Allotments are recreational areas, so plant flowers as well as vegetables and make a space for the family to enjoy as well. You can sow cosmos seeds in March or April in plug trays.

Sow two seeds per plug and prick out one if both germinate. Then plant in the garden about a foot apart. Cosmos provide a large amount of cut flowers over the season and are great for the bees. You’ll probably need to stake the plants once they grow as they do have a tendency to fall over especially in windy areas. Cosmos need to be picked or deadheaded regularly to ensure flowering through the season. Cosmos are annuals and you could try “Dazzler” and “Purity” or any other variety of course.

Winter is a great time of year to get things done ready for the new season. Here are a few things that I’ll be doing…

  1. Fixing the roof on my greenhouse – the greenhouse has a solid roof on one side which is rotting due to water ingress. I’m going to replace this with clear plastic corrugated roof panels from B&Q at a cost of around £20.
  2. Digging up dahlia’s, lillies and gladioli bulbs to store for next year. Lillie’s and gladioli form small bulbs which can be planted out next year. You’ll probably not get flowers as it takes a couple of years to form a full sized bulb.
  3. I want to clear an area at the back of my allotment to make room for an apple tree and possibly a pear and plum too. Winter is the best time to plant dormant fruit trees.
  4. Continuing to make compost by turning the heap every four or five days. Keep at it throughout the winter months.
  5. It’s surprising just how many dry and sunny days we get here in Winter. I’ll be using these days to rotovate chicken pellets and spent beer grains into the soil ready for the spring. Feed the soil not the plant.
  6. I’m cutting the foliage off my strawberry plants and potting any runners to leave in the greenhouse over winter.
  7. My allotment has a mass of overgrown hedges and bushes at the back and I really need to get on top of this. Now growth has stopped it’s the best time to get stuck in.
  8. I’ve just ordered a soil PH tester, so I’m going to be using that around the allotment. Costs about a fiver on ebay.
  9. Collecting sunflower seeds from the flower heads.
  10. Painting the greenhouse and cold frame on dry sunny days.

Well, Winter is here and I have to say that this is my favourite time of year. If you shut down for Winter and think, that’s it till next Spring, then you’re really missing a trick.

There are so many things to do. We’ve had quite a lot of wind damage over the last few months and now is the time to fix all that. I’m also considering a new layout for the allotment and Winter is a great time to plan and implement the changes necessary. I took over my allotment about ten years ago and I’ve never really made the space my own. I’ve stuck with the original layout and (dull) colour scheme and I’ve come to realise that this is not what I want at all.

So, in Winter, I can sit down and have a good think about what I really want from my allotment. I want a place to relax and take in the beauty of Nature. I’m thinking about a lawned area to sit out on surrounded by flowers and vegetables. As to the vegetables themselves, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a waste of time trying to be “self sufficient”. Space is limited and I want to grow some fantastic flowers as well as unusual and delicious veg. For example, hop shoots are one of the most delicious (and expensive) vegetables and I’d like to have a go at growing them. I also brew my own beer, so I may be able to use the hops for that too. Also, I used to eat white Asparagus when I lived in Germany, and I’m going to plant out an Asparagus bed (I’ve actually been meaning to do this for the last couple of years but have never got round to it). I’ll grow new potatoes in largish pots, but I’ll grow several varieties instead of just one or two. I’m looking for quality, not quantity in 2018.

I’m mulling the idea of having a centre circle of lawn with lawned paths extending from it. Beds can be planted with low planting at the front and with taller planting to the rear to create a privacy screen for the central area. I’m definitely going to take up the concrete paving slabs on the allotment and replace them with turf. It looks so much better and I have recently bought a push mower which will keep the grass looking good. An arch with sweet pea climbers would look good too. What do you think? 2017 has been the first year that I’ve grown cut flowers on the allotment. Lillies, Gladioli and also Sunflowers have worked really well and I intend to grow a lot more in 2018. I grew quite a few good carrots (Early Nantes), this year so I’ll try to repeat my success, and I’m going to get some Scorzonera seeds. Scorzonera is a root vegetable which is not available in the shops in my area so it could be worth growing. As always, I’ll be growing onions, leeks and spring onions, simply because they’re so easy to grow and useful in the kitchen. Last year, I wanted to grow pumpkins for the grand kids. I managed to grow three smallish ones, which were used and I hope, appreciated. I’ll try to grow some bigger ones for next year.

