making hay

We’re stuck in a time warp and the World is moving on around us. A covenant, agreed when Lord Zetland handed over the land to the people of Redcar, appears now, to be a little outdated. A set of rules, forbidding any structure above 4′ high, no lighting of fires …

brimming with broccoli

We’ve been at the allotment again on Saturday – clearing the last of the weeds left from 3yrs of neglect. We didn’t do this clearing the easy way – with a strimmer; oh no, muggins here had to do it by hand with a pair of shears and secateurs and …

cold frames – a poor man’s greenhouse

A quick look at the diary and we can see that we’re 18 weeks in, in our journey on Plot 36. It doesn’t seem so long to be honest, given the volume of the weeds removed and compost and manure brought onto site. I mustn’t forget the pallets either. The site resembles …

extreme composting – turning up the heat

Those of you interested in the concept of no-dig gardening, will have no doubt read, or at least heard of the work of Charles Dowding. Charles has written a number of extremely informative books on the subject and has a website which is an absolute mine of information, for those interested …

Recent Articles:

Excitement for gardeners as allotments take shape

November 22, 2012 News Comments Off

Excitement for gardeners as allotments take shape.

New allotments in Birchill Lane, Frome, are already starting to take shape, with the basic infrastructure being put in place.

The Muriel Jones Allotments is based on a five-acre field on the outskirts of the town and will have 80 plots, 15 by five metres in size, and there are also a number of smaller plots planned.


Allotment Association chairman Neil Cameron said: “Were very conscious of the fact that we have more than 150 people on the waiting list.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that as many families as possible have the opportunity to grow their own food.

“We are in the process of contacting people on the waiting list and allocating the first 20 plots. By the new year we hope to have them up and running.

“In the coming weeks infrastructure work will take place, including hedging, gates and hard surfacing the car park.

The plots will be marked out and the top layer of grass will be removed with a turf cutter, so that plot holders will be able to cultivate the soil with ease.

Raised beds close to the car park area will be provided for gardeners with disabilities.

Outreach worker Steve Neal said: “The work of volunteers has always been crucial to the work of the Allotment Association and a team of members will renovate an old barn.

“The barn will serve a variety of purposes. But one of its main uses will be for a course on growing and cooking food, which the Allotment Association will develop with Frome Community Education.

“Mr Cameron said the site is so large, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

He added: “Its an exciting time for gardeners in Frome.”

via Excitement for gardeners as allotments take shape | This is Somerset.

Growing interest in allotments | South Wales

November 22, 2012 News Comments Off

Growing interest in allotments

A community allotment group is set to grow thanks to a funding boost.

Llannon Community Allotment Group is developing a further 20 plots together with a small community orchard ready for next spring.

The group has been awarded £2,400 each from Carmarthenshires County Collaboration Fund and the Welsh Governments Sustainable Hubs Key Fund, further enhanced by £300 worth of National Garden Centre vouchers from Keep Wales Tidy.

Group secretary Phil Snaith said he was delighted with the awards, which will allow them to extend the existing 23 plots and meet the demand within Llannon and neighbouring areas.

Mr Snaith said: “The community orchard will also give us a whole new dimension.”Its been a difficult growing season but our peaceful little acre has been pretty fruitful.

“Carmarthenshire Councils community regeneration manager John Wilson added: “It is good that we support such a worthwhile project as it will play an important role in helping towards improving the health and wellbeing for many of the local residents.”

via Growing interest in allotments | This is South Wales.

Italian Seeds – simply the best

November 21, 2012 Maureen Chapman 8 Comments


Hello, my name is Maureen Chapman and I’m an agent and grower for Franchi – Seeds of Italy and I’m based in Yorkshire in the NE of England.

Hands up all those who who have already dismissed the idea of growing Italian veg using Italian seed because “they won’t grow in this country – will they?”

Great news! They will!

People tend to forget that Italy is more Alpine than Mediterranean and seeds produced by Franchi, based in Bergamo in the North of Italy with their trial grounds in the alps, are much hardier and well suited to our British climate.

I first came across Franchi seeds, distributed in this country by Seeds of Italy, when a regular customer came into my shop in North Yorkshire and thrust a small brown envelope containing a teaspoonful of seeds into my hand. The envelope was labelled “Thyme of Provence”.

They languished in my greenhouse for a while until I finally got round to sowing them. The germination rate was excellent despite being stored in less than perfect conditions and the thyme was beautiful – much more fragrant and evocative than any I’d previously grown.

The following year I bought more varieties and was so impressed I decided to stock them in the shop.

7 generations - Paulo Arrigo

7 generations – Paulo Arrigo


Paolo Arrigo (the MD of Seeds of Italy) says he doesn’t have customers – only fans!

I was completely hooked – an enthusiastic fan.

That was about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve closed the shop, grown a lot more veg, somehow become the part time agent for Seeds of Italy in the North of England and grew the plants for the SoI medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court this year.


You might be wondering just what is so special about Franchi – how can a humble pack of seeds generate such passion and loyalty.

The facts explain it well enough but it’s more than that, maybe a feeling of belonging, maybe a little of that Italian childlike enthusiasm comes free with every pack. I don’t know. But I do know I’m not alone. 

On finding us at shows existing customers genuinely squeal with delight at finding the seeds actually there in front of them; they babble excitedly at anyone who will listen about their unsurpassed benefits. It is truly bizarre.

The seeds of Italy medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court

The seeds of Italy medal winning garden at RHS Hampton Court


Well, what about those facts?

Franchi are seed producers (most seed companies are not) and they are the oldest family run seed company in the world – on the go since 1783 with a Mr Franchi still at the helm. That takes some doing these days and shows they must be doing something right.

