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.

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!!!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Here we grow

The rain is coming down, and the carrots are coming up. Everything is growing nicely on the plot and the hard work of earlier in the year (and last year) seems to be paying off.

While the battle with weeds goes on, among them are things which definitely look like they might be edible some time soon.

As well as carrots there are potatoes (in need of earthing up), broccoli, cabbages, sprouts, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, leeks, garlic, raspberries, gooseberries apples and plums.

There's also rhubarb (though definitely in need of a feed), the mulberry tree looks healthy, the butternut squashes are growing well and even the sunflowers and peas are reaching for the skies.

The 1.5 patches we haven't yet cultivated are under control thanks to heavy maintenance with a petrol strimmer.

All seems to be going well...maybe too well!!!

There ae still things we want to get in the ground - so I guess we better get on with it.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

It came from the desert...

The last time I was attacked by ants I was 15 and I was sitting in my friend Rashpal's bedroom.

They weren't even real ants, they were giant radioactive mutant ants on the Amiga 64.

That was much more fun that getting attacked on the allotment when I was planting butternut squash, plus Rashpal's dad always handed out cashew nuts from the shop downstairs.

We've put the squash in a corner down at the botom of the plot, which unfortunately is also where a nest of red ants seem to have set up home.

Red ants aren't something I'd encountered before. Previously I thought there were only two types of ants. Ants, and made-up giant radioactive ants.

But it appears there are red ants too. Which bite. And hurt. Especially when they crawl up your arm, under your jumper, and bite you all over. A lot.


Still, as far as we can tell they don't do any harm to the plants, so we'll leave them where they are for now - and just remember not to lean on the mud when planting more squash in future.

The plot also seems to be home to a colony of giant black wood ants, and some of those normal ordinary size black ants.

I think if I'm going to blog about ants I need to do some investigation online...or maybe just dig out It Came From The Desert on the Amiga 64 again...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Part 3

All brassica in ad protected with plastic tunnels and a netting/bamboo cage. Butternut squash planted in a newly dug patch on the bottom bed. Herb bed built, filled with soil and filled iwth chives, sage and lemon balm on the top patch under the tree. Lettuces planted next to the onions. Site strimmed (again!) and more (yes more!) carpet pulled up and consigned to the waste pile. A kilo of potatos harvested from the brassica bed. Rhubarb (donated by neighbour) made into crumble.

Another busy weekend, but a very productive one, and we finally have the plot up to (roughly) 75 per cent culivated. This is a magic number because the contarct staes that (after the first year) the plot has to be 75 per cent in use. Only fair, given how many people are waiting on a list to use a plot.

Next we have sweded seeds to plant, cauliflowers to bring on at home before planting an d we want to get some parsnip seeds in. We'll probably bring on some more butterbut squash, and all of that can go in the bottom bed along with some sunflowers.

The patch that used to be a fruit cage will now be home to salad and mange tout.

It feels like we're getting there!!!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Part 2

Saturday afternoon. Raked up the strimmings then strimmed again. Pulled out junk from what will be the salad bed (used to be a fruit cage) including carpet, metal poles, chipboard and a plank of wood. Dug over most of brassica bed. Sprayed WD40 on creaky shed hinges. Dug hole for mulberry. Cleared some of path down side of plot. Raked lower bed and shifted strimmings to bottom compost heap. Done...

Childless weekend 2, part one

Saturday morning - Brassica bed cleared and half dug over. Door to second shed fixed with new panel and bolt. Whole site strimmed thanks to loan of petrol grass trimmer by the Society. Grass cleared from between soft fruit rows. One fruit patch grubbed up to make room for mulberry tree. New tool, netting and other goodies bought from garden centre. New compost heap started at bottom of patch. Phew! Time for a cup of tea.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Square roots

Our eldest was six last week and as a present from a friend she got some child-sized gardening tools, so this weekend was a perfect opportunity to try them out.

Right next to the potatoes is half a bed cleared and dug over, but waiting for seeds, so she soon took care of that with her new trowel and rake.

We measured out three rows together then she helped hoe, rake and dig them before sprinkling in a lot of carrot seeds.

She took the colourful plant markers she had been given and carefully wrote "carrots" on each one, along with the date, and stuck them at each end of the row.

A little soil, plenty of water and now we wait to see what will happen.

Part of our desire for an allotment has been to have somewhere for our children to learn plenty of life lessons, and there are few better than growing your own food and just enjoying being out with nature.

They also enjoying hunting and spotting minibeasts, visiting our neighbours chickens, identifying plants (including roobababab) and sketching what they can see around them as well as playing I spy.

Throw in the literacy (writing carrot signs and reading instructions) and numeracy (measuring and creating straight lines) and a few hours on the plot competes well with a few hours at school (plus the sprouts are MUCH better).

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Making progress on the plot

Two weeks off work and a bunch of great weather have done wonders for the plot, if not for my neck and shoulder muscles.

The top patch, which you may remember was cleared in our child-free weekend, was first on the agenda after the Easter break.

It was thoroughly dug (as deep as the nearby tree and raspberry roots would allow), then raked to a fine tilth (is that the word) and finally I planted a lifetime supply of garlic and onion sets in among the herb bushes.

Seriously, there must be 50 garlic cloves and several hundred onions now in the ground waiting to emerge.

I've protected the lot with netting designed to deter the pigeons, who won't eat the crop but will revel in pulling it out of the ground.

About a quarter of the patch is yet to be used, and we plan to get leeks in there and maybe spring onions. There is also room for a raised herb bed.

