Thursday, 31 December 2009

Composting Toilet - funding approved!

How about this for some New Year Good News! After a very long haul funding for the composting toilet on our allotment site has finally been approved! This means we'll be able to hold more events on site and stand a better chance of getting match-funding!

Will post again with more details...

See also previous posts Campaign for a composting Toilet

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Installing a water butt

Festive wishes to readers out there, I hope you're having a peaceful time of it. I'm cracking on with jobs that will make our lives easier in the coming growing season. I'd been wanting to install guttering on our allotment shed for some time now. It's a long walk to the the water butt and when times are busy and lots of people are on site you can't use it anyway as it doesn't refill very quickly.

I don't mind admitting that do-it-yourself jobs are not one of my talents. Frankly, the prospect of having to do these things is often quite terrifying!

This information might be useful to someone though, so I'm going to share my progress so far. As a first step, I checked out the 'how to' guides for some major stores. B and Q being one of them. I didn't find much about how to install guttering but I did find a step-by-step guide to installing a water butt. Here's the link:

Then I visited a large store and bought the necessary items. Three lengths of guttering, plus brackets. Water butt and stand I'd bought a while back. Down pipe and down pipe connector. So far so good. Cost around £40.

Of course when I visited our plot yesterday allotment reality started to kick in. I put the brackets on the shed - I thought they were sloping and tested the system out with water from a watering can. However, then I realised the shed was sloping too, so had to take the brackets off and put them on again in a different place. Sigh. By the time I'd tried again night was falling and it was freezing cold, so I guess Installing a Water Butt (Episode II) will have to wait a wee while. Never mind, at least I've started the project.

And the snow drops I planted are coming up.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Home Made Christmas Decorations

Not usually very keen on Christmas Decorations but we received this lovely Christmas Garland from Babes' Granny yesterday. I wanted to share this photograph with QGT readers.

Other Half said Granny and Babes had used materials from Granny's garden to make it.

Isn't it beautiful? I think it is much nicer than a tinsel crown and just right for us. Thank you very much Granny.

Greetings to all readers and hope your preparations are going well. Don't get too stressed out - and plan some time in to check your garden or allotment plot on sunny days...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Organic Gardening and Climate Change

I'm a creature of habit, and work routines help me to keep going. This week must be the first week of the year when I haven't been down to the allotment. Little and often is my motto. I've missed it but I've got a good excuse. This week I've been on the Climate Change 'The Wave' march in London.

In the interests of joined up thinking I'm pointing QGT readers towards coverage of Climate Change and Copenhagen over at my newsblog.

I took over a hundred photographs - this is not one of the best but the brave chap on the right of the picture spoke to me. Unfortunately he moved away before I could take a snap of what he was trying to say. His placard said: Domicile Allotments. Solution to Climate Change. I wish I'd had a chance to talk to him about it. I'll be back in the 'garden' next week...

Update: I've just Googled 'domicile allotments'. Our brave protestor pops up again see this link.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Communication, organic gardening and more photographs from the Woodbrooke Kitchen Garden

I've still got some important photographs to share from the Woodbrooke Kitchen Garden. Gardeners (and bloggers) need patience and learning. For those readers who have just started gardening - please know - I haven't been doing this all my life. I only started seriously four years ago when my daughter was born. Since then I've been on a very fast learning curve in all sorts of ways. A very practical learning curve too - very much food-related.

When I started blogging - (fourteen months ago) I admit - I didn't have definite goals in mind. But I did want to communicate - and do something useful. Organic gardeners I had talked to said that there is a skills gap in Britain today as far as fruit and vegetable growing was concerned. I hoped that by learning more about blogging as a medium I could do several things: consolidate my own knowledge about organic gardening, and communicate something of what I was learning to others.

Blogging is quite a fast medium. Blog posts can be slotted in at any time of day. With the increasing risks associated with Climate Change and Peak Oil I felt I needed to act fast.

I wanted to focus on time-saving techniques. How often have I heard people say that they don't have the time to grow their own. Well, as a busy mum - I often feel I don't have the time for ANYTHING - lots of us are familiar with that feeling of needing to find time from somewhere. I definitely don't have the time (energy or inclination) to dig over our allotment-plot-and-a-half each autumn.

But then it is through writing this blog that I've learned more about no-dig techniques and hopefully been able to pass on some of them. There's a lot to be said for television. But too many gardening programmes seem to give the impression that you can do an instant makeover in your backyard which lasts a weekend and you'll be set up with fruit and veg for the rest of your life. Of course life (and gardening) is not like that.

Along with the plants on our allotment plot - the communication element has grown too. I started out a year ago with this one blog Questioner's Garden Time (which is still my favourite blog). Blog number two appeared a little later (that's the one called: Profit from Your Blog). In April 2009 my news blog 'Behind the Lines' fruited as blog number three. And finally blog number four "A Parent's Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage" popped up. This last blog has been the focus of much attention recently. In the interests of joined up thinking - if you have, know or are concerned about the future of children under five, please visit this weighty site and consider signing the parliamentary petition I have launched.

Tending four blogs is a lot like gardening. It has been hard work at times. Little and often is the way to go. Whilst the subjects these blogs are concerned with may seem unrelated, to me they are all parts of a whole. Climate Change is linked to education - which is linked to war and peace - which is linked to communication - which is linked to how we use new media - and so on...

At times the work seems endless. And it is. You do the work and don't always see the results, but then one day you turn around and see how much the soil has improved. In year four our allotment soil is gaining that crumbly texture that is so different from the heavy clay we started out with. As far as communication is concerned - since April - reader traffic on all of my four blogs combined has increased EIGHT HUNDRED PER CENT. So it seems I'm a little closer to those communication goals that I've been striving towards.

Back to the main focus of this blog. Edible, do-able organic food. The last few photographs from the Woodbrooke Kitchen Garden are functional. First up: red cabbage. I remember eating this inthe Woodbrooke servery. It tasted wonderful and I'm determined not to miss the window to plant some of this on our allotment next year. Next in line chard.

You may think these particular specimens look a little tatty but they're perfect examples of the cut-and-come-again technique which helps us save time and energy. These little stumps should grow again in the spring. The gardener therefore avoids the work of re-sowing and they should be off to an early start too.

And finally, leeks. This is an interesting photo for me as they're covered in horticultural fleece. I was quite surprised about this as I don't bother with it myself. I would have thought because the Kitchen Garden has a wall around it, it wouldn't have been needed as it is a sheltered spot. But perhaps this particular variety is a little more fragile than the very hardy varieties I choose for our own plot. Must remember to ask the Woodbrooke gardener what the reason is for the fleece. Is it for frost protection? Any ideas anyone?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Children and Sustainability

Those concerned about sustainability and education, please consider signing the parliamentary petition I launched yesterday. Thank you for your support. See this link:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A Quaker Kitchen Garden - Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre

Continuing our series of blog posts on the Kitchen Garden and Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre we make our entrance:

A sign says: "You are welcome to explore the walled garden. Dating back to the 19th. Century the walled garden would have provided vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers for a large family and their staff. The current planting plan echoes this with separate Herb, Kitchen, Fruit and Cutting Gardens providing organic food and flowers for the Study Centre and a pleasant area to stroll or sit in".

