The National Allotment Society - National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd

Gardening Methods

Allotments are now diverse places with all ages, genders and nationalities following a variety of gardening philosophies. They all rub along together although there is potential for conflict – a dandelion is a weed to some and a salad ingredient for others. Pesticide spray can drift on to other plots but so can dandelion seeds. Plots cultivated using the different principles below may have crops planted higgledy- piggedly and a profusion of  beneficial flowering plants but should not be over-run with weeds and will not look significantly different to a traditional plot.

Here we take a look at how some of the different growing methods approach steps in the cultivation calendar.

Organic Principles

Soil preparation
• Minimum soil cultivation apart from working in green manures or digging clay soil to allow frost to break up clods or to deal with soil compaction.
• Keep soil covered with thick mulches of organic materials e.g composted leaves, home- made compost or green manures, this both protects and adds nutrients.
• Crop rotation important to prevent build- up of pests and diseases.
Choosing seeds
• Organic seeds are harvested from plants grown without synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides and therefore harbour no residues from these chemicals.
Growing on and feeding
• Only use organic fertilisers such as chicken pellets, rock dust, seaweed meal etc where a soil deficiency has been recognised.
• Feed plants with liquid seaweed extract, compost tea or mulch with home grown nettle or comfrey leaves.
• Start off with healthy material tubers, plants etc.
• Grow produce that is suitable for your soil and region.
• Water the soil not over the plants.
• Grow varieties with resistance to disease.
• Sow and plant at times that avoid pests e.g sow carrots in June to avoid carrot fly.
Crop Protection
• Prevention is better than cure; a biologically diverse plot will have a healthy ecosystem with beneficial insects and natural predators.
• Feed plants (compost tea, seaweed extract) to encourage their natural defences.
• Any pesticide use will break the food chain and may be harmful to other life forms so should be avoided and use biological controls sparingly.
• Use barrier methods and physical methods to remove pests.

Permaculture Principles

Permaculture is not just about gardening; it covers all areas of human life and has three main ethical principles – caring for the earth, caring for people and sharing fairly. The design of the growing area is important and must be considered in 3 dimensions not just 2, as the relationships between the various elements will affect the temperature, soil fertility and energy etc.
Soil preparation
• No- dig technique is popular with permaculturists
• Only uses materials produced within the plot system eg green manure, garden compost to mulch.
Sowing and choosing seeds
• Save your own seeds from the plot
• Buy Open Pollinated seeds
Growing on and feeding
• Grow different crops together in the same bed e.g. the North American “3 sisters system” where sweetcorn squash and climbing green beans are grown together.
• Feed with compost tea, much with comfrey or nettle grown on the plot.
• Use companion planting to influence health and growth of other plants.
• Use swales (a gully) to harvest water – channeling rainwater to where it is need at the plants roots.
Crop Protection
• Using nature to achieve a balance.
• Avoid use of chemicals.

Bio-dynamics

Founded by Rudolf Steiner this method uses non chemical management principles, planting and sowing according to the phases of the moon and the addition to the soil of ‘horn manure’, which is a preparation of cow manure that has been buried and fermented in a horn and ‘horn silica’, which is finely ground quartz meal ‘energised’ through spending all summer in the soil inside a cow horn. The preparations mentioned must then be diluted and stirred at the correct time of day – when the earth is either breathing in or out.
Soil preparation
• Best done in the last quarter phase of the moon
Sowing and choosing seeds
• At the new moon plant above ground annual crops that produce their seeds outside the fruit. Examples are lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and grain crops.
• At the second quarter of the moon plant annuals that produce above ground, but their seeds form inside the fruit, such as beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes.
• The full moon is a favourable time for planting root crops, including beets, carrots, onions and potatoes.
Growing on and feeding
• In the fourth quarter of the moon there is decreased gravitational pull and moonlight, and it is considered a resting period. This is also the best time to weed and mulch, make compost and manure teas, harvest, transplant and prune.
Crop Protection
• Bio-Dynamic followers believe that by following the Lunar Planting Calendar gardeners will utilise the cosmic forces to improve crop growth and development which increases the power of plants to resist any pest and disease incidences.

Traditional

Soil preparation
• Many people enjoy the ritual of digging over their plots and enjoy the exercise of Double Digging – this is a technique for digging over your allotment which was widely practiced a generation ago. It involves digging a trench two spades deep and bringing the bottom layer of soil to the top, aerating the soil and breaking up big clumps. However there is also a school of thought which believes the practice serves little good, as the subsoil is often low in nutrients, meaning there is little benefit to your plants. These critics prefer a technique of digging just one spade’s depth and turning the soil as you go. If digging over winter, leave it roughly dug to allow the frost to help break up the clumps, before raking and forking in the spring to a fine tilth, ready for planting.
• Rotovation to break up the soil.
• Liming the soil routinely.
Sowing seeds
• Waiting until the soil was warm enough for direct sowing of seeds was the traditional method before we had central heating and could start plants off on window sills.
Growing on and feeding
• Traditional allotment gardeners follow many of the same principles of organic gardeners, rotation is vital to preserve a healthy soil and mulching with manure and other organic materials has been practiced for centuries; however they do use inorganic products such as Grow-more to promote growth.
Crop Protection
• Non-organic gardeners are more likely to use chemical herbicides and pesticides along with barrier methods but we hope that the current concern for the health of humans, bees and the planet will mean the use of these chemicals amongst allotment holders will begin to reduce.

Having your own allotment is the best way to provide affordable, fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables for you and your family. The hot topic at the moment is to whether to produce them organically using the more traditional growing methods or inorganically using modern sophisticated chemicals. On your allotment plot you have the choice and control over how you want to grow them. The important thing is to make a responsible and enlightened decision based upon all of the up to date information that is available – especially in respect to pest and disease control.