The patch below last year's potato patch was next up. Cleared of weeds, double dug, couple of trenches in and it's now half full of potatos. Good job, well done. The other half is covered over waiting for a few root veg seeds.

I then managed to bash a couple of panels onto the bigger of our two sheds and have brought that back into use. Still needs a plank and a lock to make it secure, but at least it is now serviceable.

Then came the rhubarb (or roobabababab as my two year old calls it). We cleared all the grass and weeds from among the four or five well-established crowns, surround the patch with some logs and have been watering away for the past few days. The stalks are shooting up and we hope to be enjoying rhubarb crumble and custard from the start of May.

Come the winter we plan to dig up half the crowns and divide them so we get even more rhubarb in the years ahead.

Next, while the other half turned her attention to starting to clear some of the growth and dead wood from around the fruit patch at the bottom, I started to dig last year's potato plot.

As predicted, the ground has been well broken up, so most of the weeds and grasses are already out of the way.

Another hour or two and it will be cleared. A quick dig, a quick rake and we hope to get cabbage, sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower in there within a week or two.

I've also found time to construct a second compost bin (courtesy of another plot holder who was chucking out some pallets) and the other half has planted a whole heap of seeds (30 different types of plant) which are busily growing at home ready to transplant when the time is right.

And she also built a wigwam for peas to grow up, and children to play in, next to the rhubarb bed.

So what's next? At the weekend we want to pick up more seeds. I'm keen to get carrots, parsnips and swede in.

There is one more big bed to clear, up near the top near the compost bins, which we hope to use for salad crops.

The fruit plot at the bottom needs a serious clear-up and we're still trying to get hold of the allotment society's petrol grass trimmer so we can clear around the plot, including the paths.

Plenty to do, but it's looking good. I'll try to get a few pictures as soon as I get a spare minute.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Double time and double digging

Last weekend we managed to ship the children off to Grandma's for the weekend, and spent two days on the plot. Three to four hours on Saturday and the same again Sunday.

Result? The top patchg is now entirely free of all weed life, grass etc. We took pity on a couple of rosemary bushes, a bay tree and some lavendar - but aside from that we went Agent Orange on the place (organcially speaking).

After that, we grubbed up a row of blackberries, pulled out two delapidated fruit fences and started to re-dig last years potato patch.

It is amazing how much you can get done with a lot of focus and no children. It looked great.

This weekend I spent two hours on Saturday on the plot with my eldest, who was content to dig, wash old potatos and play in a shelter while I started double dugging that cleared top patch.

This morning there was another two hours on the patch, this time just me and my iPod.

I've managed to get a fifth of the top patch dug over now, but it's a race against time.

We want to get it in a good condition so we can get some plants in now. I reckon another nine to 12 hours and it will be good to go. The weather report doesn't look good for the week though - rain and even sleet up till Wednesday.

Next weekend, Easter, we have family down and they will be here into next week - so it could be a fortnight before we get a decent block of time.

If the weather holds, now the evenings are lighter, I'll try to get an hour or so up there each day before dark.

Plans for the top plot, which is fairly shallow thanks to tree roots, are leeks, onions and garlic.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sprout surprise

It's been a while, but we finally managed to get back on the plot this weekend - and it wasn't as bad was we'd feared!!

There was a combination of reasons for taking a couple of months out, and the first point to make is that it wasn't planned.

We didn't get up there for a couple of days, then it rolled over to a couple of weeks, then it was a couple of months.

Behind it all was the daunting task facing us, and the relentless nature of it. No sooner have we cleared one patch, then moved on to the next, and then the first one is covered in weeds again.

After a while, a thing like that can grind you down.

On top of that, our youngest was just six months old when we first took on the plot. We'd been on the waiting list for four or five years and the offer came at the worst possible time. It meant that the whole family couldn't get up to the plot at the same time.

We tried it a couple of times, but the place just isn't baby proof. So most of the time one or the other of us was ploughing a lonely furrow.

On top of that, it was just a question of time, and life. We both work full time so weekends get very busy with everything else that isn't work. The allotment was on the to-do list most weekends, but just kept getting knocked off the end.

Any way, we're back, and the winter weather seems to have done us a favour. The few months break hasn't seen the place overcome as we'd expected, and no-one has raided our shed.

Part of the problem has been trying to fit in around the architecture of what was left behind on the plot.

It had been divided into several strips, with some fencing, half a fruit cage, some stones and bits of wood.

We've been trying to clear around that to keep anything of any use. But it just didn't work. It was a very inefficient way of clearing the plot and preparing it for planting.

So the new plan is seek and destroy. I spent Sunday afternoon redigging the top plot and taking down the fruit wire cage the divides it from the plot beneath.

It was a liberating experience, opening up the space made it seem much more logical, and gave a clearer idea of the task ahead. Now the evenings are getting lighter we will be able to spend a couple of hours a day up there and we aim to have a lot of the plot back in use within weeks, rather than months.

One pleasant surprise of the weekend trip was sprouts. The first thing I spotted on the plot was two green spikes crammed with brussels. Interesting, as when I planted them I thought they were kohol rabi.

I dug them up, took them home and we had sporouts for tea - the best tasting sprouts ever!

The benefits of an allotment - exercise, fresh air, a hobby, meeting new people and (best of all) fresh, organic, local produce you've grown and nurtured yourself from seed far outweight the hard work you have to put in.

But sometimes, when faced with an overgrown weed patch that looks like someonthing from a rainforest documentary it is hard to remember that.