Brambles can be chopped down mechanically with petrol brush cutters or can be done manually (hard work but immensely satisfying!) with a billhook or garden shears. The sensible approach is to do this with brush cutters, you’ll get it done in half the time and with half the work. Let the brambles dry before burning them on the plot. The best tactic is to have lots of small bonfires in different parts of the plot rather than one large one as this will clear all the grasses and weeds to ground level, and provide a good mulch of ash over the plot, which is also a great soil conditioner when you dig this in.
Note: When having bonfires on the plot, please please be considerate of your neighbours in adjoining houses. This is the most common complaint people have about allotments and frankly we need the residents support to help keep allotments alive and strong. As a rule of thumb wait until late evening (8pm or so) before having a bonfire, make sure the stuff is dry, and if possible inform neighbours in advance.
Now that you have cleared the top growth you can go ahead and plan your plot. Then with your plan to hand you now need to start clearing and digging the ground so you can start planting. Don’t try clearing the plot in one go, but break it into manageable sections clearing one bed at a time. Cleared ground won’t stay that way for long, so as soon as one bed is cleared either plant something, or cover the ground to smother the weeds.
The time of year will affect where you start. For example if its early spring start with the potato bed, get them planted and then move on. If it’s autumn then focus on the onion and garlic bed, and get these planted before digging the next bed.
Digging is my main source of exercise and there is a certain satisfaction when you have cleared an area by hard graft. As you dig each area remove as much of the weeds and roots as possible.
If you have a lot of ground to dig then rotovating could be an option. It’s not one however that I would recommend. Whilst using a rotovator will turn your soil over quickly it will also leave hundreds of small weed roots in the soil, and every one of these could grow into a new plant. Brambles, bindweed, and couch grass are a particular curse, even if not rotovated. Any small part, even a half inch long will start growing immediately and boy do they grow quickly. Dig a small area, plant or cover and move on to the next area.
If you do have brambles or other perennial weeds dig deep and uncover the root, remove every piece and get them away from your site. If you have a large enough plot you may wish to cultivate a few brambles as a handful of blackberries are a tasty snack, while you work and if you have children, a spot of blackberry picking keeps them occupied while you dig or potter. My plot is not large enough for this so I have tried to make it completely bramble free. This is an on-going process that has taken several years to achieve as when I started my allotment it was entirely covered in them. Every now and then another one pops up on a bed and I immediately dig and remove it.