Overgrown Allotment Plot

I had the email below from Billy the other day and thought the answer would be helpful to a few people.

I took over my allotment last year, which hadn’t been used for years and was very  neglected.  I have dug over most of it but it is very compressed due to people before me just walking all over it. Also some parts are fairly clay like.

I was wondering, rather than rush it and try and do it all at once, what if the bit I was going to leave, was limed?

I’m of the understanding that lime breaks down the clay like lumps as well as lowering the Ph level to be acidic?

Should I then wait till end of year before using my plot or even wait till winter crop/spring?

Take Your Time!

First of all, when taking on an overgrown plot, the trick is not to try and sort it all in a day. That way ends up with an injured back if you’re not used to physical work. I’m a great believer in starting to clear at one end and moving down, keeping the area behind cultivated.

To help stop things getting worse, you can cover the areas you will get to last with black plastic (which I hate), cardboard or old carpet if allowed on your site. Cardboard is my favourite choice as it eventually rots down and does no harm whereas carpet can be a devil if the weeds go through it and plastic shreds into bits which can harm wildlife, especially birds, and lasts forever.

Use of Garden Lime

The main purpose of lime is to increase the Ph of the soil which lowers the acidity. The opposite of that stated in the question. Most vegetables like a neutral or slightly acid soil, Ph 6 to 7. Acid soils lock up the nutrients so they are not available to the plants.

Chucking more fertiliser on will do little good as the nutrients just don’t get to the plant. However, increase the Ph with lime and it can have a miraculous effect. I always say there’s NPK and Lime as the important fertilisers because of this.

The side effect of lime is to promote flocculation. I love that word! It sounds as if it should be rude but it isn’t – it’s the process where small particles bind together to make larger ones.

Clay soils are made up of small particles that bind together into a solid lump whereas sandy soils are comprised of larger particles that have move gaps between to allow water and air in.

So lime certainly helps with a clay soil but the real, long-term answer is to dig over in the winter and allow the freezing action of winter to break it up into smaller sections. Pure clay is useless for growing as is pure sand. You need to add lots of organic matter to turn it into a decent growing medium. Organic matter acts like a sponge to hold water and provides a home for the myriad of beneficial bacteria and fungi that make the miracle of growing possible.

There’s more information on this in my gardening books and on the site here:

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
2 comments on “Overgrown Allotment Plot
  1. steve calver says:

    Just recovering this very moment from a 3.75 hour spell at the allotment. My soil is of the clay type, it tends to water-logging and I can confirm the addition of organic matter is the key.

    Having just put 50 wheel barrow loads of manure onto to my plot today alone, have opted for 4′ wide strips 33′ long. Managed to do 3 and a bit strips, some of the other areas needed topping up.

    Unfortunately I got my plot a in early November 2009, the plot was flooded and I spent most of last year trying to play catch up and missed out on lots of manure. Result spent the growing trying to catch up on the weeds, whilst trying to sort out the other half of the plot with crops.

    Never managed it, so took a different approach from the end of September last year until early December and got half the site covered in manure.

    Last week I finally marked out the growing strips and paths, just need to finish the last 3 strips with manure topping and then I can start sorting out the poly-tunnel got a 15 footer.

    That area has it’s issues as well, as the wee nice men from the council have dropped off several lorry loads of bark chip. The plan being to move this onto the paths, fortunately this area is higher than the rest of the plot.

    Rome was not built in a day and it is hard work but perseverance is the key. Take it easy and take your time.

    Buying lorry loads of manure or compost is an option if you can afford it for me it was not an option and finishing my degree took its toll as well. But that is behind me now onwards and upwards.

    But so far I am roughly on schedule and over the coming week or two should have it knocked into shape.

    Given that the site is water logged (it’s one of the strips I have not manured as it still has some crops in it)even now, was surprised that the parsnips that I grew from seed last year, were fine, should make a nice soup on Monday.

    The broad beans (Aqua dulce) mostly did not make it through the winter, have 3 seedlings left, the birds got them as well, as the frosts. The cabbages are not fairing any better, the slugs have returned, note to self remember to take the slug pellets with me next time and not leave them at home like I did today.

  2. Stephen Harding says:

    I took over a plot, which had never been cultivated, in September 2009. The weeds were head high, lots of brambles, comfrey and nettles. Community payback guys came in and slashed the top growth off. I then spent the next three months, digging and manuring, putting up a shed and compost bins. Lots of hard work but I enjoyed it. Getting down to the plot at 7.00am for a couple of hours before work (fortunately I work from home).
    After the winter I planted the usual – lots of potatoes to help clearing and weed control, and we are still using the main crop. Carrots I need to sow more this year as we use a lot more that I thought. Brassicas have not been too successful as they were eaten by squirrels – the little so and sos chewed through the netting. Brussel sprouts were good though.
    The best advice I received and has already been given is to take it slow but often. Good fun though and great bunch of people.

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