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First allotment, on weedy steep clay slope. Tips?  RSS feed

Glyn Green
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We’ve recently taken over an allotment as a group of 4, with not all that much gardening experience and one of us none at all. The site is a long thin east facing slope  in Bristol, the UK. Its clay soil and apparently thinner  on the slope as it’s been washed downhill over the years, though on the plus side there’s a group of plum trees above our site that add organic matter in the form of plums on the ground. We want to do it organically and no dig.

We’d like to grow mostly perennial edibles and a smaller amount of annual veg. In terms of placement would it make sense to have the annuals on the flat-ish bit at the bottom and the perennials up on the slope? I’m thinking the bottom bit would be more fertile and deep to help the annuals and deeper rooted perennials could cope on the slope and help reduce erosion? 

The site probably has a billion slugs on it. I’ve put down vast numbers of organic slug pellets but come back the next day to find them all gone already and with so much food in the area I think it’s a bit of a lost cause. What plants are good to grow that slugs don’t tend to eat?

Any suggestions for good, tasty and/or easy plants to grow? I’d like some perennial groundcovers and am thinking of trying New Zealand Spinach which I’ve seen growing in Oz but there are probably other good ones.

There’s bindweed on the site which is a pain but we’re going to try to keep on top of pulling it up next year and plan to experiment with a line of tagetes minuta between us and one neighbouring plot. Any other good tips for dealing with it on a no-dig, no spray site?
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Galadriel Freden
Posts: 367
Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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Congratulations on your first allotment!  I'm looking to try it out hopefully this year, too.

Some things that spring to mind in your situation.

--The slope.  You say there is erosion;  I would seriously consider building a series of terraces down the slope to prevent further erosion.  This would also mean you could clear all the weeds and start with a clean (ish) slate.  If not, perennials will help to hold the soil, but bear in mind there will probably still be erosion. 

--Slugs.  To be honest, I've been growing my own for the past 13 years, and slugs are something I have come to accept--mostly.  There is really no way to prevent them in our climate, and your plan of growing perennials is a good way to mitigate the damage.  At my place in 2014 there was such a population explosion of slugs that they killed every single annual plant I put in my garden, and most of the things in my planters and containers.  However, I still had apples, berries, etc, as the slugs didn't really touch my perennials.

Can you have livestock at your site?  Keeping a dozen hens there over winter would help get rid of weeds and slugs, in addition to their excellent manure.  If you don't want to keep them long term, you could probably even give the hens away in spring by advertising on facebook.  We've taken an unwanted hen this way, and would certainly do so again.  Or you could eat them (we've done this too).  However if none of your group has experience with hens, it might be too much to take on, despite the good they could do for your plot.

--What to plant.  While umming and ahhing about taking on my own allotment, I've been considering what would be best to plant for me.  In my case, I wouldn't be visiting every day;  I would probably visit no more than twice a week.  This means things that need to be checked or harvested several times a week wouldn't be practical;  however, crops like potatoes, squash, cabbage, etc, might work well--these are things that are harvested once the season's over.  Things like leaf lettuces, runner beans, courgettes, etc, which are continuously harvested over the season are best suited for my own garden, where I can pick them every day.

If someone will be there every day, or at least every other day, there are plenty of options of what to plant.  Mainly, I would go by what you like to eat!  But also consider things like cost:  are the things you're planning on growing cheap to buy in the shops?  It might be more worthwhile to look at what's expensive, or what's especially delicious when home grown.  My own carrots, for instance, are amazing compared to shop bought, despite the trouble it takes to grow, and the relative cheapness to buy.

--In general.  As you mention none of you have much gardening expericence, I would suggest starting out small.  Maybe just concentrate on one or two annual vegetable beds, and a strawberry bed.  Spend some time clearing your plot, and get to know your "neighbours" as they'll have plenty of advice for you, whether you want it or not!  But they can advise on what grows well, and no doubt you'll have offers of free plants/cuttings/food once they get to know you.  Or even just have a look at other people's plots and see for yourself what's successful there, and what you can emulate.

It's hard work to start from scratch, and if you don't really know what you're doing, it's easy to get overwhelmed and demoralised.  I personally follow the advice in John Seymour's The Complete Book of Self-sufficiency, which has specific layout and rotation plans for vegetable and fruit beds, and an easy to follow seasonal tasks section.  But honestly, most of what I've learned is from trial and error, and by making lots of mistakes.  Hopefully I'll get my own allotment soon too, and get the opportunity to make even more
Glyn Green
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Thanks! Good suggestions. I’m pretty certain we aren’t allowed animals on the site. I wouldn’t want the commitment either, I’m thinking of maybe going abroad for a couple of months Jan/Feb to avoid getting more depressed again in the winter.

