Martins Blog

A bit of a History of the Allotment and guidence from Martin Spatcher


In the 1950s the site consisted of large plots growing fruit and vegetables with a few dahlias and chrysanthemums to put in the Autumn Show. Unlike now, Sunday was not popular and plots were mostly quiet. Now, however Sunday is our busiest (and noisiest) day with strimmers and rotovators being used to work smaller plots containing a mix of lawns, flower gardens, and even water features as well as the ever popular fruit and vegetables. However it all started well before the 1950s.

Back in the l800s our grounds and the Kent House Lanes grounds were part of the gardens of a large country house called Albion. For whatever reason they fell into decay and the land eventually became part of the enormous Cator Estate.

During the First World War the Beckenham Council, under an Emergency Powers Act, compulsorily purchased the grounds of both sites for use as allotments. Between l918 and l945 all the allotments in Beckenham were run as individual plots, let by the Council to tenants. The rents were paid at the town hall by each tenant and failure to pay meant immediate ending of the tenancy. An allotment Officer patrolled the sites ensuring tenants abided by the terms of their lease.

Sometime between l940 and l970 the Council began a system of semi-delegated- management on their sites. Associations of tenants were formed and were responsible for the running of the sites. The finance and site maintenance “ boundaries, trees, fencing “ were managed by the Council.

In l970 the Council, now incorporated into Bromley, started a trial scheme on five sites known as a Management Agreement (which actually meant self-management). Satisfied with the results they offered the scheme to any site which, in their view, had a competent site management structure. The Kent House sites did not meet this criteria. The two sites had opposing views on self-management causing much acrimony. However, the situation was finally resolved and, following negotiations with the Council, Kent House Leisure Gardens Association was finally launched in January l975. The provision of the facilities and services on the site, which we enjoy today, could begin.

There is still much to do in developing and maintaining the site. If all tenants contribute to this in some way, as required under the tenancy agreement, we can provide new and better services both for ourselves and the community to enjoy.


The site is now one of the best equipped in the area featuring:-

A superb Club House for the general use of plot holders and which can also be hired for special occasions.

Toilets with wash basins and towels.

Water tanks with taps for hoses adjacent to most plots.

Mowers, strimmers, and rotovators for hire on Sundays (after 10 a.m.) or at other times by arrangement with a key holder.

Power shredder – always available.

Shop stocking fertilizers, compost, tools etc., open Sundays 10.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. Spring to Autumn.

Secure gated site with small parking area, – we endeavour to maintain perimeter fences against vandals and thieves. Please do your part by ensuring that the gates are kept locked and by reporting any damaged fencing or incident.

Hobby Plots – some plot holders keep ducks, chickens, and rabbits; others specialize in bee keeping and vine culture. Obviously these require very specialized care. If any of these appeal to you don’t be too hasty, ask for advice from appropriate plot holders before investing any money in stock or equipment. NB Permission from the Committee is required for the keeping of livestock on a plot.


Traditionally allotment holders were well known for not spending any money (mainly because they had none). Sheds were made from scrap doors, windows, and corrugated sheets; seeds were saved and nothing was thrown away. More recently this has changed, sheds and greenhouses have to be smart proprietary models and even compost containers are now made from plastic. However, with recycling becoming more necessary perhaps a compromise will evolve.

2.1 Philosophy

The allotment site is another world hidden away from the traffic, fumes, and noise of Sydenham Road. It is lush and verdant, the air sweet with the tang of manure, and almost everyone stops to say Hello. If you have too much produce you will probably give some to your neighbours. In return, if you are lucky, you may be given crops you have never attempted to grow: Squash from the Caribbean lady, or Peppers from the Asian guy. Here all Nationalities rub shoulders, and there are plot holders of all ages, men and women and several family plots. The best thing about your allotment is that you should not feel stressed out for long.