I’ve had chickens on the allotment for years now, but, I don’t think I’ll continue to keep them. Eggs are cheap to buy and quality is easy to obtain so I can’t see the point anymore, especially when I have to buy feed when they’re not laying. My chickens have quite a large area to play in and this space can be used for a more productive purpose, namely, making compost. I started a small gardening business this year so I have plenty of grass cuttings and leaves to compost. I’ve already started making large piles in the chicken run and I can see that my method is starting to work. Rich compost is the key to a productive allotment, and the more I can make, the better.

So, take my advice and get cracking this Winter. Make your plans and start to work on them now. What are you planning to do on your allotment this Winter?

Salad potatoes are great when steamed (or boiled if you must) and served with butter they also can be used to make potato salad of course. My favourite is Charlotte and I also like Nicola.

If you grow them yourself, you can harvest before the skins have formed or are so thin that you don’t have to bother peeling. This year, I’m growing Charlotte and Nicola varieties in 70 litre sacks in the greenhouse. I’ve done this before and have even started as early as January, but this year I planted at the beginning of March. For this, you’ll need 70 litre plastic woven sacks (I got mine off ebay around 5 years ago). You’ll also need some good compost, and this year, as always, I’m using Clover. If you have made your own compost over the past year, then use that as it works out much cheaper.

You’ll need to spread a layer of compost on the bottom of the sack (around 2 inches), then place a seed potato in each corner and one in the middle. Cover each seed potatoes with compost (again about 2 inches) and water. Keep watering regularly and after a while (mine took a couple of weeks), you’ll notice the plants start to push through the compost. Cover the growth with a layer of compost. Repeat this process (water, cover growth with compost), until the bag is full. You can then transfer the bag outside if you wish, but make sure that any chance of frost has passed. Potatoes are ready to harvest when the leaves start to die off. To test if ready, push your hand into the soil and pull one of the potatoes up. You really can’t beat the taste of home grown potatoes.

Carrots are a great staple, but can be hard to grow successfully due to the dreaded carrot fly. The received wisdom when growing carrots is that we sow hundreds of seeds and then thin out to the desired spacing. However, thinning the seedlings attracts carrot fly and can lead to a ruined crop.

A couple of years ago, I tried a method which, while arduous, did work and I’m using the same method this year. First, I want baby carrots and I want them fast! I’m concerned that the longer they’re in the ground, the more chance there is of infestation and a ruined crop. I’ve already planted out a carrot called “Eskimo” as the seeds were just lying around in my seed box, but these are maincrop, overwintering carrots, so I’ve now bought some “Early Nantes”which should mature in 60 days (or less for baby carrots).

Last Autumn and over winter, I dug lots of pelleted chicken manure into my plot and, turning a few beds over last week, I could see lots of worms which is a good sign. This year, I’ve decided to make my beds “straddle-able” which simply means they’re around 15 inches wide so I can straddle the bed whilst planting, sowing or weeding. Before I start sowing the carrot seed, I dug in some more chicken pellets (about a handful per square foot) and then compressed the ground by walking over it. I then use an old fork handle to bore holes in the ground (the handle is just under 2 inches in diameter). I space most things so I can get a hoe between the plants as I find this easier to weed. I then fill the holes with a fine compost and sharp sand mix (50:50). This mixture is tamped down to get a firm growing medium. I then poke a little hole into this mixture with my finger and place ONE seed per hole. The seeds are then covered with a little compost and then watered. Now, this isn’t the most efficient method as you could space the carrots closer, and, if the germination rate is poor, you’ll probably have two thirds of your bed unproductive, but, you won’t get bothered with carrot fly and you can always plant more carrot (or other vegetables) into the holes that haven’t germinated. You can feed the carrots weekly to encourage better growth.

 

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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