning, even mowing the communal paths. Try and help, if you can, to help maintain your surroundings.


  • 20. Make your life easier if you need to


You don’t have to start everything from seed. You might not have time/space or you just might not have success with starting some seeds off – it’s not cheating to buy plug plants, potted plants, bare root plants. As long as they’re pest and disease free and have come from a reputable supplier, who cares. It’s your money, do what you want.

Bare root plants in Autumn/Winter are also excellent and cheap. You can even buy your brassicas bare root if you want to. Some seeds are much easier to start from seed but you don’t have to. Buy bulbs, rhizomes, cloves, corms, whatever you want.

You may struggle with Heirloom varieties though and these are always grown best from seed. Seeds also are the cheapest way to grow but don’t stress too much.





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  1. Michelle Sleaford says:

    Great simple advice, thankyou 🙂

  2. Great advice

    it’s not an easy job but so rewarding

  3. Keith Naylor says:

    Thanks for this. Had the plot around 6 weeks.
    Seems I am on track to a degree. Being mindful not to over produce in our first year. So staging the planting. Not gone peat Free yet. Growing only what we eat or like as flowers. Not filled every bed. Bucket at the ready.
    Spent a good amount of time preparing the site. Luckily the previous owner gave some love to the soil.

    First year planting

    Potatoes salad first & second only
    Dwarf French 2 types
    Runners again two types
    Peas- two types
    Sweetcorn- from plugs
    Asparagus- luckily inherited some which are producing plenty. Lovely.
    Onions- 2 types keeping them small so chose Snowball plus red.
    Carrots mixed
    Beetroot few types planted still no sign.
    Tomatoes & chilli
    Basil, parsley.
    Salad leaves of different types.
    Cauliflowers in just 9 is enough.
    Butternut & Courgettes in pots almost ready.
    Garlic is at home. doing well.
    Mizuna possibly much too much, Loves the cooler temp.
    Chard popping up,
    Plums, blackcurrant, blueberry, cherries, Replanted a grafted apple.
    Planted clematis, & roses to hide the ugly bits
    Many wild flowers & pollinators attracting flowers.
    Many different sunflowers.
    Gooseberry (not sure if I will eat it).
    Bloomin eck. When you write 6 weeks of activity down seems a lot.

    Composting like mad.
    Need to tame the comfrey although it seems to be the dwarf hilcote pink. Want bocking 14.
    making every effort to do no dig but not quite ready.
    Reading stuff. Especially following many on twitter including you of course. Great advice.
    Looking toward autumn & winter

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