Category Archives: allotments

Grow to eat

There is a long tradition in the UK of holding village shows at the end of the summer. The idea is that residents display the produce they have grown which is judged and prizes are awarded. Part of that tradition is competition between men (and it usually is men!)  to see who can grow the biggest specimens of common veg.

Entries are judged against strict criteria laid down in various books like The Horticultural Show Handbook published by the RHS. There are prizes for the biggest, heaviest, longest or ‘best’ specimens.

Onions, 250g or under

Merits Firm, thin-necked, blemish-free bulbs grown from either seed or sets with well-ripened, unbroken skins free from pest, disease or other damage.
Defects Bulbs that are too small or in excess of 250g, thick-necked, misshapen, blemished, or that have broken skins or have been skinned excessively.
Advice to judges All specimens must be weighed and any more than 250g must be disqualified. Bulbs should be as near to 250g as possible, of good form and alike in size, shape and colour.

In some parts of the country winning is taken to extremes with potential prize winning veg being guarded round the clock as competitors have been known to sabotage the competition.

I am often asked why I do not enter the local village show, usually followed by it is all for charity, and sometimes with a ‘do not be so miserable’.

The main reason I have never entered a show and never will is that we grow food to eat. We maximise gross yields to grow a surplus that can be stored over winter. In this time of global uncertainty when the dire effects of climate change and environmental destruction are being felt in many countries it seems immoral to grow vegetables purely to be shown, judged, raffled and then probably thrown away.

The way food is grown is critical to the impact that it has on the world. We grow organically and have done for the last 30 years. We believe that it uses less resources, has a positive effect on the environment and produces more nutritious better tasting food.

Our produce would be marked down for blemishes and the odd bit of nibbling by slugs, snails and other pests because that would spoil the visual appearance. To grow visually perfect veg you must use chemicals.

There is mounting evidence that the climate/environmental crisis is deepening and accelerating. There is also no doubt whatsoever that climate change will affect our ability to grow food. We cannot continue the way we are which means the way we grow food including how we cultivate our gardens and allotments.

That might seem extreme, but you only have to read the evidence out there to know that we are on the edge of a precipice. There are already there are millions of people starving, homeless and desperate.

The biggest problem we face in the UK is that people cannot or do not want to understand the severity and the gravity of the issues. It is this inertia, this desire to carry on as we are,  to get back to normal when Cove is finished, which is the most dangerous aspect of climate change.

That is why we grow food in a sustainable way and encourages others to do the same. That means not using the old methods. It is respecting the food we have grown and encouraging others to do the same. It might be painful and even be unthinkable to some, but we must move on and leave beyond behind the traditional ways of doing things. There has to be a new normal  to avert the massive crisis that humanity faces.

That is why we will never grow food to show, we will never try to win prizes for the biggest veg specimen. We will work on ways of getting maximum yields from the small plot we have and share what the way we do it. In 2020 we harvested 78 Kg of food from 17 square metres. The aim is to make that at least 100 Kg in the 2021 season. That is our prize.

Gardening in the blood

This is a photo of my grandfather, George, taken in the 1960s. He lived in Lincolnshire and had a big fruit and veg garden with amazing soil. He came to the UK from a farming family in Australia sometime around 1917.

Whenever we visited there was always a tour of the garden. It was a log strip running down to a stream. I always wanted to go on the tour but had to ‘behave’.  Grandad would turn to my father and say “what do you think of them” and a discussion would start about what was doing well this year and what was a waste of time.

Sometimes we would walk up to the top of the lane and look at his small field of sugar beet. It is only recently that I realised that he cultivated, planted, and harvested the field on his own, much of it by hand. The field has gone now, incorporated into another hedge less prairie used to grow grain.

For a long time, I never worked out how he grew such huge crops year after year then the penny dropped. There were no main services at the cottage, it was totally off grid. No mains water, there was pump outside the front door. No electricity and no mains sewage, there was an Elsan in a small shed in the yard.

A few years ago, I remembered that he would not pay for the Elsan to be emptied and it went into the trenches I saw in the garden. I did ask my dad once what they for but was told to be quiet. Evidently, he dug a trench a couple of feet deep and added the contents of the Elsan and any other kitchen and garden waste he could find and filled in with soil.

It was not just marrows that were huge; I remember carrying an enormous cabbage back to the cottage when I was about seven years old. It was a two-handed job. The garden kept them in fruit and veg and both grand parents lived well into their 80s,

However much some will find it hard to believe and even be slightly repulsed by using humanure there is another way to live like many families did around 60 years ago. They were very much before their time and all lived virtually zero carbon lifestyles. I am proud of what the grandparents showed me all those years ago.

Now I know where the gardening, self-reliance, off grid, and sheer cussedness genes come from. It also explains why I want some brown bib & brace overalls, because both my grandad and dad always wore them for gardening and they both grew bumper crops.

