The allotment is my happy place. Before children, I could potter there all day, making everything picture perfect. The passion remains, but now I juggle it with teaching part-time and raising a young family. Eight years ago, we took on our neglected plot in a small Surrey village, where we mainly grow food for home-cooked meals. It’s 45 seconds from home and we try to spend four hours a week there in the growing season, though (whisper it quietly) some weeks we don’t get there at all.But it’s still possible to have great allotment harvests when you have limited time, so here are my top tips to get you started.

Image of Rachel Bull on her allotment
Rachel Bull gardening on her allotment

Divide and conquer

Splitting your allotment into smaller spaces can make it more manageable

A large space can be overwhelming when time is short – I’ve been there! By splitting an area into smaller beds, you can set a realistic goal to weed or plant one section per visit. We divide the plot into 16 beds and tackling one at a time makes me more motivated.

Mulch is your best friend

Mulch is used to suppress weeds and lock moisture into the soil

Trust me: a thick layer of mulch will transform your allotment experience. We make compost using our chickens’ waste and while it’s a big task shifting it (sorry husband), it’s so worth it. The benefits of improved soil-health aside, it suppresses weeds and helps lock in moisture. Watering can take up all of our plot time in summer, so anything that helps retain water is really valuable.

Grow perennial

Growing perennials, like globe artichokes, saves time compared with growing from seed each year

Perennial veg should come back every year, saving you from always growing from seed. Our favourites are Taunton Deane Kale, great for winter greens, and Nine Star broccoli, which is actually a cauliflower but tastes just like purple sprouting broccoli. I’d recommend artichokes, too - both globe and Jerusalem varieties are easy to grow. Soft fruit bushes are low maintenance and can be really productive.

Sow direct

Carrot seedlings in a bed
Sow seeds direct, particularly crops like carrots which don't like having their roots disturbed

Saying that, we love growing from seed as well. But rather than pot on seedlings, we sow as many seeds direct as we can. Vegetables like beans, peas and carrots don’t like having their roots disturbed so the plants are generally stronger when sown straight into the soil. In a colder area, fleecing seeds at the start of the season gives them a head start.

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Realistic planning

A bed on an allotment
Think about what you can grow in your space, consider the conditions and which plants will thrive

Be realistic about your space – ours is exposed and hostage to the wind, meaning anything growing vertically needs good support. Hours have been wasted repairing metal arches, but last year I made smaller structures out of pallets leant against each other for climbing squash. They didn’t blow over and the harvest was excellent! Some vegetables thrive in damp conditions while others tolerate dry – work with nature, not against it.


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