I was fascinated by the layout of this garden, especially the herb garden. Woodbrooke provides an overview:

It's a shame I had so little time. You can't read all the names on this herb 'map' but you get some idea of how many different herbs there are. Walking around - I found some unusual varieties such as Sweet Woodruff. In the first instance - I wouldn't have the foggiest idea what to use this for, but it was enlightening to find it's sometimes employed to relieve migrane see . Next to catch my attention was 'Coltsfoot' used in the past for cough remedies. See:

Alongside Rosemary I also found Yarrow. You don't see that in your average plant nursery...

Being a Quaker Parent

Just returned from a weekend away at Woodbrooke Quaker college outside Birmingham, England. I'd registered for the weekend course entitled "Being a Quaker Parent" led by Craig Barnett and Helen Chambers. It was only half way through the weekend that I realised Craig Barnett of Sheffield has been following this blog for quite some time already, so it was great to meet him in person at last.

Craig is currently coordinating the City of Sanctuary movement in Britain. City of Sanctuary is a 'movement to build a culture of hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK' and creates a network of towns and cities throughout the country which are proud to be places of safety, and which include people seeking sanctuary fully in the life of their communities. Many people are now familiar with the idea of a ‘Fairtrade City’, in which a wide range of community groups and organisations make a commitment to using and selling fairtrade goods. In a similar way a ‘City of Sanctuary’ is a place where a broad range of local organisations, community groups and faith communities, as well as local government, are publicly committed to welcoming and including people seeking sanctuary.

The Woodbrooke weekend was glorious in more ways than one so thank you to those who led the course, took the time to attend and worked so hard. We really appreciated talking to fellow parents. I took a series of photographs on the Sunday morning after breakfast. (I was dying to get out with my still-newish Nikon D3000 and see what was growing in the Woodbrooke kitchen garden at this time of year) - I find you learn so much looking at the garden that someone else has created - so I'm planning to share a series of twenty or so photographs here, over the course of the next few weeks.

Intellectually speaking, there was much food for thought too. Many parents came with their children and carers. Some atheist, some agnostic. I'd heard it was the first time Woodbrooke had run the course, and we all hoped they will do this again - it certainly meant a lot to us.

In the day-to-day bustle of parenting tasks I'd been feeling as if I seldom got a chance to reflect on what I was actually doing. (That sounds completely wrong, but those of us caught up with the school-run and getting-tea-on-the-table will perhaps have some inkling of what I am trying to say...). Food was an important part of the weekend - the excellent facilities at Woodbrooke meant that no-one had to cook and since all the parents said 'relaxation' was an important element about being on the course we enjoyed being looked after very much. This garden fork-to-table business is all very well, but it gets to be hard work sometimes and it is great to have a weekend off.

It was the first time too I'd had a chance to talk about some of the special challenges and joys of being a family (and parenting with) a disability. All these things are all relevant to this blog - access to gardening and access to sustainable food production needs to mean access for all.
The children seemed to eat well - our daughter was so excited about being at Woodbrooke she didn't want to go to bed in case she missed anything, bless her.

So, on to the kitchen garden. It's a walled garden and this is the view from outside. I'm going to walk you round and look at interesting and useful plants in the pictures and blog posts that follow. (Much of what is grown in the garden finds it's way into the Woodbrooke restaurant kitchen).

Before we go into the garden proper I'm squeezing in another link which I hope will be of interest here. It's the Good Lives Project.

It came about because in addition to the historically important testimonies of peace, justice, equality and truth-seeking, Quakers have now adopted a corporate testimony of 'sustainability' which amongst other things means that many Friends are very busy right now on an international level - lobbying at the Copenhagen Climate Change negotiations. Now that there is little prospect of a legally binding agreement, people of all faiths (and none) are needing to seek other ways of disseminating, upholding and supporting the message of 'true sustainability'.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Onions, garlic and parsnip soup

Finished planting onion and garlic sets yesterday. I'm hopeless at labelling when I'm out on the plot. If it's cold and wet, you really don't want to be hanging about trying to get your pens to work...I'm hoping to record details of plantings here on the blog so that I can review how well they perform. I decided I wanted to try a new garlic variety so this years plantings were:

Pulled parsnips to make some space (and beautiful parsnip soup).

I'm spending an average of three hours a week at the allotment right now. At this time of year it's enough to keep things ticking over.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Plant Garlic now in November

According to Kitchen Gardener's International a whopping seventy-three per cent of garlic in the U.S. is imported from China. I wonder what the U.K. percentage is? Growing your own means you get Chinese cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. Watch this lovely video to brush up on what garlic is and how to plant it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gardeners have the power - Crush Hunger!

Couldn't let today pass without putting in a wee plug for Kitchen Gardener's International new initiative 'CRUSH HUNGER'. If enough people donate $10 dollars each they will be in line for a prize of $50,000 to be used to help more people globally grow their own fruit and vegtables. Tell your friends! Check out this link for more details:

KGI has done some brilliant work on the 'Eat the View' campaign and succeeded in getting a veg patch on the Whitehouse lawn. (I'm told Buckingham Palace held secret meetings with the first Lady. They say that was what prompted our monarch to follow suit...). Gardeners have the power...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Allotment Photography

Looking at
perfectly executed gardening photos - I often tend to feel I'll never measure up. I'm sure novice gardeners share that feeling too. So here are photographs of a different - dare I say more realistic kind.

It's not necessarily vital that your your veg patch looks professional and pretty at all times is it? Of course it's a bonus if it does, and a beautiful layout comes with time and experience.

But most organic allotmenteers just want things to work. It's a different aesthetic isn't it? First in the series of (definitely not airbrushed) less-than-perfect-looking-but-very-productive-fruit-and-veg-patch-photographs are the leeks. We haven't started harvesting these yet but we have many more than last year. So that's great. The leeks in this picture could have done with more rain and/or watering. I could have got them started earlier too.

We do have larger ones on the plot. These specimens in the next picture (on the right) are nearly ready to harvest.

The asparagus patch is one of our greatest gardening achievements so far. This is a not-particularly-impressive picture. Practically speaking, the plants are really healthy and sound. For the first time (in June next year) we'll be looking forward to harvesting organically grown asparagus spears. In this picture you might think the couch grass at the side is encroaching on the raised bed, but actually I dug a small trench to keep it away which is very effective as the couch grass doesn't cross it.

