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 A covenant, agreed when Lord Zetland handed over the land to the people of Redcar, appears now, to be a little outdated.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

How does my garden grow? With effort, patience and TLC – Telegraph

December 21, 2012 News Comments Off

How does my garden grow? With effort, patience and TLC

Attacks on TV gardeners who make it look easy’ are unjust

By Alan Titchmarsh

Oh dear, we television gardeners have misled the nation. Looking after an allotment is apparently not nearly as easy as we make out and, as a result, hundreds of gardeners, whose plots have run away with them, are being evicted by councils up and down the land.

What next? Mass complaints from folk who have tried and failed to paint like Rolf Harris? Cooks whose soufflés never rise like Nigella’s?

But then that’s always been the problem with making something look easy – people can assume there is no skill involved. Not that growing things is all that difficult, so long as you can grasp a few basic concepts. Seeds and plants want to grow. It’s just up to us to provide them with what they want and not to get in the way. Those who took on allotments and then bleated that “TV gardeners make it look so easy” are probably used to Xboxes, where the desired effect is achieved immediately at the press of a button.

weeds mean work, knighted or not

weeds mean work, knighted or not


And that’s what saddens me. Perhaps the Facebook and Twitter generation appreciates nothing more than instant gratification. Travelling hopefully has been superseded in the nation’s affections by arriving.

And yet the joy of gazing on an allotment where serried ranks of peas and beans, potatoes and onions bear testament to regular cultivation and TLC offers a sense of pleasure and satisfaction far greater than that which can be achieved in 140 characters (and it is unlikely to involve the libel laws).

There is no mystery about running an allotment, and no need for a large staff. Just like eating and taking exercise, “little and often” is the recommended order of the day. Take on an overgrown allotment and you are faced with an uphill struggle (especially in an exceptionally wet summer such as the last one). But start now, and you have fully four months ahead of you before the weeds start to grow and you need to sow a seed.

Granted, you can’t dig and weed easily in wet or frosty weather, but you can have great fun sitting in your allotment shed reading that novel you never got round to, or the kind of magazine that, elsewhere, would brand you a geek or a nerd or worse.

There’s tea to make (or something a little stronger) and fellow allotment-holders to talk to and who will offer advice if you care to listen. (Come to think of it, it is usually hard to stop them, but much of what they say is hard-won and useful, and when they drone on a bit you can lock up and say you have to go home.)

But there is also the chance to appreciate that ever-increasing rarity – the pleasure of your own company. And solitude, as distinct from loneliness, is where the shed comes in. Look upon your allotment as a gym where the air is pure and unladen with any body odour except your own, and where the end result offers fresh food as well as fitness. Suddenly all that pottering seems much more pleasurable.

And, once the initial cultivation is over, pottering is what allotment gardening is all about – a little hoeing; a bit of earthing up; a spot of mulching. Mysterious terms? Yes, but TV gardeners explain them well, so if you pay attention, you’ll understand.

Taking on an allotment, digging it over, sowing seeds and standing well back, waiting for the harvest, is a recipe for disaster. A couple of hours spent upon it twice a week will keep both you and it in shape.

Those days when the weather is unkind are made up for by other blissful hours when the sun warms your back, the annual weeds pull up easily and you journey home weary but happy with a basket full of produce you’ve grown yourself. Who cares that, if you factor in time, your mange-tout peas have cost you a pound a pod, your carrots are shaped like sea monsters or your potatoes are all sizes from a pigeon’s to an ostrich egg?

They are yours; you grew them by dint of your own labour and the sweat of your brow. They are fresher and sweeter than anything you’ll find in the shops and they taste much better as a result. Always.

So don’t take on an allotment if you are not prepared to go there a little and often. Don’t take on one that involves a long journey. Don’t take on one that is too big for your needs (share it instead), and don’t imagine that it will be all beer and skittles.

But after 50-odd years of gardening, both on and off the allotment, I can tell you this much: the rewards of cultivating the soil and growing your own food far outweigh the disasters, and that an hour of pleasure will be remembered far longer than a week of disappointment. And next summer will always be better…

via How does my garden grow? With effort, patience and TLC – Telegraph.

Wordless Wednesday – handmade for allotment friends

December 18, 2012 Wordless Wednesday Comments Off


but if we catch any of them stealing our manure during the break, we’ll chop their chuffin’ hands off!



 Merry Christmas everyone




no-dig and Horsetail removal

December 16, 2012 Gotalottie Comments Off

Anyone who’s been following our progress  on the new allotment will probably recall that we have a problem with Horsetail (Equisitum). We knew this before we took the plot on, the location and size of the plot were the key factors, not the presence or otherwise of some prehistoric beast.

