For years allotments were out of favour. No-one wanted them, and patches of mud with a shed at one end and weeds everywhere else went to waste. Then suddenly gardening became the new rock and roll, and everyone who didn't want to dig up their lawn wanted their own council-run patch of mud. The waiting lists grew faster than the cabbages. Now, after more than three years on a waiting list, Neil Shaw has been given his own patch of green and pleasant land.

Monday, 12 March 2012

They're ba-ack (again)

Okay, so last year I posted one update then went dark, my bad. In my defence, it was a busy year. Major work upheavals for both me and my other half, ever-growing children, fairly major building work on the house (enough with the excuses already).
Life, as John Lennon didn't say, is what happens while you're making allotment plans.
Not that none of our time was allotment-related. We did manage to get up there a fair amount and had a good crop of apples, soft fruit, plums, potatoes, onions, leeks, swede and more courgettes than it is humanly possible to imagine without a picture (I don't have a picture).
Also, at around this time last year I joined the allotment society committee.
It wasn't by design, I just happened to go to the open meeting, asked if they had a website, mentioned I knew how to make one and suddenly found myself bashed over the head and woke up out at sea on HMS Pressganged (metaphorically).
And also not that the meetings, or managing the site, take up a huge amount of time. In fact they're both enjoyable - and informative.
The society has this year hacked through the waiting lists under the guidance of a new secretary, has investigated re-establishing a town vegetable show and has brought every site under its control into productive use.
Not bad going.
So, how does our patch of red mud look?
We went back up this weekend for our first full weekend of the season, having put the plot to bed in December - digging over and covering over every patch we could.
Saturday and Sunday saw us pulling back the covers, digging as much as we could, moving two huge and full compost heaps to the bottom of the site and planting new crops.
The compost bins had become eyesores by virtue of the fact they were mostly full of weeds that insisted on growing out of the sides - they had to go.
But they made was for new rows of raspberries, and some of the mud was used to shore up the water tank at the top of the plot.
We also managed to plant another blackberry to replace some of the old ones that needed to go, and we moved the rhubarb from the bottom of the plot (swamped in grass) to the top (where everyone else seems to grow there's).
We sited and bedded in two new water containers - with drought orders set to come in tomorrow in some parts of the UK storing up water now is vital.
And we prepared the ground for our crops.
Potatoes and onions have both done well for us over the past two to three years, so there will be plenty more of those.
We have a pumpkin in already, and plan to put in more squashes.
Mangetout have been brought on from seed and will go in the ground tonight.
We also have loads of brassica seeds growing happily in the greenhouses - so they will go into the prepared beds once we have some way of protecting them from the worst of the wildlife.
Leeks, carrots, parsnips and swede will follow.
This year, our third full year on the plot coming up to year four, we aim to use the whole patch.
We've got a good idea of what works, what works where and what we can use (the jars of courgette chutney filling our fridge are a warning, not a relish)
So, here's to a productive 2012 - bring it on.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

They're ba-ack

We had to come back. The onions have run out.

To be fair, there is still stockpile of jars in the cupboard filled with apple chutney and bramble jam - and the freezer is half full of frozen soft fruit - but in the interests of a diverse diet it's definitely time to get growing again.

We've been back on the plot since the start of April having left the site to overwinter (by which I mean the weather outside was frightful, and the fire is so delightful).

Fortunately we covered the plot with weed matting over the winter, and all the work we've put in over the last few year has made most of the site manageable, so it has taken just a couple of weeks to get it back up and running.

The top plot (last year's onions) is now weeded, dug over and replanted with garlic, courgettes, herbs, salad and nasturtiums (to ward off pests and attract bees) with room left for swede.

The strip below that has been out of action since we started thanks to someone burying half a battleship in the soil.

It took a while but I managed to dig out seven huge rusted iron sheets, dig between the roots of the blackbery bushes and clear that stretch - ready for leeks and strawberries. We've also added a couple more fruit bushes up there.

Next down the patch unused last year is cleared, dug over and filled with potatoes.

Below that a whole bed cleared, dug and filled with more than 400 onion sets.

Below that another bed cleared. Carrots and parsnips in. Space cleared for a polytunnel. This patch will also be home to brassicas and sweetcorn.

Next plot down - mostly untouched. This is where we unsuccesfully tried to grow butternut squash last year - the red ant plot.

At the end of this stretch is a rhubarb patch which has been cleared of weeds but the rest of it is yet to be tackled. A couple of days hard digging still to come. Then hopefully we'll get sqush in there again.

And finally the fruit 'cage'. This year we hope to invest in a cordless drill and get an actual cage in there, as well as some protection for the brassicas currently growing in a small greenhouse in our back garden.

So a busy few weeks - and many more to come - but it looks like the whole site is finally, almost, up and running!

Friday, 3 September 2010

The new face of evil

Seems we've spent too much time worrying about pigeons and slugs. While our backs were turned, our focus on other things, a big new bad boy was munching his way through our crops.


Went up to the plot yesterday evening, glorious September warmth bathing the hillside site, only to find all our swede leaves munched away.

A bot of investigation found an infestation of furry wannabe butterflies looking fat and guilty on the stems where big green bits used to be.

Evil little grubs. Lets just say their dreams of flying came true early when I hurled them as high and far as I could into the neighbouring field.

Problem is, the net we have over the top of the patch to stop the pigeons getting in and eating the leaves also stops the pigeons getting in and eating the catterpillars.

