It’s National Allotments week from 8-14 August, which marks an important time in the amateur vegetable growers’ calendar. Mid August is high season for vegetable harvesting and is a good time to take stock of your plot and plan your next move. At this time of year your allotment will probably fit into one of two categories; either it’s a paradisiacal garden of plenty, or – most likely – an overgrown miasma of organic matter, punctured by the odd misshapen courgette.
For the former, it's important to keep striving on to keep those precious veggies cropping till Christmas and beyond. If you fall into the latter category, do not fret, as there’s still time to wrestle things back from Mother Nature and get some veg on the go before we tumble headfirst through autumn and into the relatively veggie-lite winter months.
Weed ‘em or reap, here’s our list of ten veg growing essentials that’ll keep the veg flowing and the weeds at bay.
1. Hori Hori: £18, Niwaki
It sounds like a creature from Pokémon Go, but the Hori Hori (or Japanese soil knife) is one of the most useful tools you can have in your garden arsenal. It’s great for extracting weeds, digging holes, slicing, thrusting – you name it. And it's a lot stronger than most trowels you can buy, thanks to the one piece of carbon steel that forms the blade and runs the length of the handle. This one comes with a monogrammed vinyl sheath for added samurai chic.
2. Sneeboer Royal Dutch Hoe: £54.95, Harrod Horticultural
It may look like a medieval torture instrument, but this mighty allotment tool is definitely a force for good. Hand-forged from stainless steel, it bares zig-zag teeth that slice through weeds on the push stroke – the hook blade on the reverse of the head cuts on the pull stroke. In action, it’s a lot lighter than your average hoe, and the unorthodox pistol handgrip at the end of the handle, facilitates prolonged, vigorous hoeing sessions.
3. Burgon & Ball Seed and Plant Spacing Rule: £20.99, Amazon
There’s still plenty of sowing and planting to be done in August – Swiss chard, spring onions and spring cabbages can all be sown now, and if you are quick about it, you should just be able to squeeze in a few fast maturing carrots. And to ensure your veg rows crop in precise, regimental, envy-inducing lines, you’ll need one of these. This ruler is made from sturdy beech wood, and comes inscribed with recommended plant spacings – perforated with poke holes for pinpoint sowing. A smaller, 30cm rule is available, but veg growers will get more use from the metre length version.
4. Gardman Insect Mesh Grow Tunnel: £14.99, Homebase
This mesh tunnel not only thwarts insect attacks, it’ll stop those pesky pigeons skeletonising your brassicas to boot. The grow tunnel stretches for three metres and offers shelter for plants up to 40 cm high – perfect for protecting lettuce, winter cabbage and other low-lying veg. It’s dead easy to put up, and packs down neatly for easy stowing when not in use, and because it’s made from fine mesh, it won't accidentally ensnare any birds that might come looking for veggie snacks.
5. Royal Sussex Garden Trug: from £36.30, Thomas Smith
Yes, they look a bit look a bit art-and-crafts whimsy, but a trug like this is a handy fellow to have in the shed. Crafted the same way for decades, they are sturdy, balanced and capacious – perfect for carrying bountiful vegetable harvests and freshly plucked weeds alike. They are available to buy online and come in various shapes and sizes, but if you happen to be in the area, it’s well worth popping into Thomas Smith's showroom/ramshackle shed where you can chat to the maker and purchase them direct from source.
6. De Wit Japanese Hand Hoe: £19.99, Crocus
The most gratifying way to hunt weeds is on all fours, meeting them at ground level and looking them square in the eye before dispatching them with a nonchalant flick of the wrist. This hand hoe is the perfect tool with which to get up close and personal – its curved, carbon steel blade makes it easy for precise weed dissection between rows of delicate veg. Not cheap, mind, but De Wit (along with their Dutch pals Sneeboer) make some of the finest tools going, and it’s well worth flinging a bit of cash at something that’ll stand the test of time. Versions for left- and right-handed gardeners are available.
7. Copper Plant labels: £5.95, The Worm That Turned
Plastic plant labels will eventually fade and crumble before wafting away in the wind, but these robust metal tags will stay the course and will most likely outlive the plant you are securing them to. Inscribing them is easy – just press on hard with a ballpoint pen (remembering to double check your spellings) for permanent labels that'll weather handsomely with age. You get ten tags and ten wires in a pack to adorn ten lucky plants.
8. Burgon & Ball Bobbin of Twine: £7.95, Burgon & Ball
An allotment shed essential. This tough, compostable twine comes pre-wound on a handy beechwood bobbin and is just the ticket for securing plants, tying up bean poles and for other string-based shenanigans. Cut off a segment, thread it through the bobbin hole and hang it off the back of your shed door for tangle-free twine on demand.
9. Jayco Gold Leaf Soft Touch Gardening Gloves: £21.99, RHS Shop
Made from soft, supple leather, these gloves are designed to fit nice and tight on your hands to facilitate dexterous weeding and blister-free tool handling. They offer a decent level of protection from thorns (although you may want a thicker pair for grappling brambles), and should you carelessly cast them off post-labour, their yellow leather styling makes them easy to find in long grass.
10. 315L CompoSphere Rollable Tumbler Composter: £99.95, The Composting People
Traditional, static composters that sit on bare earth will often attract itinerant rodents who will delight in turning your rotting pile of humus into a rat hotel with a 24-hour buffet service on tap. They won’t want to squat in this one – it’s a spherical, rotatable plastic bin that turns and aerates your allotment compostables when rolled around the garden, creating splendid piles of loamy plant nourishment. A word of warning though – unless you are built like a 200lb gorilla, only fill it three-quarters of the way full, as an over-stuffed CompoSphere is a beast to push. Make compost! Get fit!
Treat yourself to the Royal Dutch hoe if you have the funds – your allotment weeds won’t be so thrilled, but you’ll absolutely love it. For a smaller outlay, and especially if you don't own one already, get a Hori Hori. In fact, you need a Hori Hori. Your tool shed is incomplete without a Hori Hori.
Richard Hood is one half of the Two Thirsty Gardeners. Their book, Brew it Yourself, is out now.