2.2 Socializing

The Association organises many events – some more social than others .e.g. Harvest Supper, Christmas Lunch and the popular Summer Barbeques. If you have any suggestions for one of our occasional group visits please advise the Committee. To get the most from your membership you should make a point of visiting the Club House and checking the Notice Board (as well as having a cup of tea and a chat).

We generally have two Open Days each year when our neighbours and the public are invited to look around and be entertained. The Spring event is an important fundraiser for the Association whilst the Autumn Day is for charity. Both these events are very important as they allow us to become a recognised part of the local community. Many folk do not know about allotments. A great deal of hard work and planning goes into these events and extra help is always appreciated.

Please be prepared to share in the common tasks by joining volunteer groups or as an individual. We particularly need volunteers for the Allotment shop “On Sunday mornings 10.30 to 13.30 from the end of March to the end October. You could consider using your skills and expertise by joining the Management Committee.

2.3 Getting Advice

Neighbouring plotholders can often help. The site is also covered by Site Managers – refer to the Notice Board in the Club House for yours, and introduce yourself. Shop Staff can direct you to sources of technical information in the Club House.


Compost – may be either the friable organic matter remaining after a compost heap has matured (similar to leaf mould), or a pre-packed manufactured growing medium (originally based on peat but now more commonly peat-free). Generally quality increases with cost.

‘John Innes’ is a standardised range of loam (soil) based composts introduced by the John Innes Institute of Horticulture in the 1930s, the range is: JI seed, No. 1, No. 2, & No. 3 where the seed is fine & weak and No. 3 is coarse & strong (in nutrients). N.B. JI refers to the formula only; the product is manufactured by most compost suppliers under their brand name.

Crop Rotation – not the magic roundabout, but a system where crops are grown in a different spot each year so that they are less likely to build up pests and diseases in the soil and to avoid robbing the soil of the same nutrients season after season. Basically, crops that require plenty of manure in the soil (peas, beans, leeks, onions) are grown together and that patch will be used for root crops the following year. Crop rotation ˜proper is only practical if you have a 10 rod plot.

Chitting “ storing seed potatoes with their eyes up until they sprout shoots before planting.

Earlies – potatoes are grouped according to the season of lifting (harvesting) not planting. i.e. ‘earlies’ grow quicker (100 days) than a main crop (140 days) so require a smaller space but also yield less.

N.B. don’t forget that your seed potatoes must be chitted ‘ before planting, not ‘chipped’

Organic growing crops without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Mulch – a soil covering placed around growing crops or fruit bushes etc. The ˜mulch suppresses weeds, retains moisture and warmth, and may also be cosmetic. It varies from black plastic polythene sheets to composted bark chips.

Plot sizes – younger plot holders educated in the bland age of metrification may be confused by plot sizes, most of our plots are 5 or 10 rods. A rod, pole, or perch is 16.5ft therefore 1 square rod is 30.25 square yards.

i.e. 5 rods (half a plot) = 150 sq. yards

10 rods ( 1 plot) = 300 sq. yards

It goes without saying that rents are charged by the square metre!!!


When starting your first plot keep it small – do not attempt to cultivate a large area too soon. If you have the time and energy to clear and dig the whole plot, fair enough, but if not, the first patch will start showing weed growth before the last patch is cleared. It can be very disillusioning just clearing weeds with no crops to show for it. Better to clear a small area, plant, and tend a few rows, whilst covering the remainder with carpet ready to be dug later (it must be natural fibre carpet – not nylon or foam backed).

Start by planning your plot – produce a sketch showing the position of any permanent feature such as a shed, compost heap, or shade from trees. Decide where to place any permanent crops like cane, soft fruit, rhubarb, or asparagus. Divide the remaining area into vegetables, flowers, grass, and so on, depending on your fancy.

NB Rows of vegetables are best positioned to run north – south in order to get the benefit of sunlight on both sides throughout the day. All vegetables require a sunny aspect although parsnips will do well in shade. Finally, depending on the time of year, and your own priorities, decide which of these areas to prepare and plant first.

