Past present future

Herbs tied ready for drying

There’s a subtle shift in season just now, as you’re probably noticing. As gardeners we’re always looking ahead – mindful living in the present moment doesn’t yield crops for next year! Which isn’t to say that it’s not wonderful to have some moments to sit and enjoy your plot at this point of high summer and productivity; just that we can also be planning for what comes next. It’s always good to keep notes of how your past plans have worked out, or not….as well as plans of the plot beds so you can rotate crops next year.

So as you lift second early potato crops, look ahead and sow some quick maturing brassicas and salads on those fertile beds. If you mulched the potatoes well, the soil will be gorgeous now: soft, moist, rich in organic matter and microbial activity. Chinese cabbages, pak chois, lettuces, land cress, turnips and radishes can all go in now, for green vitality later in the year. The wild rocket you may have been enjoying so far this summer will start to go to seed – which you can save for next year’s crop. But now summer rocket can be sown and those plants should stand through the winter well, going to seed in late spring. All those crops need netting of course, against other hungry species.

On warm dry mornings you can pick herbs to take home to dry. Generally their vigour, essential oils and taste and efficacy is strongest just before flowering. Lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, coriander are all ready for a first cropping now. There are so many uses for herbs, as teas, in cooking and in health promoting tinctures using alcohol or cider vinegar. Hang them in bunches somewhere dry, so maybe from your banisters rather than in the kitchen which might get too hot and steamy. Certainly there will be heat and steam if you’re making jam, chutneys or bottling fruits. Freshness is crucial here: it was found that bottled blackcurrants stored in a dark place for six months had a much higher vitamin c content than so called ‘fresh’ fruit bought from a greengrocer. So however you’re choosing to process, preserve and store your produce, pick it and deal with it within hours.

You could be harvesting your garlic and onions now, setting them to dry on open weave trays or racks or baskets before storing them somewhere cool and dark. It’s easy fun to make a traditional garlic plait which you can hang to impress your friends!

Some summer fruit pruning can be done: as raspberries ripen, cut out the old canes and tie in the new softer greener growth. This helps to reduce pest risk next year. You can stack the canes tidily at the bottom of a hedge to provide invertebrate habitat. It’s also a good time to shorten the new growth of espalier or cordon apples, so energy goes to fruit production not more vegetative growth. The same goes for tomatoes: take off the lower leaves now to let the trusses set well. And spend a bit of time picking up fallen apples and putting them on the compost to deter sawflies from completing their life cycle and getting into your fruit another time.

So still plenty to be doing and planning – but enjoy those quiet reflective moments in the present as well.

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.

Summer Pruning Course

Organically grown plums

Our next pruning workshop will take place on 2nd September at Low Moor Allotments from 10am-12noon.

The workshop will cover summer pruning trained trees (apple and pear grown as espaliers, cordons, etc) and plums and other stone fruit (plums, cherries etc) whether grown in trained form or as trees

You can book your ticket here: Summer Pruning Course

Tickets are £5 and places are limited.

If you are unable to attend having booked a ticket please do let us know beforehand so your space can be offered to someone else. If you are unable to make this date then further dates may be available later on.

If you have any queries please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Live and let live

Scarlet Pimpernel

‘There’s a rat in my compost what am I gonna do?’ as UB40 nearly sang (maybe you’re too young for that reference….). We live surrounded by rats, here, there and everywhere. So that naturally includes allotments. And like all creatures, they’re hungry; they have to feed dozens of baby rats a year, so if you’re putting out bird seed, any that fall to the ground will be a happy rat picnic spread. If you’re using your compost bin to get rid of food waste, you may see more than a fair share of peckish rodents. But be reassured, they’re not going to peck you; they’re much more scared of you than you are of them. Really.

