I have an allotment now what?
This is written for anyone who is about to embark on starting
an allotment in the Bradford District, the advice applies to anyone
with a small plot of land to garden. If you want to apply for
an allotment the contact is at the bottom of this page under useful
As of 2012 the timeline for allotments in Bradford is: Allotment
holders get billed in April to be paid by October. The Bradford
Allotment Officer do site visits randomly all year round, any
plots deemed un-worked, a Bad Cultivation Letter (BCL) is sent
to the tenant giving them 3 months from the date to remove all
weeds and rubbish from the site and to have at least 1/4 of the
plot dug over. If the plot is still uncultivated unless there
is good reason, the tenancy will be terminated and given 14 days
to remove all personal belongings, before the plot it given to
As of 2012 Bradford introduced New Standards of Cultivation. You
should make sure you get a copy of the full changes for cultivating
your allotment. Here is a summary: 3/4 of the allotment is to
be in full cultivation at any one time. Full cultivation will
mean that the ground is dug over, weeds have been removed (or
at least the seed heads have been removed) and crops are either
actively growing or have just been harvested. The remaining 1/4
of the plot will be for the placing of a shed or greenhouse, compost
bins and water butts, ponds and pathways, lawns and sitting areas.
you get notification of an allotment, it is important you make
a site visit as soon as possible to ascertain exactly which allotment
you have been allocated. It might be worth checking with anyone
gardening the site which number plot is which. You might hit lucky
and get cultivated land, but this seldom happens partly because
the way the tenancy works, someone who is giving up will likely
hang on for a year which means the weeds will have got well under
way. If you are not sure you have the correct plot ring the allotment
officer up and explain. This is very important, as in the past
people have dug the wrong allotment and all your work can be a
waste of time.
you have identified which allotment is yours, before you do anything
else, check your tenancy agreement as to what you can and can't
do, they vary from council. Then spend some time on the plot finding
out what is yours; if it has any water butts or even a shed, and
check that there are no materials as outlined in the tenancy agreement
that should not be there.
all the warnings over asbestos (photo left, the roof sheets are
asbestos) people have been known to bring it on to the site. If
there is anything you are unsure of ask the allotments officer
about it before you start.
Once you have established ownership and are happy with the site,
take time to plan where essentials are to go. If the plot is on
a slope try to put water butts and compost bins at the top so
that you walk down the slope to water and spread the compost,
rather than uphill. Check to see if there are any fruit bushes
and if they are in good condition. If they are overgrown, ideally
you need to prune them in the winter; currant bushes need one
third of their growth taking out. Raspberry canes; the old wood
needs removing and the new season's growth tying in. Autumn raspberries
need cutting right back as they fruit on the new seasons growth.
The ideal time to take on an allotment is the "back end"
- October for a spring growing, however the way Bradford works
means the tenancy usually lapses for a January start.
Ready to start
people first get an allotment they are keen to make a start and
usually first job they do is get a scythe or hire a strimmer to
cut down overgrown vegetation, and then proceed to hire a rotavator
and cultivate the land. This is the worst thing to do as scything
the vegetation down looks great to begin with but this is like
pruning, the undergrowth will grow back with vengeance. The photo
(left) shows a piece of couch grass with a runner that is over
3ft (1 metre) long and 3 plant stems growing from it, using a
rotavator will mince up the perennial weeds; instead of one piece
of couch grass there are now a hundred pieces to grow
the early stage of having an allotment there is little to benefit
hiring machinery, your plot is probably as bad as it gets, and
is not likely to get worse. Instead, put your money, time and
effort into a long term plan. One way to have a beneficial impact
is to buy a large sheet of heavy gauge black plastic, preferably
the width of the allotment, and lay this down on a section of
the plot using bricks or stones to prevent it from blowing away.
Any growth underneath this will now be suppressed by the lack
of light; It will usually take at least nine months to a year
for the weeds underneath to completely die. Other benefit is any
annual seed will germinate earlier under the plastic due to the
increased warmth with the black absorbing the sun's heat.
is the time to do some digging. Pull the black sheet back and
dig a small section of the land, dig with the spade turning the
soil over and work the fork through removing perennial weed roots.
