Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Campaigning for Allotments

I thought I'd write a post about our campaign for allotments. Allotments are a hot topic in the UK right now. For years nobody's wanted them; so many sites have been nearly empty, and lots of sites have been or are being closed down for new development. (A well-attended site in London is being bulldozed for the Olympic village (something that our country can't even bloody afford)! I read that some allotmenteers' grandfathers used to grow on the same site. Now they have been moved to a new site and have lost the beautiful soil that was built up after generations of cultivation!).

Luckily however, demand for allotments has shot up recently and new alloment sites are being created all around the country. Add to that guerilla gardening and schemes such as Hugh F-W's Landshare, and it seems that half the country want to grow their own! Fantastic!

I first started hankering after an allotment last year, and luckily I eventually managed to get my Dad interested and motivated, and he has worked wonders. There is no allotment site in our village. The nearest ones are miles away in busy towns, and the waiting lists are huge. So we set out to try and get a new allotment site in the village.

When I first started out I was making posters etc. that were all very demanding and pointed the finger at our local councils. Then I read the Transition Handbook, and my outlook entirely changed. I realised that if we were more positive and were nice to the councillors we'd be more likely to get what we want! I think this was crucial as otherwise our campaign would have gone a very different way indeed.

The first thing to do was research legislation etc. about allotments. I found several organisations with great advice (see below for details) and the entire Small Holdings and Allotments act of 1908. Although several later acts added and tweaked bits and pieces of the original act, the 1908 one is the one that has some key information in it: apart from in London, if 6 or more tax payers ask for allotments, the council is legally obliged to provide them. They can even force land owners to sell or rent out land for the purpose of allotments.

Of course, this is no guarantee that it won't take another 15 years for them to get round to it, but it's very useful information to have!

The next step was to find our six. That was easy, as we simply asked friends and neighbours. I don't think we know anybody quite as mad about growing their own and green issues as we are, but several families were pretty interested and agreed to sign our petition. Dad delivered it to the council, and the rest is history, as they say.

We've been really lucky that we're in a rural area with plenty of green space, and that our council have been really positive and proactive since we submitted our petition. Dad frequently emails the clerk to check how things are going, and it's clear that the council are just as keen to make this work as we are. Even if your council is a bit slower however, there are still things you can do:
  • Write letters to your councils. For us, the parish council is the most important, but write to your district or even county council if you need to. I'd recommend being positive and persuasive rather than accusatory. Outline why you want an allotment, the possible community benefits, and offer to help.
  • Visit your councillors! Dad turned up at a parish meeting one evening (apparently they seemed quite surprised that anyone turned up) and meet them face to face. Again, be nice, positive and inclusive. Introducing yourself helps people to put a face to the name and just generally feels friendlier.
  • Get advice from some of the people at the bottom of this post. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners has some template agreements etc. that are really helpful and can really get the ball rolling.
  • Write to your local paper etc. and tell people about what you're trying to achieve and why. Tell as many people as you can what it's all about.
  • If your council is unhelpful, why not go to a local landowner directly? Again, there are organisations (see below) that offer template agreements, and organisations such as Landshare can help match landowners to people who want space to grow.
  • Alternatively, consider joining or starting a garden sharing initiative. Landshare is also great for finding people open to this, and schemes are already in place in several areas. Transition Town Totnes is a prime example of how these sorts of schemes can work.

Our council were really proactive recently and included a piece about allotments in their newsletter. They invited people to come to the annual parish assembly and register their interest. Even before the assembly, I think another 10 people had registered their interest! According to the latest email from the clerk, we are now up to 30 people wanting allotments, and everyone's starting to think about sites and access, etc. Of course, there will be people in the village who won't be too pleased about having 30 allotments outside their back door. However, with an inclusive approach there should be ways round this. For example, the authorities can always impose rules about sheds, use of old carpets etc. and bonfires, and I think these could make a huge difference to the way an allotment site looks.

After we'd already started our campaign, Mum found an old dossier of my Grandad's from the 1970s. It's the Friends of the Earth "Allotments Campaign Manual", and I wish I'd had it from the start! Apart from it being incredibly precious for sentimental reasons (it's a great feeling when you find out you're basically carrying on the work of your ancestors) it's full of useful information. It mentions the relevent acts of parliament and ways to get round stifling legislation, as well as facts and figures about food security etc. It amazes me that we knew about all this stuff in the 1970s, but still managed to get into the mess we're in today! Luckily however, it seems that growing your own has become a lot more mainstream today, and isn't just the haunt of communist pensioners! So who knows? This time around we might actually achieve something and get all the things that allotments can offer:

  • Rebuild communities
  • Personal development
  • Include marginalised groups
  • Offer food security
  • Promote exercise and healthy eating
  • Reconnect people with the natural world
  • Allow people to save money, make friends and generally have fun!

