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Allotment Stories

Then and now

Summer 2018
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Allotment Stories

Before the clocks spring forward

March 2021...
Stormy twilight and birdsong
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Allotment Diary

Celebrating the gardening books! #WorldBookDay

Another year and there’s a new batch of gardening books on the shelf to celebrate. Put the kettle on, sit back and take a look at these.

This the third year I’ve taken a look at the books acquired in a 12 month period, and you can see the others here and here.

Grow Food For Free
– Huw Richards

The easy, sustainable, zero-cost way to a plentiful harvest

Huw Richards goes into the ins and outs of growing fruit and veg for free for a whole year.

This book will make you look at the food already in the pantry, pallets and would be recycled materials completely differently, and provides some fantastic ideas that will make you think much more sustainability.

Huw also has a YouTube channel which is packed full of more know how.

Take a look inside here.

Giving up too soon is the one thing that will prevent you enjoying free food in abundance.

Huw Richards

Charles Dowding’s Veg Course
– Charles Dowding

Beginners and experienced growers alike find that his refreshingly different ideas highly effective methods open their minds to new possibilities.

This book distills 35 years of Charles Dowding’s gardening experience from Lower Farm in Somerset into just over 200 pages. No Dig is now one of the most popular methods of growing your own – especially with those with busy lifestyles.

This book is illustrated with images directly from the farm and has been (no pun intended) ground breaking when it comes to changing garden practices for the better. Charles too has a website here you can also dive into.

Take a look inside here.

The usual recommendation is to dig or even double dig the soil for growing vegetables. Because this is repeated so many times, most gardeners accept the task without wondering if it is really necessary.

Charles Dowding

The Almanac 2021
– Lia Leendertz

A seasonal guide to 2021

This is the first year I’ve had the pleasure of an Lia’s Almanac and I have to say, what a breath of fresh air this is. This book doesn’t just go into gardening, but also takes into account the seasons, lunar patterns, migrations and traditions.

Illustrations are provided by Helen Cann, the little pocket is something different and is a number one best seller for good reason.

Take a look inside here.

The Almanac is about celebrating the unfolding year

Lia Leendertz

The Pocket Book of Garden Experiments
– Helen Pilcher

80 fun activities for families

The summer holidays are literally just around the corner and this is just what the doctor ordered to help keep the little ones occupied. Helen Pilcher has packed this book full of interesting, fun and educational activities that, I think, is bound to keep adults and little ones alike occupied.

This is the go to book to pry you and your loved ones away from the screen and into something a bit more fun.

Take a look inside here.

If you’ve ever asked a question or wondered why something is the way it is, then you’re a scientist.

Helen Pilcher

I’d love to know your recommended reads in the comments below! 🙂

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Allotment Diary

How it started and how it’s going

If you’ve just started a plot, or you’ve decided to start again like I did a few years ago, sometimes you just need to take a step back and smell the roses.

2018

2021

The full “starting again” series

I’d love to know how you’re getting on in the comments below on the plot or in the garden. 🙂

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Allotment Diary

Building a bird station for the wildlife garden

First came a bug hotel, then a hedgehog hotel, now a bird station to complete the wildlife trilogy

As I’ve been building the wildlife garden, and dismantling the bramble area, I’ve accumulated a fair few decorative logs to use for one thing or another, some have rotted out at the bottom – others still have some life in them – And that’s when I thought they could be the solid basis for a bird station.

Noticing the birds

When the pandemic started last year, there was less traffic, less movement, less pollution, and this made the birds a lot more noticeable.

The reason why we’re noticing them more, probably is because there’s less background noise. This is known as the Lombard effect – i.e. when it’s louder (like at parties), we talk louder and vice versa.

There’s a bit more on this here.

As a result we started putting bird food out, and we would watch the birds come and go. This proved to be quite therapeutic and so it was logged in the back of my mind to build something to help the birds, and encourage birds to the plot.

