I was listening to the Sky News press preview last Thursday night when the guest reviewers chose an article describing how the UK's allotment sites were under threat due to councils selling off the land for development. In spite of demand for allotments being high the temptation for cash strapped councils to sell off what is sometimes classed as prime building land is great. In the past it has been difficult for councils to sell off allotment land as the Secretary of State for Communities has to give permission for the sale and councils have had to support their request with strong evidence that the site is no longer needed.
The newspaper article being discussed stated that there was concern that the present Communities Secretary was too ready to grant permission for sales - the number of applications turned down it stated was just two with 59 sales being approved.
Although this is of concern to me as a long standing allotment gardener what concerned me even more was the attitude of the guest reviewers who I presume only chose the article to ridicule it. One in particular said this was good news as it meant more building land would be available and that allotment were basically an eyesore with rickety old sheds and not real gardens. He said the only people who would care were people with allotments.
I found this attitude really condescending and insulting. He obviously had an old fashioned preconception of what an allotment was.
I did wonder whether he would have been so glibly dismissive if the council were selling off, parks, football pitches, playing fields, libraries, art galleries etc.
Some houses are being built near us on what was once designated as green belt land. This in spite of brown field sites being available. The houses are close together with tiny gardens so one would think that the need for allotment land was becoming even more important as our gardening spaces shrink!
So why should the Secretary of State protect our allotment sites?
We grow and eat our five a day at a time when we at told
that we are in danger of under producing the food that we need.
We lead a healthy, active, outdoor lifestyle – indeed our
type of exercise continues well into retirement. Many sporting activities
become inaccessible as one reaches a ‘certain age’. (One of our tenants is over
Gardening has been shown to improve mental as well a
We garden with due consideration to our environment with
many of us providing habitats on our plots for indigenous wildlife. On our
site, part of our boundary is a natural hedgerow. On our individual plots we
have small ponds, log piles, nectar rich flower beds and beetle banks etc.
Bees and frogs particular need our help with their food supplies and
habitat under threat.
Our fruit and vegetables arrive in our kitchens with only
their natural packaging and therefore, reduce the demand for resources and also
for waste disposal.
The trees and plants that we grow absorb carbon dioxide and
our cultivated land produces soakaway which helps reduce flooding. Individual
sites maybe do not make a huge difference but the cumulative effect across the
Allotments have been described as a green lung which
improves our air quality.
We recycle, indeed as part of our fund raising on our site,
we collected aluminium and steel cans.
We promote social inclusion having tenants from all walks of
life. We have tenants of all ages from very young children gardening with their
parents to those well beyond retirement age. We have disabled tenants too.
Whole families work together on their plots with a sense of purpose and
achievement. If a child has experience of growing their own food from a young
age that they are likely to continue for life. Young children who grow their
own fruit and vegetables also are more likely to eat them!
On our site families spend much time together
Allotments provide a gardening space at a time when new
housing is being built with very tiny garden patches.
Allotment sites often replicate the community spirit that is unfortunately lost in many of the areas that we live.
If you agree that our allotment sites should be better protected from being sold off then there is an epetition here which you can sign if you wish to make your views known to the government. You don't have to have an allotment to sign - just think of it as protected our green spaces from the onslaught of concrete. You could also help by sharing on Facebook, Twitter and whatever other social media you use too.
Let's hope it's given someone new to care for it soon!
Thursday we had another busy afternoon on the plot. Whenever we go to the plot the second thing I always do after unloading the car is have a look around camera in hand to see what has changed since the last visit.
On Thursday it was the blossom that dominated my attention. The pear blossom is falling and the ground beneath one of the trees - Invincible - looked to be sprinkled with confetti.
There was plenty of bee activity when the flowers were in their prime so hopefully this will result in a decent pear crop.
One thing that I had been eagerly anticipating was the flowering of the quince tree - Meeches Prolific. The buds are conical and sit upright on the branches. They unfurl into what I think are really beautiful flowers.
Last year the quince fruits were a disappointment as many had bitter pit which was only apparent when we had harvested the fruits. Our apple hedge is amazing. We think the inherited plant at one end of the hedge is a Discovery. In spite of being riddled with canker which would cause most 'expert' gardeners to advise us to get rid of it, it always has more blossom than the other apples and produces lots of fruit. This year it seems to have surpassed itself - I don't think I have ever seen it covered in so much blossom.
The small Egremont Russet has lots of blossom too.
Other apple varieties have buds ready to burst open when the sun deigns to shine again. All this wandering around taking photos doesn't get the work done though and we did have another busy afternoon. I was on planting duty again. This time I planted the first lot of broad beans - Witkeim Manita. As always these were sown in pots and nurtured in the home greenhouse and cold frame before planting outdoors. Two seeds are planted in each pot, however we defy instruction and allow both to grow treating them as one plant. They were planted through the weed control fabric used for them last year which had been moved onto the appropriate bed.
This bed will be filled with more plants in due course. Martyn was on potato planting duty. After much deliberation he decided that he wasn't going to risk planting this batch of potatoes through fabric until we found out how our experimental bed fared. The fabric that had covered the bed over winter was removed, (no real weeding was necessary), and the soil tilled before the lazy planting was carried out (lazy as in no digging of deep trenches etc.).
I had completed my planting before Martyn had finished so I decided to tidy a 'herb bed'. The bed will need more attention as some plants seem past their sell by date. For now after cutting back dead stems and weeding out couch grass and creeping potentilla we are left with this.
