It’s been very cold here over the past week and it’s snowing outside today, so not much happening on my allotment at the moment I’m afraid.

The chickens have to be kept indoors due to the avian flu warnings and I’m considering putting netting over the top of the chicken run. This will keep wild birds out and I’ll then be able to let my flock out. One advantage to keeping them indoors though is that they are very clean now. While outdoors, they do like to scratch about in the mud and the muck. The government order may be lifted at the end of February and that will be three months in total.

I have three small heated propagators and I’ve sown King of the North Sweet Peppers in one and Carolina Reaper Chilli Peppers in the second one. Carolina Reaper are officially the worlds hottest chilli, so I’ll have to be careful with those. I’ll probably sow some pumpkin seeds that I collected last year in the third propagator. I don’t sow directly into the propagators. I use six pack modules for larger plants and smaller modules for leeks, spring onion etc. I made a video when I sowed the Sweet Peppers which you can find here.

I’ve also ordered some melon seeds (from ebay), namely Melon Cantaloupe Di Charentais and Melon Honeydew Temptation. Hopefully, I’ll get these sown next week. To grow them on, I’ve set a table up in the window of my front bedroom which gets full sun and plenty of daylight. It’s much too cold here to consider growing on in the greenhouse, but I want to give these plants a good start as our season here is quite short.

I’m considering starting a gardening business shortly. I already have a petrol strimmer and a rotovator for the allotment, but I need a lawnmower so I’ve been researching heavily on the internet. There are many good reviews for Honda mowers and also I like the look of the Rover brand, but for now, I need a machine that will fit in the back of my small hatchback (with the back seats down of course). I eventually narrowed my search down to a Mountfield HP414. It’s a push mower, so no self propelled mechanisms to go wrong. It has a 15″ cutting blade and the cutting height can be adjusted by using a lever on each wheel. The best thing about it is the weight, which at 19kg means it’s easy to handle and lift in and out of the car. Also, it has very good reviews over several seasons, so it’s a proven quality machine. If my business takes off and I get a van, I’ll probably get something larger, maybe in addition to the Mountfield. I’ll also need a blower/vacuum mulcher and a hedge trimmer. I’m looking forward to having loads of grass cuttings to add to my compost and I’ve decided to add a grass patio to the allotment instead of the flagged area I have now.

My greenhouse is glass to the front and wooden walls and roof to the back, but the roofing felt is coming off and the wood is starting to rot. Rather than replace the wood though, I’m going to get polycarbonate on the back to get more light into the structure. You can get it cheaply enough on ebay and I may replace the polycarbonate sheet on my cold frame too this year.

I’m just recovering from a nasty sprained ankle that I suffered six weeks ago and I can thoroughly recommend comfrey to speed the healing process. I think another couple of weeks should see me right and I’ll then be able to get working on the allotment. I have many flagstones to move and a few structures to paint before spring and I also want to get serious with my composting. The area at the back of the allotment needs strimming and clearing too, but I think I may be too late to plant fruit trees before spring. We’ll see how it goes.

Thank you for reading this weeks newsletter.

You can access my YouTube Channel by clicking here.

 

 

Having defeated a proposed allotment rent increase by Bolton Council in 2010, I thought I’d pass on some tips in case you find yourself in a similar position to me.

The proposed rent increase was around 50% which I thought was very unfair. The Council kept banging on about the cost of running the allotment service, but to be frank, I would be quite happy with a simple plot to grow vegetables. I don’t need water, fencing, weed killing, paths, inspections etc. Just leave me to get on with it. If I break the terms of my agreement then throw me off. It’s fair.

First, let me state that your plot needs to be provided directly by the Council for this attack to work. If your site is self-managed, or provided by a body other than a Borough Council, then you’ll need to get a solicitor involved and maybe start a group action.

If your plot is provided directly by the Council and you have a legal agreement with them then you can go the same way I did.