Birds are a good sign that a garden is healthy, they’re very good for pest control as they’ll generally go for slugs, aphids and mosquitos but to name but a few. They’re also very good for pollination.

Tools and materials

I didn’t have a lot, but just enough to put something together. Something unique and allotmentesque – or allotment chic if you will.

  • Plywood
  • Log
  • Old saucepan lid
  • Broken spade handle
  • Screws

The tools were really minimal, and admittedly my DIY skills could be a lot better – but I did my best, and that’s what matters.

  • Spade
  • Handsaw
  • Drill
  • Metal and wooden drill bits
  • Spirit level
  • A little bit of sandpaper

The build

Ok let’s get to it!

The first thing I did was mark out the square for the main top platform, and also the circle of where the post would sit on. I made the square bigger than what I needed at this stage, mainly because I knew I’d have to shave off a bit more here and there.

Cutting a board of this size by hand is quite tricky, and if you have a power tool – use it, it’ll save you tonnes of time and you’ll probably get better results.

Once I cut the board, I then marked out squarer markings to try and square everything up a bit more. Plywood tends to splinter a little bit, so a bit, so a bit of sanding here and there after helps to smooth the edges.

The next thing I did was dig the hole for the main post, and I dug the hole about 2ft deep.

The pole was about 7ft foot (give or take), so the the two foot depth would keep this pretty sturdy against the elements. I used the spirit level on the two sides to keep everything upright.

Ideally it would need to be kept upright so that food and things doesn’t slide off.

Then came a slight oversight, even thought the board was square-ish and the poll was straight, the top of the post was wonky… Less than ideal.

So I cam up with the genius idea of making the hole, through what I’d already marked out.

Like cutting the board in the first place, trying to make this hole by hand is a lot hard than it looks, so again, if you have a power tool, then use it.

I started off by drilling lots of holes into the board, until I was at the point where I could punch the hole through. The hole was a very snug fit, I needed to shave some of the inside of the hole with a hand saw to get it to fit in places.

I tapped it down and made sure everything was was level with the spirit level.

A water source is something that’s a must have for any bird station. Not only do they use it for drinking but also for preening.

I’ve used an old saucepan lid as the bird bath part of the station. It’s perfect because it’s not too deep, it’s nice and shiny and therefore visible and the handle part of the lid can be used to dangle an extra feeder.

I drilled a hole just under the lip of the lid and screwed it to the wooden post. The lip of the lid will make the lid point toward the ground, so I screwed in an extra screw just under the lid to keep everything level, and so the water doesn’t run off.

The great thing about this is that the base of the saucepan lid can be used to dangle a feeder or an extra treat.

The last thing was to create a perch for the birds to stand on and move to and fro from when getting some water and food.

Fortuitously, a couple of years ago, I broke a spade doing some digging (probably trying to dig out some rhubarb), and the handle stayed in the shed, until such a time as I could use it again for something. The broken edges were sawed off and I sanded the corners so that there’s no hard edges to the perch.

I drilled a pilot hole into the handle at an angle and then I drilled the rest of the screw into the post to hold it steady.

A bird station wouldn’t be complete without some food, so I covered the top with bird feed, which really does set it all off nicely.

I haven’t used any particular bird seed of note, just the regular fare that you would find in a local garden centre or pound shop. I’m sure at some point, I will most likely learn how to make my own bird feeders to use with this new bird station.

What birds do you see on the plot or in the garden? Is there anything you do in particular to attract different species? I’d love to know in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

How I built a hedgehog hotel

A hedgehog hotel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now and today I spent the day putting it together.

This is all part of the wildlife garden I’m putting together, and having a hedgehog hotel is a nice supplement to all of the other wildlife features that are in place – like the bug hotel.

You may have noticed earlier that I’m getting into the habit of using egg shells as homemade slug deterrents, and having hedgehogs in the garden is a good excuse to move away from chemically based slug deterrents.