So, we still haven't got our allotments, but things are moving along and it's pretty exciting. Hope this helps anyone else trying to get an allotment! Best of luck and remember the most important thing about campaigning for things like this: be positive and inclusive and you're more likely to get results!

Useful things to look up:

National Society of Alloment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG):

Allotments Regeneration Initiative:

Allotments UK:

Eastleigh Allotments: (the website of a group of allotmenteers who have been forced to abandon their allotments in Eastleigh, Hants. Despite a 5 year battle and a long waiting list, the allotments will soon be turned over to development).

A government report on allotments:

Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908: (according to Grandad's dossier, other relevent acts include:

  • The Allotments Act 1922
  • The Allotments Act 1925
  • The Allotments Act 1950

Tales from the Allotment: (good summary of allotment law)

More on allotments: the Permaculture principles quoted word for word under "Allotments and Sustainable Development"!).

Allotments Law Broken?: (a BBC article about allotments in Wales).

and of course, the Transition Movement:

Transition Town Totnes:

Transition Culture:

Transition Network:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I've got a bit behind this week, so excuse me for racing through things so unthoroughly!

Last weekend we didn't go to the Smallholder's Show at Builth Wells like we did last year. Instead we stayed local and went to an open day at Sparsholt Agricultural College. It was a totally different experience, but very interesting! Whereas the show at Builth naturally focuses on small-scale producers, at Sparsholt we got to experience mechanised milking, aquaculture, forestry...all sorts. I can't say it's the sort of farming/gardening/self-sufficiency type thing I'm interested in, but it really gave you an insight into how commercial farmers operate - interesting, but also kind of sad when you think about all the stuff they're up against today!

Piglets in the agriculture section of Sparsholt.

The last of our overwintering crops has been harvested now. The carrots, although knobbly, were spectacular. And the tops make good animal fodder!

Recently I've also looked at spinning waste fibres. I took some loose fibres from some fraying fabric scraps in my stash, and tried carding them with some silk waste and merino wool. The resulting rolag was very light, with polyester and lurex threads giving it a lovely shimmer. The lurex didn't stay in the spun yarn so well, but I plied the yarn with black cotton thread to create a wiggly yarn, and this seems to make them more secure.

Friday saw me cooking - quite a rarity! I made Good Food magazine's Moroccan chickpea soup (here's a link: ) although I added a carrot, half a red pepper, harissa, cayenne pepper and a bit more lemon. Came out brilliantly, definitely one to add to my repertoire!

Pops and I also made some delicious chocolate truffle swirl ice cream - basically the most chocolatey ice cream you've ever eaten with ripples of even chocolatier stuff thrown in! Mixing the cream into the chocolate custard made lovely swirling wood-grain patterns.

On Saturday Dad and I took our neighbour Jayne to an apiary meeting with our association's swarm coordinator, Keith. It was a fantastic day - absolutely baking, with the bees working hard. It was a fantastic day for the newbies, and really nice to see so many people turn up! It was great for us too, though. We've been beekeeping three years now, but the advice on queen rearing from some more experienced beekeepers was very much needed!

As far as the bees are concerned, things seem to be going quite well. The hive we had to artificial swarm at our main apiary is a bit shaky - we've reunited most of the splits back together, but none of them seem to have a queen. We're going to let them try and re-queen themselves. They have a strong population so things aren't desperate. But I'm glad we've got some new queens on order! The split we did at our other apiary has been very successful. The artificial swarm has already filled half a super with honey! We have now have three strong nucs too, made up from splits. We've seen the queen in one, and she looks like she's mated, though she hasn't started to lay yet, and the other two we haven't seen the queen, though it looks as though they're there. All three are very strong colonies however, and so there will be no harm in waiting a while before coming to a conclusion on the state of the queens.

The weekend also saw us take a canoe trip on the canal. We took a bucket to collect elderflowers with, but they were only just coming out - we were just a week early! Oh well, better than going too late! We'll go again next week and hopefully come back with enough for wine, sparkling wine and cordial. One of the recipes we'll be using only requires 1 pint of flowers to make 1 gallon of wine, so hopefully a little will go a long way!

We also let our tortoise, Alfie, romp around the garden for the first time. He's been off his food a bit lately, but with the warmer weather seems to be perking up. The other animals are curious but a bit nervous about the strange "moving rock", except for Willow, who bounded straight up to him, sniffed him a bit, and promptly rubbed him with her chin (or chins) to mark him as hers. Sweet!

