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 A covenant, agreed when Lord Zetland handed over the land to the people of Redcar, appears now, to be a little outdated.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

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Winter Weather North Highbury Allotments

December 11, 2012 Kaz and Stew Brown 2 Comments

A couple of weekends ago, myself and Stew packed our over night bag, loaded the boot with Christmas presents – then set off to Newcastle to visit friends. After a 3 hour drive up (with a stop for Starbucks on the way) we enjoyed a nice hot glass of mulled wine and had a lovely tour of Newcastle city.

Our friends Amanda & Dan, fellow allotmenteers had planned a nice Sunday stroll down to their allotments to give us the grand tour of their site. A very exciting day for them because when we visited on the Sunday, they were upgraded to a bigger plot and we wanted to check it out.

With the sun shining and blue skies above us we set off, talking about their plans for the new plot and what they hoped to get from it next year. North Highbury Allotments is set just off one of the main roads in Gosforth, with a row of beautiful victorian houses behind. Everywhere looked quite asleep with the winter weather really starting to show. Beautiful frost covered leaves…

They’ve had some very wet weather recently (as has most of the country) and we were relieved to find out that they weren’t one of the unfortunate people that sadly had water logged plots. Most of the mini ponds on peoples plots had frozen over, trapping the leaves in the ice which looked really beautiful!

Amanda & Dan’s new plot was really lovely.  It had lots of fruit bushes, strawberries and blackberries already left there – along with a cold frame, which is going to come in very useful. The plot had been divided up so its going to be really easy to do crop rotation. The site was nice, even though most things had died out there we’re still spots of colour here and there.

We really enjoyed our visit and look forward to hearing about their progress. It got us thinking about our plot and the plans we need to make for our plot next year… All exciting lots of planning to do.

Kaz & Stew

winter delights

December 11, 2012 Competitions Comments Off

Gardening books are always a delight, no more so than on cold Winter evenings, when we begin our plans for the new growing year.

PuD have joined forces with Quickcrop to offer you a chance to win of one of these delightful books.

This competition is now closed. We’ll be announcing the winners shortly.

 

the polytunnel book

the polytunnel book

 

The Polytunnel Book By Joyce Russell

Grow vegetables like you live in the Mediterranean! A polytunnel really does extend your growing range and season.

 This is the book to get you started on that adventure – and it is not just for the rookie.

 No matter how experienced a gardener you are, we all need assistance from time to time and a book is a great way to have that wealth of knowledge to help you along. What better book to have than by Joyce Russell who has written a comprehensive introduction to the subject of growing under a polytunnel.

 

 

 

the living garden

the living garden

 The Living Garden. A place that works with nature – Jane Powers

Jane Powers is very familiar to readers in Ireland through her long standing column in the Irish Times newspaper. This is her first full publication and an absolute joy. Jane will show you how you can have a garden that works for you and for nature. She writes beautifully and knowledgeably and the photographs are superb.

In no time you’ll be saving and propagating seeds and welcoming bees and enjoying a myriad of colour and in your garden as well as gaining the essential know-how on growing fruits and vegetables.

 

 

 To enter, all that you need to do is to visit the Quickcrop website  to discover the cost of a years subscription to their Growmatic gardening webtool.

 

Then, simply send us an email with your answer, along with your full name, to QuickcropComp@PushingUpDandelions.co.uk

The competition closes at midnight on 23rd December 2012. We’ll then draw one lucky winner at random for each of these delightful books, from all of the correct entries and notify them by return email. For legal reasons we have to show you the small print.

Best of luck!

The Urban Pollinators Project: Researching insect pollinators in urban habitats in the UK

December 10, 2012 nadinemitschunas, Urban Pollinators Project Comments Off

Urban environments are growing in extent and importance for wildlife.

Perhaps surprisingly, flower rich oases in otherwise uninviting city habitats can support large numbers of pollinating insects. For example, a single Leicester garden was found to contain 35% of British hoverfly species. Honeybees produce more honey in urban Birmingham than in the surrounding countryside. Pollinators supply a crucial ecological service, and finding ways to improve their lot is a major challenge.

