New Year’s Resolutions
No, I haven’t made any yet. And the reason is simple – our allotment office and shop are closed, while workmen do clever and interesting things inside, such as removing asbestos and restoring cladding and what have you. All very necessary, important and valuable stuff: but also very damaging to the morale.
Without a place to start my allotment visit with a cup of tea and a chat, finding out what other allotment-holders are up to, enjoying a gossip, an exchange of information, maybe even some seed or equipment swaps, I feel a bit lost, to be honest.
I notice as I wander round, being nosy (well, I am allowed, it’s my job – I’m the allotment blogger, after all!) that the closure of the office has had a really profound effect on many allotment holders. Andy’s around a lot, with his pet seagull and the big cat that hangs around him whenever he’s on the site, and Ron seems to get up to his plot most days, but a lot of other regulars who’d be putting in time between Christmas and New Year just aren’t around their allotments nearly as much as they would usually be.
I hadn’t realised how important our gathering place was to us, and now I’m adrift – it’s like trying to play tennis on your own!
So what did you get?
I didn’t find a shredder in my Christmas stocking, sadly. Nor did I get a tree house. But I did get:
A heritage seed collection with twelve varieties including purple and yellow climbing beans, sweet peppers, tomatoes, carrots and what they call tatsoi but I call rosette bok choy and which I ate when I was in china – very tasty. The pack came from www.realseeds.co.uk whom I’ve never purchased from myself, so I hope they’re as good as my usual heritage seed suppliers, Chiltern seeds at www.chilternseeds.co.uk/
Some plasticised sweet pea rings, so there’s no excuse for me not growing sweet peas as good as Ron’s!
And I’ve got some wonderful sweet pea seeds on order: Queen of the Isles, which is red and white striped and has a very good fragrance and Black Knight, which is solid maroon and has a gorgeous scent too.
And my sympathies go out to gardeners on plots near Jubilee Road and Dunraven Business Park, Bridgend, Wales, who are unable to eat their Christmas Brussels Sprouts and parsnips as a “precautionary measure” while the soil on their allotment site undergoes tests for contamination, following the discovery, way back in August that two plots, relocated from the ASDA store site on Coychurch Road, contained polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Allotment holders were told a report was due before Christmas with a risk assessment to be completed in January – but it seems it hasn’t turned up so far.
Allotments in the News
Cableform Allotments Association has received a cash grant in the latest Lottery Awards for All funding. The grant is specifically to clear a piece of derelict land next to the allotment site in Sowerby Bridge site and turn it into ten new plots. The Allotments Association has been give permission to take over the land by the people who own it, but at present it is covered in Japanese knotweed which is very difficult to remove because it must be cleared by experts and disposed of in a way that allows no risk of the plant propagating itself, for example through composting or being dumped elsewhere. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence ‘to plant or otherwise encourage’ the growth of Japanese Knotweed. This could include cutting the plant or roots and disturbing surrounding soil if not correctly managed. – which means that Japanese Knotweed polluted soil or plant material is classed as 'controlled waste' and should be accompanied by appropriate Waste Transfer documentation. The association is discussing a further sum with Calderdale Council, which could be between £500 and £4,000, to complete the job by covering the ground with new topsoil.
A disabled woman was locked into an allotment site in Calne, Wiltshire for several hours one evening this week after builders added an extra lock to gates to safeguard their materials. Builders creating new playing fields are using land at the allotments to store their machinery and installed a combination lock to safeguard their equipment.
The woman was trapped in the allotment until 9pm and was only rescued after a passer-by heard her shouting for help. The 58-year-old victim described the situation as terrifying. She wasn’t able to climb the fence and it was fully dark by the time she was freed. She said that there had never been a problem with the council locks but the new builder's locks made it impossible to get in or out of the allotment.
It’s such a shame when people don’t keep their allotments going through the winter, for two reasons:
1 - it makes it much more difficult for them to come back in spring and turn the ground etc because a whole winter’s worth of weeds and pests have taken over the ground
2 – they miss out on all the wonderful winter vegetables that they could be enjoying in the months when, in fact, vegetable costs rise and there is less variety in the shops anyway.
Our allotments are full of winter cabbages and kale, Brussels sprouts and, of course, the wonderful winter beets and chards. These have been a real development in recent years. Until quite recently, such crops were only grown to be fed to cattle, which is a complete waste as they are both tasty and nutritious and amazingly easy to grow. And a benefit in my eyes is their beauty – they gleam through the winter months like some kind of exotic growth transplanted from a warmer climate.
Most winter crops have definite advantages: there are far fewer slugs and snails around to attack them, and they are necessarily robust plants, needing very little care once they have established themselves past the seedling stage.
Does your allotment site decorate or not?
It’s an odd one isn’t it? We don’t. Not a single wreath or twinkly light, at least so far, and I walked the site this morning (in the freezing cold) to check. Of course that could be in part because our allotment office has been closed for a couple of weeks and will remain closed until New Year, for essential work removing asbestos from the walls and repairing the roof. Without that hub for our activities I suspect most of us are simply shooting up to our plots, grabbing a few Brussels Sprouts etc, and shooting home again to the warmth. I did speak to Ron, who’d come up to gather some veg, and he agreed that people weren’t hanging around because there was nowhere warm to hang, and nowhere to get a nice hot cuppa!
