Allotment News

Husband and wife Sam and Sam Clark - owners of restaurant Moro - reveal recipes in their latest cookbook Moro East that are ideal for allotment holders. Recipes in the book were influenced by their Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Kurdish allotment neighbours, although sadly, their Hackney allotments were one of the sites bulldozed to make way for London Olympics. For example, how about gathering chickweed, poppy shoots and dandelion leaves, chopping them together, frying them with garlic and sliding them into a pitta bread – what a wonderful way to deal with weeds! Another suggestion is that when you have to trim artichoke plants, you can take the new leaves, peel them and fry them, apparently they taste like artichoke but look like a stick of celery. The Clarks hope the book will encourage people to grow and eat their own.

The fire service was called out to help a man who trapped his own leg in a rotavator in Harlow yesterday – apparently he was working on his allotment when his leg became stuck in the mechanical digging machine shortly before midday. The fire crews tried to free the man for an hour before using hand tools to release him and give him over to the care of the ambulance service.

And in Basingstoke, a storm is brewing. The Longcroft allotments, presently in The Lines, are being slated to be moved to a currently uncultivated plot, to free up the land for about 25 ‘affordable homes’. But local councillors expect a wave angry locals to object. The head of the newly-formed Kingsclere Allotment Holders Group, said, ‘We are fighting this like mad, and lots of people have become involved. The allotments and the playground next to it are outside the Basingstoke and Deane Settlement Boundary Plan, so in order to develop the site, they have to apply for a rural exemption.’

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 1 Comments

Back to the slow cooker

I’ve been watching with interest as Fiona, over at The Cottage Smallholder gets to grips with her slow cooker. I swear by mine! One of the easiest, and money-savingist recipes I make in it is breakfast cereal. The Americans call this granola (pshaw!) and we’d probably call it muesli, if we called it anything, but we tend to just keep it in a big airtight box and call it breakfast!

What’s it got to do with allotments?

Well quite a lot really. When I first made it, I used this recipe, which is American, and because I had no idea that a ‘cup’ was a metal or glass receptacle, something like a funnel, that has hundreds of markings on the side to allow Americans to measure ingredients accurately, I just grabbed a mug and measured my stuff that way. It worked just perfectly, and although I do now have a real measuring cup for American recipes, I still make this with a mug.

4 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup honey
1 cup bran
1 cup wheatgerm
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower oil

Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook on low heat with lid slightly ajar about 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Cool and store in airtight jar. Use within 1 to 2 weeks.

Hmm. Good, but not perfect.

What we do now is all the above, cook for five hours with the wooden spoon left in the pot to keep the lid ajar and the timer set to remind me to stir it every hour and a half or so. But we also tend to add to the cooking mix, any of the following:

--dried blueberries from the allotment
--dried apple slices from the allotment
--chopped walnuts (okay, not exactly from the allotment, but from the walnut trees in a local park, which nobody else seems to harvest)
--hazelnuts, from Bert’s allotment hedge, when he can spare some

Which turns a good cereal into an absolute delight. Great with yoghurt in summer, or hot milk in winter. Mixed with some melted butter and golden syrup it makes flapjacks, and with some butter and flour rubbed together with a bit of sugar, makes a healthy crumble mix for pulpy apple gluts if I can’t be bothered to make apple butter.

We don’t dry much fruit, but I once owned a big mesh thingummibob that was supposed to be used to dry cashmere sweaters flat by being laid over a bath. When I gave up wearing cashmere, we realised that we could use the thingummy to dry fruit by cutting it into small even sized portions, laying it on the mesh and drying it in the airing cupboard.

So we eat this luxury breakfast cereal, which is salt-free and made exactly to our own taste, for the price of a few pence, and every few weeks I make up another batch, varying the additions according to what’s in the jars above the sink, and I feel very virtuous about it.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Sunday, January 27, 2008 2 Comments

Companion planting

I’m in two minds about this. I do undertake some companion planting: mainly things I remember my granddad doing such as plant French marigolds between tomato plants to deter aphids, growing carrots and leeks together (I think the leeks smell strongly enough to confuse carrot fly, although it could just be that he liked the look of carrots and leeks together, isn’t it odd how we pick up habits without really thinking about them?) and using nasturtiums as a sacrifice crop for cabbages – because the caterpillars eat the nasturtiums and leave the cabbages alone.

But can it really be true that those same marigolds can smother bindweed? I don’t think so. Not on any allotment I’ve come across, anyway. And does celery really deter cabbage white caterpillars from brassicas – I’d love to believe so, but I don’t think I’ve come across anything, except horticultural mesh, that really keeps the caterpillars off. Or rather, keeps the butterfly from laying the eggs that hatch on the plant and become voracious eating machines aka cabbage white caterpillars.

But I’m prepared to be convinced. Especially if it reduces the need to weed between rows and pick or wash off pests. So tell me - do you companion plant, and if so, what works for you?

