Huw Richards

Allotment care: Huw Richards on how to make the most of your space

Meet YouTube sensation Huw Richards and, in National Allotments Week, read his top tips for a successful growing space Picture Andrew Montgomery

Earliest gardening memory One that comes to mind is from when I was in primary school. My dad told me to soak some beetroot seeds in warm water and leave them on the windowsill until after school. I was so excited to get home and sow the seeds with my dad.

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First plant love Redcurrants, I used to propagate and sell soft fruit when I was about ten years old, and redcurrants always stood out – due to them being so deliciously sweet and juicy, but also surprisingly productive in the shadier corners of the garden.

How did gardening become your career? I started my YouTube channel when I was about 12, and after A-levels I decided to go full time with it. So currently it has been my only career.

Horticultural hero I love what James Wong is doing with introducing new and exciting edible plants to British gardens. Over the past 50 to 100 years, the average kitchen garden hasn’t seen much change in diversity of plant types.

Red currant
© DeAgostini/Getty Images

Favourite garden I am influenced by gardens with a lovely vegetable-growing area and an orchard full of character. If I was to single out the garden that impresses me the most then it would have to be Charles Dowding’s market garden.

Unsung hero of the veg patch I am inclined to say the humble swede. It doesn’t get much attention, but it’s a fantastic winter veg that thrives in our climate, and mashed swede is a much healthier alternative to mashed potato with around half the calories.

What principles have guided your attitude to gardening? This could sound unprofessional, but I think the principle of not having to be a perfectionist has been a substantial one. It is so easy to get drawn into trying to get everything just right, but you lose an incredible amount of efficiency. I feel it is much better to just go for it, accept failures will happen and always highlight the successes you do have.

Huw’s tips on how to care for your allotment

1

Cut the grass

Keep long grass down and encourage the neighbouring plots to do the same. Long grass is a hiding and breeding ground for slugs, so minimising their habitat will reduce slug damage.

2

Try succession planting

Succession planting is perhaps the most powerful thing you can do to increase harvests, yet I don’t see people make the most of this. Succession planting winter vegetables after spring and summer harvests will allow you to have fresh food 365 days of the year. As soon as I harvest my first early potatoes, I then transplant leeks in their place to allow me to get two crops from the same area.

3

Water to avoid the slugs

Try and water in the early morning rather at dusk. Watering in the evening only encourages slugs to venture towards your seedlings to feast on them during the night.

4

It’s all about leafy greens

If you are limited with space, or have a shady corner in your plot, prioritise growing leafy greens like kale and lettuce there to allow more sun-loving crops like potatoes and squash the have the brighter areas. Growing lettuce in shade also reduces the chance of early bolting, allowing you to enjoy harvests for longer.

5

Experiment with dedicated patches

Save time by dedicating a runner bean and squash patch of your garden which you can grow in year after year. These two vegetables do not need to be rotated and it will save you a lot of preparation time in the long run and be that extra bit less of planning you need to do.

Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums
© Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
6

Batch produce fewer crops

If you don’t have much time, growing only 4-5 crops such as potatoes, squash, runner beans, beetroot and leeks will be much easier to batch and will result in huge gluts of produce which you can then store. My tip is to choose your 5 favourite vegetables and focus on those.

7

Write it all down

Keep a notepad and pencil with you during the growing season to make notes of any things which bother you slightly or you feel makes you less efficient, for example, the raised beds being too long so you have to hop over or the compost bins taking up a nice sunny spot where you could put a strawberry tower in instead. Then in winter when there is a lot less to do, you can work on the things you noted down to make physical changes to your plot in preparation for the next growing season.

8

No-dig gardening is a go-go

If you haven’t yet, give no-dig gardening a go. About 80-90 per cent of what I grow in the garden now is using the no-dig method. I have found that I use a lot less compost than I thought I would and keeping on top of the weeds is easy. When you dig, you end up digging un-germinated weed seeds to the surface to sprout, however with no-dig you greatly reduce this, thus reducing the weeds you have.

9

Get blooming

Grow flowers around the boundary of your allotment. Marigolds and nasturtiums are known as companion plants. They not only attract beneficial insects into your plot to help pollinate your plants but also help deal with pests.

10

Celebrate

My final tip is to focus on your successes. Every gardener experiences failure, but the great thing about gardening is that there is always next year. Don’t get too caught up with things which haven’t gone well. Instead, recognise what’s happened for next year and then enjoy the things which are working well and celebrate those.

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Huw Richards is an ambassador for Dobbies Garden Centres. Find Huw’s YouTube channel at HuwsNursery, his Facebook page @HuwsGardenNursery, and his Instagram page @huws_nursery. Huw’s book is: Veg in One Bed: How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month (DK, £14.99).