It is worth investing in a good spade, a stainless steel one is
ideal as the soil will not stick to it as much as a steel one.
Aim to do a couple of hours work, a bit at a time is better than
doing too much in one day. When you have finished digging a large
plot for vegetables, pull the plastic sheet over another uncovered
area. Keep an eye on the land you have dug making sure any new
weed is removed. If you are on a Bradford Allotment, you need
to be aware that as of 2012 you will have to have 1/4 of your
allotment dug over by the end of three months.
If you can get hold of horse manure in the autumn you can add
as you you dig, and also put on top of the soil. In spring you
can add manure to trenches for potatoes.
you are clearing and digging the allotment you will be accumulating
waste material such as weeds. The top layer of the soil is the
most fertile ground so try to avoid dumping it in a pile at the
bottom of the allotment. It is worth investing in a couple of
compost bins. You can make two rectangular bins out of wood which
are called New Zealand bins, or you could buy plastic compost
bins which are ideal as they block light out. You will need at
least two, one to add to while the other is composting.
Your own compost can take some time to rot down and become usable,
it is quicker in the summer months with warmer weather. If you
can find well rotted horse manure preferably straw based is beneficial
to add to the soil while you are digging in the autumn. Avoid
horse manure with wood chipping as some of the larger wood chips
if added to soil can rob nitrogen in the process of rotting down.
sure you have defined paths. One system of growing is the "bed"
system, where you dig four foot wide beds and a small path between.
This means you never stand on the soil, working from the paths
to weed and in autumn you fork over the ground, removing any weeds.
If you are creating paths you can cut thick plastic into strips
to cover the path and put carpet over to stop the plastic wearing.
It is not advisable to put carpet straight down on the ground
as weeds such as couch can "weave" into the carpet making
it difficult to remove. Because of this problem, some council
run allotments are now stipulating that carpet must not be brought
on to the allotments, so check your tenancy agreement. Avoid putting
timber around the borders of the beds, initially it looks nice
but weeds can get under and they become difficult to remove
As the season progresses and there is a spell of dry weather it
can make digging difficult, by the end of April it is best to
stop digging and concentrate on keeping the land you have weed
is likely that the first plot of land you dug will have been weeded
earliest and will be more suited for vegetables such as onions
which are not good for suppressing weeds. The last plot you dug
where less weeding has been done would be better to have potato;
their dense canopy (photo right) is a good ground clearer. Once
you have planted your crops you should make a plan of where they
were grown as you need to rotate crops on a three yearly cycle:
(cabbage, turnip, swede, broccoli etc)
2) Roots; (Potato carrot beetroot, parsnip etc)
3) Others; (Pea, Bean, sweetcorn, courgette, onion etc).
Doing this means there is less risk of increased build up of pests,
and some crops benefit from occupying the land from previous crops
such as peas and beans which lock beneficial nitrogen in their
You will need to consider adding fertilizer to the land to ensure
there is enough NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorus, Potassium) in the soil.
It is worth looking for products that are organic, Chicken manure
and Seaweed extract are popular choices.
It is a good idea to check what the PH (acid - alkaline) of the
soil is like. Potato can tolerate acidic soil to a point, but
other vegetables such as brassicas need the soil to be alkaline.
You can buy a soil testing kit to determine how acid/alkaline
the soil is. You need to adjust this as early as you can by liming
the ground. You are looking for a neutral PH to alkaline soil.
Liming is best done in autumn.
important aspect of gardening is keeping weeds under control.
Buy a good quality hoe and keep it sharp. You are aiming to cut
annual weeds just below the surface. Do this when the soil is
dry and on a sunny day, once you have hoed the weeds they will
dry out and die in the sun. This is when you appreciate growing
vegetables in straight lines meaning you can hoe in between rows
easily. Watch crops such as onions which have a shallow root system
avoid going too near, better to hand weed around them after the
main hoeing. If it is overcast spend time hand weeding, If you
hoe when the ground is wet you churn the weeds up and they can
grow back again. "One year's seed is seven years weed"
is very true.