Avoid the temptation to grow too many varieties of vegetables in your first year, especially ˜ exotic crops. Decide on a limited range of varieties that you and your family will enjoy, particularly those which are expensive or not available fresh in the shops. These ˜high value crops include all soft fruit, broad beans, runner beans, peas and spinach. Potatoes, for example, are usually cheap to buy in bulk and take up a lot of room on the plot.

A basic tool kit should be begged, borrowed or bought, comprising:

Spade ideally ˜London pattern with boot savers

Fork easier to use on uncultivated ground.

Dutch Hoe to remove annual weeds in dry weather.

Rake to prepare seed beds and earth up potatoes.

Trowel for planting and spacing seedlings.

Line homemade, to align seedlings.

Secateurs for cane fruit.

Old knife to trim vegetables.

Bucket to collect weeds and keep small tools in.

Watering Can – NB Red cans are only used for weed killers (using a weed bar, not a rose).

Avoid tools which require a twisting action unless you have a strong back.

4.2 Keep it Tidy

Many allotment sites resemble rubbish tips and are frankly an eyesore. Whilst this is arguably an extreme example of recycling it is not realistic in an urban setting overlooked on all sides by our neighbours homes. It is important that sheds and compost containers are reasonably smart and tidy. They should also be a few inches away from the path to allow wheelbarrows and mowers access. Please remember that neighbouring plot holders (and perhaps their children) have to use your border paths. It is your responsibility to cut the grass, define the path edges and keep them clear of debris.

Any rubbish from your plot which cannot be composted may be dumped in the green bin by the main gate. However this is very costly and the bin soon gets full. If you have transport please consider taking the rubbish to your own bin. There are specific rules regarding Bonfires. Please refer to the notice board for up to date regulations.

4.3 Keep It Safe

We have an obligation to ourselves, other plot holders, and especially the public (on open days and school/club visits) to maintain a ˜safe site – i.e. not to put anyone at risk including ourselves. In practice:

Ensure lines, tools, hosepipes and the like are not left lying around on access paths

Remove nails, hooks, sharp edges from sheds and containers adjacent to paths

Stack glass frames in a ˜safe location

Keep all pesticides in your shed when not in use

4.4 Keep it Leisurely

Our allotment plots are ˜leisure gardens not labour camps! Dont take on more than you can cope with and dont keep digging for so long that you injure your back. Take it easy and enjoy it. If you are not enjoying a task, try a different approach. The ideal time to cultivate, sow, or harvest can be found in any garden text book, but the best time to do many of these tasks is when you are in the mood!

Kent House soil is an exception to the above – too wet to dig in the winter and dry like concrete in the summer. It must be roughly dug over in late autumn (when damp but not wet) and cultivated ready for sowing as soon as it dries out in the spring. At all costs avoid walking on soil in winter!!


The initial clearance – the plot you have just taken on is probably infested with weeds. There are a number of ways in which you can deal with these:

Dig the plot, separating the out the weeds into a pile for burning (some people say you can compost these weeds, others that seeds will survive all but the hottest compost heap).


Slice off the top two inches of sod and weeds and leave in a pile to dry/rot down for burning/composting then dig the plot separating out any roots that remain and adding them to the pile.


Using a watering can and weed bar apply a systemic weed killer to the plot. Wait three weeks for the weed killer to reach and kill the roots, then dig the plot and put the weeds into a pile for subsequent burning. The manufacturers of some products claim that it is safe to compost these treated weeds – check the label.

A rotovator is not recommended on a weedy plot. It tears up the underground bindweed and couch grass roots into thousands of root cuttings which quickly spring to life with even greater vigour than before!

Constructing and using a Compost Heap – composting is actively encouraged by the Association, both as an effective means of improving your soil, and removing the need to dump plant materials in the wheelie bin. We are fortunate to have a supply of horse manure frequently which is free to all members to take as required and this, in conjunction with your compostable household waste and the inevitable vegetable matter your plot generates, will, after composting, form a fine material to lighten your soil and improve drainage.