Being seed producers they can afford to put more seed in the packs and they can guarantee their quality. (DON’T sow more than you need – they WILL germinate!)

The Franchi Regional vegetable map

The Franchi Regional vegetable map




The varieties taste good; Italy is a food based culture and each regional variety is revered and used differently eg Courgette Tondo di Piacenza – a round courgette, from Piacenza near Parma, hollowed out, stuffed with local Parma ham and Parmesan cheese and baked. Real local and regional food.




The guys at PushingUpDandelions asked me to recommend 6 varieties…..


Well, I struggled with this as there are truly so many great tasting varieties available; so I’ve looked at some which cope really well with the cold and some I just wouldn’t be without.


Think of Italy – think of tomatoes. I usually grow about 10 different varieties of Franchi toms, one of which featured on GW Sept 2012. Tomato Red Pear Franchi is meaty and sweet with hardly any pockets of water or seeds. A really Italian tomato for the greenhouse, shaped like a slightly scalloped fat pear. Fruits weigh about 220g and are great for stuffing. About 60 seeds for £2.49.


 Alpine Lettuce Meraviglia d’Inverno S.Martino (yes, it is a very long name!) can be sown in a cold greenhouse or under a cloche from July until December and harvested through the winter until around March. It’s a compact variety with a tender open head and ruffled green leaves. 200 seeds £2.49


One of my favourite winter salad plants is Radicchio Rossa di Treviso – a tasty and beautiful addition to the winter veg plot – it would look good in the flower border too. The colder it is the redder and sweeter the radicchio becomes and it can be eaten raw or cooked. Paolo’s mum, Teresa, makes an awesome Radicchio Risotto. 6000 seeds £1.99


My teenage son doesn’t particularly “do green” as far as food is concerned but he loves Cavolo Nero Kale. One of my very favourite winter veg too, either simply steamed or pan fried with shallots/garlic/bacon or in the national dish of Florence – Ribollita Toscana.  Cavolo Nero is easy to grow and mine crops until at least March, the new shoots erupting from the plant like a fountain. You just need to keep the pesky caterpillars off! 1500 seeds £1.99


I never used to have any luck with spring sown Florence Fennel, it always ran to seed before it had bulbed up properly. Then, tah dah! I discovered Alpine Fennel Montebianco. Sown June to August the bulbs develop as the weather gets colder and I harvest into November/December. On occasion, when I’ve been a bit late sowing, the plants have stayed in all through winter and sometimes multiple bulbs have developed from one plant in the spring! 1260 seeds £1.99


Must mention Beans…..but which one? Paolo said “Tell them about  Meraviglia di Venezia” , so I will (although it’s tempting to mention all the different Borlotti beans they sell).  Wide, flat and yellow these Venetian beans are meaty but tender, stringless and buttery making the best bean salad, boiled then dressed with vinaigrette while still warm. They’re a good cropper too. 50g £1.99

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Choosing just 6 was nigh on impossible – there’s so many more I want to tell you about from the humble to the exotic – whispers “ lettuce leaf basil, giant parsley, the everlasting tomato, stripy beetroot, bulls horn peppers, ugly venetian courgettes, serpent squashes, agretti, edible flowers, tomatillo, stevia……….just ask, please just ask!!!”     Franchi – Seeds of Italy

Wordless Wednesday – the cucumber festival

November 20, 2012 Wordless Wednesday Comments Off

 We should have made it a caption competition! any ideas?  

The Istobensk Cucumber Festival

The Istobensk Cucumber Festival

LHG launches seed subscription for allotment holders

November 20, 2012 News, Seeds Comments Off

London Herb Garden is a new business committed to ensuring that gardeners and allotment owners are able to try out the best herb and vegetable seed as easily as possible.

We asked Hannah Flynn, who heads up the London-based company, what inspired her to start her business

‘As a keen gardener myself I decided to develop the idea for a herb and vegetable seed subscription service when I noticed no similar product was available on the market.

‘There have been many subscription services launched over the past couple of years, so why not one for gardeners?’

 The company now provides subscriptions and seed packs that contain both traditional and heirloom seeds, as well as unusual seeds, so even the most seasoned gardener can try out something new.

The London Herb Garden - something very unique

The London Herb Garden – something very unique

Hannah said ‘We are committed to improving the richness and diversity of British kitchen gardens, a lot of research has been put into discovering varieties that are able to put up with the harsh variation in the British climate, while providing plants that the whole family will actually want to eat! ‘

The seed subscriptions are available via LHG’s online shop  and allow subscribers to get a packet of herb or vegetable seed through their letterbox once a month. All seed sent will be ready to plant that month, and subscriptions are available all-year round including the winter months.

The London Herb Garden - individual attention

The London Herb Garden – individual attention

Hannah told us ‘London Herb Garden is particularly committed to increasing the yield of British kitchen gardens by introducing gardeners to seeds that can be grown in the colder months, thus increasing the growing season.

‘That’s why we have recently launched the winter kitchen garden seed pack, which includes aquadulche broad beans, hanakan pak choi and valdor lettuce which can all be grown outdoors in the winter, as well as a chilli to start off under glass alongside some thai basil, which will grow happily on a windowsill, complimenting your vegetable supply through the winter months. ‘

The London Herb Garden - an inspired gift

The London Herb Garden – an inspired gift

To help kitchen gardeners and allotment owners, particularly those new to growing their own, growing guides and gardening tips can be found on LHG’s website

The presentation is delightful and would certainly make a very welcome gift for a friend or family member who appreciates something quite unique.

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