Growing tips

Picture from the collection

"My Favourite Allotment View" by Xanthe Fry

Most subject is the fattest soil to weeds: Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare.

While we may struggle from time to time individually, our collective knowledge of fruit and vegetables is considerable. Given that the essence of allotmenting is sharing and being neighbourly, these top tips have been provided by plot-holders for the benefit of everyone. There are sections on fruit, flowers and vegetables, as well as a general section. Please send in your tips to


  • To avoid an accident with a plant stake or pole, place an empty Activia/Benecol pot over the end. You're less likely to poke an eye out.
  • Put bonfire ash on soft fruit, onions and leeks
  • Don't rotavate your plot if there any perennial weeds such as couch grass and bindweed
  • Don't sow seeds too early; later sown seeds tend to catch up
  • You're less likely to get pests and diseases on the allotment if you keep it tidy; things left lying around, such as old boxes and carpets, will act as breeding grounds for slugs, etc
  • You can buy potato sacks from Boswells kitchen department (basement). Otherwise, you can store potatoes in layers between newspaper in a large box in a cool, dry place
  • For really good crops, you need to dig in lots of manure/compost for three or four years in a row
  • Do not compost perennial weeds and try not to let weeds go to seed
  • Most old seed (but not parsnip) is viable much longer than the date shown on the packet
  • If compost/manure is limited - though both are now available from Trap Trading - restrict use to peas, beans, sweetcorn, courgettes and cucumbers


  • Prune summer-fruiting raspberries when they've finished fruiting but autumn-fruiting varieties in February
  • When you start picking gooseberries, take them from all over the bush rather than from one or two branches as this encourages the remaining fruit to grow
  • Although you can plant raspberry canes throughout the winter, November is generally regarded as the best month to do so
  • Rhubarb plants should be divided every five years to keep them productive


  • Pea and bean seedlings are prone to eating by rabbits, so grow them in pots first in a cold frame and plant out when at least six inches high
  • To prevent carrot fly, sow rows of spring onion and chives between carrot rows
  • Pull up mature onions, shallots and garlic when it's very hot and sunny, so they'll dry out quickly on the soil
  • You can plant carrots in rows only two inches apart, even if it says a foot apart on the packet
  • You don't need to make a hole for each leek plant; just use a trowel and plant them as any seedling
  • If short of seed potatoes, you can cut them in half as long as each piece has one or more shoots
  • When planting potatoes, you don't need to dig out a trench; using a trowel, just plant each potato six inches deep
  • Plant sweetcorn among other crops or in a block by themselves
  • Sow sweetcorn seeds in toilet roll tubes - one per roll
  • Applying a mulch to the shoulders of parsnips will prevent them shrinking and cracking, and will cut the chances of canker infecting them
  • Rather than pull out broad bean plants once they've cropped, cut them back to a small shoot near the base; you may get a small second crop
  • Bury carrot thinnings and tops deep in the compost heap; leaving them on the ground will attract carrot fly
  • You can get a second crop from a cabbage stalk; when you cut off the head, leave the stalk in the ground and cut a shallow cross about a quarter inch deep on the buds will appear as long as there is plenty of moisture
  • Sow spinach close to taller crops that shade it, thereby reducing the amount of summer watering required
  • Lift runner bean roots in the autumn and store them in a cool dry place over the winter; plant out once the soil has warmed up and you may get some early runners
  • Apart from a lot in the early stages, you don't need to keep watering vegetables once they have established themselves
  • You can store potatoes in hessian or brown paper bags, but also in plastic bags with compost in a cool cellar
  • If your sweetcorn are getting eaten, be prepared to erect strong defences or give up; it's probably the small colony of roe deer and muntjak which love them.


  • Before planting Dhalias, soak the tubers in water for half a day and, when planting them, don't do so too deep; a thin covering of soil is enough


Please let us have details of varieties of vegetables and fruit that grow well on the allotments and that taste good. E-mail your favourites to

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