Yeah I’ve been thinking about doing some terracing. There is a small amount there but nowhere near enough. I have a friend who has a petrol powered tool for hammering metal stakes into the ground (one of those machines road workers use for breaking up concrete with a different attachment) and I’m thinking of borrowing it for half a day to put a load of stakes in to hold wooden boards in place. Where to get hold of free or cheap thick metal stakes is the question but it’d cut down on the time and hammering to do terracing in the hard clay soil. 

I’m not sure how often we’ll visit but every other day isn’t unreasonable, there are 4 of us sharing it and for me and my housemate it’s only 2-3 mins cycle ride from home.
Henry Jabel
Posts: 192
Location: Worcestershire, England
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Slugs seem to eat anything less than a foot off the ground. So grow as many perrenials as you can to avoid dissapointment! There are a few exceptions in my garden:

I have found after a few years getting hammered by them that they don't really touch the self seeded beetroot in my garden. Wether the beetroot outcompetes them in numbers, have built up a genetic resistance or the slugs are too busy eating tastier things I do not know.

They don't eat Oca Oxalis plant too but the will eat the tubers which is sadly the part you want to eat.

I accidently grew cucumbers outside this year, didn't trellis them and they did remarkably well. The slugs attempted to eat the fruits but it looks like they gave up and the damage was very superficial.

Good luck!
Skandi Rogers
Posts: 82
Location: Denmark 57N
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Ah yes slugs, I have a huge number of the spanish pests here, putting pellets down now seems to do nothing as you have discovered, but get them down in march and do it every couple of weeks from then untill mid summer and you will keep on top of them, I find that using that method after the first time I only have to pellet round the edges as there's none in the middle. Everything you want to grow slugs love. cabbages? Yum, Potatos even better, but just a small nibble from everyone thanks.

If you want to put in peranials then think about what you're going to put under them, weed control fabric or grass or whatever, mulch will just attract more slugs so I would avoid it unless that slope gets very dry, and it doesn't look like it does.

I agree on beetroot, the slugs don't really touch it here either, So beetroot and swiss chard are good candidates, here they don't eat the globe artichokes either or the rhubarb (but the chickens do like that and hate slugs) All of the squash family do ok, but slugs do like the fruit while they are young, if you get in there early and get a bit of wood underneath it seems to help.

What helps me with slugs is ducks.. but I still have to collect them for them!
F Van Roosbroeck
Posts: 18
Location: Belgium
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I have a smallish garden. When we bought it the entire right hand side was dominated by assorted shrubs and weeds, entangled with bindweed and ivy. I cut all the shrubs down, ripped out the bindweed and ivy vines, and dug down about one or two spade depths to construct hugelbeds. On this newly cleared area, I sowed some buckwheat, yellow mustard, phacelia and alfalfa. Buckwheat especially is supposed to suppress the growth of bindweed. Anyhow, so far it seems to pretty much under control: the buckwheat and mustard sprouted almost immediately and crowded out any weed, with the phacelia and alfalfa diving into any gap they left. I've had a few sprouts of bindweed, but they were easy enough to remove.

However, like you I almost immediately had a massive explosion of slugs. This seems to have declined somewhat though; I think because of a rather large newt population. One of my neighbours has a pond and I uncovered a dozen or so Alpine newts in their land stage hiding underneath debris while I was clearing my garden. I made them a little wood/stone pile and they're still there. So attracting amphibians might be an option for you as well.

Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Our first order of slug control is to not mulch the growing beds, this exposes slugs to all predators that can get into that area.
Ducks are far better at slug eating than chickens, they will not destroy your plants by scratching either, but their  webbed feet can press the plants down.

We tried many a home remedy for slugs including copper gauze, DE, beer traps (work ok as long as no dogs find the beer you set out in low wall tins).

Once we removed the cover (mulch) we then gave another home remedy a trial, I made aluminum foil troughs around each plant, these had a 2 inch flat bottom and 1/2 inch side wall.
I then filled these troughs with coarse salt (cheaper than the fine table stuff), this actually did some good, especially when combined with beer traps.

Now we have chickens and ducks will arrive next spring, I am confident we can get rid of the slugs or at least get them into control.
Next on my "kill em, kill em all" list is moles and voles.
Little buggers are back with a vengeance and I must destroy them or convince them to move far away. We could use cats but our dogs hate cats.

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