Soil, carbon, gardening and global heating

At first glance the BBC report last year “Climate change being fuelled by soil damage” might appear to be all about big agriculture and nothing else. While is is abundantly clear that the way land is farmed must change gardeners and allotment holders also have a part to play.

The report states that:

“There’s three times more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere – but that carbon’s being released by deforestation and poor farming.”

“Problems include soils being eroded, compacted by machinery, built over, or harmed by over-watering.”

The Fen Blow is composed of peaty particles lifted into the air on windy days (From the BBC article)

The way we treat soil is crucial for good yields and to preserve that vital top 4 inches (100mm) that feeds us. Every bit of soil left bare to the elements contributes to global heating and soil degradation. By using other ways of growing you not only achieve higher yields without adding commercial fertiliser, but carbon dioxide is locked up.

The move to more sustainable growing is not difficult, it does not require big investments in tools or machinery it just means doing things differently. That might be hard for dedicated allotment growers but the benefits are huge.

It is important to remember that allotments and gardens make up a large area of land in the UK. Allotment holders and gardeners can make a difference, we need to act now and show that we care about the environment that we leave for the future generations.

Time to plan your BREXIT garden!

The panic to find fresh food may be over for now but there are other problems on the horizon. When we crash out of the EU without a deal the government will cosy up to the US to import their food. When that happens how will you know what you are eating? To find out have a look at this article by Alice Keeffe in The Guardian.

“There has been much ado about the prospect of chlorinated chicken, but the implications of a trade deal with the US are equally grim for fruit and veg. The American government will insist on our loosening regulations around the use of pesticides, so we can look forward to apples containing higher levels of malathion (an organophosphate insecticide linked to cancer which can impair the respiratory system) and grapes with added propargite, an insecticide that has been associated with cancer and can affect sexual function and fertility. Oh yes, and then there are neonicotinoids, all but banned in the UK because of their toxic effect on bees, and chlorpyrifos, banned by the EU over concerns about its impact on the brains of foetuses and young children.”

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate which were used as insecticides. They used to be widespread but were banned in Europe some years back. It is accumulative poison and can be absorbed through the skin. The manufacturers continue to sell them to the developing world and the US. See this piece about child deaths in India.

Do we really want food produced using pesticides that have been banned here? It is time we grew up as a nation and looked after ourselves and the land where we live. There must be a resounding NO from anybody who cares about food, their health and the long term future of this fragile planet.

One answer is to grow your own. Now is a good time to start planning and getting your food garden ready. We are hear to help.

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A garden heals the worried mind

The stresses of the last few months have been hard to live with and there seems no end to the situation. For me the garden has helped enormously, I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it.

I found this article today by Helen Chesnut a well-known garden writer from Canada. What she says resonated deeply with my own experience over the years while trying to cope with what the TV now calls a life changing event. The garden healed in many ways, emotionally and physically; never underestimate the power of even gentle exercise. And, growing fruit and veg improves diet.

Helen says: “Then, there is the garden. Whether it’s a landscaped acreage, an allotment plot, or a collection of potted balcony plants, a garden is refuge and solace in the face of stress and anxiety. A garden heals. The worries of the world that buzz about in our minds slip away as we delve in the soil and tend our plants.” See the whole article here or click on the image below.

Photograph By Helen Chesnut

Now that lock down has been eased in the UK, for the time being, the urgency to grow food to fill the gaps left by food shortages may have diminished. There will be other critical events which have the same effect. Some say it will be a no-deal Brexit or climate change as new and unpredictable weather patterns decimate once reliable crops. We cannot know what the future will bring but we can be better prepared to look after ourselves.

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“Urban dwellers yearn for ‘Good Life’ allotments”

By chance the BBC are running this piece today, it is well worth a read. They say:

“Land set aside for allotments in the UK has declined by 65% from a peak in the “dig for victory” and post-war era.”

“Lost allotments” could provide 6% of the UK population with their five-a-day fruit and veg

“We have already seen a huge increase in the number of people interested in growing their own food as a result of coronavirus, with garden centres and online shops selling out of seeds in the first weeks of lockdown.

“Coronavirus has… highlighted to people the fragility inherent within our globalised food system. In a time of crisis, interest in self-sufficiency rises.”

What more evidence do we need to take this seriously?

French beans – timing is critical

We tried to get off to a good start this year by deciding when to sow seeds linked to the date they would need to be planted out. Dwarf French and climbing French bean were sown in small pots on April 23 thinking that we would plant out around the first/second week of June. All went well except the weather was a lot warmer than usual and the plants matured quicker than expected.

This week it was obvious that the plants needed to be in the beds as they were growing well and risked becoming pot bound. They had been slowly hardened off so yesterday, May 30th they went into the beds.

Climbing French bean – pot bound roots – Roots teased out before planting

Looking at the roots it was clear that it was the right decision especially for the climbers. They looked good and we were thinking we had got it about right.

Climbing French bean – damaged tip Climbing French bean – good tip

Another thing to check is the growing tip. If it has been broken off then ditch the plant.

