Assuming that there is not a great deal of structure already in the plot, you have the opportunity to set the growing areas out in a manner to maximise fruit and vegetable production, cut down the weekly maintenance, and enable you to carry out your annual rotation of the crops.
Draw up a plan of your proposed growing area. At its simplest, an A 4 sheet of paper, with your proposed plan drawn to scale. If you are not good at this, then use “Paint Pad”, which will already be on your Windows Computer. The “paint can” is a very good for representation of plants, shrubs, bushes and trees. Use the plan to show vegetable growing beds, permanent fruit growing areas, fruit trees, paths, cold frames, greenhouses, water butts, compost heaps. Update the plan with the names of varieties of fruit bushes and trees, together with their rootstocks, as you plant them and before you forget them!!
Maximising the growing area.
It is instructive to look around a group of allotments before you start and take note of the way that this is achieved by traditional methods. These are not the result of the current fad, but are the result of decades of very hard work by experienced plotters.
Note how little of the growing area is wasted by excessive paths. On some plots that are laid out by newcomers, less than half the area of the plot is for growing food. It is like a few postage stamp sized growing areas on a large envelope, surrounded by perennial weed infested areas. It seems such a waste of what was previously highly productive soil, when cultivated by traditional methods.
Note how large the individual growing areas are. Obviously this is relative to the total size of the plot but some growing beds are frequently 6 m X 4 m in size, and there is no problem about easy access. If you want to sub-divide one of the beds for one season, a board is easily laid across the bed. After all, it is most unlikely that you will want to grow the same quantity of potatoes as peas or brassicas or onions on the individual beds.
Note how they stick to rectangular shapes for the growing areas. This makes it easier to plan the crop, dig the bed, sow the seeds, plant out the seedlings, weed and hoe between the rows, and pick the crops. If you want to use cloche protection for early crops, you will get better coverage of your crops using rectangular shapes. For all these reasons, avoid circular, fan shaped, triangular or zig-zag growing areas. Gardeners’ World was rightly panned in several gardening forums, for not considering the practicalities of their choice of bed shapes for their allotment project. A clear example of style over practicality!!
Try and orientate the large beds to make best use of the available sunlight. It is best to have rows of vegetables growing as far as possible, in a North / South direction, so as to give all plants an equal chance of the available Sunlight, and not shade each other.
Cutting down on weekly maintenance. One of the biggest problems is stopping perennial weeds repeatedly invading the growing areas from the surrounding grassed paths or open areas. Try and make your paths from old slabs and get rid of the grassed areas which are only a reservoir of perennial weeds as well as being a slug heaven.
If you have very limited time available for weeding duties, then you could consider using the ground cover fabric method as detailed under maintenance.
Annual rotation of crops. It is absolutely essential for the health of your vegetables to rotate the different groups of vegetables in a three or even better, a four year cycle. To do this you will need three or four large beds. This is the way to avoid a build up of destructive insects and soil infections. You will get less damaged or unusable vegetables, and will not have to resort to insecticides and chemicals to regain control of your growing conditions.
Permanent vegetable growing areas. Some vegetables cannot be put into the annual rotation of crops as they require to be left undisturbed for several years. If you intend to grow vegetables such as Asparagus, Globe Artichokes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Perennial Herbs, Rhubarb, or Seakale, you will need to set aside suitable areas.
Fruit growing areas. If you intend to grow fruit, you will need to set aside a permanent area of ground for their cultivation. It should be in a sunny position, to get the ripest fruit, and if possible well clear of a frost pocket. Check out what area you need to set aside to grow your chosen fruit.
If you intend to grow fruit trees, carefully consider where you intend to plant them, taking into account the advice given in top fruit site preparation.
Consider the protection of plants from wind by building suitable windbreaks from timber, plastic mesh etc.
Strong winds will even break branches of bushes and trees, as well as having a chilling effect on all fruit and vegetables. The stronger the wind, the greater the chilling effect will be. Strong winds will also hinder bees from carrying out their pollinating duties.
Some wind should be allowed to pass through the windbreak to prevent turbulence. It is a filtering effect that you want to create, that slows the wind down rather than stopping it dead.
Slatted timber panels would be one way of achieving this. If you are not allowed to construct windbreaks on your allotment, you could grow a double row of raspberries, or a row of Jerusalem Artichokes, on the prevailing wind side of your allotment.