My mother told me that my grandfather (who had several allotments) hardly even used to water his. I try to adopt the same approach. Otherwise it is way too much work for us. I've got used to planting just before it rains and nurturing the soil so that it retains water for a long time. I also make extensive use of mulches. Which brings me to our next picture:

Not exactly neat and tidy but very effective on the scale of things as well as being ecologically sound. Here is a slightly raised simple bed edged with cardboard boxes (from mail order goods) and topped with wood chippings from our communal heap on the allotment site The advantage of this technique is it gives the worms a place to hide out (underneath the cardboard) and escape the winter chills.

I planted dwarf broad beans in this space at the weekend. Bare rooted raspberries went in next door to these. More onions and garlic can wait until November.

Last but not least the strawberries. These are recently transplanted - they didn't do so well in the old water butt where they were before as it was difficult to provide them with enough water.

They're looking a bit tatty - but as you can see they're fruiting in October - I'll give them a bit of TLC and they'll be in good shape for next year.

Really glad to say that I won't be buying any more organic slug pellets. Our froglets must have done very well and I saw a juvenile in early autumn - so hoping they'll do the slug patrol for us next year. It's great to see so many spiders and ground beetles too.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Gardening Year. The journey.

Just to cheer you all up after that bout of global number-crunching - here's some sanity: the latest picture of our plot. Year Four and the Avalon Pride peach tree is flourishing as you can see.

We're much further on with winter vegetable production - with leeks in various sizes which usually last until January.

The poached egg plant (Limanthes Douglasii) was still flowering yesterday - it has self-seeded - that's the THIRD time this year. Beautiful.

World Food Day - Crunching the Numbers about Food

Received an email from Roger Doiron over at Kitchen Gardener's International with some interesting stats in time for World Food Day tomorrow. He's allowing bloggers to republish them so here we go. (Normally I find numbers a bit scary, but these, I'm sure you will agree are important and enlightening). Thanks Roger.

1: number of new kitchen gardens planted at the White House this year AP
1943: the last time food was grown at the White House White House
20 million: the number of new gardens planted in 1943 LA Times
40%: percentage of nation's produce coming from gardens in 1943 LA Times
7 million: estimated number of new food gardens planted in the US in 2009 NGA
$2000: amount of savings possible per year from a 40' x 40' garden KGI
90%: percentage of fruit/vegetable varieties lost in the US the last 100 years CNN
3500: number of vegetable varieties owned by Monsanto Monsanto
18,467: number of new small farms counted in the last agricultural census USDA
4,685: number of farmers markets nationwide USDA
4,100: number of Wal-mart stores and clubs in the US Wal-mart
187,000 ft2 : average area of a Wal-mart superstore Wal-mart
60,112 ft2: average area of a farmers' market USDA
9.5 million: number of imported food shipments arriving in the US each year Huffington Post
226,377: number of establishments registered to export food to the US Huffington Post
200: number of on-site inspections of these establishments conducted by the FDA last year Huffington Post
76 million: number of people who fall ill each year due to food poisoning CDC
50 gallons: volume of sugared beverages consumed per person in the US each year LA Times
22,727: number of Olympic-sized swimming pools those beverages would fill
$15 billion: annual estimated revenue of a penny-per-ounce tax on soda LA Times
$20.5 billion: Coca-Cola's gross profit in 2008 Coca-Cola
72 million: number of American adults considered obese CDC
33%: percentage of US children likely to develop obesity or Type 2 diabetes CDC
10-15 years: average number of years their lives will be shortened as a result CDC
57 years: average age of the American farmer USDA
25 days: average shelf-life of a Twinkie Snopes
350 parts per million: sustainable level of CO2 in atmosphere
390 parts per million: current level of CO2 in the atmosphere NOAA
31%: percentage of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions attributable to food and agriculture IPCC
2020: year by which many geologists feel the world will have reached "peak oil" production UK Research Centre
10 calories: average amount of fossil fuel energy required to produce 1 calorie of food energy in industrialized food systems Cornell
29,100 calories: estimated fossil fuel calories required to produce one order of Outback Steakhouse Aussie Cheese Fries Men's Health
1 billion: number of hungry people in the world in 2009 FAO
9.1 billion: projected world population in the year 2050 US Census
70%: percentage increase in global food production required to feed that projected population FAO
70%: percentage of world's fresh water used for agricultural purposes UNESCO
1.8 billion: number of people expected to experience "water scarcity" in the year 2025 UNEP
0: number of new, oil-rich, water-rich, fertile and inhabitable planets we are likely to discover in the next 40 years
1: number of people needed to make a positive difference in any of the above: you!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Gardening Year (and this blog's first birthday)

It's nearly a year since I started this blog. (3rd. November, 2008 to be exact).

In gardening terms - reflecting on past successes (and failures) is an important process. So if it's alright with you readers - that's what I'm going to do for the next two weeks until this blog's first anniversary.

The picture opposite was taken on 18th. April, 2008. In the next few posts I'm going to include more recent photographs - you'll be able to track our progress that way.

We'd taken on our plot in early summer 2006 and it had been completely derelict then. I wish I'd taken a photograph at the very beginning - to prove it, but my little one had not long been born, and taking pics was the last thing on my mind...

Notable features at the start included brambles as thick as your thigh which I had to dig out, dozens of sacks full of broken glass... The lot. I mention this because I've met a few new plot holders recently who are starting in a similar place. Although at least they had their plots cleared, whereas I did mine by hand with a scythe. So don't lose heart new plotters - it is possible. Whatever you do, though don't rotovate. You'll only chop the weeds up and compact the ground - get some advice from Garden Organic about 'Starting an Organic Allotment' instead.

So, what can we see in this picture? Starting in the foreground: A weedy and still bramble stricken strip of ground covered in mulch fabric, newly planted gooseberries, newly planted rye grass and clover lawn underneath the apple trees I inherited (the one in the picture is the old variety - called Newton Wonder), inherited daffodils, newly planted asparagus bed on the left - a few raised beds and a few sack fulls of rubbish.

In 2007 when I took on the plot - most of the areas surrounding it were uncultivated. Now we have neighbours. By year four - our heavy clay soil has been much improved due to the almost constant addition of various mulches and manures. These included: rabbit manure (from a local rabbit breeder), cardboard and wood chip mulch for the paths (delivered to the site by local tree surgeons), home-made compost (since I cleared the plot from derelict there was a great deal of green waste to deal with), cocoa shells (an organic and fairly expensive product which I used sparingly on the asparagus patch and around the peach tree), 'Strulch' (also a fairly expensive product used on raspberries, it lasts a long time and is made of mineralised straw so it also feeds the soil), comfrey leaves and last but not least: kitchen waste treated with Bokashi Bran and buried in trenches.

The improvement in the soil means it is generally much easier to work - and direct seed sowing will finally become a possibility this coming Spring. The clearance of neighbouring plots has generally been a positive thing, but the clearances of vegetation mean that strong winds have been a difficulty too - and so I've planted appropriate wind breaks. Photographs to appear in the next few blog posts.