This Urban Pollinators Project was designed to answer three questions:

1.    What is best for pollinators: urban habitats, farmland or nature reserves?

2.    Which type of urban habitat supports the most pollinators?

3.    What can we do to help pollinators in urban areas?

To answer the first two questions we are looking into what types of bees, flies, butterflies and beetles do occur in specific habitats and the flowers of which plant species they visit there. The field work for this has been carried out by research ecologists at universities in Edinburgh, Leeds, Bristol and Reading. For example, my team of field helpers and I are based at the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) at University of Reading. Our research project is funded jointly by a grant from BBSRC, Defra, NERC, the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, under the Insect Pollinators Initiative

Sampling pollinators in a park in Reading: Where are the flowers?

Sampling pollinators in a park in Reading: Where are the flowers?

In the first year of the project (2011) we sampled urban areas, farmland and nature reserve sites across the UK from Dundee in the north to Southampton in the south to see how pollinator communities in urban areas compare to other habitats. Farmland makes up to 70 % of the UK land area while urban areas cover roughly 9 % of the UK, a similar area to that of nature reserves. We selected 12 different farmland, nature reserve and urban sites, and ended up with a total of 36 sites spread over the whole of the UK. Our teams carried out pollinator and plant surveys at each site between June and September 2011. At the end of the summer the field teams had identified thousands of plants and had sampled over 10 000 insects .

We are currently in the process of preparing the data for submission to a scientific journal. We will provide a summary of the results of the first year of the project as soon as the paper is accepted.

Catching pollinators on an allotment plot to bring back to University for identification

And how about urban habitats? Which of those are best for pollinators? To answer this question, we looked at a wide range of urban habitats, including, amongst others, parks and other green spaces, gardens, allotments, cemeteries, local nature reserves, road verges, pavements and car parks. The weather proved a bit difficult and we had quite a slow start as it was so cold and wet from April to June 2012. The pollinators also seemed to dislike this type of weather, at times, we found only small numbers of them. But as the weather picked up in subsequent months, we began to record much larger numbers of pollinators, and we were able to get some preliminary answers to our questions.

Measuring a garden before starting the pollinator sampling

As we will repeat last years field work this year (2013) to get more data we have only some preliminary results to report. General trends in the data collected so far suggest that allotments are among the most beneficial habitats in urban areas,  followed by gardens, cemeteries and nature reserves with good numbers of insects recorded in these habitats as well. Allotments often have quite a lot of flowering weeds (at least the ones we visited) and there are always at least some plot holders who like to plant colourful and pollinator-friendly annual and perennial plants such as cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus), pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and cosmos (e.g. Cosmos bipinnatus). Fruit bushes and – where present – fruit trees also provide a good pollen and nectar source. Some of the allotment sites we visited even had bee hives and the long grass under hedgerows along the allotment boundaries may in some instances provide nesting opportunities for bumblebees.

Talking to allotment holders who planted lots of flowers to attract pollinators

Now, in the second half of our project, we are also looking into what can be done to support pollinating insects in towns and cities, which was our third question. To answer this, we established flower meadows with plants high in nectar and pollen to selected parks and green spaces in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading. In 2013, the final year of our project, we will have a look if this has successfully boosted pollinator numbers in comparison to areas where we have not applied such measures. For this, in Reading, we have already set up 5 annual and 5 perennial flower meadows in 2012 and the meadows comprised of annual species looked really stunning this year already. And they were visited by large numbers of pollinators! The perennials were a bit slow to start with, but as they need more time to establish, we did expect this. They will also flower in 2013, and will hopefully support a wide array of pollinators. Thus, 2013 will show whether adding flower meadows to towns and cities can be the way forward not only to create aesthetically pleasing green spaces, but also to boost numbers of pollinator insects in such urban ecosystems.

Annual flower meadow in a small park in Reading

But irrespective of such large-scale applications, you can also do a lot yourself to help pollinators in the green space that is your allotment or garden. For some inspiration on what to do in your allotment, feel free to have a look at my earlier post “Bring back the flowers”.

The “golden meadow” in Prospect Park, Reading

If you are interested to read more about our project, please visit our project website and have a look at our project blog. You can also follow us on twitter

Notes on eating from the plot

December 9, 2012 Lee Burns 1 Comment

It was the cooking that got us into the gardening, not the other way round. Cooking and food had been a minor obsession of mine for a few years. We had started getting organic veg from a local box scheme, but the idea of having our own home-grown veg to cook with was the holy grail. However, living in a Tyneside flat, with only a west-facing backyard in which to grow some under-performing courgette plants and a few pots of herbs, an allotment was always going to be our only way of growing decent amounts of veg for ourselves. Neither of us had ever done any real gardening before, so we had no real idea how much work it would take to turn the plot from a woe-begotten weed pit into something in which veg could be grown.

