30 December 2006

A visit from Santa

Not much activity down the allotment recently, due to Mrs D injuring her knee at the beginning of December and not being able to move much (still), oldest childs 5th birthday in the middle of December, Christmas and of course the weather being miserable.

On the plus side though, Santa was most generous this year on the gardening front. As well as the wheelbarrow purchased some time ago, but officially a Christmas present, I also received some vouchers from Garden Organics, a pair of wellies, another pair of gardening gloves (actually far too nice for wearing down the allotment!), lots of seeds, plant and row markers and some string for marking rows, etc. Mrs D is also paying for me to go on an Organic Gardening course run nearby. Now of course all I need is some time and the weather to cooperate to get back down there to do something!

To pass the time I'm pouring over the catalogue from Garden Organics and trying not to spend too much money, but it's my birthday is 6 weeks...

I am hoping to pop down at some point in the next couple of days (weather and new year hangover permitting) just to measure the various different areas. Last time I was down there I couldn't help but think the initial rough measurements are wildly inaccurate. Which of course means I can experiment with yet another (potential) plan for the allotment.

11 December 2006

A good moan...

... is often good to voice the frustration, but in this case it has also paid dividends. Had an email from the local Area Panel this morning regarding the concerns voiced by myself, another plot holder and the Sheffield Allotment Federation.

Essentially they agreed that they should be making best use of existing allotment sites and awarded the site £300 to be spent on the site in line with the wishes of the allotment holders, to be administered by the Allotment Federation.

OK so not a fortune and not going to sort out all the problems, but definitely a positive step and encouraging for us all on there. Particularly encouraging given the speed of the response and because it only took two allotment holders and the Federation to write in to them to get something done. Now all we have to do is to decide how to spend it, which is of course a nice problem to have!

More on the allotment - including pictures!!! - soon.

3 December 2006

In lieu of any photos...

A diagram!

Which also explains why I'm not a graphic artist. Anyway, this is a rough layout of how the allotment will look, broken down as follows:

1 - This is where the remains of the old greenhouse are, complete with 3 foot brick base. I started clearing this yesterday and it's not as bad a job as I thought. Yes is is a big area, about 6m x 3m. Not entirely sure what to grow there at the moment, but probably tomatoes to give them some shelter and possibly construct some sort of cold frame structure in there as well. No many weeds to dig out, all the broken glass is acting as a weed surpressant!

2 - Is the play area for the kids, and is finished!

3 - is where the garlic is planted. This was the first bed and was a case of dig here to plant something. This was probably the area where I dug up the asparagus...

4 - Tulips and daffodils. The second bed and a case of putting something in to brighten the place up come spring.

5 - 11 - who knows at the moment! Still digging, probably got about half way through bed 7 at a guess on the left hand side and barely started the fruit bed ont he right. Bed 11 I fancy trying growing the "three sisters" - beans, sweetcorn and winter squash - in the same bed. Apparently a native American technique whereby the corn serves as support for the beans, the beans add nitrogen to the soil needed by the corn and the squash provide ground cover to help moisture retention. To do this will involve moving the teepee I built for the kids though... Bed 10 is probably going to be a bit too close to the tree to put much in so may well become the new home for the teepee!

12 - Fruit. Hopefully salvage the remains of the blackcurrant I didn't destroy (!), plus some raspberries promised from my grandad in the new year. Eventually include strawberries, gooseberries, and possibly blueberries (although they grow quite well in the pots at home).

The grey area will be the paths (non-existent at the moment) and the long thin strip on the left is where the hedge roots will prevent anything growing. And the top end of the allotment (the bottom of the diagram) will be for compost, manure, etc.

Of course this will all probably change by next week!

2 December 2006

A busy week

Sadly not down on the allotment but in complaining about the state of our allotments and contacting various people.

Some background
The site our allotment is on is VERY neglected. Just 18 months ago only 18 out of around 170 plots were taken, the rest were hugely overgrown with brambles, weeds and trees. At the time we were looking for a plot (late August) access roads were virtually impassable as the weeds were taller than me, it was impossible to identify plot numbers (although the bizarre number system used on the site doesn't help matters there!), and it was incredibly difficult to find your way on to a plot unless you were armed with secateurs as a minimum.

Although that situation has improved a little as more plots have been taken (apparently around 90 now), there is a huge amount of work in clearing the plots, the rubbish (rotten wood and doors, metal and vast amounts of glass on our plot) and cutting down 30+ foot hedges. We don't get any help from the council with any of this.

There is also a car park for the site which remains closed. This is due to 'misuse' in the past when the gates were not locked. Unauthorised dumping of rubbish cost a great deal to remove and comes out of the allotment office budget - which is a pitiful amount for the 3,000+ allotments here in Sheffield. However, this leaves us to park on one of two very busy roads: one very twisty and little wider than a country lane, but is still national speed limit. The other is a very steep hill, also very busy and national speed limit. The other road bordering the site is very busy, but just 40mph speed limit (not that it stops people being killed quite regularly on it!) and signs telling you not to park there...

I enquired to our allotment office whether they had any plans to reopen the car park, they said no due to 'previous misuse'.

Enough is enough
Well that was enough for me I wrote a long and detailed reply to them stating the case (primarily safety and us being penalised for previous tenants actions) for re-opening it. I'm still awaiting a response. I also voiced my issues/complaints/moans on The Grapevine where I received some good contacts for further advice.

I the first instance I contacted the Allotment Regeneration Initiative, via their rep for Yorkshire. I outline all the issues I saw as a problem. The following day I received a detailed and positive response, and also a further contact here in Sheffield. My next contact was with the Sheffield Allotment and Home Gardens Federation (been going nearly 90 years now, but yet to join the digital age!). I spoke at length to the secretary about the site. She was aware of many of the issues already and as an organisation they had been instrumental in attempting to revive the plot. She was again very positive and also told me that the local Area Panel the allotments come under was due to meet soon to discuss allotment, and that they had summoned the allotments officer and his boss to this meeting. This was primarily due to the complete lack of allotments in most of this area (eight year waiting list at the far end of this area!), but they would also discuss the issues with our site at this meeting. The Sheffield Federation were also going to ask for a considerable amount of help in clearing the site as well.

There is of course no guarantee that we will get any help, but you have to ask and make your complaints known. The fact that it also falls in the most affluent area of Sheffield is a bit of a blow, as we're not likely to be qualifying for any grants anytime soon. I imagine most of us on that site don't live in this affluent area though. I did also find out that we are supposed to be introducing a scheme whereby people who take on an abandoned allotment get the second year free. This is a very good idea, I just hope we qualify for this given all the efforts we've had to put in!

Ah, yes the allotment
Despite all that still managed a couple of hours on the allotment today. Dug very little as the bloody blackberry roots take forever to dig out, and I got fed up with them! So, I took solace in cutting down some more of the hedge and clearing some the area where the old greenhouse was, by throwing most of the rotten wood into the border between the allotments. There is still a huge amount of glass to clear from the ground around there though so I was treading very carefully. I also berated myself for failing to bring the camera once again... Sorry!