Your new plot may already have a compost heap, but if not look around the site for ideas you may like to copy. In essence the compost heap needs:

Two containers, each 4ft x 4ft x 4ft made from timber slats, pallets, or wire mesh, but not solid. Ideally the front should be removable for access.

Lined with newspaper to stop drying out.

Covered with a piece of old carpet to keep moisture in – water well if it should dry out.

Fill with any organic matter, plus a little sulphate of ammonia or compost activator every 9 inches. Any stems or woody matter should be shredded or hammered flat first. Avoid composting thorny rose stems as the thorns will not compost down. Never add waste food as this attracts vermin. When full leave for about 6 months whilst using the second container.

If you have a large quantity of leaves from home in the Autumn, these are best composted separately into leaf mould.

After a minimum of 6 months, spread the compost over the plot at the rate of at least one bucket per square yard. The entire plot may be treated in the Autumn but only mulch around fruit bushes and mature crops in Summer. Runner bean rows benefit from large quantities of compost being incorporated in the Spring.

Applying Lime – apply lime to your soil to in order to ˜sweeten it, i.e. make it less acidic. The amount of chalk or lime in the soil governs its acidity/alkalinity, and hence the type of plants that will grow in it. Lime should be applied at least 4 weeks after adding the Autumn compost or at least 4 weeks before Spring cultivation as the rain will have to wash it in .As a rule of thumb BRASSICAS, beans, peas and onions do better with lime whilst root crops and potatoes don’t. However lime is gradually lost from the soil and needs replenishing every few years.

Preparing a Seed Bed – in early Spring as soon as the soil is dry enough, lightly fork over the surface to break up the clods and relieve compaction. Work in any fertilizer and finally use the back of the fork to bash down the surface and lightly rake over. Always work off a plank or board unless your plot has permanent paths otherwise the soil will get seriously compacted. Two to three weeks later crops may be sown, provided the weather is suitable. In the meantime consider protecting the seed bed from bad weather with a cloche or plastic sheet.

Sowing and Planting – decide what vegetables you are going to grow. Generally vegetables may be grown from seed, seedlings, or small plants. This is summarised in Appendix 1.

Hoeing out the Weeds – this is most effective on a ˜good drying day. If you do this when the soil is wet it will only move the weeds about. Use the Dutch Hoe regularly to ˜chop off weeds between the crops. Work backwards using a push/pull action so that the blade skims the surface of the soil without digging in too far. Maintain sharp edges back and front.


The three main nutrients are Nitrogen (N) for leaf and shoot growth, Phosphorus (P) for roots, and Potassium (K) for flowers and fruit.

Nitrogen is easily washed out of the soil during the Winter so it needs to be replaced each Spring.

Phosphate and Potash are relatively stable and only need topping up. This can be achieved organically by incorporating 10lb/sq.yd. of well-rotted stable manure or good garden compost. An inorganic substitute is 2oz Super phosphate/sq.yd. plus 1 oz. Sulphate of Potash. Time is not too important but autumn is best.

Nitrogen is best applied as a ˜Base Dressing raked into the soil before sowing or planting a crop, and as a top dressing, applied to established crops.

Nitrogen Fertilizer:

7% Growmore (+ 7% P. & 7% K).

12% Nitrate of Potash.

15% Calcium Nitrate/Nitrate of Soda.

21% Nitro chalk/Sulphate of Ammonia.

12% Dried Blood (Plus 2.5% P. & 1 % K) (Organic)

Phosphorus may be Supplied by:-

20% Super phosphate*

44% Triple Phosphate is also available*

7% Bone Meal (+ 4% N) (Organic)*

2.5% Hoof and Horn (+ 14% N)(Organic)*

Potassium may be Supplied by:-

36% Nitrate of Potash (also supplies Nitrogen)*

49% Sulphate of Potash*

5% Seaweed Extract (+ 1.5% N) (Organic)*

* These are all slow release and should be

applied well before the growing season.