We’ve traced the timeline of the plot with some accuracy and can determine that the HT moved in approximately 5 years ago. Ten years ago it was a rich fertile plot but a number of short-lived tenants have mistreated the soil and we can assume that, as a result of infertility, the ground has become moribund and the HT has moved in. The previous tenant dug over the whole plot by hand in the Spring and by late Summer the plot was thick with HT and it has been abandoned ever since.

horsetail - prehistoric weed

horsetail – prehistoric weed

When we took our plot, it had what could be described quite simply, as an infestation of this weed covering approximately 45-50% of the total surface area, the rest being largely couch. The HT is worse at the front of the plot but is present throughout.

The new tenants aren’t falling for that digging trick again, hence the no-dig approach.

Charles Dowding, for whom I have the utmost respect, advocates thick layers of mulch as a weed suppressant, finally covering with card or black plastic sheeting for a few months. Charles suggests not laying card down first because the card would break down quickly and persistant weeds would pass through into the mulch. There is logic in this and that is, that mulch itself does not totally block out daylight and perennial weeds will find their way through.

paths and beds are covered in card

paths and beds are covered in card

This approach was not available to us as we wished to grow immediately and so we opted to lay down several thicknesses of flattened corrugated card, adding 20cms of mulch over the top, and then planted. Our paths were cut out and had 3 full box thicknesses (6 layers) of card added at 8cms depth, the path soil was then replaced. The incidence of returning HT has been very low with less than a dozen fresh shoots appearing through treated areas (35% of total surface area) in the late Summer and Autumn; I’m hoping that it is now not just dormant, but has disappeared completely.

This weekend I had a shock, it’s fair to call it a shock and not a surprise.

We have a very large manure pile which is cooking it’s little heart out at this moment and this will provide much of the compost for the remaining beds for the Spring. It’s approximately 1.5m high, several metres long and wide, covered with black plastic and gets turned completely every 2 weeks. The pile is in direct contact with the ground and this weekend we noticed large amounts of horsetail coming through the pile, despite its thickness and the black plastic cover. This growth is at a time when the weed should be dormant and there is clearly no photosynthetic reaction taking place.

Horsetail growing through manure pile

Horsetail growing through manure pile

This reaction is taking place as a result of soil warming and it’s happening more than one metre under the pile. I realise my mistake – I should have covered the bare ground with card first; in fairness, the pile has been moved several times now and this is the first indication that this was likely to happen.

The pile has now been relocated and now sits on a base of pallets laid flat on the ground, which were in turn, topped with a couple of layers of card and the entire pile is now recovered with black plastic to keep heat in and moisture out.

Charles and I exchanged a couple of emails this week, where we discussed the merits of experimentation in no-dig and the subject of HT came up. Eradicating this nasty weed is difficult enough with chemicals and to stand any chance of removing it with an organic approach will require meticulous bed preparation, without this – few people will succeed in removing it. At least 4 layers of card will be required and possibly 6-8 to be certain, this MUST be laid first and in DIRECT contact with the ground.

our card store

our card store

We’re going to need a lot of card yet.

There’s been a lot written about Horsetail, it is a prehistoric plant and it does thrive on poor soil. The roots extend a long way down (for 1.5m or more) and somewhere down there – a long way down - there is a rhizome. Where Horsetail is evident, constant removal of surface stem material will eventually kill this off. For this to take place, photosynthesis must not be allowed to occur and this will require removal of the growing stem before it reaches a height of 7-8cms above the ground. This will need to be done repeatedly and possibly over the course of several weeks, if not months. Failure to do this, allows the plant to send sugars down to its rhizome and some of the progress you have gained, will be lost.

As an aside Charles, sent me a copy of an article published in the Northumbrian, this is not available online and we don’t have permission to publish it here. It’s a truly inspirational short work written by Susie White on the merits of the no-dig approach. If you’d like to see a copy of the article, drop us a request on the contact form and we’ll see if we can share the article with you.

the Russian dacha – a way of life, holiday retreat or a necessity?

December 13, 2012 Gotalottie 4 Comments

How it all began

To look back in time, the term “dacha” was born of early medieval Russian. It meant “a gift given publicly” (Публичный дар) and later came to specifically mean “property given and used in feudal fashion” (имущество, переданное и используемое по-феодальному). A dacha could include land, houses, outbuildings, serfs, etc. It was the main unit of property right up until emancipation radically changed property concepts in 1861.

At the beginning of the 18th century during the reign of Peter the Great dachas became popular as summer holiday retreats. The nobility used their dachas for social and cultural gatherings, including masquerade balls and fireworks displays.


By the end of the 19th century, a house in the country was one of the necessary possessions of the rich as well as the middle class. Russian poets and playwrights (including Alexander Pushkin and Anton Chekhov) mentioned dachas in their works. Summer homes in beautifully adorned areas became a “place-to-be” for many Russian artists.

Remains of once beautiful dacha nr Yaroslavl

Remains of once beautiful dacha nr Yaroslavl


At the beginning of the 20th century Maxim Gorky published a play entitled ‘Summerfolk’, in Russian – “Dachniki” (дачники). The author and political activist (who later became a leading socialist writer) critically portrayed dacha dwellers and their guests. He wanted to show that these educated folk knew nothing about the needs and troubles of ordinary people. Thirteen years after the work was published, the 1917 Russian Revolution deprived most owners of their dachas, some of which were turned into the “holiday homes” for workers.