Might try the soot trick to see if that will keep them away, but I'm thinking its too late, the damage looks pretty severe.

If these swedes were wired up to all kinds of machines on a TV hospital drama the doctors would have stopped shouting "Get me 10cc of adrenochrome stat" and the beepy machine would be making a long, constant, ominous whine. 

Oh well, who likes delicious golden mashed swede on the side of a plate of Sunday roast anyway? Drenched in organic butter, a slight sprinkling of salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Catterpillars=evil. Anyone got the number for Crimewatch?

Monday, 2 August 2010


I love the smell of onions in the morning, reminds me of...victory.

The crop is in, and it looks good - a barrow-full of onions which drew appreciative looks from others on the plot when I staggered with the heavy load to my car this weekend.

The car, the house and everything within a one-mile radius of my house now smells like onions.

Harvesting them was simple, they were ready to come up and an hour's work transferred them from soil to barrow.

The garlic next to them needed a bit more digging, and some of the potato plants further down were looking decidedly yellow so I took a fork to them for a bit of investigative surgery.

And they were great, much better than last year's offering - big, yellow, waxy, healthy, thin and good looking skins and very tasty when roasted for Sunday lunch.

I plan to go back this afternoon to dig up a few more...

Which leads to the main problem, what to do with the glut.

So far our freezer is full of gooseberries and raspberries, our cupboards are full of apples, the garage is full of onions and I haven't quite worked out what to do with the potatoes or blackberries yet and we're still waiting on carrots, leaks, swedes, plums and tomatos.

We have a huge jam pan on loan, and many people could be finding themselves with a jar of apple and onion chutney this Christmas.

If you want one, be nice to me. If you want two then get on my bad side.

We had apple charlotte for pudding this Sunday, as a change from gooseberry crumble which we've been eating for as long as I can remember.

But on the positive side the shopping bill was about half its usual size this week as I avoided most of the fruit and veg aisle.

Plan is to head online and find recipes and instructions for proper storage. Any suggestions of what to do with excess veg will be welcome (rude suggestions will be recycled into insults for future use)

Friday, 30 July 2010

Film with a good plot

There are two words virtually guaranteed to make a film/TV show unwatchable - Omid Djalili.

Fortunately, One-joke Djalili does get deported half-way through British comedy film Grow Your Own. Unfortunately it's just his character that gets deported leaving Omid free to make more 'aint racism funny' price comparison website adverts.

Grow Your Own (originally called The Allotment) is a 2007 film which I only got round to watching last night, and only picked up in the library because it was set in an allotment.

But I would highly recommend it. Very British in its subtle humour, moments of melancholy and hidden depths but deeply enjoyable.

Anyone who has had an allotment, been to an allotment meeting or 'enjoyed' the daily politics of allotment life will find a lot familiar here.

Of course it isn't really about allotments, but the communal garden setting is a perfect symbol for what the film is really about, and the setting is not wasted.

If too much sun or too much rain is keeping you away from the plot - track down this film and sit back for 90 minutes of entertainment.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Press release just issued by the Royal Horticultural Society, to which my general reponse is AGGGHHHHH!!!!!

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is sending out a slug and snail alert. Because of the recent and prolonged dry period both slugs and snails will have been dormant. However, with the forecast of heavy rain, the charity expects them to start moving about again and to be quite hungry. Hosta plants will be particularly vulnerable.

The RHS suggests a number of ways to protect plants. For those who prefer more natural ways of control, the charity suggests that it will be necessary to water in a new batch of nematodes (Nemaslug) as any distributed previously will have died in the dry soil. The nematodes used against slugs are microscopic worm-like creatures that enter the bodies of slugs and infect them with a fatal bacterial disease. Barriers, such as copper tapes round pots or mineral granules and egg shells sprinkled around plants are also useful to discourage slugs and snails getting to the plants.

Alternatively, proprietary slug pellets containing ferric phosphate or metaldehyde can be used if the infestation is particularly bad.

For further information the RHS has a web page with more handy tips. It can be found by searching for ‘Slugs’ on the RHS site  RHS members can also contact the RHS Advisory Service at


One thing we have found effective is soot and ash from the fire - useful if you have an open fire or a brother in law who is a chimney sweep. A little sprinkle around the beds seems to deter the pests. May have to get up to the plot when the rain eases off to refresh the barrier.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


The rain finally came! Great news, it means I get a day off watering duty on the plot.

While the masses may be enjoying a barbecue summer, for growers it just means extra time with the hose to ensure we don't have a harvest-less autumn.

The RHS put out a release today indicating that soil dryness is now at levels normally only seen at the start of August. Read the full details here. They reckon that four inches or rain would be needed to bring levels back to normal.

So the showers we've had in the last 24 hours, while annoying for those trying to get a tan, won't really scratch the surface. The Met Office says at most we had 0.4mm in the latest 'downpour'.

That RHS release also has some greant hints about what needs watering and what can be left, and the most efficient ways of watering.

All that said, the crops continue to look great. Raspberries are red, gooseberries are almost there, onions and garlic starting to yellow up.

According to the Met Office it might rain in the next 16 to 30 days. Then again it might not. Great. Glad we sorted that out.

The one current pest is pigeons, who seem to have developed a method of teaming up which I would have put beyond their bird-brains. Best I can tell a couple of them are sitting on the nets over our brassicas to push it down, then they all nibble on the broccoli before flying off again.

We're going to need a stronger net!!!