One of the things I was really looking forward to when we got the call and were offered the plot was growing things that aren’t particularly easy to get hold of, or are expensive when you can, for example unusual varieties of potatoes, purple carrots or globe artichokes. I also had in my head that it would be really fantastic to use stuff we’d grown ourselves to knock out some really complex and intricate meals; I think I thought that as we would be going to considerable lengths to grow the raw ingredients, it was only right that the cooking of them should require an equal level of endeavour. With a few michelin-starred restaurant’s cookbooks on the shelves, I wasn’t going to be short of ideas.

Once the first harvests started rolling in, however, the way we cooked with our produce was nothing like this at all. What I hadn’t bargained for was the sheer joy that comes from those first few plates of home grown potatoes or broad beans, and how, actually, what you want is nothing more than to have them cooked as simply as possible. I think you develop a new-found appreciation for the form, texture, smell and taste of vegetables when they come straight out the earth or from the plant, and to mess around with them too much seems like a crime against those sensibilities. Take broad beans for example; we had a fairly bumper crop this summer, and so many meals were adorned with them. On all but a handful of occasions, I did nothing more to them than boil them until al dente, drain, add a tiny amount of butter, then season with salt and pepper. This is how we ate them the first few times, but I assumed that at some point I’d start treating them in different ways, such as blitzing them up for a dip. We just never got round to it, and, apart from one occasion when they found themselves in a risotto, continued to eat them so unadulterated.

Boiled potatoes; nasturtium and sorrel salad. That’s it.

When you have fresh veg to hand, meals become a simple matter of putting two or three varieties of whatever was picked that day, cooked with the absolute minimum of fuss or flavourings, on a plate together. Romanesco cauliflower with potatoes and chard. Cabbage, leeks and more potatoes. Where cooking is required, water, butter, salt and pepper nearly always suffice. There’s something pleasingly puritanical about all this; all that we really want is to taste the actual thing that we grew. I wonder whether next year, when something of the novelty of having our own home-grown produce has worn off, whether I’ll feel less disinclined to mash, pureé, spice and otherwise faff around. We’ll see.

Something I’ve always found interesting about the allotment world is the extent to which growing veg is sometimes done for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of the table. This was brought into sharp relief when we dropped in on the Newcastle Allotment Show at the Civic Centre earlier this year, the first such event I’d ever been to. No doubt there was some phenomenal stuff on show, but this was produce to please the eye and not the stomach. I’ve no idea what ended up happening to all the produce at the show; no doubt some of it will still have been edible after everyone trooped home. However, some was clearly struggling and worse the wear for having been out the soil for some time. In times of food scarcity it seems a bit perverse to be celebrating fruit and veg which aren’t grown primarily to be eaten, notwithstanding how spectacular a lot of the really were.

I had never expected to get quite as interested as we have done in how the growing of produce happens, expecting that we would just do a bunch of things, veg would appear, we’d cook it and that would be that. Like anything, the reality is always more complicated, messy, sometimes infuriating but eventually rewarding. Now we’re really looking forward to next year, our second season on the plot when we’ll be better organised, less naive and, who knows, maybe even blessed with some better weather!

getting personal with the guys at Quickcrop

December 7, 2012 quickcrop 3 Comments

Hi, I’m Andrew Davidson, (I’m on the left with the hat in the photo below) one of the founders of the new independent growers website Quickcrop.co.uk. My business partner Niall McAllister and I have both been keen growers for over 20 years with many friends and neighbours asking us for help and advice in growing fruit and vegetables. As we both have a design and marketing background we decided to create a website all about helping the inexperienced grower to achieve a really successful crop.

 

Andrew & Niall from Quickcrop

Andrew & Niall from Quickcrop

Niall and myself are originally from the wild landscape of the North West of Ireland where short Summers, Atlantic gales and poor soil are amongst the many hurdles for the budding grower.

We figured if we could grow well there we could grow anywhere so set about creating a site show novice gardeners some of the tips and tricks we’d learned along the way.