Why encourage hedgehogs to the garden?

Hedgehogs eat slugs and snails. As a gardener and allotmenter, (for selfish reasons) that’s the biggest selling point for encouraging hedgehogs into the garden.

That said, there is a greater, wider need to encourage hedgehogs, and this is because the British Hedgehog Preservation Society in July of 2020, announced that the hedgehog is close to extinction.

To make things worse, the Mammal Society conducted a survey in the August of 2020, which discovered that the extinction of the hedgehog was close to imminent, especially in Surrey, which is where I am.

Materials

Pallet stamp: IPPC, PL 04-522, HT

As is with true allotment style, I built this with a pallet, some screws and other bits and bobs.

Now, with this particular build, pallet selection is quite important, as this is going to be home to hedgehogs, it’s best to use as friendly materials as possible.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see there’s a stamp on the pallet which indicates:

  • IPPC: The International Plant Protection Convention helps to reduce the spread of pests for plants products internationally. This means, this is an international pallet, intended to move around the world.
  • PL: Country of origin – Poland
  • 04-522: This is a regional identifier, and this is a region in Warsaw.
  • HT: This pallet was Heat Treated, which is preferable for this kind of project.

If you see MB on a pallet, the pallet was treated with Methyl Bromide, which is a toxic pesticide. In my opinion, think twice when using these pallets.

For more pallet advice, please see a great point of reference here.

Making the sides

The first thing I did was cut the strips off of the pallet wood, which would go to make the four sides.

I then used strips of old deck board to brace the sides together, and also to help give me something to drill into, for when creating the actual box.

I didn’t actually measure anything when I was cutting the wood, but when screwing in the deck, I did make sure that they were at a 90 degree angle.

This allowed me to cut and shave as needed to make sure it was all square… Well, as square-ish as I could make it.

Making the hole

Now that the sides were all put together, the next thing was to make a hole for the little critters to enter into.

Having done a Google search, I’ve read that the ideal size for a hole is approximately 5inches (13cm). I cut this using a multi-tool (thank you for lending me that for this project – you know who you are!).

To add extra stability to the hole, I added a brace made from one of the off from the hole.

The lid

At this point, I hadn’t really put too much thought into the lid, outside of knowing that it needed to be made from wood.

I used three deck boards, which as tremendous luck would have it, were the perfect width of the whole box.

These were actually the same pieces of board I used to create the raised beds, so I cut them to size, leaving an overlap to act as a kind of canopy. The canopy is really just for looks and isn’t really necessary for a hedgehog hotel, but it looks nice. 🙂

Next came the second piece of tremendous luck – and that’s that the piece of old perspex for the lid, fitted perfectly onto the lid, without having to cut anything. Love it when a plan comes together.

I wanted to add a piece of perspex to help keep it dry from rain water, and also it would match the bug hotel.

The tunnel

Ideally, I’ve read that a hedgehog hotel needs a tunnel at the front, and this is to help stop predators from getting inside of the box, and causing any damage.

This was easy enough to construct with some old scrap pieces of wood, and just drilled into the sides, around the hole of the box.

One thing I did make sure was that the hole of the tunnel was still that 5inches (13cm) in size to allow the hedgehogs to get in.

Placement

I placed the hedgehog hotel under the citrus fir, and next to the mini bug hotel, by the wheelbarrow bed.

The citrus fir will provide some extra shelter from the wind and rain, and hopefully the insects that the bug hotel will attract will act as a food source – I’ll also try and place in a water source nearby, out of an old bowl too at some point.

Around the back of the box and the sides, I added some old dead leaves – this is so that the hedgehogs can use this material to create a nest inside.

All in all, I think it all came together quite well, baring in mind that it was made from scrap wood and old pallet.

Hopefully, this will make for a nice residence for some hedgehog guests. Fingers crossed they go to town on the slug population too!

Have you had any experience with hedgehogs? I’d love to know what they are in the comments below.