But driving around the Midlands the other day (as you do) I was amazed at how much tinsel and tree decorating there was on show at allotment locations there. Really some plots looked like little landing strips with their glittery LED lights. It was very jolly. I wonder what makes the cultural difference between decorators and non-decorators – does one person start the trend and everybody else follow on, or is there some kind of council bye-law that allows it in some places and frowns on it in others? Drop us a line if you think you know the answer.
Meanwhile I snapped this picture a few weeks ago: the nice people at BHOGGS had probably hung these peppers in their tree to allow them to ripen without being attacked by mice – but it looks suitably festive, doesn’t it?
All around our site, people are pulling their prize parsnips from clamps to take home for their Christmas dinner. Roast parsnips, roast potatoes and brussels sprouts, all from the allotment - gorgeous!
But simply roasting your parsnips is not exactly imaginative. Why not try this favourite in our house, which works just as well with leftover parsnips on Boxing Day...
4 small parsnips, peeled and cut into lengths (or larger ones with the woody core cut out)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 bag or two good handfuls of fresh allotment rocket (grow it in a cold frame, it's wonderful in winter)
2 dessert pears sliced into wedges with the skin still on
A handful of hazel or pecan nuts, lightly toasted
5-1/2 oz. Gorgonzola or other strong blue cheese
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
150 ml olive oil
Put parsnips and oil in a roasting pan, pour honey over and season to taste. Roast until golden (about 20-25 minutes) and allow to cool.
While that's going on, mash the Gorgonzola in a bowl. Stir in the vinegar and whisk in the olive oil until slightly textured.
Put the rocket on plates and top with the pears and parsnips arranged in alternate slices to make a fan shape, lightly chop nuts and sprinkle over, followed by dressing.
I promise you, it's delicious.
December allotment tasks
If like us, you’re struggling with allotment motivation in this bad weather, it’s worth thinking about all the good things that next year will bring you if you put in the effort now. This is what our neighbours have on their allotment ‘to do’ lists:
Winter pruning apple and pear trees to remove diseased wood and improve the shape – especially to try and get trees down to a reasonable height, because one of the major problems with allotment trees is that if the previous plot holder didn’t stay on top of pruning, you inherit something you can only harvest with a thirty foot ladder! It really should be a sacred trust to keep trees in trim, because it’s so hard to get them back down to picking size once they get out of hand.
Digging in manure where the brassica bed will be next year, and turning the compost in bins or heaps, to let in a bit of air which will speed up the decomposition process through the winter months when the normally active bacteria become dormant in the cold.
General weeding – especially along paths and around fruit bushes and trees, and general maintenance like checking roofs for leaks, gutters for blockages and compost bins for seeping or rotten areas if they are wooden.
Lots of plot holders are using this damp and miserable weather to highlight the areas of their plot that are holding water, and as soon as the rain stops and the frosts begin they will dig in sand and compost to help with drainage – the frosts will help break up the soil and add air to it, which encourages water to drain and gives added fertility.
Allotments in the News
Fire crews in Hartlepool managed to prevent a potentially massive explosion on an allotment site where a shed was set on fire by arsonists in a long running series of fires. In the latest incident, on Saturday, firemen had to tackle flames in a shed at Thornhill Allotments in Hartlepool. By swiftly cooling down gas cylinders that were stored inside the shed the explosion was averted. Now, fire chiefs want to make a more general warning about the dangers of keeping gas cylinders on allotments even though they are used for gas heaters in sheds. The problem is bad enough if there is one cylinder, but where people have stockpiled three or four of them, they can act as missiles, projecting themselves through the wooden walls at great speed. Fire crew manager Paul Bellerby said: 'This is one of the hazards we face when we attend these incidents'.
THE first allotment site to be built in York since 1918 has won an O2 It's Your Community Award. There is a waiting list of more than ten years for some allotment sites in York, so, in Wheldrake, the village inhabitants have taken matters into their own hands and are establishing a self-managed, sustainable allotment site. Council approval and support has been won for fifty-nine new plots, one of which is to be used by the village school. The £1,000 cheque was granted in recognition of the hard work that has allowed residents to create a community-focused site and the money allows residents to start essential work – putting up rabbit proof fencing in time for spring planting.
What not to get me (or any allotment holder) for Christmas
I suspect that a lot of allotmenteers, like me, cringe a bit as Christmas comes around. We know we’re going to get loads of totally useless and inappropriate stuff from our well-meaning friends and family and then we’re going to have to cart it all down to the allotment and store it in the back of the shed, where the accumulated years of Christmas presents that we didn’t want and won’t use soon threaten to take over all the space.
I have weird little devices that never worked but were supposed to remove perennial weeds easily and permanently. I have broken trowels and forks with tines that are too close together, or too short, or both, I even have a fork with sloping shoulders - why? There are packets of seeds that I never even managed to give away because they were either naff or not suitable for our local terrain. And there are even a few gift vouchers from garden stores and catalogues which - try as I might - I never managed to find a single thing that I wanted to buy from. I do wish that those lovely people who buy this rubbish for me would either ask me what I want, or look at the catalogues and shops I do buy from, and get me a gift token from there!
What I'd really like, but I'm not going to get, is one of these - shredder - isn't that gorgeous? The thing is, much as I want a shredder of my own, I can actually use one that belongs to a neighbour, for a tiny fee, and that makes me feel that buying my own piece of kit would be a wild extravagance. Just for once though, I'd like to run wild.
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