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Allotment Guide

Veg intro (part 1)

Veg intro (part 3)

Sowing Planting Harvest Guide

Brussels Sprouts





Runner Beans


Allotment Plot Holders' Guide:
Principles of Vegetable Growing (part 2)
Suitable sites and systems

Choosing the best site. If you cannot choose the site to suit the vegetables, then choose the vegetables to suit the site.


Planning the Layout

Rows of vegetables or the beds in a bed system should be orientated north-south so one crop does not cast shade over another.

Traditionally, vegetable plots have consisted of a few beds that can accommodate a large number of vegetables arranged in rows across the bed. To cultivate such a bed necessitated walking on it and so there were fairly large gaps between the rows. A more modern approach is to have what is called a bed system, where the garden is divided into a number of narrow beds separated by paths, so that the beds can be cultivated without the need to walk on them.

Constructing a bed system

The beds should be 1-1.25m wide to allow cultivation from the paths but they need not be rectangular. Any form is acceptable as long as it can be reached from the paths.

Assuming basic ground preparation has been done, mark out the layout. If possible the beds should be run north/south so all plants receive the same amount of sun. Double dig the beds incorporating compost or manure at the rate of 5kg/m² to provide a reservoir of nutrients and humus. If the beds are to be raised add some form of edging to contain the soil. The edging can be anything that will do the job. Timber boards are particularly useful. Make the paths wide enough to take a wheelbarrow. The paths can be left as earth but can be of any suitable material. Bark chippings are a good option.

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Advantages of a bed system

  1. Planting can be denser since there is not need to walk between the rows. Even allowing for the paths overall productivity should be higher.
  2. Cultivation can be carried out in all weather conditions.
  3. Crop rotation is easier.
  4. If raised beds are used a greater depth of topsoil and better drainage can be achieved.
  5. Crop protection with cloches or crop covers is easier.
  6. Compost, manures and fertilisers can be applied to just the areas in which the crops are to be grown.
  7. The natural structure of the soil in preserved as the soils is not walked on and consolidated.
  8. The bed system lends itself to the no-dig system.

Disadvantages of a bed system

It is not suitable for cultivation on a large scale since it does not lend itself to the use of machinery for cultivation, sowing or harvesting. It is a system for the amateur gardener.

The no-dig system

The no-dig system involves minimum disturbance of the soil. The idea is to build up the topsoil by adding layers of organic matter such as garden compost or sedge peat to the surface of the soil. Green manure crops are used to keep the ground covered at all times thus protecting the surface from capping and erosion. The organic matter increases the worm population and their activity improves the soil structure. The mulch is added to each autumn and the crops are planted through this. When they are harvested they will be simply pulled out or cut off rather than dug out. One of the benefits of this technique is that is avoids any damage to soil structure that may occur as a result of continual cultivation. It is not such a revolutionary idea as most permanent borders are only dug once prior to being planted and they generally exhibit good soil structure if regularly mulched.

It will take a while for the soil to develop when a no-dig system is introduced and patience will be needed whilst it does so, difficult soils such as clay and sandy soils will take even longer. If a soil is very compacted it may be necessary to double dig prior to implementing this system.

Advantages of the no-dig system

  1. Soil organisms are not disturbed
  2. Weed seeds are not brought to the surface
  3. Moisture loss is reduced
  4. Less hard work and time is required

Disadvantages of the no-dig system

  1. Pests may build up in the soil
  2. It may be difficult to maintain humus levels since organic matter can only be added as a mulch.

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