At the beginning I toyed with the idea of making a static design for the plot and then following it. I'm glad I didn't now. The lay-out of the plot evolved gradually. Some features (like the apple trees) - were fixed - but in general I observed soil, sun and shade and made decisions as I went along. The plastic raised beds worked out quite well as I moved them round quite a bit. They have a five year guarantee so whilst they're not indestructible they're fairly sturdy.

The cardboard and wood chip mulch I've used for the paths has lasted a season which means it is extra work to replace it - but because this adds organic matter to the soil, I feel this has been worth it. I'd advise new gardeners to keep an eye on the principles of permaculture whilst they are designing their layout. Think about putting your shed in the middle of your plot instead of at the end and use several compost heaps and water butts dotted around instead of just one - it really does make the work easier.

My blogging skills have improved over the past year. I'm currently without a camera as my compact and fairly simple Samsung L700 has finally packed up. Good news in some ways as this means I can finally upgrade to an entry-level digital SLR. Another fast learning this space...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Composting Toilet Saga Continues

The saga of our composting toilet continues. Sigh. News of our site's supposedly subversive efforts has hit the local press. See this link.

Meanwhile a very nice chappie from a lovely local composting toilets company has seen this blog and contacted me with an offer to come and talk to our local council and try to convince them to do the right thing. They say they've never had a council refuse them yet. These composting toilets seem super efficient, very attractive and are wheel-chair friendly. It's worth a shot, have a look for yourself at how lovely these nifty models are these days - see NATSOL

And if that doesn't work, please tell your friends and sign our petition at this link:

Thanks very much.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Guerilla Gardening. Urban Food Production.

Just received this great film from a friend about the Abundance Project featuring Guerilla Gardening and Urban Food production. Watch it at this link.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Allotments, Art and Creativity

There's a lot going on at our allotment site. Not just the growing - but all the creativity that comes along with it. We have artists, poets, craft workers and business people of all kinds in our number. This willow horse is lovely, isn't it? I took the picture last year sometime and of course the willow has rooted now. There were also several wicker rabbits on site. I've forgotten the artist's name now, bless them, but I'll find out and add the detail to this post.

Then there are the picture people. Plot holder Nellie Maan for example. Nellie has a vast amount of international experience with art and business. She opens her studios sometimes as part of Open Artist Studios events. Together with her other half, she's doing interesting things with board games as a tool for creative enterprise. Click on this link for more about Nellie's work. To find out about Cheshire Open Studios click here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Garden Organic For Schools

We made it. We're still alive. It's the fourth week of school. Two hours a day so far. Time to start exploring the 'Garden Organic for Schools initiative'. Before we delve into how it is relevant to the National Curriculum - let's start with how it came about. See this link:

As readers may remember - Garden Organic and their wonderful staff have accompanied us (in spirit) on our family's 'Organic Food Journey' since my daughter was born. I breastfed my daughter - so she had a great start in life. When she was six months old - I attended a 'Garden Organic For All' training weekend in Ryton, near Coventry. I'll never forget the help and support I experienced there, it really helped set our family up for life. (I have particularly fond memories of the first class restaurant and the chocolate bread and butter pudding - they really pampered us). The 'Organic Food for All' programme has ended now, I think but it existed to reach out to people with limited resources to help them get growing.

Anyone reading this blog who looks at our allotment plot now might get the impression we've been growing food organically all our lives. Not so people. Four years ago, when my daughter was born I was on a very fast learning curve. On the training course Garden Organic taught us about crop rotation and tested us on the main vegetable families - in the fog of new parenthood, I recall my embarrassment as I didn't know any of them properly. Four years on, things are different and I feel a lot more confident about how to grow organic food. So there is hope for all you newbies! Writing this blog has helped too.

Our school choice was heavily influenced by access issues and the fact that the building is close to our allotment site. Some of the parents (and staff) we meet at the school gate are fellow plot holders. So, hello folks. I know that some of you subscribe to the posts on this blog, I'm always really glad to know that someone is actually reading this stuff! And thanks for all your hard work in our allotment community.

Allotments and growing spaces are sometimes hard to come by round here and lots of households don't have any access to them. People think our city is quite rich - but the recession affects the leafy-laned schools too - there are two main industries here: finance and retail - and both of these industries have been hit hard. There are masses of two-up-two-down houses in our district which only have a courtyard and no growing space. Tourism is all very well - but tourist facilities often benefit only large companies based elsewhere and not the local council-tax payers who actually live here.

Our school used to have an allotment on our site, but recently I understand they've had to give it up. I was told by a fellow plot holder that although the allotment was just across the road from the school - they couldn't spare the time away from the curriculum to ship all the children over there and back again. Just shows what sort of target-driven pressures they must be under these days (see: A Parent's Guide to the Early Years Foundation Stage)

All things are connected. At any rate, we have a school garden - that's a start.

The baseline is: although our school has a food policy - we feel they have not yet made the connection between growing and eating. We're due to start school meals next week - but as far as we know - although the food is fairly balanced - none of it is organically grown or locally produced. Our parental assessment tells us there's definitely room for improvement there.

There would be plenty of scope for a community composting initiative. Let's hope they're reading this.

And then there is Climate Change. As a family - we started measuring our household carbon emissions years ago and our child will grow up with an awareness of social and environmental responsibility - with the knowledge that although the situation is critical, there are things that can be done. NOW. See: The Carbon Trust site for ways in which schools and small and medium-sized enterprises can save energy and money.

But it all comes down to a question of listening doesn't it? I'd like to say our allotment was a gift. But it wasn't. It was completely derelict when we took it on. Due to my other half's disability I've done all the heavy manual work on it single-handedly for years. That's getting easier now the soil is better but it was really tough at first and without the support of Garden Organic I'm sure I would have given up a long time ago. I've seen people throw in the towel because they made mistakes, underestimating the work involved or didn't know anything about labour saving techniques.

I've also seen newbies give up because our council doesn't seem to know much about horticulture. They cleared the plots opposite ours with bulldozers - removing all the top soil and not realising what they were doing. These plots were plagued with flooding problems for years.

It's very clear to me that local authorities (and schools) should be making growing easier for people. There should be proper access and consultation (not just lip service) for people with disabilities to empower and enable. And the council should adhere to the statutory equal opportunities policy. If they want people to live healthily - combat food insecurity and cut carbon emissions - then they have to make it easier for people to 'grow their own'.

I was once criticised by someone who reckoned that instead of 'complaining' about conditions in society - I should just 'get on with it'. As our allotment - and the rest of our decades of voluntary activities - (including our contributions to the local committees we are a part of) show: the truth of that is: we've been 'getting on with it' all along...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Battle for composting toilet on site rages on

There has been some controversy about our site's plan to build a composting toilet (just one!). Our site is one of the largest in the U.K., I believe.

