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Allotment Diary

VIDEO: The Snow Plot

Everything looks so beautiful when it snows

I seldom get see what the plot looks like in the snow – mainly because it doesn’t snow that often, so I couldn’t wait to get up there and have a gander.

Walking up to the plot, in weather like this really does break up the monotony of it all at the moment. It’s really just what the doctor ordered.

It brought people out of their houses, even though they were keeping their distance, a wave and a smile still travelled the distance.

What a marvel it is to see everything with a nice, frosty dusting – it all just looks so different.

The citrus fir at the base of the plot looked very festive indeed – straight from a Christmas card.

We even posed for a photo, to mark this very wintery event – which is something we hardly ever do.

Video

We didn’t stay for long, but I did manage to get a couple of shots of the plot – Enjoy.

Did you managed to get out there and build a snowman today? I’d love to know in the comments below 🙂

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Allotment Diary

What to grow in Brexit Britain

The weather is absolutely freezing at the moment and it means that not a lot can be done outside… And this has got me thinking about the future.

The time that the latest lockdown brings and rumblings of things changing in the shops due to Brexit, has led me to ask myself – what should I be growing now that the UK is out of the EU.

It’s no secret that gaps are starting to appear on shelves down the fresh fruit isles, due not only to new Brexit importing rules, but also the strain covid-19 has put on staff shortages at food producers.

So let’s try and answer the question – What should I be growing in Brexit Britain.

Let’s start with some cold hard facts to help decide:

  • Approximately 30% of food in the UK arrives from the EU, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)
  • Around 50% of fresh fruit and veg in the UK, comes from the EU and most of that consists of fruit
  • Generally speaking, imports and exports of produce can fluctuate dramatically, based on season. For instance, during the summer months, the UK produces 95% of its own salad leaves. In the winter months, the UK can only rely on 10% – the rest has to be imported in
  • Since 2016, imports of fresh fruit and veg from the EU has been in decline overall – but the produce that the UK makes itself is at around 60%

So, of the produce seen on our supermarket shelves, how much of it approximately is imported in from the EU, produced in the UK and imported in from outside of the EU…

Produce most commonly
found on our
supermarket shelves
Imported in
from the EU
(%)
Produced in
the UK
(%)
Imported in
from outside of the EU
(%)
Spinach99%0%1%
Artichokes 98%0%2%
Aubergines 93%0%7%
Chillies and peppers84%11%6%
Tomatoes 21%70%9%
Cucumbers 71%28%1%
Lettuce58%42%0%
Mushrooms52%48%0%
Squash and pumpkins77%0%23%
Lemons and limes62%0%38%
Tangerines and satsumas0%55%45%
Cauliflower and broccoli 43%56%1%
Cabbages13%87%0%
Onions17%82%1%
Apples28%53%19%
Potatoes2%97%1%
Potatoes (non-frozen)0%99%1%
Sweet potatoes21%0%79%
Carrots and turnips4%95%1%
Peas3%90%6%
Leeks19%79%1%
Strawberries28%69%3%
Melons43%0%57%
Grapes33%0%67%
Green beans15%28%57%
Asparagas 10%29%61%
Plums49%19%32%
Oranges45%0%55%
Bananas10%0%90%
Blueberries92%0%8%
Pears74%15%11%
Cherries58%21%21%
Compiled from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2019/aug/13/how-a-no-deal-brexit-threatens-your-weekly-food-shop – Aug 2019

The above statistics are obviously subject to change as things unfold – but I think it’s a good start in knowing where our food is coming from predominantly.

What to grow in Brexit Britain

If rising prices and/or low availability due to how the UK imports goods from the EU is a concern, you’d do right to grow the items that are imported the most (70% or higher), from the get go.

  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Aubergines
  • Chillies and peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Squashes
  • Pears
  • Blueberries

The winter months, for the UK is the time where prices and availability are more likely to be affected, so ideally (and if possible) in the winter it would be good to grow your own salad items, mainly tomatoes and lettuce. Perfect if you’ve got a polytunnel.

Soft fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries..etc) are imported during the winter months. With that in mind, it would be a good idea to freeze and store these as they’re ripening in the summer months. Spinach, squash and pumpkins also have the potential to be frozen or stored.

Root veg and brassicas seem to grow well in the UK – so I’m not sure if I should worry too much about those. This is with the exception of frozen potatoes (chips, waffles, frozen roast potatoes…etc) of which 0% is created in the UK

As mentioned previously, times at when items are imported can change with the seasons, and the BBC made this helpful infographic below to show what is imported and when.

