Where the secretary of an allotment association is unknown, inquiries should be made at the local council offices. An allotment is usually on a yearly holding, and not less than ten rods in extent — say 30 ft. X 90 ft. — ample space for supplying the vegetable needs of an average family.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issues a number of very practical leaflets and guides on layout, cropping and cultivation of particular vegetables. These may be obtained from H. M. Stationery Office, York House, Kingsway, London W. C. 2. The National Allotments and Gardens Society Ltd., Drayton House, Gordon Street, London W. C. 1, also publishes useful literature, including a regular periodical.
The following notes apply equally to allotments and vegetables grown in the home garden.
New Allotments on rough, weedy land should first have the coarse grass and weeds (especially the long, toughof perennials like docks and thistles) removed and burnt. Portions of many of these, if left in the soil, are capable of forming new plants. Annual weeds like shepherd’s purse and fat hen (gooscfoot), and the tops of perennials, should be put on the heap. Deep burying is an alternative, but decomposition is then decidedly slower owing to the absence of air. Land broken up in the autumn will be in first-rate condition for and planting in spring if the surface is left rough or ridged up to expose it fully to frost, rain and wind.
Deep Digging is well worth while in the long run. Arguments have been advanced against digging to a depth of two spits, but in a dry season it is essential for deep-rooted vegetables such as carrots to penetrate the subsoil to draw on reserves of moisture. On perfectly drained soils which have been regularly manured for many years deep digging may sometimes be omitted.
A Need for Lime may be ascertained by means of a soil-testing outfit which is obtainable from seedsmen and suppliers. The presence of spurrey and sheep’s sorrel as weeds denote a lime deficiency. Cabbages, turnips, peas and beans do best on limy soils. Carrots, celery, potatoes, rhubarb and seakale are more tolerant of acid conditions than most vegetables. If the soil test indicates a lime deficiency, apply the lime in autumn or very early spring and work it into the top three or four inches of soil. It should not, however, be applied at the same time as other manures or fertilisers, especially farmyard manure or sulphate of ammonia, as there may be a loss of nitrogen caused by the escape of ammonia gas into the atmosphere. At least a couple of months should therefore be allowed to elapse between liming and the application of manure or fertiliser.
Besides helping to correct soil acidity, lime improves the texture of the land, especially heavy, sticky clays. It also assists in decomposing organic matter and makes certain elements, notably potash, more readily available to plants. Heavy liming is an important remedy for CLUBROOT, . (Lists ofand shrubs which do and do not tolerate lime may be found under LIME.) Basic Slag, , is another useful aid in breaking up clay soils, supplying phosphates over a long period. Peat and sand are also helpful. These materials will improve as well. In really bad cases land drains may be needed, one main drain sufficing for a narrow garden. With very wide gardens, subsidiary drains must be laid, meeting the main drain at 20 ft. intervals. See DRAINAGE.
Light, Sandy Soils will give first-rate carrots, parsnips and asparagus, provided the soil is dug deeply. Potatoes will not crop heavily unless the soil is liberally manured. Some varieties, notably the rather tricky Golden Wonder, give best results on light, rich land. Light soils tend to dry out very rapidly, although they warm up sooner in spring than heavy land, and earlier sowings of vegetables are usually possible. Incorporating well-rotted farmyard manure,, hop manure, etc., will improve the moisture-holding capacity, at the same time adding plant foods.
The above materials may be used on all soils when preparing the ground for vegetable crops, but fresh animal manure should not be applied to land intended forcrops like carrots and parsnips, otherwise the may ‘fork’.
Green Manuring, , is another way of increasing the humus content of the soil. It consists in cropping the vacant ground with mustard, rape, etc., and digging it in while still green. For example, mustard and rape can be sown in August for digging in a couple of months later. Those having an allotment are expected to keep it in a state of good cultivation and free from weeds, rubbish, etc., which encourage pests and diseases. Failure to remove weeds before they reach thestage is very selfish, since a large number of the will blow over to neighbouring allotments. Annual weeds like groundsel and chickweed pass through several generations in a year, and each plant may produce several thousand seeds.
Choice of Crops: the most profitable crops include potatoes, carrots, onions, beetroot, runner and broad beans, peas, spinach and cabbages (including winter greens). Lettuces, radishes and turnips can be grown as catch crops between rows of onions, parsnips and other vegetables. Catch crops must, of course, be quick-growing and sown on ground which is only idle for a short period until the second crop is growing freely. See CROPPING PLAN.
Gardeners are sometimes advised to ignore maincrop potatoes, carrots and other vegetables which are fairly cheap in the shops, and concentrate on early potatoes, lettuces and other salad crops, which are more expensive to buy and in some cases more difficult to obtain in really fresh condition. This advice may be sound economics, but it overlooks the fact that amateurs are mainly concerned with growing what they like and saving of money is not necessarily a major consideration.