I did attend meetings, start petitions etc. But after about six weeks of this, I met a plot holder from another site who took me to one side and told me he had defeated Bolton Council ten years earlier when they tried to increase rents on allotments. I knew about the Harwood v Reigate & Banstead case in which the judgement was “Unlawful Discrimination”. Mr Harwood had had his rent increased and challenged it up to the High Court. The Judge declared allotments to be “Recreational Services” provided by the Council and also declared that, as other Recreational Services provided by the Council (Bowling, Football, Swimming etc.) were not being subject to the same high percentage rise, the allotment holders were suffering unlawful discrimination.

I was advised to make an OFFICIAL complaint to the Council – A complaint forwarded through the channels set up by the Council to receive complaints – then after 8 weeks, I could get the Local Government Ombudsman involved if my complaint wasn’t dealt with satisfactorily. I followed this advice stating that the increase was greater than that being proposed for other recreational services offered by the Council. After lodging the complaint (I made sure I received a receipt), I was invited to meetings with various Council officials, but I politely declined. My complaint was rejected by the Council after about four weeks and so I passed the matter onto the Local Government Ombudsman via their website. A week later, the Council backed down and imposed a 3% increase across all recreational services including allotments.

Was it easy? Yes.

Was I scared of repercussions? Yes.

Was I subjected to any repercussions? No. In fact, I was reported to the Council for malcultivation a few years later, and issued with a formal notice. My response was to request the Head of Environmental Services to show me, in person, exactly what I had to do to comply with my tenancy agreement. When I met with him on my plot, I had dug it over so the notice was rescinded but I informed him that the Committee were not reporting their “friends” for malcultivation and I invited him to inspect all the plots. He did this and then issued several notices to Committee members and their associates. People tend to leave me alone now, which is how I like it.

Here is a link to an article in The Bolton News from 2010…

http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/8327150.Allotment_rent_rise_challenge/

Also, a link to a 25 page PDF transcript of the Harwood v Reigate & Banstead high court case…

http://online.anyflip.com/xhrc/liwr/

The easiest way to clear an allotment site is a massive increase in rents. The Council can then point to under-use of the site and request that the site be given over to building works. You have a legal right to an allotment in recompense for the Inclosure Acts which stole common land and transferred it to private hands. If you have been informed of a rent increase which is a larger percentage increase than that levied on other recreational services offered by your Council, please fight against it. Please do everything you can to preserve the legal right to an allotment for future generations.

You can access my YouTube Channel by clicking here.

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Our regular newsletter has links to quality content generated by Ian Bullough, an allotment holder and owner of this website...

Hi, I’ve been making Tagliatelle and I’ve just uploaded a video to my YouTube channel

Why would I want to make my own pasta?

Making your own pasta is economical, working out at around 15p per serving.

It tastes much better than shop bought dried pasta.

Fresh pasta can be frozen, so it’s a great way to store your allotment free range eggs.

So, why WOULDN’T you want to make your own pasta?

 

Uploaded a new video to my YouTube channel today in which I take you through my version of the popular Spanish dish, Paella…

This recipe is a great way to use up your allotment grown peppers and garlic…

Method: Melt 25g of butter in a large Paella pan on medium heat. Add 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces and cook until browned (around 10 to 15 minutes).

Add 1 cup of long grain rice to the pan and stir around to coat with the butter. Keep stirring and don’t let the rice burn or stick to the bottom of the pan. After about a minute, add 3 fresh, chopped peppers and sweat for around 5 minutes then add a little chicken stock.

Add 2 teaspoons of Turmeric and 2 teaspoons of garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic). Also add 1 teaspoon of black pepper and a half a teaspoon of salt. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

Add more chicken stock as required. The rice will be cooking and absorbing the stock. After around 10 minutes, add frozen seafood mix to the pan. I use Arctic Royal Seafood Mix from Iceland which has Squid, Prawns and Mussels. Stir to mix in. Mix in some pitted black olives (or green if you prefer).

The frozen seafood will start to thaw and the rice will continue to cook in the liquid. Keep checking the rice, because the dish is ready when the rice is cooked. If you have too much liquid in the pan when the rice is cooked, simply remove the excess liquid and discard (or save for dipping crusty bread in?).

Once cooked, the pan may be taken to the table so that everyone can help themselves. You can serve with a salad and crusty french bread if you like.

This dish will serve 4, or 6 at a pinch.