Carrying out research for this post and trying to find out when the UK conducts its imports, has led me to some very interesting materials online.

I’ve also identified numerous variables to take into account in all of this, which may or may not come to pass as time goes on.

The UK will no doubt be looking toward other places to trade with and import produce from – although this can take time to materialise.

I suspect (and would like to think) that the UK will also adapt, with UK suppliers looking to grow out of season produce domestically. Growing your own and gardening has also seen an uptick in interest in the past 12 months or so.

Lastly, Brexit is still relatively fresh and so the way in which things are actually conducted at various borders are still being worked out. Hopefully, as efficiency improves, so will the cost and availability of produce.

Having researched this topic, it makes me ponder – should I grow the usual fare? Should I be growing things that I like? Should I be growing things that provide good yields and can be stored, regardless of world events? Should I be growing things that will either be hard to come by or may become too expensive?

Or – should I just not give this all a second thought? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Allotment Diary

What a lockdown in 2021 means for allotments

“It’s perfectly acceptable to go to an allotment. It’s in the very nature of allotments that there is a safe distance between people who are working on an individual allotment”

Micheal Gove, March 2020

Without a doubt allotment interest and community spirit has surged for the first time since the country was at war – which means they’re still playing a vital part in our communities.

Of course – they’re also doing their bit with regards to food supplies too.

Since posting about visiting plots during a pandemic last year, visiting an allotment is still classed as outdoor exercise – and we can still visit them.

There’s lots of documentation about keeping safe on the plot – and a Google search will most certainly send you down a rabbit hole.

I’ve picked out some of the most prevalent, recurring actions to take when visiting the plot.

  • It’s not possible to mix with other households outdoors, so this means, visits to allotments are for “allotment business” and not socialising.
  • With the above in mind, it’s not advisable for other households to mix on the one plot.
  • Social distancing of two meters (as before) needs to be observed.
  • Particularly keep distance with those who are most vulnerable (the elderly for instance).
  • Do not share tools.
  • Do not wash your hands in water troughs.
  • Taking hygiene precautions must be adhered to when touching communal surfaces – i.e. sanitising after using taps, gates, fences…etc.
  • If you’ve been tested, or have sadly tested positive it’s certainly not advisable to visit the plot (or anywhere) until a negative test.
  • For garden supplies, it’s advised, if you can to order online.

Further Reading

  • James Sean Cameron has done a nice summary of how best to approach visiting your local plot.

What happens if you do not observe the rules?

As per government guidelines:

If you break the rules The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

https://www.nsalg.org.uk/news/covid19-information/

There we have it. I don’t know about you – but the above rules feel a lot more serious this time around.

When all of this is over, I am no doubt going to have a BBQ at the allotment with some close friends – just because I’ll be able to, and to celebrate the end as well. 🙂

Stay safe everyone and the best of luck for 2021.

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Allotment Diary

2020…The good bits

We awoke in 2020 in the Lake District, and we couldn’t help but visit and climb The Old Man of Coniston while we were there. The weather was great and it was a great start to the year.

I was nearing the end of my plot makeover and really looking forward to growing some real produce, for what felt like the first time in ages.

Storm Dennis was doing a number on parts of the country, especially around where we’re based, so I was prepping by creating toilet roll seed starters.

They’re really easy and therapeutic to make if you’re looking to pass the time, during these rainy and cold winter months at the beginning of the year.

Shortly after storm Dennis happened… March is when covid-19 started to take hold, and gardening, the outdoors and open spaces (in my eyes) became much more important.

After creating the toilet roll seed starters, I felt I needed a place to store them, and this led me to create Homemade propagators out of mushroom and fruit punnets.

They’re not sending anyone to the moon, but they did work, they’re fun to make, cheap and there’s some recycling involved there too.

To complete the make-it-yourself trilogy, I came up with a way to make your own garden labels out of pots and plastics that are around.

Needless to say, I’ve already started stock piling toilet rolls, mushroom and fruit punnets and plastic pots for the year ahead.

Then… A complete national lockdown was announced and that changed everything.

Can I visit my allotment during a lockdown?

How gardening will help get us through covid-19

The nation was paralysed with the imposition of travel restrictions and a stoppage on social gatherings.

Panic buying then started and this without a doubt rejuvenated the Dig for Victory spirit, to help with food supplies and anxiety about food shortages. Prince Charles even commended this can-do attitude during a BBC Radio 4 attitude.

This ethos seemed to spread across the globe, as I remember seeing this article by the New York Times.