If they’re in your compost then it’s likely far too dry and you should give the heap or the bin a good drenching. They won’t like that cosy home as much then. Nor do they like change, so turn your compost regularly (which should be happening anyway to speed up the effectiveness of the processing), and give the bin a kick or a whack with your spade to scare them off a bit. The only health hazard comes from the extremely low risk of Weil’s Disease from their urine; once the compost is spread on the ground, the soil bacteria (which of course you are encouraging in diverse ways already) will see off any risk. Only resort to poison, safely in a tube or pipe, if you have rats at home. On allotments, we’re never going to get rid of them. Learn to live with them, maybe even learn find them as interesting as your hamster or gerbil in a cage at home.

At this time of year, the so-called weeds may be growing more quickly and luxuriantly than your carefully tended crops. Are they weeds? What is a weed to you? It’s a fine line to draw with regard to weed control: if you remove all the weeds, you leave bare soil which may dry out, compact if you walk on it as well, and offers no food for insects or small birds. If you leave weeds that take a lot of moisture and nourishment from the ground, then they will impoverish your crops. And there’s a whole science of companion planting: marigolds near your tomatoes will help keep aphids away, for instance.

Certainly it’s important to make a distinction between those weeds you don’t want to live with, the perennials – like hedge and field bindweed, dock, horsetails, ground elder, couch grass, creeping buttercup – and those annual weeds that are easily controlled and can be hoed off when there are too many of them. Annual weeds can be pulled or hoed and added to your compost; perennials can be collected in old compost bags and rotted down for a year and then added to the compost. Because they have deep roots they effectively draw up important ground minerals which you can take advantage of. You might also soak them in a tub of rain water for a month or two, and use that strained liquid to feed hungry plants, like tomatoes and squash. But don’t let seed heads get in your brew in case they germinate on contact with the soil.

Learning to love weeds is about an appreciation of wild flowers: calendula, scarlet pimpernel, wall lettuce, oraches, speedwells, feverfew, fumitory, St John’s wort, borage, fat hen, poppies, spurges, clovers, wood avens, plantains, cranesbills, chickweed – and more, and more. You might make a list of what’s on your plot and be surprised at the rich diversity there.

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.

Hempland Lane Allotment Summer Fair

A busy scene from Hempland Lane Allotment Summer Fair in 2019

Join our annual Summer Fete, with a table top sale of arts, crafts and produce in our community area, ‘Hempland Haven’. All Welcome.

This is a free event for all association members and the local community. Bringing our community together, sharing successes and failures of the season so far along with friendship and laughter over a BBQ and a few drinks!

Tea / Coffee and Cakes are available 10am – 2pm. Ice Creams and Lollies available from 11am

BBQs will be lit at 11.30am, ready to start cooking at 12noon.

BBQ (bring your own items to sizzle, but do not worry if you forget as some can be purchased on the day). Salads, bread rolls, sauces will be provided

See you there and please do not forget to bring something to sizzle, sit on (if you are not comfy on benches) and your favourite tipple!

CASH ONLY EVENT – Only CASH is accepted for the tea / coffee and cake stalls and most of the table top stalls. Supporting various charities on the day. All proceeds raised on the day (inc stall fees), are put back into the maintenance of the allotment site, for the benefit of all who work on the site and walk through it.

Please note that there will be no on-site car parking available, during the event

June drop…

Tomatoes ripening

Are your fruit trees shedding their small fruits now? No need to worry; it’s a phenomenon known as The June Drop, whereby trees do some of a thinning job for you, so that fewer and larger fruits can develop to maturity. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t also thin out apples and pears to the same end. The extent to which you do this will depend on the variety of the tree, its cropping habit, and how effectively you pruned it in the winter.

This can be a time of year when spirits drop too: everything seems a bit much, and the weeds go on growing thick and fast and you can already note crop failures and disappointments. And it seems always to be either too hot or too windy – or even, eventually, too wet. The combination of warm, humid and damp air is a perfect environment for potato blight. This is a really horrible disease, the spores borne on the air, and readily drifting in to York allotment sites from the surrounding industrial agricultural areas where potatoes are grown in huge fields of monoculture. It also affects tomatoes (they are in the same family, solanacae), which is a good reason to grow them under cover in a greenhouse, or even in your back yard at home where there are likely to be fewer spores drifting about. If you suspect you’ve got blight, warn your plot neighbours so they can possibly avert contagion by cutting down potato and tomato foliage (but don’t put it on a compost heap just yet – bag it and let it rot first). There are various web sites which show where blight is by post code, and you can even sign up for an alert system….but that might cause your spirits to drop still further!

