How to grow and not lose the plot

IN a new column for the In Season platform I will be reporting once a month on The Journal’s shiny new allotment plot at Gibside.

Sue Adamson, the kitchen gardener at Gibside, with children from Rowlands Gill Primary School learning how to grow vegetables in the Walled Garden at Gibside last year

Allotment gardening

IN a new column for the In Season platform I will be reporting once a month on The Journal’s shiny new allotment plot at Gibside. The plot will be cultivated by Sue Adamson, the kitchen gardener at Gibside, and her gardening buddy Judy Summerson, who shares the allotment. I will report on the highs and lows of this fruitful new venture as well as bringing you our top tips for allotment gardening.

I meet Sue, the kitchen gardener at Gibside, on a cold, frosty February morning.

We take a wander through the allotment plots in the historic Walled Garden which all look remarkably neat compared with my garden (which looked very pretty in the snow but once that had melted revealed a big mess that I’d failed to tidy up last autumn).

Sue has been preparing the plot for The Journal that she will cultivate over the year with her allotment buddy, Judy Summerson, while I report on the plot’s progress and also pass on top tips for allotment gardening.

The medium-sized plot, which is just over nine metres by four metres, is perfect for a family, Sue tells me. At the moment it looks very bare with only a few strawberry plants and some herbs, but throughout the course of the year, it will be turned into a hive of production where we’ll grow some delicious seasonal food.

If you’ve only tried your hand at growing a few bits of veg, or fancy giving it a go, but don’t have an allotment, don’t despair. You can grow seasonal food in your own garden – in the ground or in tubs – no matter what space you have. Even if you live in a flat and don’t have a garden, there are ways and means.

A couple of years ago the National Trust estimated that the North East’s 78,000 flats had 19 acres of growing space on their window sills – that’s a lot of window boxes which are perfect for growing salad leaves or herbs.

Preparing the soil

I’m at Gibside today to learn about the first steps of allotment gardening – preparing the soil and creating a compost bin.

Many people prepare the soil in autumn or early winter but it’s not too late to start now. Preparing the soil means enriching it with nutrients, so once you’ve allocated your growing area, get some muck down. Horse manure is the best or you can buy bags of manure from a garden centre.

Spread a layer a couple of inches thick on top of the soil and cover it with black plastic, taking care to secure the edges with pegs or stones. In the event of heavy rain the plastic stops the nutrients washing through the soil. It also keeps it dry and warm, ready for cultivation later.

You can buy plastic sheeting from any garden centre, or if you’ve only a small patch of ground, use a bin bag or two. The only area where you shouldn’t spread muck is the place you want to grow carrots in – use leaf mould, garden compost or a general soil improver here.

Leaf mould is compost made out of the dead leaves collected in the garden in autumn. It takes about a year to 18 months to mature, so chances are if you’re new to allotment gardening, you won’t have any.

But the next step of allotment gardening is creating a composting area.

Gibside has a composting corner where you can look at different types of composting bins for every budget – some you can make and some you can buy.

There is a free leaflet explaining how to build your own compost bin if you want to try it yourself, and the gardeners at Gibside are always happy to give visitors advice when they’re out and about in the garden.

Once you’ve prepared the soil, you need to plan what you want to grow. I’ll be talking about planning in my next column. Until then – happy gardening.

Passing it on

SUE Adamson has been the kitchen gardener at Gibside for just over a year, although she has been allotment gardening there for about five years in total.

Sue heads the Sowing and Growing together project at Gibside, helping and advising local schools, an adult leaning centre and charity groups, to develop their own allotment plots in the Walled Garden.

What started out as a call for volunteers to help develop plots and replant the walled garden has turned into a wider initiative that is not only helping Gibside connect with the local community, but giving some of society's most disenfranchised members the chance to boost their confidence and gain qualifications, as well as providing children with an opportunity to learn about food and where it comes from.

What you will need this month for allotment gardening:

:: Manure or another soil improver

:: Black plastic sheeting

:: Bricks or pegs to secure the sheeting

:: Materials to build a compost bin or alternatively purchase one

Gardening events

Join the Gibside gardening team for a Seasonal Gardeners' Walk on Saturday March 19 at 2pm to discover what's new in the garden this month – from planting plans to growing tips.

For more information about Gibside and events taking place please log onto


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