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 A covenant, agreed when Lord Zetland handed over the land to the people of Redcar, appears now, to be a little outdated.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:

Sprouts, Sprouts, Sprouts!

January 11, 2013 Kaz and Stew Brown 1 Comment

I’ve been reflecting over the time I’ve spent with my family over Christmas.  A big highlight for me and Stewart, was tasting our delicious produce we’ve grown in prep for Christmas dinner.

With our spade in hand we tootled off down to our little lottie plot on Christmas morning, to pick our sprouts and cabbage nice and fresh.  We’ve been eyeing up a particular sprout stalk that Stewart had grown from seed (a real triumph for Stew!) We’ve got several sprout stalks growing in our brassica patch.  None of which have grown quite as magnificently as the stalk we picked for dinner.  To say we were proud and excited was a bit of an understatement :)

You don’t need to overcook the veg from your plot; our allotment friend Joyce advised us that 8 minutes cooking time would be ideal.  The taste was phenomenal, so rich and yummy.

Hey guys, its 2013! Keeping our fingers, toes and eyes crossed… here’s to a great growing year :)

Kaz  :)

Harvesting salads in March

January 10, 2013 Books, Gotalottie Comments Off

Harvesting salads in March and potatoes in April, on an allotment, in Yorkshire.

It sounds impossible yet on one large allotment in Keighley, West Yorkshire; one man is doing just this – harvesting salad vegetables and potatoes in early Spring.


Jack First, an experienced horticulturalist has revived and modernised the ancient method of growing in hot beds and is successfully growing healthy vegetables at least 2 months earlier than is traditionally thought possible.

‘A hot bed is a warmed, protected environment, created by heat generated from decomposing organic matter, used for producing early crops’


In reality, a hot bed is a large raised bed filled with fresh farm or stable litter which has been activated to start decomposing, thus being a source of heat. Jack employs a smaller framed bed placed on top of this to retain the growing medium, usually the previous years heat source and caps it with a ‘light’ – a protective frame of glass or horticultural plastic.


There is nothing new in the concept, it was well used in France and the UK in the late 19th century and is believed to have been used by the Romans 2,000 years ago, to placate Emperor Tiberius’ demands for fresh salad out of season.

Apart from running courses, giving talks and writing articles; Jack Firth has just written a book ‘Hot Beds: How to grow early crops using an age-old technique’. In it he describes the history, the method in detail and he suggests many useful propogation and growing tips. There are many clear illustrations of the simple frame constructions that require the most basic of DIY skills and photographs to support the text at every stage.


‘January – The garden may be deep in the grip of winter, but in the hot bed there is warmth and shelter. This is the time to start sowing early crops.’



These are difficult words for a gardener to comprehend, but the book is filled with many examples, well illustrated by images which support the success stories.


The benefits don’t end at the onset of the summer, when hopefully soil temperatures have caught up a little. The raised beds are decomposing and beginning to provide a rich warm source of nutrients for those summer vegetables that are so difficult to grow outdoors in UK climates: cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. These plants will be maturing very successfully in the comfortable micro-climate of the raised bed and will be sending their hungry roots deep into the nitrogen-rich under layers.


‘Like other vegetables, cucumbers need protection from wind, which is provided by the frame. They also require good drainage and plenty of organic matter, which the hot bed provides in ample supply, even though by summer its heat will have declined’


 Jack is certainly pioneering this highly productive, yet low-cost, year-round gardening technique. It is difficult not to be tempted into trying the same to some degree and upon reading this delightful book, we have decided to incorporate some of these methods into our own allotment during the next 2 months.

We’re pretty certain that you will too.

Hot Beds: How to Grow Early Crops Using an Age-Old Technique by Jack First is published by Green Books (RRP £9.95 paperback); available here.


Wordless Wednesday – my kingdom for a shed

January 8, 2013 Wordless Wednesday 2 Comments

when rules resist the placement of any kind of shed, the mind begins to wander..

an allotment shed - courtesy of wikipedia

an allotment shed – courtesy of wikipedia

a blue allotment shed - courtesy of Flicker

a blue allotment shed – courtesy of Flicker

getting a little tumble down - courtesy of St Margarets community

getting a little tumble down – courtesy of St Margarets community

small is good - courtesy of Janes Allotment

small is good – courtesy of Janes Allotment

with a shelving storage solution would be ideal - courtesy of Rosendale Allotments Association

with a shelving storage solution would be ideal – courtesy of Rosendale Allotments Association

with or without stripes - Frankenshed - courtesy of

with or without stripes – Frankenshed – courtesy of

we could even patch it up a little - courtesy of Weald Allotments

we could even patch it up a little – courtesy of Weald Allotments

very grand - courtesy of Tenatry Down Allotments

very grand – courtesy of Tenatry Down Allotments

some serious shed lust - courtesy of

some serious shed lust – courtesy of

now thats my idea of a shed - courtesy of flickriver

now thats my idea of a shed – courtesy of flickriver


 I’m going to have to lay down for a while…





Save Farm Terrace – please make your voices heard!