So, more cheerily, as we pass the turn of the year at solstice, harvests should be coming well. Your soft fruits will be ripening brightly, attracting every hungry bird in the area as well as yourself, so keep the netting secure. Keep picking the beans and courgettes of course, while they’re young and small, so more are encouraged to mature. Now is a good time to sow crops that bolt (go to seed) all too readily, like Florence fennel and turnips, and some more salad crops if it’s not too hot.

Once crops are finished, it’s time to think about replanting those beds for winter: brassicas do well where beans and peas have been as they benefit from the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the pea and bean family (leguminacae). If you made sowings of winter greens earlier, kales and broccolis and savoy cabbages, they’ll be ready for a move to permanent placings now. You might have leek seedlings ready to plant out too, or you might trade or buy some, and they flourish on the well composted beds you prepared for the first potatoes, which will be ready to lift as soon as their flowers die off. Another pest to cause a drop of the spirits is leek moth, which seems to have arrived this far north a couple of years ago. They have a second brood towards mid July, so it is probably wisest, if tedious, to cover the beds with a mesh protection.

So June is not a time to let your energy drop, but a time of abundance right up to harvest season; enjoy your produce and celebrate summer.

Changes to Rents and Concessions from 2024

YACIO announcement - Changes to rents and concessions

We’re contacting all allotment holders about the changes to rents and concessions that’ll be coming into effect from 2024. In case you’ve missed this communication, here’s a summary of changes.

There have been no changes to rents since YACIO took over running the allotments from the Council in 2017. It had hoped to avoid an increase for 2024. Unfortunately, due to the high rate of inflation, YACIO’s costs have risen, for example we are paying substantially more for grass and hedge cutting. As a result, so that we can continue to maintain the allotments there will be a small overall increase in rents for all tenants from next year. The new rates for 2024 will be (current rent in brackets): quarter plots £25 (£24); half plots £50 (£48); full plots £100 (£96); extra large plots £135 (£130).

In addition, there will also be some changes to concessionary rents. At present a concessionary rent providing a 40% discount is available to those in receipt of state pension or universal credit, those registered as disabled and full time students. As from 2024 these concessions will no longer apply. Instead an increased concessionary rate of 50% will be introduced and be available to any tenant in receipt of a means tested benefit. This does however mean that those in receipt of state pension will no longer be automatically entitled to a concession unless receiving a means tested benefit.

Trustees have thought long and hard about these changes. Although it is appreciated that some tenants will pay more as a result of the concession alterations, we believe the adjustments are fair and will help make allotments more affordable for many people. It also helps YACIO ensure it can continue to maintain and develop the allotments for the benefit of all tenants. The changes were also discussed at the Annual General Meeting and endorsed by the majority of members (tenants) present.

We would also like to emphasise that any tenant who feels they are genuinely going to struggle to pay their rental fees (whether or not they are in receipt of a benefit), can apply for a concession, in complete confidentiality, by contacting YACIO. We do not want any tenant to give up their plot because they can’t afford it.

Water, water everywhere…

Watering your crops in hot weather

It’s now over four weeks since we had any rain in York, as you will surely have noted. That’s bad for allotment holders, but disastrous for farmers growing field crops like wheat, barley and potatoes. Rain water butts will be long empty. Competition with fellow plot holders for a tap connection for hosepipes can get heated. How do we respond? By watering everywhere, watering anywhere, putting our heads in the ever drier soil?