The bed was still saturated which isn't ideal for herbs. It's really strange how some areas of the plot are much wetter than others for no obvious reason. In the case of this bed, I wonder if the proximity of the water tap may have an effect. Maybe people allow cans to overflow or wash things under a running tap which drains into this area. Maybe a rethink of the bed is required.
Our final job before heading home was to tidy around one of the rhubarb plants - something that has needed doing for quite some time.
I hope the vacant plots next to us are taken soon - we don't want to go back to the days when we gardened in the middle of a sea of derelict plots. At the moment it wouldn't take much to get these plots sorted and ready for planting. There are even fruit tree in blossom and lots of strawberry plants on the plot photographed on the left.
Another full afternoon on the plot on Easter Monday saw more progress punctuated by chats with fellow plot tenants and the odd cup of coffee.
We usually have a list of tasks that we want to complete on our plot visits and anything else that we managed to fit in is a bonus.
My number one task was to plant out some cabbage and calabrese. After our club root disaster the plants were bought in to plug the gap and hopefully give us a crop before any seed raised plants would. It's always a bit of a gamble buying brassica plants as this can be a source of club root contamination but hopefully buying from a reputable company minimises the risk. One way of supporting plants so they can have a chance against club root infection is to grow the young plants on in pots so they develop a good root system before planting. The plants were now at a stage though when they had to go out in open ground and fend for themselves. Martyn has posted more about the brassica plants here.
The bed had previously been prepared and the appropriate piece of weed control fabric put in place. Whilst the brassicas were being planted deeply and firmed in, I am sure countless little eyes were watching from the telegraph wires and the occasional white butterfly flew past to inspect a possible site for egg laying.
I was, however one step ahead and once planted and plants watered in, the bed was covered with butterfly and pigeon proof netting. Any holes resulting from repeated use were tied up as some determined creature would no doubt use any large hole as an access point.
Whilst I was on planting duty, Martyn was tasked with sowing. He had already prepared the bed for carrots and parsnips. On our last visit, the channels in which the seeds were to be sown had been filled with compost and well watered. The compost was watered again and then seeds sown. Once sown, to keep carrot fly at bay, the bed was covered with enviromesh. The mesh will only be removed if it really has to be. The weed control fabric should cut weeding down to a minimum which will also mean the roots of young seedling are disturbed less. We don't thin out the carrots allowing them to shoulder one another aside. This also cuts down on root disturbance and the need to remove the mesh. At the early stages the compost will need to be regularly watered through the mesh by either us or nature.
Although the parsnips don't really need to be covered the excess mesh has been laid across the area where the seeds have been sown. Hopefully this will cut down on 'divets' made by paw prints or foraging birds. Martyn also sown some Carouby de Maussane mangetout. These are a purple flowered variety which we have grown in the past. Previously we have raised them in pots but have found direct sowing seems to work better for us. We will see. These are tall growing plants and so hazel branches will be put in place once the seeds start to germinate.
Keeping a close eye on our magnolia tree this year has made me realise that its flowering period is longer than I thought. If asked I would have said that the tree was in flower for about a fortnight. I don't know whether this year has been an exception but despite rain and winds battering it the tree is still flowering and from my earlier photographs, the first flowers started to open around the 17 March.
It still has plenty of flowers.
Many flowers have shed their petals which fall down past our windows like giant snowflakes to cover the garden and path beneath.
The flowers appear before the leaves which shoot once the flowers begin to fade.
I must admit I've never noticed whether the seeds pods that are produced ever develop seeds. I'm sure I would have noticed if they did but this year I'll pat special attention.
The flowers have created a living picture outside of our bedroom window.
I hope my neighbours haven't seen me poking my camera out of the open window to take close up shots - no doubt the birds have found my activities puzzling.
It is, however only when the sky is blue that the flowers can be fully appreciated from ground level.
It's that time of year when it's all go on the plot - for us now is the time to lay the groundwork for a decent harvest to set us up for the year. It is why it is disappointing to see some vacant plots on our site waiting for new tenants. There is apparently a waiting list but as these plots wait for someone to love them they are gradually filling with weeds and time is running our for new tenants to get planting, (Maybe that is what the waiting list means - plots are waiting rather than wannabe allotmenteers!)
Anyway back to our plot. We sow most of our seeds at home in our garden greenhouse where we can look after them more carefully - a full list of our sowings is here but there comes a time when our fledgings must leave home and April is the time for the first departures.
Onion and shallot sets were started off in modules and have now taken up permanent residence on the plot. We have several generations of onions. The autumn planted ones are sprinting away now. We start using these as soon as they are big enough to be useable.
The next generation are the ones that were started off in modules and have developed a root system and made some growth - these have now been planted out. Then as always we end up with too many sets to raise as full sized onions and so these form the next generation. They are close planted and will produce small onions just right for pickling.
The garlic planted in autumn was doing really well until disaster struck. Our plot neighbour, Jan has given us some old fence panels with which to repair our compost bins. These were propped behind the garlic bed when the winds came along and - splat! - blew it on top of the garlic flattening it! We hoped it wasn't damaged beyond recovery and fortunately it has sprung back if not to its former glory something closely resembling it.
Potato planting is underway with one lot planted experimentally under weed control fabric. We chickened out of planting all the potatoes in this way until we convinced ourselves that this would result in a decent crop. Interestingly we watched Beechgrove Gardens the other night and they are trying out the same thing, - maybe they read Martyn's blog where he has already mentioned doing this.