The climbing beans were tied onto the canes to stop them being blown about. Please note: they were loosely tied, the twine was not tightened as that would cause damage to the stem.

The bed of Dwarf French beans

Later we checked the Met Office forecast for the coming week. On Thursday and Friday  June 4 & 5 the night-time low is 3C. That is a slight frost! We can cover the dwarf beans with a solar pod but not the climbers. Wrapping in fleece might work but who knows, we could lose the lot. And, of course, the potato tops will need covering. Nice as it is to live in the Peak District hills a move a few miles further south would greatly improve the gardening!

Next year the seeds will be  sown a couple of weeks later so they are ready for planting out in mid/late June.

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Regenerative agriculture – regenerative gardening?

There is a lot of talk about regenerative agriculture, particularly in the US, how it improves soils, stores CO2 from the atmosphere, reduces or eliminates the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers and reduces costs.

What can gardeners take from this? How do we change the way we garden to get the same benefits?

To start:

1. Stop digging soil – use no dig raised beds and apply lots of compost particularly in the autumn.

2. Never leave the soil bare especially over winter as heavy rain compacts soil and washes out nutrients particularly nitrogen. Use cover crops, mulch or compost.

3. Mulch around growing plants with compost.

4. Get to know your garden, learn what works best for you and don’t blindly follow what everybody else does.

5. Remineralise your soil see this page.

Beat the food shortages

The thing about Covid-19 that strikes us most is the panic buying of food and other essentials. The hoarders are stripping supermarket shelve. The stores are reacting by limiting the number of certain items and forcing long queues to get into stores. Is it time for food rationing? Evidently the government has a permanent stock of ration books.

The current situation highlights the dominance exerted by a very few companies. Supermarkets control the production and growing of food, its distribution and the retail sale. Consumers have no choice other than which store to choose. That cannot be a good thing.

Professor Tim Lang talks about food security (2009)

What needs to come out of all this is the recognition that food security in the UK is at best  precarious. A point that has been made many times over the years but one that has been ignored by everybody.

We need to be more self-reliant both as individuals and as a nation. We must get back to taking personal responsibility for our food and stop relying on a very small number of multinational companies to do everything for us.

We need to take personal responsibility for what we eat and not trust others to feed us endless processed food and ready meals. Most of all, we should grow more of our own food. We have done it before in times of crisis and we can do it again!

Now is the perfect time to start, cultivate the garden, buy some seeds and GROW FOOD!
You do not need an allotment or a large garden and you also don’t need to dig everything in sight! Follow the first link below to see how you can start today and have a working veg garden in an afternoon.

Quick and easy spare metre beds
Growing potatoes in a dustbin
Sowing seeds 
Veg growing chart
Composting

If you need individual help and advice then please contact us and we will be pleased to give any help and support you need.

Save allotments from development

In this time of uncertainty, we need more space to grow food. The UK food supply has been described as precarious for many years and the effects of climate change and leaving the EU will make continuity of supply more difficult.

A big incentive for growing you own food is cost and there are other benefits like freshness, increased nutrient content and zero food miles. Add to that the exercise and fresh air that comes from gardening combined with the community of the allotment and there is good reason for them to be prescribed by doctors!

But there are problems. Allotments need a few acres of land which is in direct competition with the current house building frenzy making them prime targets for land grabs. There is money to be made, lots of money, by building houses and no landowner seems exempt for the lure of a quick profit.

Take for example the once sleepy village of Wellesbourne in Warwickshire. A few years back it was earmarked for expansion and thousands of new houses with no gardens have been built. It is not far from the M40 so has road links to Birmingham and London which makes it an ideal and desirable commuter location.

There is one plot left in the village – the allotments which would net millions if it was ‘developed’.  The owners, the Diocese of Coventry,  want to sell off the top half and leave an area away from the road plus part of another field for a very reduced number of plots. The problem is the lower field floods.

There have been allotments on the site since 1838. Now there are 61 plots tended by 90 people and a long waiting list. The plots are well look after and it is obvious there is a lot of work going into the site. Even in the middle of winter there are crops to be picked and plants to be planted ready for the new season. Why then does the Diocese of Coventry, want to wreck it all? The answer is very simple – MONEY.

Instead of selling off allotments for a quick profits we need to save every one we have and make more land available for food growing to enable communities to be more sustainable and resilient. Climate change is already having an effect on food supplies and things will only get worse. It is very sad that the Diocese of Coventry does not understand this.

This is Mr Hale, he is 88 and yesterday he was digging his plot ready for planting. He explained that the soil is very good, on the light side with some silt. It is also black which usually means it has lots of organic matter.

He is philosophical and doubts that he will still be digging in 5 years time but he is also passionate about the allotments and does not want them to go. Who can argue with him?  There’s lots of evidence that he’s not alone and is is plain to see what the site means to so many people.

There is still time to save the Wellesbourne plots because the district council have admitted that the number of new builds in their 5-year plan has been exceeded so no new planning applications will not be approved in this period.

See the Wellesbourne allotment  web site for more information.