Armed with homemade toilet roll seed starters, propagators and seed labels, I thought it might be useful to do a little how to (ish) series on how to start growing your own produce from seed – which I’m hoping people find useful.

Growing preparation

Seed
sowing

Separating seedlings

Planting
out

Leading into the summer everything became incredibly busy and this definitely did affect blogging activities.

I did a recap here on how fruitful the season was, and how all of the preparation paid off.

A lockdown can really spur on dipping toes into new interests – and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to experiment with new ways to make alcohol more interesting.

There were elderflowers growing nearby and I had seen that you can make your own elderflower infused gin – which was amazing and something I’ll do again. I feel I need to grow an elderflower for this purpose only.

Naturally, I had to compare an ordinary gin and tonic, along with an elderflower gin and tonic – just to make sure it was worth the effort.

That was a really difficult experiment…

The Vincent Hazel Project is something I embarked upon – which took up a great deal of time, energy and brain space from between the end of May and October.

The project involved cleaning up an alleyway between Vincent Avenue and Hazel Bank in Tolworth, which had been subject to years (possible even decades) worth of fly tipping, which had resulted in unsightly mounds and overgrown areas.

This project really came together with nothing less than phenomenal results, thanks to dedicated residents, Idverde and local landscaper Greenwood Paving. A big shout out to everyone who got involved 🙂 .

I’d encourage anyone, looking to get involved with a community project to do so, it can make you think differently about the area you live in and it’s a great way to make new friends and contacts, whilst making a difference at the same time.

These before and after photos of the project really do speak for themselves.

The clear up phase of that project is behind us, and so now I can turn my attention to a new allotment project, which I’ve started just toward the tail end of this year.

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with turning this little corner into a wildlife garden.

The Vincent Hazel Project, really did make me think more about nature, the outdoors and encouraging a more beneficial wildlife on the plot.

So far, I’ve managed to clear the area for the wildlife garden and I’ve even managed to make my first bug hotel.

So that brings us to now. Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021. Let’s all hope for a better year and good tidings all round.

I’d love to hear how your year went, in the comments below 🙂 .

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Allotment Diary

How I built a bug hotel

You may have seen on Instagram lately that I built a bug hotel, so I thought I’d go into a bit more detail as to how I did it.

This all part of the wildlife space I hope to create and was one of the first things I was looking to build – mainly because I’ve never built one before.

What and why have a bug hotel?

An insect hotel, also known as a bug hotel or insect house, is a manmade structure created to provide shelter for insects. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_hotel

After I cleared the space, I was left with some scrap wood which is slowly rotting and I was confident that I can make something rustic and useful.

I’m hoping to attract pollinators and insects that will do me a turn, with keeping the ecosystem of the plot in check. Ladybirds and solitary bees in particular, are a desired visitor.

The base

I’ve started with two 3ft(ish) logs, which have each rotted on one side, as the base of the bug hotel. Woodlice have already gone to town here, and they will no doubt continue to do their work, of which there is plenty to do.

I dug a hole to sit the logs in and steady them together. I then buried the rotted sides into each other, to help create a gap for insects to stay in.

Bug hotels come in all shapes and sizes, but I really wanted mine to be a feature of sorts, meaning the logs on their own wasn’t really enough for what I wanted to achieve.

I decided to build a top section, and one of the main obstacles here was getting a level(ish) base to build upon, something easier said than done, when the top ends of the logs aren’t the same in any way possible.

I nailed in some sections of pallet wood, to create a new level to to the bug hotel.

The house

Once I had a level base, I could really let my creative juices flow and decided to build a triangular structure to layer smaller logs, twigs and other bits of wood within.

I used old pallet wood, to build two triangles and used some nails to tack everything together. It being a bug hotel means, that it doesn’t have to be perfect by a million miles – if anything, my poor DIY skills adds to the feature.

Filling the house

I had some old perspex laying around, which just so happened to be the correct size for a roof, so I tacked this on to help keep everything dry.

I then filled the triangle with smaller, inch thick logs and I packed them in as much as I could into the triangle.

There was a sizeable gap between the triangle and the logs, and I had some half rotted railway sleeper that fit perfectly into that space. I cut them to length and knocked them in with a hammer. It was pretty tight and with the last tap, I was convinced the triangle would pop off.

I drilled some holes into the sleepers using the biggest drill bit I had to help with creating more habitats. I then stuffed the remaining gaps with older bits of wood and pieces of scrap.