One brave Liberal Democrat councillor I talked to has agreed to donate £500 of his expenses allowance to support the plan. In a street surgery he told me that some other councillors refused to support the project saying it was 'too political'. (Obviously there is a revolutionary plot behind the idea isn't there?) No seriously, given the diversity of social standing of our plot holders - we've got everyone from people with flash cars and huge gardens at home to people on the breadline - I can't think of anything which would be less political - and if you ask me, the phrase 'it's too political' is just a poor excuse to do nothing.

On the ground, as an organic gardener - I'm well aware we have less than basic facilities which don't appear to be anywhere near the national standards or best practice seen on other allotment sites.

Dozens of plots are off the mains altogether. Watering is often a problem for this reason - as organic gardeners we mulch a great deal, according to Organic guidelines to save water - but at present we have one small corporation water butt between thirty-odd plot holders - no stand pipe - and this butt is often unusable - in hot weather the water pressure is non-existent and you turn up at the plot with a few hours to spare only to find there is no water because the butt isn't refilling fast enough. Many of us have installed extra butts to collect water from our sheds, but the situation still represents a difficulty for anyone with any sort of health challenge as all this often means carrying water for quite a distance.

Our lack of basic facilities also affects our ability to reach out to the community. One fellow parent remarked in exasperation one day: "They ought to try toilet training a toddler on a site with no hand-washing facilities - a mile or more from the nearest loo..." I couldn't agree more.

So much for local and national government rhetoric about healthy living and encouraging people (and children) to take more exercise and eat more fruit and veg. Much of it seems to be nothing more than lip-service.

We have disabilities in the family - and whilst if you are able-bodied, squatting behind the shed or over a bucket may be an ( adventurous) option - for anyone with a disability - it presents problems. When we have an Open Day, or visitors to the site - I lose visitors. As soon as they find out the toilets are so far away, many with 'toileting challenges' have to head for home.

It's time our Council shifted their priorities and started to understand the true meaning of the word 'sustainable development' . They've just spent £15 million odd on new headquarters for themselves which allow them to sup champagne whilst overlooking the racecourse in comfort. See this link: Still - what can you expect - it's only a few years since they they tried to sell our site off to build a tennis court....plot holders have got long memories, thank goodness.

Attitudes to people with disabilities could do with a shake-up too. After attempting a discussion about disability rights with a council representative on Friday I was told that 'disabled people' needed plots 'near the road'. I had to point out the Equal Opportunities basics here: that not everyone has a disability you can see for starters - (what about mental health issues?) - and not everyone is in a wheelchair(so access requirements are different).

Finally - surely what we should be aiming towards is empowering people - not shunting them off in some sort of car park ghetto. We have no intention of moving to be 'near the road' - when we've put in sustained effort to convert our plot from derelict for the past four years and are just beginning to reap the benefits.

So - readers of this blog - who WOULD like to learn more about the benefits of composting toilets and recognise their advantages in terms of saving costs - and water - I'm enclosing this link - there is a wealth of information out there if you search for 'Composting Toilets' but this link is good to start - click here.

AND dear readers - don't log off without signing our petition please! You don't need to put your postal address down, and you can click the options to hide your email address too, if you wish. Thanks very much fellow plotters - we really appreciate your help. Sign the petition here.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Composting Toilets!

Your support is needed for a petition to secure composting toilets for our Hoole Allotment Site.
To sign the petition follow this link.

Sustainable Food Evening

Off to this sustainable food evening tonight...organised by Friends of the Earth.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hoole Allotments - new community website

At last our allotments have a new website. Here's the link: Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Autumn Raspberries

I'm back. Earlier than expected. Thanks all you readers for wishing us well. School start - so far, so good. Here's a picture of some of our autumn raspberries. Variety All Gold. As far as we're concerned, they really are the original fast food. Little One loves them- (ours often never make it home, but just get eaten on the spot). It's understandable - they're delectable.

If you really want to add something to them, try searching for a recipe for Raspberry Pavlova. Or even simpler - I made one up for raspberry 'mess'. Crushed meringue. Lots of raspberries and whipped cream.

One word of warning. Pick them frequently. I turned up on the plot today after a week's absence only to find quite a few were wasted. They were overripe and because the weather has been quite wet, some had started to go mouldy. They could really do with picking every day.

Some people think the yellow ones are strange - but they look so pretty as a contrast to red ones. And the best thing: I went to a supermarket this week and autumn raspberries are selling for £2.5o for a very small punnet - and they're not organically grown either. I reckon this year we must have had at least thirty punnets worth...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Short Break

I'm taking a short 'break' from this blog to help my daughter settle into school. Back in two weeks!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sweetcorn, Pumpkins, Main Crop Potatoes

Before the leaves start to fade - I wanted to share these photographs with you all, my readership. The mass of leaves - sweetcorn in the foreground - pumpkins and courgettes - main crop potatoes and raspberries behind show just how fruitful the allotment has been this year.
Time for a break between shifts. There were so many bumble bees on these clumps of lavender today.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Foraging for Cherry Plums

Aren't these lovely colours? Blackberries. Red and yellow cherry plums. Little One and Other Half had been out foraging and had found a tree in a local park that was laden with them. Eaten raw, they weren't quite as tasty as some plums I've had - I believe it does vary - but I was nonetheless entranced. We've planted cherry plums on the allotment - they're growing fast, but not fruiting yet - it's too soon. Still - when we do get them - there will be masses, so I've been looking forward to finding easy, quick and tasty recipes for cherry plums.

Jam is the obvious one - but we've got lots of that and wanted to try something savoury. Came across a great-sounding recipe for lamb stew with cherry plums which we're going to try.

Cherry plums have lots of other attractions too. They flower really early in the year, so the blossom is lovely. We've planted them as a hedge and a wind break. They're also used in Bach Flower remedies.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Grow Your Own Organically. Sunday's Harvest.

I've spent a mere four hours at the allotment this week. I'm almost looking forward to the autumn as the weeds are still growing fast and I sometimes I feel I can't keep up. But the last half an hour of my visit made it all worth it. That's when I pick the harvest to take home - and I'm home early today, so I can prepare all this lovely fruit and veg and store some of it - cooked, prepared and ready for a hard working week.

So what have we got? From left to right. Blackberries. Collected in clean tin cans - I clean them in the dishwasher (I consider this an essential item if you're cooking a lot - just make sure it is 'A' rated for energy efficiency). When I get the blackberries home I put some aluminium foil on the top and put them straight in the freezer. The tin cans protect them whilst they're being transported. They never stay in the freezer for very long. A few weeks maybe at most.


These are windfalls. I've got plenty of chutney left over from last year (and it's still good!) - so I don't think I'll need to make it this year again. Instead the apples will go into a series of apple and blackberry crumbles. I check them over, wash them and cut the bad bits out if there are any. I don't bother peeling them, as the skins are quite good and they are organic after all...Then they go into a pan for ten minutes with lemon juice and some sugar. I put the cooked apples into pyrex dishes, let them cool and then freeze them.