Alfie stalks the ducks.

Yesterday we visited my grandparents in Hertfordshire. It was really good fun - my Grandpa and I swapped tomato seedlings, so I now have 6 more tomato plants to find room for! They're a variety called Roma. I haven't looked it up yet,

Sorry, I had to break off there when an enormous hornet flew in through the window and buzzed around my head! She's gone now but unfortunately she lives to fight another day and chomp her way through bee after bee...I got one spray in, but she looked distinctly unfussed about it. Bummer.

Anyway, my Grandpa and I swapped tomato seedlings, and my sister and I picked his strange salad leaves...I think they were chinese veg - definitely some pak choi in there, maybe mizuna, but I'm not much of an expert. My dad and I also got to look around his workshop, where he used to do wood carving. He can't do it any more because the wood dust affects his lungs, but it's an absolute Aladin's cave, with all sorts of tools, papers and blocks of beautiful wood in there. At a few of the shows we've been to this year, there's been people green wood working, which I find very intriguing - just as well I have a Grandpa who knows all about wood!

Green wood work demonstration at Sparsholt.

Our neighbours across the road from us recently noticed a bumblebee nest right by their front door and asked us to remove it for them (I think the husband expected us to spray them with something nasty, but luckily the wife if very fond of wildlife and a lot more understanding!) so on Saturday that's what we did. I stood back and let Dad do the work, but I needn't have worried; even when he had found the nest and was digging them out, the bees were weirdly calm!

This pic is a bit blurry; it shows the queen. Large abdomen full of eggs.
Bumble bee brood; much bigger than honey bee brood and in clumps.
We rehomed them in a large plastic pot, lined with straw, and placed that on the site of where their underground nest had been. One night this week, when all the flyers will be home, we'll remove it to our apiary, which is nice and wild, and where the farmer is very wildlife-conscious.

I leave you with pictures of the garden as it is at the moment.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Victoriana Chic Gone Too Far

Now, I have to admit that I do like a nice antique or vintage Victorian mourning veil etc. as much as the next girl, but this is taking it too far!

Our heating has been broken for ages but now we have no hot water. So we are bathing like Victorians!

I.e. we boil the kettle and take a bucket of hot water up and try and get washed as quickly as possible to avoid getting cold (us and the water).

All I can say is that it really makes you appreciate having hot water on tap - and convinces me that solar hot water would really be a good idea. The sun is more reliable than the bloke we've employed to fix it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More Bees

Today we did another inspection, and just as well - a day later and we could have lost half of one hive! They were really swarmy.

The hives in our main apiary are doing well. We didn't look at those that we split from the swarmy hive a while ago. Their new queens should be out and making practice flights by now, so we left them in peace. If all goes to plan by next weekend they should have mated and hopefully our inspection will reveal some eggs!
Apiary site

We did look in the artificial swarm and our chalkbroody hive. Glad to report that both have lots of stores, building populations, very little sign of disease. Looking good. The chalkbroody one is working in 2 SUPERS! And even the artificial swarm is working on its first super. So fingers crossed it's a good year and they keep up the hard work.

When we went to the association apiary however we were in for a surprise. Paul, the new beekeeper that Dad is mentoring, came along, but poor bloke found himself in the middle of a very indepth discussion about the merits of artificial swarms and multiple splits and not having enough nucs.

They were so ready to swarm, there were queen cells close to capping everywhere. It would have been an easy decision to choose to do an artificial swarm - except that we couldn't find the queen. After a few years we've got much quicker at finding queens (it's often one of the things that takes newbies a little longer) but today she was determined not to be found. We didn't know if she'd died, was still there but we were just too blind to see... Eventually however, we breathed a sigh of relief when we found her, and carried out the artificial swarm.

After a visit to the Hampshire Green Fair at the Sustainability Centre this afternoon (really cool event - we got there when it was already winding down, but still really busy, loads to look at (a yurt!), live music, woodland crafts...hope it happens again next year!) we came back and after collecting another nuc split the split again, so that in the association apiary we now have an artificial swarm and 2 nucs.

Unfortunately the mating nuc didn't work - the queen cell died and the bees flew off.

But still, we now have 3 colonies in full sized hives and 4 nucs, which is pretty healthy. Hoping to capture some more swarms though, possibly do another split or two and make more nucs for selling on. The most important thing however is the health and happiness of our bees, and luckily they're looking pretty OK right now ^^.