There was still a decent gap between the two logs, so I stuffed this with more wood consisting of twigs, off cuts and other small bits of log. Woodlice have already inhabited this section, so hopefully they’ll appreciate a bit extra.

And with that – the bug hotel is complete!

Keeping in mind that this was built with no real plan in mind and a hotchpotch of materials – I’m more than impressed with myself with how this has turned out.

Not only does this look like a great feature, but it will also hopefully make for a productive bug hotel.

Building this was a great mental exercise, and so I would encourage anyone who has some old wood laying around to give building a bug hotel a try.

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Allotment Diary

New Allotment Project – a wildlife garden it is!

During the first lockdown, I’ve taken part in The Vincent Hazel Project and this without a doubt has sparked a little interest in the nature side of things when it comes to the outdoors.

The timing couldn’t be better as I’m starting a little new project on the plot. I’ve been wondering what to do, and how I can make the most of a space on that plot that doesn’t tend to get much attention.

After much deliberation and unnecessary agonising – I hereby declare that I’m going to be putting my efforts into making a wildlife orientated garden.

This year I found I had a problem with pockets of black fly, slugs and other pests – so I’d like to try and explore natural ways of creating a first line of defence against such things. I also want to find ways to make my own fertilisers out of what’s growing nearby. This has led me to establishing the following desired features.

A bug hotel

Bug hotels are a haven for insects and pollinators that are beneficial to your garden and are solitary in nature – solitary bees and wasps for example. Ladybirds also use these for a habitat and these are of course great for combatting black fly. Earwigs are also attracted to bug hotels, and these are great for fruit trees and keeping pests that are attracted to fruits down.

Lavender

Whenever I see lavender, I always see it teaming with bees – which is great. They’re also quite hardy and don’t need a lot of maintenance, which is another plus for an area that resides under some oak trees, and is left to elements. They’re also very vibrant and hopefully will give off a lovely scent in the spring, heading into the summer.

A bird table/feeder

Birds are quite important to an ecosystem, as they’re predators that keep pests under control. I do know that I have healthy number of pigeons to the plot, but these tend to focus on the berries I have growing. I think I’d like to focus on getting other types of birds to visit, and try and deter them away from my main crop.

Comfrey

Comfrey grows all around this space and they are, like the lavender low maintenance and do have a nice enticing flower to help attract pollinators. I’ve also singled out comfrey as you can make a feed with with the leaves – which is also very handy. I tend to not feed my plants, mainly due to time, but next year, armed with the comfrey, I think I might adopt a new habit.

A bird bath

Where you have birds visiting, it’s also a good idea to have a bird bath there as well. Like the table, it’s a great source of food, and also doubles up as a place to bathe in. Birds need to wash themselves to help keep their feathers in check. Water will dampen and loosen dirt which makes it easier for feather tending.

Wildflowers

I’ve got two worn out old wheelbarrows and I’m itching to make use of them, by growing something in them. Wildflowers seem like a good idea here. It would attract some more pollinators, and also look nice and rustic – a good example of up-cycling. We grew wildflowers before and were very happy with the results. The benefit of wildflowers can be untold if done right.

A hedgehog house

Hedgehogs are a good thing to have in the garden – they eat slugs! So I’m going to build a hedgehog house, in a bid to call in the cavalry, to help with that eternal battle between gardener and slug. In July of 2020, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society announced that the hedgehog was officially “vulnerable to extinction” – so I’m going to do my bit and try and help them out.

Nettles

I hear that nettles are great for attracting blackfly – so much so that blackfly will move off of your plants and into the the nettles. Similar to comfrey, nettles can be used to make a fertiliser. I’ll be watching closely as to which fertiliser works best if I get around to making some. I’ll also be growing these in the other old wheelbarrow – to help make sure they don’t spread.

Making it low maintenance

Of course wildlife spaces are low maintenance in nature, so I can’t see too much attention is going to be needed overall.

I’ve cleared the space, and I’ve laid out a path using some pallet wood I’ve collected over the last few years. I used the mower as a guide to help me make sure the space is wide enough and that I can turn easily, when maintaining a path.

The beds are quite wide and are a (admittedly) strange, but logical shape. Something I’m conscious of, is being able to reach in to tend and weed where I need to, so most of the immovable features, like the bug hotel, nettle and wildflower barrows will be in the middle, so that I just need to reach in about a foot or so.

Now that the space is cleared and the beds are laid out, I feel that I can move on with filling it 🙂

What do you think? Do you have a space dedicated to nature at the allotment? I’d love to know in the comments below.