I've got crumble topping ready in the freezer too (make it in advance with butter, flour, oats and sugar - you can do dairy and gluten free by using soya marg and gluten free flour). Can't give you exact measurements I'm afraid as I rarely measure anything but if you 'Google' crumble topping you'll find a recipe. Alternatively, phone your mum/grandma/grandad!

So, that means when I need a crumble - I whip the apple base dish out of the freezer, check over some blackberries - put them on the top of the apples, pop the crumble mix on top and off you go. Today's haul will be good for about four of these crumbles I would imagine.
Believe it on not, these are the last of the Lady Cristl first earlies about four pounds of them. There are a few slug holes in them, but not many. Some of them are huge and we're using them for potato salad, and as diced potatoes to add to a lentil stew. (Which I prepared earlier today in my hay box (see previous post).
These are Little Gems, my favourite. For lunches during the week.
The basil is Greek Basil (the one with the smallish leaves) and I'll be eating it in a lovely feta cheese salad this evening.
Raspberries (not in the picture)
White and red. Not many as most are autumn fruiting. But enough for my toddler's supper this evening.
So, I'll be spending some time preparing veg. this evening, and some time cooking. We're in our fourth year of allotmenteering - our heavy clay soil is lightening up now- and the work investment is starting to pay off. We've been self-sufficient in garlic, onions, blackberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, cooking apples, new potatoes and main crop potatoes, raspberries, herbs, lettuce and salad leaves for a whole year now. Nature's bounty.

Monday, 10 August 2009

National Allotments Week

To kick off National Allotment's week here's a link to an article about the cost of food in Britain and what we can do about it, (sent to me by a good friend). Enjoy. Click here to read Martin Hickman's piece called: "We can still feed ourselves, but for how much longer?"

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Remembering Hiroshima and the Peace Declaration, 2009

I've broken my usual rule of posting here once a week at least. I've got some good reasons though. It's Hiroshima Day today - the day we remember the dropping of the atomic bomb and I've been documenting news on global nuclear disarmament on my news blog . Nuclear contamination affects our food sources directly. Here's a small part of the news coverage of the Hiroshima Peace Declaration and the Memorial Service which took place in Japan this morning.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Broccoli, Courgettes and blurry photographs

There's something very real about this photo. It's far removed from the glossy shots you see in 'foodie' magazines. A little bit blurred even. It's a 'just-come-home-from-the-allotment-and-put-things-on-the-table-tired-now-but-happy' sort of a photograph. I like to help other growers along - so this is definitely a 'you-can-do-it-too' sort of picture.

And there's another thing I'm proud of. This digital snap does NOT illustrate a glut. We've grown just enough broccoli and courgettes (two or three plants) to have some for our evening meals, without getting fed up with them, and without wasting anything.

These were low maintenance plants. Once I'd raised the broccoli in biodegradable pots at home I just planted them out - threw them in with a net over the top, held down at the sides with bricks. I really didn't pay them much attention after that. I can't even remember weeding them. And people say brassicas are really difficult to grow...?

As for the courgettes - it was the same story with them too (didn't need the nets though). No doubt the rain helped. There I was at the beginning of June - worrying about how I was going to water the plot, and in the end - I hardly needed to.

Even if we don't eat these vegetables today (and I don't make it down to the allotment every day - I'm there once or twice a week at the moment) - these vegetables will still be much fresher than the ones we could have bought in the supermarket.

Here's another blurry photograph:

In this one, you can see roughly how big the head of broccoli is by comparing it to the size of my (largish) hand. That's another thing about organic growing. Some people will tell you organically grown fruit and veg always turns out to be smaller than 'conventionally' grown veg. Don't believe a word of it.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Is the food industry 'playing' with our lives? Food Inc.

'Food Inc' (the documentary) is making waves in the U.S. Not least amongst the major 'players' of the food industry. This clip shows a mother who lost her son because he ate contaminated food. She's fighting for new food safety legislation. Lots more about Food Inc on YouTube. See also BBC's Radio 4's The Food Programme for a discussion: Food and Film.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Nasturtiums and Marigolds

Nasturtiums and Marigolds. Both clumps of flowers self-seeded. Saves time and money.

I went to the trouble of raising about fifteen seedlings last year - but this year, I didn't need to. They look really attractive in the middle of the plot - and the bumble bees love them. I'm aiming to have something in flower every month of the year so these yellow and orange blooms do the 'July' shift...

Some people say these plants are invasive, but they're not difficult to keep in check - if you've got too many - just pull some up before they flower and add them to the compost heap.

I put the tree stumps in place to add some interest for my daughter, who's off to school in September - she likes using them as stepping stones.

Nasturtiums come in all sorts of vibrant colours. You can use both flowers and leaves in your salads. Follow this link for some great recipes: Salmon-cucumber stuffed nasturtium leaves, nasturtium-strawberry salad...see Old Fashioned Living.

You can eat Marigold petals too. Try: Stuffed Tomatoes with Marigold Blossoms (and basil). You need French Marigold petals for this dish. I'm not much good at latin names, but I also like the appearance of Calendula Officinalis, which has a larger flower than the French Marigolds in the picture. I grew Calendula Officinalis last year too. All seeds from The Organic Gardening Catalogue.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

How to grow peaches

It's been quite a journey. It began with an 'Avalon Pride' peach-leaf curl resistant peach tree, planted in 2006. The peach tree cost about £26.00

I don't know anyone else who has grown a peach tree successfully AND organically outside in the North West of England. In the first year (2007), I spent a good while fretting about frost protection. The peach tree lost it's blooms and succumbed to peach leaf curl, even though it was supposed to be peach leaf curl resistant.

By the second year, I left the tree to it's own devices. The blooms stayed on. I planted garlic round the base (which is supposed to deter fungal diseases) and hoped for the best.

To my delight lots of fruitlets appeared. I made the mistake of thinning them. (We had about twenty originally and I took about a dozen off). Don't follow the advice you get from gardening books too slavishly!

We were left with FIVE fruits, and here is a picture of one of them. They're about half the size of the ones you see in the shops, so here's hoping that in a week or two, with some sun - they might even be ready to eat. Anyone else with a peach tree out there? Let me know via the comments box...

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Blackcurrant Harvest

I could have left them a little longer...(there's a few in the picture here that might have benefited from a few more days in the sun) - but there seemed to be lots of ripe berries on our three blackcurrant bushes - and you sometimes have to do things when you can - so I went for it.

The variety shown here is called 'Ben Connan' and these are from a Welsh Fruit Farm organic stock. They were planted in October 2007 (nearly two years ago) so this is our first crop - they cost £5.50 each and will hopefully crop well for about ten years. That's an investment then.

As for preparation and cooking...if you cut them off the branches in bunches, you can sit down in and watch a film and use a fork to take the fruit off.