When to Grow
in the local area of Haworth Cross Roads and Stanbury can be a
challenge due to being on the edge of the Pennines, with harsh
cold and damaging winds. Gardening at 800ft means that for every
300ft you lose 1 degree in temperature. More information on growing
can be found on this page (top right menu) using the month
by month Gardening Diary, main page is here...
If you are on an allotment it is worth asking the other gardeners
when they are putting crops in. When you get experience you will
be able to make a judgment as to when you feel is the best time
for you. Times to consider is when the chance of the last frost
is likely to happen. In Haworth this can be anytime from early
May to early June.
get a head start on the season you can sow some seeds indoors.
There are two main types of seed; Hardy annual, such as Broad
Bean, Leek, Cabbages which can tolerate some cold weather, and
Half-hardy annual, such as Courgette, Sweetcorn, French Bean which
do not like frost. There is no hard and fast rule as to when you
can sow and plant out but an example is: Broad Beans were sown
indoors in mid February, they were planted out on 22nd March under
a cloche with a fleece covering over, mainly to prevent the wind
blowing the cloche away! They were growing fine on 8th April when
the photo (left) was taken.
you don't have a greenhouse you can put the seedlings on a window
cill. To prevent them growing "leggy" turn the pot around
periodically. You can also add a sheet of aluminum kitchen foil
to the back of the pot which will reflect light back. Some root
crops such as turnip, carrot, beetroot do not re-plant well due
to not liking their root system being disturbed.
End of the first season
are you will have had success growing some crops and a few failures,
talking to other gardeners may help you gain knowledge and get
to grips with any problems experienced. You should have areas
of land where it is clear of most weed an area where the black
plastic is suppressing weeds and another area which is still
overgrown. As October approaches you can get back into digging
the plot again as the annual weeds will recede as the cool weather
and shorter days approach. It makes sense to dig the ground
over in the winter ready for the new season, the birds will
find weed seed and the frosts will break the soil down.
At the beginning of this article for various reasons it was
not recommended to use machinery when starting a new plot. However,
as you plan for your second year and feel you have the allotment
under control, you might want to consider labour saving tools.
One of the best devices for keeping paths clear is a strimmer.
Try to look for one where the shaft splits in two as it makes
it easier to carry to and from the allotment. Unless your shed
is like Fort Knox, do not leave it there as sooner or later
you will be broken in and it will be stolen.
The choices are either petrol or battery, the pros and cons
are: Petrol: Pros; Last for as long as you have fuel, more powerful
than a battery model. Cons; mixing petrol and oil for two stroke
engine is messy, noisy and can be a problem to start. Battery:
Pros; Easy to start, quieter. Cons; Life of battery is limiting
factor, less powerful.
You might start thinking about putting a shed on your plot,
current law as of July 2009 states that you do not need written
or planning permission to erect a shed, greenhouse or poly-tunnel
on allotment land. Please note that a shed or greenhouse larger
than 8ft x 6ft that require foundations or are connected to
services, might be construed as a permanent structure.
2 Council owned sites - one near the Parsonage and the other near
As of 2012 Maureen is the new contact for allotment queries such
as waiting lists, plot allocations, repairs etc: Tel: 01274 434212
Contact the allotment officer, Janette Goodinson at: Dept of Asset
Management 3rd Floor City Hall Bradford West Yorkshire BD1 1HX
- Phone 07582 101629 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd (NSALG)
provides membership to allotment societies and allotment gardeners.
Website for more information: http://www.nsalg.org.uk
If you have any advice or tips about growing, contact us
and if suitable will add to the page - please local to Haworth
and the surrounding area only.
Sadly TV programmes such as BBC Gardeners World have become
"lifestyle" programmes giving no real practical value,
especially when you are gardening in a challenging place such
as Haworth. However there is one excellent programme called
Beechgrove Garden which is made in Scotland and they have similar
issues with our weather; the wind and the cold, and have a very
"down to earth format". As of 2012 you can only watch
using iplayer as it is for Scottish audience.
Link to BBC iplayer www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00721bz