Marigold by *micky

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 24, 2008 3 Comments

Allotment news

The good … gardeners are celebrating after council chiefs abandoned plans to sell their allotment sites. At the Redbridge Council cabinet meeting on Monday, chief executive Roger Hampson backed the launch of the "big conversation" which will be the largest public consultation Redbridge has ever seen. The public will be asked what services and improvements they want and how they can be funded. The results will then be discussed by the newly-elected corporate panel. The announcement follows an outcry at plans to raise £25 million from selling four allotment sites.

The bad … intimidation is forcing allotment holders off their plot in the Wirral. At the Thornton allotments site in Bidston, the problem has become so severe almost half the gardeners have abandoned their allotments because of vandalism. In a recent incident a teenager ran up to the site fence and hurled abuse at the four women working on their plots. It is said that the worst possible language was used by the offender who was clearly trying to intimidate the allotmenteers. Since June last year, seven plot-holders – almost half the total – have given up their plots because property and crops have been destroyed by mindless vandalism. Wirral has 41 allotment sites containing nearly 1,700 plots, with 92% of them let, and many suffer from vandalism. There are fears the Thornton site may close because vandalism stops people taking up plots there, despite an allotment waiting list in Wirral of more than 500 families.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Monday, January 21, 2008 0 Comments

Spuds, spuds, glorious spuds

You’re supposed to start chitting your potatoes from late January in warmer parts of the country or in February in cooler areas or in other words, about six weeks before you intend to plant them. To chit a potato, find the rounder, blunter end that has a number of ‘eyes’ and stand each potato with it’s blunt end up in trays of sawdust or old egg boxes, giving them plenty of natural light. When the shoots are about half an inch to an inch long, you can plant them out. Early potatoes also take up the least room, so if you are short of space, these are the ones to concentrate on. From about mid-March, around here at least, you should dig a trench four to six inches deep, give it a sprinkle of fertiliser and set the potatoes about a foot apart with about sixteen inches between rows, taking care not to break the shoots on the tubers and make sure they point upwards. Cover them with soil but don’t stamp it down, just firm lightly at this point.

When shoots appear above ground you need to earth up each row by covering it with a ridge of soil so that the shoots are just buried – repeat whenever the shoots appear and you should have excellent potatoes to lift from June right through to September, if you’re lucky!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Friday, January 18, 2008 0 Comments

Battening down the hatches, and the cloches …

Clever Andy makes these himself. All it requires is horticultural fleece, flexible water pipe and some bits of batten. He says the cheapest horticultural fleece is to be found in Slovakia, and I believe him, but I also suspect it’s only worth buying it if you were already planning a trip there for some other reason!

Cloches like this are valuable at this time of year (assuming they haven’t been blown away by the gale force winds) as they protect tender seedlings from wind and rain, frost and snow, cats that are looking for a toilet. In a few weeks time, impossible as it may seem now, the caterpillar, grub and worm infestation will begin, and the cloches again keep such annoying pests as caterpillars and cabbage root fly away from your favourite crops.

Also they are nice and lightweight which is important when you’re growing rotational crops that need to be covered, like cauliflower, which should never be grown two years running in the same soil. The point is that Andy’s cloches cost him pennies, while the kind you can buy in shops will definitely cost pounds – such a clever allotment holder!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 0 Comments

Glorious mud (and green manure)

Still no allotment office in which to lurk, so I’ve been forced to go out and visit my neighbours (in allotment terms) this week. There’s not much to do unless you’ve got good stable paths, as the mud, mud, glorious mud is everywhere, but the best organised of us (and that does not include me!) are well on the way to next year’s vegetable success. The picture shows Andy’s mustard crop which he’s going to dig in as a green manure in the late spring, before it flowers.

Why bother with green manures?

They're cheap and easy to grow.
They can increase soil fertility.
They improve soil structure and help prevent soil erosion.
Most green manure crops are very attractive to wildlife.
Bare soil encourages weed growth, so green manure bare ground to keep weeds in check.
By taking up nutrients from the soil, green manure crops prevent them from being washed away when it rains.
Some green manure plants are nitrogen fixers.
And, my favourite reason, you can sow them from a little packet, unlike digging in a dozen barrows of manure!

All you need to do is sow and leave, either until you need the land again or until just before seeding, whichever happens first. At that point you hack or strim them down, dig them into the soil and leave them to decompose, releasing plant nutrients back into the soil which are then used by the next crop you grow in that area.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Saturday, January 12, 2008 0 Comments

Allotment, freezer and one other thing …

A slow cooker is a countertop electrical home appliance that is used to cook stews and other dishes containing water at relatively low temperatures, with correspondingly long cooking times (several hours). Many recipes simply call for the ingredients to be put in the cooker with little preparation. The slow cooker can then safely be left to run unattended, making it a convenient cooking method. So says Wikipedia, anyway.

What I say is that if you are a frugal person – you grow your own veg, you use your freezer to store your gluts, and you hate waste, then buy a slow cooker to finish the process! If you have an allotment, you can put dinner on in the morning and come home to a piping hot meal, all for the cost of leaving a light on. A casserole for six costs as much (or as little) to cook as a bowl of soup for one, so I make big batches and freeze the excess.