We must have bagged about twenty small punnets full in total. If you bought twenty punnets of organic blackcurrants it would cost you how much?...£40 perhaps?

So, here's an overview of this week's harvest: Onions to store, onions to eat - a huge bowl of blackcurrants, new potatoes (variety - Lady Christl - only picked a few of them) shallots, fresh sage and a few lovely sugar snap peas gifted by a fellow plot-holder.

Monday, 22 June 2009

First ever open day on our allotment site

I'd been so busy with work, family and getting the plot ready for our first Allotment Open Day, I didn't even notice our allotment committee had put an advert in the paper about it.

I was late turning up on Saturday - rushed out to the plot, anticipating rain but instead met with a constant stream of well-wishing visitors - all interested in what we were growing, how we were growing it, and why - visiting dignitaries included a trained herbalist and a local government representative. (I'd been talking to the poor chap about rabbit manure and related topics for about twenty minutes before I realised who he was...)

All afternoon I waxed (happily) lyrical about the challenges of converting a derelict plot (ORGANICALLY of course) - the advantages of mulching, the dangers of frost, foxes, mice, pigeons, slugs and what to do about them. It was great to stop for a coffee and chat for a little while, instead of labouring...

Even if I do say so myself - everything looked pretty good on the plot. There were even a few concrete illustrations of our allotment plotting skills. I was just about to showcase the mini-pond when a shining new froglet had the foresight to climb out of the washing up bowl onto a stone - as if to demonstrate the point!

I made a pretty good pitch for Garden Organic too - handing out some leaflets, listing the many benefits of being a member and sharing fond memories of the chocolate bread and butter pudding I consumed at their first class restaurant at Ryton where I did my training to become a mentor for the Garden Organic Food for All programme (the training took place at the training centre, I mean - not in the restaurant....)

During the course of the day I realised how proud we should be - after all we're one of the largest sites in Britain. About half the visitors were allotment holders from other sites comparing notes - or people who wanted a plot.

Whilst mulling over the best time to prune cherry plums we talked hard politics too...everyone noticed we've still got lots of derelict plots on site, and no-one (including me) can come up with a good enough excuse as to why the council hasn't done anything about this situation.

The derelict plot next door (the one I photographed for this blog back in March) STILL doesn't have an owner - and there are more of these - around twenty I would guess. It's crazy - I don't understand it - we have a huge waiting list. And judging by all the visitors to our site there are loads of people who are desperate for a plot, bless them.

Still, there's talk of progress in other directions. A composting toilet! That would be an improvement - as we have around 200 plots and no 'facilities'. I tried to explain how difficult this is for all kinds of visitors (families with toddlers, those with disabilities in the family to name just a few). Yup. Composting toilet(s)? are the way to go!

The day was rounded off by a lovely barbecue - so thanks to the committee. Met a lovely lady from a local housing trust who talked a lot of sense and has a wonderful vision of where we might go from here...

Looking back - it is less than ten years since our site was under threat from being sold off and turned into a tennis court. This was documented in local newspapers.

I had the good fortune to meet one of the people who played a substantial part in saving our skins. Our friend told me how 'the powers-that-be' had tried to keep the sell off plan hush, hush. But this 'local hero' saved the day. He used his rights under the Freedom of Information Act to secure documentation of a secret council meeting. When the news came out - and with the spade-work-support of plot holders and nearby residents - the political 'tide' was turned.

So thanks to 'Mr. Hero' and all the other people who took part in the struggle. Without you - we wouldn't have fresh new potatoes for tea today...and I for one don't know what I'd do without the plot...

For those who'd like to know more about the current status of allotment waiting lists in England - check out the survey 'Allotment Waiting lists in England' on the NSLAG (National Society of Leisure and Allotment Gardeners) website, written by Margaret Campbell and Ian Campbell and supported by Transition Town West Kirby in conjunction with the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Garlic Harvest

Do you sometimes have moments when you wonder why on earth you're doing what you're doing?

I've had plenty of those times in the last three years - converting our allotment from derelict. I must have removed at least a hundred bags of broken glass, old pots and other rubbish from the site. Not much fun.

But this weekend has been one of those times when, although it's still hard work, activities on the plot seem to be getting easier and more pleasurable. I've taken up all the garlic and brought it home in my Pashley tricycle. It's a whole year since I bought the tricycle and there's very little maintenance. I asked the bicycle shop to put that green gunge in the tyres and I haven't had a puncture once. That's pretty good going on our allotment site. And as you can see, it is perfect for transporting vegetables.

The bulbs are a really good size and (I think) they smell really good - in fact our whole house smells of fresh garlic. Not a stale and unpleasant smell, but vibrant. That's enough garlic to last us for the whole year and we've given some to neighbours too. Once the bulbs have dried, I sort them through, store the good ones in baskets and use the others as soon as I can.

I like the sound of this garlic soup - especially since we also grow fresh sage on the allotment - but the possibilities are endless really.

Garlic is particularly useful when someone in the family has a cough or cold. I make a simple, instant soup sometimes too - using Marigold organic stock, which comes in a vegan and low-salt version. I just chop one fresh clove of garlic - then put a teaspoon of Marigold into a cup and drop the garlic into it. With a piece of bread it's a great pick-me-up. Then there's garlic bread for barbecues...

This weekend was a big weekend on the plot work-wise. It's Open Day next Saturday and I've agreed to show people round our plot so I'll need to cut the grass too and planted out some clumps of Marigolds which had self-seeded to smarten up the bush tomato beds.

Emptied the old compost heaps and created new ones - our pro-wildlife policy is really kicking in now - lots of different ground beetles which had been breeding in piles of logs I had left around - and in the wood mulch I used for some of the paths (there are a huge number of different ground beetles and many eat slugs, I believe). I've stopped using organic slug pellets altogether now - which is good news on cost grounds too as they're fairly expensive and there are large areas to cover. Our plot has settled down - and with all these wildlife friends we don't seem to need them so much now.

Everywhere you look there are now hundreds of worms - I'm pleased to say the character of our soil has completely changed due to these guys. When I first started tilling the plot, the soil came in huge lumps and it was really difficult if not impossible to get a fine tilth. We've added a huge amount of organic matter now and the soil is much easier to work. I listened to my alter ego 'Gardener's Question Time' yesterday on the radio and Anne Swithenbank seemed to confirm the view that on a heavy clay soil, if you've added lots of organic matter, the soil improves by Year Four.

I emptied out one compost barrel which contained well-rotted rabbit manure. I put half of this on the asparagus bed and used half to create a new strawberry bed using six plants that someone had given us. The well rotted manure was teaming with worms too - I covered it with some porous fabric and cut holes to plant the strawberries through.

Carried on harvesting the new potatoes (Lady Christl) - and planted leeks in those beds. Planted out a couple of Lovage plants (which are good to use for chicken soup, I understand). The Globe Artichoke plants I'd raised at home were ready to go out too.