Other Fertilisers are available with very high Nitrogen to rapidly boost green leaf crops.

Ammonium Sulphate (also used as a activator compost heap).

Blood, Fish and Bone (Organic).

Poultry Manure (Pellets) (Organic).

6X Poultry Manure (Very Concentrated). (Organic).

Green Manures – if the ground is left bare over winter soil fertility will be reduced as nutrients, especially nitrogen, are washed out by the rain. Green manures are vigorous crops grown purely to benefit the soil. As they grow they take up available nutrients and protect the soil structure. In the Spring the manure crops are still young and sappy enough to be dug straight back into the soil, where they will quickly decompose – to provide food for the succeeding plants.

Lime – the amount of chalk or lime in the soil governs its acidity/alkalinity, and hence the type of plants that will grow in it. As a rule of thumb: BRASSICAS, beans, peas and onions do better with lime whilst root crops and potatoes don’t. However the lime is gradually lost from the soil and needs replenishing every few years.


7.1 Pests Don’t be too alarmed at the long list of pests and diseases in gardening books; many will never be encountered and some are mainly cosmetic, looking bad but still producing a reasonable (if reduced) crop. The best defence is to grow vigorous plants with adequate supplies of water, nutrients, light and air. These will be healthy enough to survive most attacks, whereas plants that are weak and struggling are far more likely to succumb. However, a few common problems are worth listing:

Squirrels, foxes and cats are all common on our site and are difficult to discourage, but please do not encourage them on to your plot.

Pigeons are especially annoying in the winter when other food is scarce. Black netting stretched over a frame is essential for winter cabbage and can also be used over soft fruit, cane fruit and bushes to prevent general bird damage.

Butterflies and caterpillars a net over cabbages may discourage cabbage white butterflies but they are just as likely to get themselves trapped inside. The best approach is to be vigilant and pick off caterpillars as soon as they appear. They cause damage on all brassicas and on gooseberry bushes (sawfly).

Carrot fly eggs hatch into white maggots which infest mature roots “ less of a problem on early and late sowings. This pest flies about a foot off the ground so rows can be given some protection by fencing them in with a foot high barrier of shade netting or fleece. Alternatively keep covered by fleece for as long as is practicable. The fly scents the carrot plant and may be confused by interplanting the carrots with garlic or onions. In any case always move thinnings and tops well away from the crop and bury them in compost heaps. There are a few varieties that claim some resistance to attack and may be worth a try.

Flea beetle this tiny pest perforates leaves of radishes, turnips, and swede but it can be discouraged by keeping the row damp and covering it with fleece.

As a general rule moving pests are bad (slugs, snails, wireworms). They are vegetarian and don’t need to move very quickly. Beetles, ladybird lava, and spiders are carnivores and have to catch these pests, so quick is good!

7.2 Disease Club root is a fairly common fungal disease affecting all brassicas, including radishes and wallflowers. It causes the roots to swell and seriously reduces the yield. There is no cure but its effects can be limited by growing seedlings on in containers before planting in infected soil. Prevention is easier than cure. Never grow any brassicas in the same bed for more than one year in three and always lime the soil well before planting. If your soil is infected take care not to transfer it onto other plots on boots, tools, or wheelbarrows.

Good garden hygiene will combat many problems. Rubbish, dead leaves, and twigs harbor pests and diseases so put them on the compost heap and keep the rows free from debris and weeds. Where possible it is better to burn or bin diseased growth rather than compost it.

Browse the shelves of the allotment shop to see which chemicals are currently available to combat these problems. They have not been listed in this section because there are fewer varieties available each year.









Broad Beans






Kidney Beans

Wire Net.





Runner Beans
















































Wire Netting






Earth Up