It’s worth remembering the YACIO guidelines, which are that hosepipes should only be used to fill water butts, not to water the ground directly (unless you have a reason to be excepted from that rule). It’s a fairer system for everyone, but it’s also actually better gardening practice. Dampening the surface of your beds with water encourages the plant roots to come to the surface, exposing them to greater heat and drought. We need to encourage plants to get their roots down deep, to where the soil is cooler and there may be some dampness. Waving a hosepipe with spray attachment around just results in a large proportion of the water evaporating, and is no help to growing plants at all. And watering in the middle of the day is similarly wasteful and pointless: it’s best to water early morning or in the evening. The most effective approach is to use watering cans to direct the precious water to the most needy plants, not wetting the leaves as that may cause scorch and immediate evaporation, and watering the soil in a small area around each plant. The most needy plants are those that are fruiting imminently: peas and beans and soft fruits just now, courgettes, tomatoes and squash towards the end of the month.

Take a look at your soil in this dry time: is it looking dull and dusty, or beginning to harden and cake over, or even to crack? These are all signs that the soil is lacking sufficient body and bulk – and probably therefore nutrients too. Make a resolution to care better for your soil over the autumn, winter and early spring, making and applying as much compost as you can. Meanwhile, here and now, after watering apply whatever you can as mulch, and try not to have much bare soil at all. Collect grass cuttings, make another cut of comfrey, surround your courgettes with old woollies (no synthetics), and protect the soil from the drying sun and wind. In permaculture systems, there’s a very effective technique of ‘chop and drop’, whereby you leave your pulled weeds on the surface of the soil to protect it; any resulting seedlings are easy enough to hoe off later in the year.

And on the subject of weeds, have you tried eating some of them? We are still in the hungry gap, and fresh greens are at a premium. Many so called weeds are really rich in valuable minerals, as well as being tasty. Make sure you use a good guide to what is and isn’t edible, of course, but enjoy surprising harvests to enhance your meals. Fat hen (in the family Chenopodicaeae, like some spinaches) is fresh and succulent just now, and there’s a very attractive red leaved one to add colour to your salads or cooked very briefly like young spinach. Likewise sorrels (including a red veined one), dandelion leaves (rich in potassium), and chickweed. And there are lovely flowers to eat too: bright orange and yellow calendula and nasturtiums, and the starry blue flowers of borage, and of course lovely elder flowers. So even if your crops are slow to come in this hard dry time, there will be some good eatings to be had on your plot.

Long days…

Purple wild flowers

It’s the crazy time of year now, and the fast climb up to summer solstice. Growth is extraordinary and if you miss a few days on your plot the change is astonishing, and demands even more work of you.

Perhaps you’re finding yourself aching from all the hours weeding and sowing and planting. It’s always good to remember to extend forward from the hips, keeping the back and front bodies long and open, and your feet parallel to one another, rather than hunching up towards the ground. That really helps keep the lower back happy and free, so you can go on and on with all you need to do.

It’s a great time to be making compost, as you’re probably running out of what was already made as you spread it for your crops. When the weather is warmer the whole process speeds up, and having big heaps also helps the processing. Remember to build layers with greens and browns, nitrogen and carbon, with as much cut comfrey and nettle tops (not the roots) as you can generate. It’s best not to use coloured cardboard because of the inks or dyes, but brown cardboard boxes torn up are excellent compost material. If you have any grass paths, the cuttings will also contribute to rich fast maturing compost.

If you sowed green manures earlier in the year, they may be ready to be cut or hoed off now, and added to the compost, or used to mulch around your potatoes. (Potatoes need soil drawn up around the stems, to ensure that the developing tatties stay well underground; any light will turn them green and poisonous.) The green manures like phacelia or crimson clover will be coming into glorious flower, so you may want to leave at least some of them to attract pollinators to your beans, and just to enjoy the show. And if you have any unused space, unlikely as that is at this time of year, you can sow clover and phacelia still, or a mustard for a quick ground cover.

