A traditional allotment plot of 250 square metres sounds as if it should be big enough to grow a sufficiency of fruit, vegetables and flowers.
But the plotholder who finds himself with that amount of usable ground is rare. Dunblane Allotments are on a steep slope. Edinburgh’s Lady Road site gets flooded with great regularity. My plot is flat, but bordered at the back by a row of huge park trees. They offer good shelter from a sudden downpour but cast dense shade and suck moisture from the soil in the summer when they are in full leaf. Years ago, those of us with plots under the trees were compensated for the inconvenience by paying 50p a year less rent!
Exposure to full sun has a big effect on what grows well which I realise I had underestimated. Lack of sun means lower soil temperatures, patchy seed germination and earlier frosts. I’ve worked out some crops which perform reasonably well under the trees. Early salads, spinach and gooseberries tolerate the less than perfect conditions. Autumn raspberries and brambles do well later on.
About now I sketch out some rather haphazard attempts at crop rotation in armchair comfort at home in readiness for the spring. This year, I added to my problems by choosing tall varieties of some of my favourites with very little thought about the shade they cast on neighbouring crops. Sweetcorn, mangetout peas and broad beans were among the loftier culprits which robbed scarce sunlight from struggling seedlings planted too close by. I am not alone in being caught out. My neighbour Stewart realises that his leeks are not up to standard because they were planted in the shade of his raspberry canes. Along with creating shade, I unwittingly made ideal cool habitats for those twin allotment enemies of slugs and snails.
If cloudier, wetter summers are here to stay, I need to pay more attention to the expected height of some varieties and the shade they will create. For a change I am going to choose shorter options. Sugar snap peas which grow to 150cm will be substituted with dwarf Sugar Ann. The Sutton broad bean is a stocky bush variety which yields as well as some of the taller ones. And in case next summer is as cool as this one has been in Musselburgh, I am going to try a tomato called Sub Arctic Plenty!