Composting At The Allotment
The amount of compost you need to feed your plot is likely to be much greater than any compost you are able to make from your recycled plant material alone.
Composting at the allotment is, at best, useful as a means of tidying up a plot of unwanted crops and weeds. At worst, it can help spread diseases when you come to use it.
Having an area reserved for composting will also use up valuable space. Nevertheless, whether for composting or for dumping waste material in the short term, having some space set aside for waste material is almost essential.
Burning is my preferred way of getting rid of plant rubbish, either in a bonfire, or using an incinerator. You may like to see this article on the best garden incinerators, that burn hotter than an open bonfire, and are better able to cope with green material.
Many allotmenters allocate a space for rotting down manure ready for use. A local stables, or farmer, may have surplus waste animal manure that they are happy to deliver or be collected. Having a space available to store this material whilst it rots down can be a very useful addition to a plot (some allotment associations have a communal area for this).
An allotment plot needs yearly addition of nutrients to replace the goodness taken away by growing fruit and vegetables. See the starter guides below for more information.
Well Rotted Manure
Composting may not be relevant for an allotment, but the use of manure at an allotment most certainly is. Manure is a combination or organic material and animal excrement, most commonly horse, pig, or cow.
Like compost, manure should be left to decompose over a period of months before it is used. The decomposition process uses energy to break down the manure, so if you apply the manure too young, the manure may end up taking energy away from your plants.
Ideally your allotment organisation will arrange for a communal supply of manure for all to use. Failing that, you may be able to arrange for a trailer load of manure to be delivered to your plot. If so, simply create a space for it on your plot, ideally within a boxed area until it is ready to use.
The end of each growing season is an ideal time to dig over all used beds and apply a thick mulch of manure. There are a number of reasons for doing this:
- It is not good to leave bare soil exposed over the winter as the wind and rain can wash vital nutrients away
- Covering with a mulch also helps to suppress weed growth, especially in the spring, when they can take off during a very busy time for the keen allotmenter
- Manure is in high demand in the spring from other allotment plot holders. Getting to a communal pile at the beginning of autumn can put you ahead of the rush!
There is only one way of transporting manure from the pile to the plot, and that is by wheelbarrow.
This can be exhausting work, and it is best (easier on the body!) to spread this effort out over a number of weeks. Each 3m by 4m bed can absorb as much as 9 wheelbarrow loads of material.
Ideally, the manure in the picture above would be more decomposed. One advantage of adding manure in late summer is that it allows more decomposition time over the winter.
Adding manure to fruit bushes is particularly important as they are hungry plants.
The photograph shows a blackcurrant bush with a thick mulch applied. The best time to do this in the spring. Spring is a crucial time when the bush will flower before producing its fruit.
When applying the manure, try to create a concave shape with the depression around the base of the plants, to help channel water to the plants’ roots.
Here is a list of organic fertilisers for the home grower:
(not ranked in priority)(remember to rot down before using)
- Rabbit droppings
Great if you have big rabbits – if not you may want to read on.
- Pigeon droppings
As with rabbit.
- Sheep / goat
High in nutrients. The challenge is collecting the droppings…
- Chicken poo
A great rich source. Many allotmenters now keep chickens, and chickens have their coup and pen that makes collecting droppings quite straightforward. This is an excellent way of feeding your plot.
- Horse manure
Often a combination of horse bedding and manure. This can be an excellent source as it should be available in large quantities and at a low price (free) if you’re lucky. There is debate over the amount of weed seeds it may contain as a horse’s gut won’t break down the seeds. Rotting down the manure solves the problem.
- Cow manure
Another excellent source. A cow’s gut will break down the weed seeds but, compared to horse manure, it may be available with less organic content (straw).
- Pig manure
- Green manures
This is where you scatter sow seeds of fast growing plants (green manure) in late summer, to provide ground cover (blocking out weed growth), with the intention of cutting back the following spring (strimming), and then turning into the soil to fertilise it. This can be an excellent and cost effective, but it can be hard work, especially if you miss the optimum moment to cut back and the plants grow too big and deep rooted. See a range of green manures on Suttons Seeds.
Wormeries naturally produce liquid from the composting process, and the liquid can make a good fertiliser. Simply dilute with water and you should have a plentiful supply of feed during the growing season. See our introduction to the best wormery.
Like pig manure, this is not one for people with a sensitive nose. When comfrey leaves rot they give off a black liquid that can be diluted to make a highly nutritious liquid feed. To reduce smells, place the comfrey leaves in a big bucket with a hole in the bottom (don’t add water), and collect off the excess liquid at the bottom.
Failing all of the above, an alternative is to look for dry fertilisers available from shops and garden centres. However, these may not be organic, and can be made from the waste products of the animal farming industry (ie not vegetarian). See all Fertilisers on Amazon UK.