On the wildlife front, the mini-pond is fine and the big news - next-door-but-one a fellow plot holder has set up his very own honey-bee hive. I went over to say 'hello' to our stripey, furry friends on their very first day. It's all very exciting. I'll post some pictures as soon as I can.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

New potatoes with butter - home grown gooseberries for dessert

I'm finally beginning to understand why farmers always seem to be talking about the weather.

If we're going to get serious about producing enough fruit and vegetables to sustain a small household - weather, sunshine, daylight hours, watering and timing are important factors.

Most gardeners I know have already planted out their courgettes, squash, tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and melons. These are all heat-loving plants. And here in the North West of England we've hit a chilly patch - with lots and lots of rain. When this happens growth seems to slow down or stop...and you start wondering if it will ever start again...

Lettuces and salad plants are alright for a few days in these cooler temperatures as they don't like things too hot. Of course if it rains a lot you don't need to water so often. Wielding a watering can is quite a chore when you have a largish space. I'll have to find a more workable solution for this one. Mulching helps enormously - and I've ordered a long hosepipe today(50 metres).

We started to harvest the new potatoes last week. This variety is a first early potato called 'Lady Christl' and they're really delicious. It is such a simple meal too. Last night we had new potatoes with butter and one organic beefburger each (they were on special offer). A small bag of organically grown new potatoes costs around £2.50.

Our home grown harvest will probably give us about fifty meals for two adults and a toddler. So if we'd bought potatoes at the shops this would have set us back £125. Here is what my order from the Organic Gardening Catalogue looked like:

1 x seed potatoes LADY CHRISTL 3 kg (cost: £6.25)
2 x potato GOLDEN WONDER
1.5kg1 x CARROT Chanteney
1 x PARSNIP Cobham Improved Marrow
1 x LETTUCE Little Gem
1 x CUCUMBER Long White Paris
1 x LEEK Monstruso de Carentan
1 x MELON Sweetheart F11 x Rocket Wild

Total: £25.22 with a ten per cent 'Garden Organic' membership discount delivered to my door: (postage free for orders over £25)

Home-grown gooseberries for dessert. It was the first time we'd been able to harvest gooseberries from the allotment. The variety we chose was 'Greenfinch' and they were grown in the partial shade of our large Newton Wonder apple tree. I didn't think they would do so well in partial shade, but they are fine now.

I could have staked the bushes, but I just didn't get around to it in time, so when the rains came I decided to harvest all the fruit, small and large - so the slugs wouldn't get them. I gathered a decent bowlful. If we'd bought the equivalent amount of organic gooseberries (which are difficult to get hold of round here anyway) - this would have probably cost us around £20.00. So that's more or less how much I paid for the two bushes. It's taken two years to get fruit from these. They weren't difficult to maintain - and if anything I neglected them as there was so much else going on around the plot.

So the past three years of sometimes heavy (unpleasant) and often dirty work converting our derelict allotment is finally starting to pay off. But there are some things you just can't buy with money: my daughter's squeals of delight as she unearths her little potatoes and places them carefully in a pot - watching her 'wolf' them down at tea time - no questions asked - her face buttered and smiling...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

U.N. World Environment Day (this Friday)

Organic gardeners have a carbon footprint a third smaller than regular gardeners. That's one reason why Garden Organic is urging more of us to go organic in the garden. And if you follow the link on their site which tells you about UN World Environment Day (this Friday) you'll find more tips.
We've done lots of these things already on our plot - including creating a mini pond. And here's the best news - three froglets emerged from our washing up bowl pond yesterday!
This picture qualifies as the WORST photograph on the planet - I've got the best excuse though. My daughter was so excited about the frogs she was jumping up and down on my back at the time. Sigh. Maybe I'll get another chance to do a better one. That's 'reality' blogging for you...
To see the posts with pictures and descriptions of how we constructed the pond - scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the 'mini-pond' section of the archive...
Our tiny, tiny froglet has just emerged from the water and is resting on a stone. Note the subtle ambience created by the curve of our recycled washing up bowl in the background...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Avalon Pride Peach Tree

May. It's that time of year when you feel as if you've put a lot of effort into your kitchen garden - and it's not paying off yet - as there isn't an awful lot to harvest. It's too early.

But look at these. They are very small peach fruitlets left over from thinning our Avalon Pride peach tree.

It's been quite a journey for us all. The tree went in two seasons ago (in autumn 2007). The first year it was hit badly by frost, and despite being sold as 'peach leaf curl resistant' it got peach leaf curl too.

I sprayed with Bordeaux mixture the first year, didn't want to do it again if it could be avoided, as this is no longer recommended for organic fruit growing. So I decided to start growing garlic around it. I'd heard garlic is a natural antiseptic and that it would keep fungal diseases like peach leaf curl away. So far we're in luck.

Peach trees are said to flower very early in the year, and that presented us with another challenge. It gets quite windy down on our allotment plot, and it's almost impossible to keep decent frost protection in place on a small tree. Also, as regular readers will know, our plot is some distance away from the house and I can't go down there every day, so even if I did use frost protection, I couldn't take it off regularly to allow pollinating insects to get at the flowers. I have heard that some people use paintbrushes to pollinate peaches. But if you ask me, life really IS too short...

So this spring, we decided to let our peach tree fend for itself. It survived the frost. I don't exactly know whether this was due to the weather alone, or the fact that the tree is now older and taller - (and therefore less susceptible to frost). We now have some frost protection in the shape of a Cherry Plum hedge, (cherry plums were once used as a wind break for orchards) so that might have been a factor.

As far as pollination goes, this is supposed to be tricky too. The reason is the same - the early flowering - there aren't so many pollinating insects about. But this year on our allotment our rosemary bush flowered really early too - and I noticed a lot of bee activity early on.

So, as you can see - we ended up with quite a number of fruitlets - some of which I have removed to enable the other peaches to grow strongly and well. There were about twenty five fruitlets on the tree, and I've removed about ten. I hope this was the right thing to do, so far I've not found anybody who is growing an Avalon Pride Peach Tree in the U.K. I'd be glad to hear from readers if they know someone I can swap notes with...

So - looks like all we need now is a hot summer....and for the vandals to stay away.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

What to have for tea (not)

We interrupt this blog to bring you an important Public Service announcement...

Greenpeace say:

Rice is daily food for half of the world's population. Genetically modified (GM) rice, on the other hand, is a threat to our agriculture, our biodiversity and a possible risk to our health.
At present, GM rice is not grown commercially anywhere in the world. But
Bayer, the German chemical giant, has genetically manipulated rice to withstand higher doses of a toxic pesticide called glufosinate, which is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned from Europe.

In just a few weeks, the European Union will decide whether or not this GM rice can enter EU countries, appear on supermarket shelves and end up on our dinner plates. If the EU approves the import of Bayer GM rice, farmers in the US and elsewhere may soon start planting it.

If you feel able to sign the Greenpeace petition, go to this page.