A dacha for the people

In the middle of the 1950s, as the country healed from the devastation and hunger caused by World War II, people began to think about small plots of land in the country. For some it was not just a weekend getaway. A dacha with a small plot of land let people save their tiny incomes. Here they could plant their own vegetables. They stored potatoes in cellars, pickled cucumbers and made jams out of apples and pears in order to have some food reserves to last through the cold Russian winter.

The state played a big part in the process. There were many regulations at the local level. The biggest issue was the size of the allotment. In many regions plots did not exceed 0.06 hectares in Russian – shest’ sotok – literally six hundredths. This figure was thoroughly calculated by the bureaucrats. A plot this size was too small for most people to live on permanently; authorities needed to keep workers in the big cities and were not interested in the restoration of private farming on a wider scale. The concession of the “zero point zero six of a hectare” was necessary because the country could not provide its people with enough food. As a result many dacha settlements sprang up with small houses standing right next to each other.


A simple dacha with building

A simple dacha with building


A typical plot of land was surrounded by berry trees and shrubs. There was a small house (in many cases – with no conveniences at all) and a hut for storing garden tools. Around the house there were rows of plants and vegetables. In the areas around Moscow – potatoes, tomatoes, and cucumbers were the main crops. However, the owners’ fantasies about what to plant knew no boundaries. A row of strawberries became a must for many (strawberries usually ripen faster than everything else). In the south beans and even melons were grown, while in Siberia many dacha lovers liked to plant sakura (Japanese cherries). At the beginning of the 1960s the number of fruit trees that could be planted was heavily regulated by the rules of the dacha settlement. The aim of this measure was to make the area visually pleasing. Later all these quotas were lifted. The same was true for the size of the plot – if you wanted a bigger plot you could simply buy your neighbour’s land or find another plot somewhere else.

In the 1980s, due to the shortage of goods in stores, farming at dachas became a massive phenomenon. For some it was more necessity then pleasure and they took pride in inventing something unique for their flowers and vegetables, such as greenhouses or unique water-spraying devices. Others tried to think of ways to fertilize the ground not just with manure, but other additives. Many unnecessary items from city apartments could easily be turned into useful gadgets for the dacha. For example, if you had too many empty cola bottles you could cut them in half and use the bottom part to protect young plants from cold spring nights.

The harvest was a special pride for many people – some sold their produce, while others gave it away to their neighbours and friends. It was common to share the seeds of rare plants with others. Real fans think about their dacha all year long. In winter they plant tomato, cucumber, pepper and eggplant seeds in small pots that they keep on the window sills of their apartments – and at the beginning of May they re-plant them at their dachas.

Many dacha lovers chose to live on their plots of land. They built good houses with all the necessary facilities, including heating and electrical systems. At the beginning of 1990s some Russian “nouveau rich” made would-be fortresses out of their dachas.


Fortress for the New Russian

Fortress for the New Russian


The weekend rush

Many foreigners can’t help wondering why Muscovites spend so much time in huge traffic jams on Friday and Sunday evenings from April to November (in the South of Russia – from March to December). The answer is simple – residents want to get out of the city right after work to spend as much time as possible at their dachas. For many generations these small summer homes have become a multi-functional phenomenon. Some people grow vegetables here to sell. Others grow the food to live on. There are also people who spend their holidays at their dachas. This way of leisure was popular in Soviet times and is making a comeback today with the global financial crisis cutting into many people’s savings.

Our dacha

Our dacha is quite simple with only some small outbuildings; it’s close to our house and we can walk there in approximately 15 minutes. The land is split into a shadier area with a lot of fruit trees and a vegetable plot which is in full sun. In the summer, we need this shade as the temperatures in my region are between 35 and 40C usually.

Mama with a selection of fruit from our dacha

Mama with a selection of fruit from our dacha

a selection of vegetables from our dacha

a selection of vegetables from our dacha










We enjoy a lot of shashlik in the summer, that’s a meal with meat, such as chicken or pork cooked on a barbeque and always we are visited by local cats who seem to find a way to exist amongst the dachas. It’s not possible to be in the dachas during the summer without the special smell of shashlik on the breeze somewhere.


Son Sasha (complete with mug from the Nordik museum in York) is pestered by a local cat for food

Son Sasha (complete with mug from the Nordik museum in York) is pestered by a local cat for food


 Barbeques really are a way of life during the summer and with so many fruit and cherry trees around, its quite easy to build a fire.

But firstly - you have to cut this wood

But firstly – you have to cut this wood

master of the shashlik - a taste of the dacha

master of the shashlik – a taste of the dacha










Next time I’ll be showing you a little more about our dacha and some of the fruit and vegetables that we grow – even the grapes. Yes, we have a lot of grape vines which always produce good crops.

See you soon. Tanya



Wordless Wednesday – small plots

December 11, 2012 Wordless Wednesday Comments Off



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