We have been meaning to write about this for sometime. Over the last couple of months we have been taking part in workshops with Sow the City across East Manchester. Workshops have included improving our joinery skills and building a green roof. A few weeks ago we attended a workshop at Acorn Close Allotments to improve our skills on growing under cover. It was a hot day and the new polytunnel at the allotments was baking but it is what we saw around the plot, and talking with the allotment holders that we wanted to share. Visiting other gardens and allotments can provide you with some great tips that you may never see on television.
A common problem on allotments is water. We had an allotment in Mottram once upon a time and one of the rules there was that you couldn't use a hose. You could use a hose to fill water butts but you couldn't use it to water on open ground. You would think that rule would have gone the way of the dodo with modern timers, both battery and solar, seep hoses and irrigation systems but no it is still in full swing for those working the soil on Acorn Close allotments and though they admit that in warm months they still have to trail a hose from the site's one tap to the water butts around the plot, we felt that this nifty little idea was worth sharing.
Acorn Close users have connected five water butts together under a temporary roofed structure. This does two things: (1) it keeps the water butts cool on warm days, and; (2) means any rainwater hitting the roof trickles off into a gutter that feeds into the water butts. You can never have enough water on a plot and this simple structure could be used across a large garden or allotment.
Then there is the use of raised beds at Acorn Close. The allotment holders admitted that the soil was not the greatest and the raised bed route afforded them more growing options. Now, this is a good tip for any gardener with poor drainage, poor soil or just a bad back. Raising a bed a mere eight inches off the ground level can work wonders for many plants, it also means you can improve the soil by adding in homemade compost or brought in compost to the new beds. There are many ways to make raised beds, from brick to woven willow or beech to the more allotment friendly, wooden boards.
Raised beds are also easier to cloche and protect as the edges of the bed, often wooden can be designed to fix covers in place in colder months. You will also notice that at Acorn Close they have one particular plant that spreads, in this case, forget-me-knots, every allotment has one plant that takes hold and should be encouraged (unless it is a weed). At Pig Row it is the geranium and this plant brings in bees, just at the forget-me-knots do, they self seed and therefore can be left in place or dug up when you need that space. You want to avoid open soil, and that is our only criticism of Acorn Close, there was too much open soil and that leads to soil erosion and more work for the gardener.
Finally, all that rubble and broken bamboo canes you have. Don't throw them away, construct a bug hotel of mammoth proportions if you can. Here at Acorn Close they have built it from pallets, we all know they are a constant feature around housing developments and on allotment sites. There comes a time when they have started to be no use for compost heaps but they become useful as bug hotels and the one above is a mix of bricks, broken terracota pots, straw, egg boxes and bamboo canes but unlike some bug hotels the roof is planted up with herbs. Something for the bugs, something for the growers.