A couple of points:

1. Cooking on the low heat setting generally takes about twice the time of high heat, but for cheap cuts of meat or root veg, I allow at least three to four times.

2. If you have economy 7 type tariff electricity, you can cook overnight for literally pennies

3. When adapting ‘normal’ recipes, remember that because there is no evaporation during cooking, there may be excess liquid in your dish at the end of the cooking time. If so, drain it into in a small saucepan and simmer until it has reduced to an appropriate amount. It's important to add seasonings after this reduction takes place, since reducing the liquid will intensify the taste.

I use mine for soups, stews, chutneys (wonderful for these, as they can cook down for eight to ten hours and then just need a quick boil in the big saucepan to reduce any excess liquid, also it seems to speed up the maturation of a chutney to start it off in the slow cooker, so you can open the jar about a month before a standard chutney would be ready), chilli con carne, gammon (cook with apple juice or cider, wonderful!) … in fact there’s almost nothing that comes off the allotment that doesn’t end up in there, sometime or other.

Pot roast in slow cooker by basykes.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 10, 2008 0 Comments

Allotments and ...

… freezers go together like love and marriage or a horse and carriage, at least in my opinion. I can’t see the point in the former without the latter, although I know a lot of allotment holders don’t have freezers – how do they cope, I wonder?

As an example, I’ve used the Christmas break to repack my big outside freezer, moving the bags of frozen peas and beans indoors so that we can enjoy them through the winter. Is there anything nicer than your own French beans, full of the taste of July, steaming in a little pool of butter on your plate in January? I think not.

I’ve used the space created to make and store some ‘hearty’ soups. These are not the kind of ‘hearty’ soups advocated by TV advertisements, where men have beards and women have all day to spend in the kitchen, and soups have monosodium glutamate and starch to make them tasty and substantial. These are really hearty – full of parsnips, dried broad beans, onion and carrot, tomato puree and sliced green peppers. The only two ingredients that didn’t come off the allotment were the beef stock and the pasta shells that add the final ballast to the pan. Packed into individual containers, these soups generally make their way to the allotment again, in my flask, as I tour round talking to my neighbours, or to my husband’s workplace, where he can sit and sup a bowlful of home-grown freshness at lunchtime, to fortify him for the afternoon to come.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Sunday, January 6, 2008 0 Comments

Allotment News

Pensioners and allotment holders took part in a defiant demonstration at a Grade II-listed pigeon loft on Tuesday, as they prepared for bailiffs to turn up. The loft, called a cree, is on an allotment site in Ryhope, near Sunderland, and it’s under threat from developers despite being given grade II listed status by English Heritage in 1998. The problem has arisen because the cree is on land whose lease ran out at Midnight on New Year’s Eve. The landowner, Worktalent Ltd, wants to evict the allotment holders, tear down the pigeon loft and redevelop the site but the cree’s owner, 75-year-old Maurice Surtees, and 21 other allotment holders have vowed to save the loft and the surrounding land. Their efforts are supported by local campaign groups and MPs. The allotment holders were offered a £250,000 compensation package to move out, but turned it down unanimously.

Banwell resident demanding their legal right to allotments from Banwell Parish Council are still waiting for a decision. At a meeting before Christmas, villagers said they wanted the parish council to identify a site and while the council is looking at three proposals, the council's chairman Cllr David Elsey, said it needs further legal advice from North Somerset Council and needs to identify land and costs before any decision can be taken.

Picture of a mobile pigeon loft by Jon's pics!

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, January 3, 2008 0 Comments

Looking forwards

It’s a dispiriting time of year, I will be honest with you, and without the office, I’m finding myself turning into a ‘fair weather’ allotment visitor! So I decided to sit down today and remind myself why allotments are so important – not so much making resolutions and focusing on what I would lose if I didn’t have that regular contact with growing things:

Allotments are good for the planet – home grown veg saves airmiles, preserves diversity, encourages healthy eating and reminds us to get our five a day (not difficult when the summer veggies are piling up outside the door by the barrowload) so we place less strain on our health and our health service.

Allotments are good for people – fresh air, exercise, growing your own food, companionship etc – all these are available at our allotment site (at least when the shed is open, otherwise the last becomes quite a bit scarcer) and all these contribute to physical and mental wellbeing.

Allotments are fun – we’ve learned to cook with medlars and horseradish, pak choi and cobnuts, since we started allotmenteering, all because our neighbours shared crops or seed or good advice. Our diet is more varied and our appreciation for different crops is enhanced by this share and share alike approach to growing things.

Allotments are good for wildlife – we’ve seen goldfinches, hawks, rabbits, badgers, foxes, Adonis Blue butterflies and skylarks on allotment sites around the country – they serve as a safe place and rich feeding ground for much of our rarest and most threatened natural biodiversity.

And come the summer, when I’m picking ripe peaches from Andy’s tree, I shall wonder why I ever thought it was too much trouble to pull my boots on and head for the allotment …

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Tuesday, January 1, 2008 3 Comments

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