I've recently - and unintentionally - become leader of my local allotment site in south London - which is a largely urban area with quite a few parks and allotment sites. As allotments go in England, it's pretty relaxed, but I am very keen to push it further in a biodiverse, permaculture direction.
So, for 2019 I'm compiling a list of eco-friendly things allotment growies could be doing that would actually result in less work/more success for them. Some of the old guys love a good dig and I'm not going to interfere with their little pleasures, but I'm trying to prevent the new youngsters from unthinkingly following their lead.
Here are some thoughts so far, in brief:
1. No dig: you simply don't need to dig, and digging is bad for soil structure and soil life - so ultimately bad for the plants. Plus it just means more weeds.
2. Mulch/chop and drop: helps prevent weeds and is a fertiliser. No need for a compost bin.
2. No chemicals/fertilisers: not needed and bad for eco - and humans
3. Plant some of your plot with perennials - they're efficient
4. Biodiversity: let nature sort out most of your pests for you. The more you interfere, the more you'll have to interfere.
5. Slugs (our biggest pest): hand-pick + scissors + habitat for their predators. Pellets are eco-bad.
6. Polyculture: confuses the pests, and the plants enjoy company
7. Wildflowers/herbs: plant as many as you can - attracts pest predators and confuses pests
8. Winter habitat: don't clear the plot, leave the dying wildflowers and piles of stuff for the wildlife, plant green manure
9. Patience: be patient and observe - your new eco-system will take a couple of years to come into balance
10. Water: soil is not polystyrene, it's alive, and the more plant matter in it, the better for how much water it can hold.
You probably have many more! I'm trying to distill it into Top 10 things. What are your favourites, and what would be your main message to connect with their thinking?
It looks to me like several of your tips can be simplified to make shorter list with a single explanation. The shorter list could make it seem less intimidating, an example :
Wildflowers and flowering herbs will attract beneficial insects that will work for you. They will pollinate you crops and eat many of the pests that could otherwise threaten your harvests. You can even keep some from season to season if you let them overwinter in uncleared remnants of last season's garden.
That could cover four, seven, and eight. It would also be a good place to talk about the collateral damage of poisons, though if slugs deserve their own topic (and I have heard of the Engligh slug here in Texas) I think not poisoning yourself and your neighbors is equally important.
I think I can see something coming together about nuturing the life in you soil too. In fact, the last line of ten "soil is not polystyrene " would be a great topic title.
I do worry about one and two. Not every technique can work for every garden. Examples again; I can't control the native grasses that would choke out all my garden plants if I didn't occasionally dig out the underground runners that grow past all my garden edges. It's like miniature bamboo but the runners go much deeper.
Location: London, United Kingdom
posted 9 months ago
Thank you for the responses so far -
Wayne: in the UK, allotments are sites of about an acre or so, split up into individual plots of 40-250sqm separated by narrow grass paths. Locals rent these plots by the year for a cheap rent, and are expected to keep them productive and not too weedy. Some have slightly raised beds, most are flat.
Burra: slugs - yes and no! I've found that providing habitat for the slugs is also providing habitat for their predators - my patience has paid off. It was a little tedious for the first couple of years, mind- lots of collecting by hand. But now there are beetles, centipedes, leopard slugs and frogs all living up close with the pest slugs. (I'm working on the hedgehogs.) All the slugs and their eggs are disappearing. But your point has provided me with one of my explanations, thank you! Thank you for the book reference too - I'll certainly promote that.
Casie: yes, it's a work in progress... My list was a bit of a brain dump, and I'll be looking for ways to join them up inspiringly. I very much like your summaries, and will follow your lead! I see your point about it not suiting every garden, though as we're all on one site we all have the same issues, none of which need serious digging once cleared at the start. I may downgrade the 'no need to dig' slightly, though.