1.How to get started - Clearing a plot
When you take over a new plot it can be daunting, as unless you are very lucky and it has recently been cared, for it is likely to be very overgrown. To keep yourself motivated it is best to plan a small section and get that productive, whilst trimming back the rest.
As we are in London, the soil is clay, which means drainage can be poor (especially in the north of the site). Although many people recommend a 'no dig' technique this does require a lot of compost or manure. Some people recommend 'rotavating' the soil, but there is a risk of spreading the roots of perennial weeds. Brambles, couch grass, bindweed and hoary cress are around all over the site. Destroying their roots so that they don't keep coming back is a major challenge. You can put them on the 'non compostable green waste pile', but other methods include drying them out or drowning them or even according to Charles Dowding just throw them into the compost and keep them covered!
Basic tools and equipment you'll need for cultivating your plot
As a minimum you will probably need the following:
a digging garden spade (stainless steel or steel)
a digging fork
a hand trowel and hand fork
hoe (Dutch and / or draw) for weeding
wheelbarrow (the more you grow, the more compost you'll make and the more shifting around you'll do). If you leave your barrow on the site be sure to paint your plot number on it and also security mark it with your house number and post code.
Its never too soon to start composting. Here is Charles Dowding talking about the 'green and brown mix'. He has such a gentle voice, but also will tell you to stop worrying so much about everything. You can compost anything (including blighted tomatoes). His recommendation for dealing with the dreaded perennials is to just make sure they don't get any light. He doesn't even care if your compost doesn't get hot enough as everything breaks down eventually. We have wood chip regularly delivered to the site, so look out for it and store it up to help you get a good green/brown balance.
2. Security and safety advice
Sheds and equipment
The door, door frame, walls and roofs of sheds should all be sound. Any damaged or rotten sections need to be replaced. As it is impossible to alarm an allotment site or to provide sufficient cover with the CCTV you should never leave any valuables or power tools on site. If you choose to lock your shed, be aware that it can be an invitation to thieves on the suspicion that there is something worth stealing.
Do not leave spades and other tools (eg saws) lying around your plot because they can be used to lever or cut open shed doors.
Report any suspicious activity and crime. If the matter is urgent phone 999. For non-urgent matters, e.g to report theft or vandalism of your property you can go to the Metropolitan Police site or phone 101 and also let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any ongoing concerns about site safety or security please email us at email@example.com
Site safety is an important issue for everyone. Observe the low speed limit on site (5 mph). Don't lose sight of children in your care. Be careful when mixing and using chemicals. Avoid lone working when using power tools.
Please note that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times when on the allotment field. Dog handlers are responsible for cleaning up any fouling caused by their animals.
Water hygiene. Its not well known but Legionnaires disease can be caught from stagnant water or water droplets in warm conditions. Its advisable to take basic safety precautions when using hoses or standing water. Hose pipes need to be drained before being stored or left on site.