The worst thing about this time of year is netting! The birds are still hungry for food for their young and pigeons are insatiable. Your soft fruits definitely need to be netted to stop birds eating the jewelled currants and raspberries, but it’s a tricky job to make sure there are no gaps, even at ground level, weighting it down with stones or bricks or logs; if a bird does get in, they will scoff your fruit, but likely also get stuck in the netting which is a horrible fate. Sparrows will scuff up baby beetroot, and large white butterfly caterpillars will hungrily devour your brassicas (even though they’re not mentioned in that children’s story!).  Carrot root fly and leek moths are much tinier, but will home in on growing crops and spoil them, so use some mesh covering to keep them out. You can keep your nets for many years, and there are some available now which are not plastic and so obviously a better idea.

Meanwhile, amid all these jobs, don’t forget to keep sowing: main crop carrots, lettuces (as long as it’s not too hot), a further lot of French beans, and summer turnips like Purple Top Milan, so delicious fried with your lightly steamed first broad beans. It makes all the hard work worth it!

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.

Of cabbages and kings

Purple Srouting broccoli

Of cabbages and kings” (Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter) …. there’s plenty out there about kings just now, so let’s focus on cabbages, the brassica family: kales, cabbages, broccolis, cauliflowers. One cabbage worth growing is actually a king! January King is a lovely dense headed cabbage that stands all the winter can throw at it.

Your work now is for the end of the year.

It’s time to sow all your favourite brassicas outside, ready to plant on to mature and feed you through the later part of the year. There’s a happy symmetry to finishing your crop of purple sprouting broccoli now just as you sow for next season. Some brassicas are quicker to mature, like summer calabrese (what they sell in shops in chunky tasteless heads called ‘broccoli’ – unlike the tender fragrant flowerheads you can grow yourself), and summer cauliflowers. Sow them all finely, thinly and not too deeply; there are lots of seeds to a packet so maybe you can share with your plot neighbours. Once germinated, you’ll need to thin out the seedlings to give them space to grow into good sized plants. It feels hard to do that sometimes! So comfort yourself by giving the thinnings away or by scattering them in your next salad. Because they’re going to be in the ground for quite a while, make sure you enrich the soil with your best compost, and choose a bed that grew peas and beans last season which may have helped to fix nitrogen in the soil, which the brassicas love, being basically leafy. Protect the seedlings against slugs, snails and birds; caterpillars and aphids can be tolerated if you encourage their predators, like ladybirds and wasps and beetles, perhaps by sowing some calendula or nasturtium close by, and just accept a few losses.

Now is also a good time to sow leaf beet/perpetual spinach and chards, which come in green, yellow or red stemmed varieties. These are stalwart crops, which also stand a full year in the ground, giving you fresh leaves to eat full of vitamins and minerals, and so they like your rich compost mulch too. These seeds are much bigger and so it is easy to sow them individually, but again, thinnings make good eatings.

Comfrey is a wonderful plant with many medicinal properties, and with flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. It also makes wonderful plant fertiliser. If you’re planting later potato crops now, a layer of comfrey in the bottom of a trench will provide food for the maturing tubers. You can add the cut leaves to your compost as a tonic and activator. And you can make a rich brew by soaking the leaves in rain water, then after a few weeks add a cupful to a watering can of water to provide your fruiting crops, tomatoes, chillies, peppers, with the nutrients they need. Generally too, make sure you collect as much rain water as you can – from any surface, like a shed or greenhouse; it saves huge amounts of energy cleaning and pumping water to taps, and saves you energy back and forth with your watering can to your nearest tap on the site.

It’s also time to sow courgettes and squashes and cucumbers, indoors on a window sill or in your greenhouse. A piece of glass on top of the pots will warm the soil enough to get them going well, and then grow them on to plant out when there is no longer any threat of a frost – often the first week of June in York. There are lots of interesting varieties of squash, but the most useful are those you can store somewhere cool and airy right through till March next year. You do need a fair bit of space to grow them. So consider if you really are making the most of your whole plot, or if there are areas you could bring into cultivation to grow even more lovely produce?

Plotlines, written by one of our York allotmenteers, is a new twice monthly blog aimed at anyone who would like some guidance about growing on an allotment.