Autumn is the ideal time for dealing with overgrown plots and allotments. I have seen several allotment sites where new owners are faced with brambles, nettles and rough vegetation made up mainly of grass and weeds and they do not know where to start.
It is true that weed killers may be used but several applications will be necessary to remove this type of growth and then you are still faced with the problems of the roots.
I know it is hard work. After all, I have cleared many such plots and know that you will have your work cut out. But I am a great believer in the ‘blood and tears’ method of physically removing all this material by hand, being as tough as possible, and pulling out all the root growth and rubbish that you find.
Start by cutting down the brambles with a strong pair of loppers or even a slasher. Once cut down pile the material up and burn it. It may be wise to chat to the other allotment holders to see if you are allowed to burn your rubbish, if you can’t, then use or borrow a grinder and compost the final material. Do not grind the rubbish if it is diseased as this may result in diseased matter being returned to your soil.
The next job is to dig, or fork, over the soil to remove all the roots and other vegetation. Go for a strong spade and fork such as those in the Bulldog range. I still have my original Bulldog tools, which I bought over 35 years ago, and have only once had to replace a shaft on the fork, and that was due to my trying to do too much with it.
Physically remove as much of the vegetation, roots and rubbish as you can. The more time you spend doing this, and ensuring that all the rubbish is removed, the easier your subsequent life on the allotment will be. If you are tempted to be half hearted about this stage of preparing your land you will pay for it many times over and have to repeatedly remove the weeds as they grow back.
I find that, when faced with a plot that is overgrown, it’s best to split it up into smaller-sized sections and deal with these in turn. It is easier, and more rewarding, to successfully clear a strip properly than to try and do the entire plot badly.
Once you have cleared the plot it is then time to dig it over properly. Do this in the autumn if the soil is heavy, adding as much manure or other organic matter as possible, and leave the soil rough so that the winter weather can work its magic and break down the lumps. If you are on a light soil, or do not wish to dig the plot in the autumn, then sow a green manure so that you can dig this in during late January or February before the spring.
Green manure seeds are widely available from most of the seed catalogues that fall through your door, and garden centres are getting much better at stocking them. They are normally sold with the other seeds but, if you cannot find them, ask a member of staff as sometimes they can be difficult to see on the seed rack.
It may also be worthwhile in the autumn carrying out a pH test to see what the soil on your plot is like, and if you will need to apply lime to correct acidity and enable you to grow as wide a range of crops as possible. Most vegetables and other plants grow well at a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, but, if you wish to grow brassicas and the disease clubroot is a problem, you may want to bring the pH up to 8.0. This will help reduce the incidence of clubroot.
The pH test, which may be bought from a garden centre or sometimes the allotment society will have one that you can use, is simple to use and will tell you what your present pH is and what you need to do if you wish to change it. pH is not just about the calcium (lime) in the soil but really influences the availability of the plant nutrients that are in the soil. At certain pH levels some nutrients become available while at others they can become locked up. So, to ensure optimum availability of nutrients to your plants it is worth checking every few years and certainly do so if you are starting on a piece of land for the first time.