December 30, 2012 News Comments Off

A historic (1896) terraced allotment is under threat. 

An outline planning application made in 2007, relating to development of the Health Campus in Watford excluded the closure of this allotment.


However, by December 2012, it seems that Watford Borough Council have achieved a complete U-turn of that original decision and wish to grant full rights to the land to developers, to provide additional parking, to improve patient and staff experience and more importantly – to build 600 ‘high quality homes’.

The tenants of this historic site with 128 plots across a 2.63 hectare site need help to save and preserve this important piece of local heritage.

Just 2 minutes of your time is all that it takes to make your voice heard HERE or leave a comment on this page



 However, at a relatively early stage, potential private sector bidders identified the possible need for the allotments within the scheme as a significant issue. This was in terms of ensuring the proposed masterplan was market facing / financially viable and that there was adequate space within the site to deliver aspirations for family homes and hospital expansion. The latter has since been reinforced by WHHT – in terms of its requirements for sufficient space in which to re-provide hospital facilities and services.

In September 2012, Watford BC and West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust [WHHT] appointed developers, Kier Project Investment Ltd to deliver this project as part of a PFI (Private Finance Initiative).

Since this time, work has been ongoing to arrive at financial and legal agreement between the partnership and Kier and the development of a master plan that will go forward for planning approval.

There seems to be some confusion within the Council as to the key benefits of the scheme, whether as a vehicle for improving the hospital structure or as a significant cash cow from the sale of the land for the new private housing; either argument, or both, now assumes the delivery of the historic allotments as part of their financial and legal agreement which has been discussed behing closed doors. The Watford Observer had similar comments to make.. more


Opposition politicians have failed to force a rethink on plans and an attempt to send the Farm Terrace Allotment decision back to Watford BC’s ruling cabinet was voted down by Liberal Democrat councillors at a meeting in late December.

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill  uses the timeless rhetoric of ‘low-cost housing’ and the ‘creation of jobs’.


The EIA (Equality Impact Analysis) produced by her colleagues clearly states ‘high quality homes’.

It condescendingly suggests that total closure of the site would be to the benefit of plotholders by avoiding ‘significant disruption and the impact of pollution that they will otherwise be subject to over the duration of the Campus development’


‘A bad tempered and petulant Mayor Dorothy Thornhill pushed through her recommendation to hand the 100 year old West Watford Farm Terrace allotments … ‘ more

This might possibly go to the Secretary of State, our voices must be heard – Save Farm Terrace!


Save Farm Terrace


Watford already has enough concrete and housing and we as taxpayers, are being held to ransom by more and more of these private finance initiatives within the NHS.

These historic allotments belong to the people of West Watford, not the Borough Council. Their ‘master plan’ is no more than Corporate theft and must be stopped.

Just 2 minutes of your time is all that it takes to make your voice heard HERE or leave a comment on this page


Home-made Paprika

December 22, 2012 Mark Willis Comments Off

I was recently lucky enough to receive a really nice Christmas gift from a friend – a pack of chilli-related goods. Anyone who reads my blog will know that I am very fond of chillis, so I was thrilled to receive this gift, which included chilli seeds, a bottle of “volcanically-hot” chilli sauce and some dried ”Nu-Mex Garnet” Sweet Peppers for making into paprika. Now in the past I have never seen fit to grow Sweet Peppers. I dislike the Capsicum-style Red/Green/Yellow peppers and I had assumed they would be similar. How wrong can you be???

One of the enormous Garnet peppers had been smoked, so following my friend’s advice, I made it into paprika by grinding it to a fine powder in a coffee-grinder (reserved solely for spices, not coffee, I must add!). One of these peppers yields approximately one dessertspoonful of powder.

This amount of paprika is ideal for making dinner for two. I used mine in a Spanish-inspired pork and chorizo casserole, to which the paprika added a delicious sweet, smoky taste that I absolutely loved. In Spain, paprika is called “Pimenton”, and comes in smoked and unsmoked versions. It has little or no heat, but lots of flavour. If you want heat, you will need to add chillis…

Amongst the seeds that my friend sent me is a pack of these Garnet ones, so I shall definitely be growing some for myself next year – and I think they will be dried for making into paprika too!

Growing Sweet Peppers sounds relatively easy – just like growing the Capsicum type peppers, or chillis I think. All the plants of this type like as much warmth as they can get, so in the UK a greenhouse is ideal for them, but I have grown chillis outdoors very successfully for many years now, so it is evidently not vital.

If you want to know where you can get them, have a look at Victoriana Nursery’s website. They sell this type and many others and they also have a nice Heat Guide  for chillis and sweet peppers.

You can read more about my Spanish Pork Casserole on my blog -

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Log in with:

Follow us on