Quickcrop started in Ireland but I’m now based in Rugby, Warwickshire (a much easier place to grow!) and have been running our U.K. site for over a year now.

We love the reaction we get, especially on some of the more unique aspects of what we do and are already expanding very quickly in the ‘Grow Your Own’ market.

 

Quickcrop supplies everything you need to grow your own from our own sturdy timber raised bed kits, soil and compost mixes, right through to seedling plants, seeds and a broad range of tools and equipment.

Our website is not just a shop, we have huge amounts of free information including professionally shot videos, a large plant database and our unique ‘Growmatic’ gardening web tool.

 I’ll give you a look at 2 of our best selling products which are the ones I think are fundamental to the way we do things. We stock no nonsense stuff which actually works and I think these two are good examples of the way we do things.

 

Raised Beds

We work very closely with our local sawmills and manufacture our own range of sturdy pressure treated timber raised beds. For someone new to vegetable gardening the best way to start is by using a raised bed system. There are many advantages which I’ll list below making raised beds the obvious choice for new and experienced gardeners alike. So, what’s so great about them?

  • They are much easier to work on because of the increased height off the ground.
  • You will have less problems from encroaching weeds and from slugs and snails.
  • You choose the soil that goes into them so can make sure you put the best possible growing medium to ensure you get the best crop.
  • Raised beds warm quicker in the Spring meaning you can start to grow a little earlier.
  • Your garden will be kept neat and tidy.

 

Premier bed with bench seat

Premier bed with bench seat

Our NEW Premier bed with bench seat.

The bench bed is a new design which is already proving to be one of our best sellers. I made the original for my wife as our vegetable garden is one of the sunniest spots (it always is!) and she wanted somewhere to sit.

The bed is a two tier design with a deep 21 inch side and a 14 inch side meaning you can grow just about anything in this bed. A sturdy bench seat runs the entire length of the bed making it so easy to tend your crops or to just relax in the sunshine!

 

The Oscillating or Stirrup hoe.

The Oscillating hoe is one of the best kept secrets in vegetable gardening. Professional organic growers have been using them for years but you rarely see them in the mainstream garden shops. They are fantastic and allow you to weed in almost half the time with a minimum of effort. We found them impossible to get when we wanted one so now import them ourselves from Switzerland.

 

Oscillating hoe

Oscillating hoe

I couldn’t recommend these hoes highly enough, you’ll understand when you get to try one. Why are they so good?

They have a very sharp blade which is actually kept constantly sharp by moving it through the soil.

The blade is sharp on both sides so works on the push and pull stroke.

The blade pivots so pulls itself an inch below the soil surface.

Once you get the knack of it you’ll find it super quick and accurate.

 

Our FREE Videos and ‘Growmatic’ webtool.

As I’ve mentioned a large part of our site is about giving free information. After all, we want you to have a great time in your garden and to continue vegetable growing so we do everything we can to help.

Our video tutorials are filmed with author and lecturer on organic gardening, Klaus Laitenberger. We bring you right through the season with a variety of crops from seed to the finished vegetable at harvest time. Klaus is a mine of information and with the help of my bumbling presence imparts his vast knowledge in a cheerful and easy to understand manner.Have a look at some of our videos, they’re filmed at home in Ireland with the majestic ‘Ben Bulben’ mountain providing a beautiful backdrop to our vegetable garden.

 

Growmatic is something we’re really proud of. It’s a bespoke webtool designed by us to help a novice vegetable grower keep track of their garden. You tell the system what you want to grow and when you’ve sown or planted it and Growmatic keeps you up to date and what you need to do along the way. Growmatic sends you email alerts if required to remind you to do the important jobs like pinch out your tomatoes or thin your beetroot seedlings. Have a peek at our little demo to see all the system can do and remember – if you or a gardener you know would like to use the tool – it’s absolutely free of charge. That’s it! I hope I gave you a flavour of what we do, of course there’s loads more and I’d love it if you’d have a look through our site and let us know what you think. Our site is run by vegetable growers, for vegetable growers and we like to think we have a good insight into what you actually need.

In a nutshell we want to be the best ‘Grow Your Own’ website on the internet and are always delighted to hear from you. Thanks for reading, I look forward to meeting you soon on our website

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