I leave you with a pic of yesterday's salad harvest: radishes, overwintered carrots, and Lollo Rossa and Little Gem lettuces.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


At the weekend Dad and I went to an open air auction of bee equipment. We went two years ago when beekeeping was totally new to us so thought we'd go back this year. Knowledge makes a huge difference! It was absolutely amazing the amount of utter crap people wanted to sell - I'm talking woodworm, chunks flying off in all directions, warped, cracked and so bad that I'd think twice before even using them for firewood! I think the sellers did much better than the buyers, with cleanish wax selling for £20 than you can buy pristine wax in Thornes, nucs selling for £220 (twice as much as at Thorne's) and full sized hives selling for £340! People were paying £35 for 2009 New Zealand queens...seems mad to me, those queens have just done a season in NZ and will be tired out by now!

So anyway we may try breeding up some nucs this year with the hope of selling them next year!

We've been doing loads with the hives this week. One hive was getting ready to swarm very early in the year. We did an artifical swarm into a nuc and a full sized hive. Since then we've made another nuc, and have started breeding up some queens from all the cells they'd made. They should be out by today and hopefully making some practice flights this weekend - just got to hope for sunny weather!

Queen cell grafted onto mating nuc frame.

So, we came into the year with 3 full sized hives. We now have 4 full sized hives, 2 nucs and a mating nuc. We also have 6 queens on the way that we ordered way back in January before we got mixed up in all this queen rearing, so I don't know WHAT we'll be doing with those...maybe splitting another of the full sized hives into nucs, requeening any swarms we catch and requeening the hive that has chalkbrood (apparently genetics can play a small part in it). So plenty to do.

Dad's mentor Geoff, who has kept bees for 30 years, now has his bees filling up their 3RD SUPERS. ALREADY! We couldn't work out how he's managed it, as when we heard it ours weren't even contemplating moving up into their first supers! However, when Dad was doing some of the splits he removed the porter escapes from the coverboard and since then the bees have moved up into the super. The one hive he forgot to do it on hadn't moved up, so VENTILATION IS KEY in getting your bees to fill supers - next year we'll remember to REMOVE PORTER ESCAPES EARLIER IN THE YEAR. Now we've done it though they are working their little socks off bringing in LOADS of nectar so hopefully we'll be catching Geoff up very soon.

The bees are looking healthy and happy and I got some great photos this week...

Bees on the alighting board, the pale yellow blobs on her back legs are her pollen sacks, bulging with yellow pollen.

Bees on a comb. The majority are workers, the larger one in the center however is a drone.

Bees around a queen cup, a special cell that new queens are laid in. You can see nectar glistening in the surrounding comb.

This is our drone trapping frame. This frame is shorter than the other frames in the brood box. The bees make more comb underneath to even it out, and for some reason they like to put drone brood down there. When the drone brood is capped over we cut it off, take it home, freeze it and theow it away, to kill a large portion of the varroa population. The funny zig zag pattern is where the wires are in the wax - we give the bees a bit of wax called foundation to get them started, and the foundation has wire zig zags in it for strength.

We've done our first canoe trip of the year as well this week. It's amazing what you'll find on the canal banks - hazel, blackberry, elder and even raspberry. I can't wait for autumn foraging this year...I'm hoping it will be a good Prunus year this year so that there are plenty of sloes and damsons!
As far as the garden's concerned, it's all looking great.

The pond is looking gorgeous and green and the wildlife is going mad. We have a group of collared doves (mostly a pair, but sometimes the male appears to have more than one wife) who are getting ridiculously tame, as are the blackbirds. I try to discourage them (half-heartedly, I must admit) but they just look at me blankly.

Everywhere's filling up now, I've ended up having to interplant my celery with a catch crop of lettuce as I'm running out of space and need to make the most of the little I've got! The courgettes have been planted out in our Mango Chutney barrel planters this year though, so that will save some room.

Before I leave you, here is a gardening tip:


All last year I was thinning out my radishes etc. which is bonkers. Sow as thinly as you can and just leave them. Doing it this way this year I've got the best crop of radishes I've ever had, my beetroots are for once looking promising and I've got turnips and salad onions bulking up too. Stick 'em in and then leave them, don't faf about.

I never hrow any of these in trays or modules, as this disturbs the roots too much and they never amount to anything, although I find that carrots actually do better being sown in modules and planted out when they're about 5cm tall.

The first pickings from my overwintering carrot crop - they don't look like much, but they're the best I've ever grown, and not bad for heavy clay soil!

Also do not do what I have done this year and start things off in January. It only damages them. Plenty of time to sow your tomatoes even now.