Friday 20 December 2013

Fly trouble

Oh noez! Boris wants Stoke's allotments...
"Heathrow’s third runway could potentially be sited on an allotment in Stoke on Trent, Airport executives today confirmed, after top level talks between Senior Heathrow Directors and committee members of Myrtle Lane Allotments Society went well."

Friday 22 November 2013

Clear it off

Weather: cold southerly breeze. Bright sunshine and high cloud. 7 degrees.

Up to the allotment after about six weeks away, due to the endless rain, time-constraints, and a sore hip. I found that Gareth has very kindly supplied me with a nice new wooden chair, which I've put in the shed to keep the rain off it.

A few golden leaves, still clinging to the apple tree.

I collected all the enormo-marrows, which had been lying in the open soil until now...

The marrows have very hard skins, and I'm interested to see what happens if they air dry gradually over time.

I cleared off the remains of the courgette plants, and then hoed all the weeds off my open sections...

There's a few potatoes under there somewhere, but they can wait until Christmas to be lifted.

Lots of little mushrooms were coming up from the dampest parts of the woodchip path...

All the rhubarb has vanished completely, from above ground.

Weather turning increasingly cold, and we're heading for the first proper frost. But the English rose — like the old nation herself — is still valiantly straining to produce buds despite the climate...

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Gardens grow by 11%

Spending on West Midlands gardens was... "up 11% on average from April through to August", according to Barclaycard. In the context that...

"Consumer spending across the West Midlands was up again in September, growing 2.2% year-on-year" (David Gibbons, Barclays Retail Director for the West Midlands)

Tuesday 8 October 2013

New Vic pics

If you happen to be at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, pop upstairs. At the back they currently have an exhibition of photos of local people's gardens.

Autumn is a'coming in

Weather: mild, overcast, a stiff westerly wind.

Up to the plot, after a while away. It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. The tall grass at the top hasn't got taller. Sheltered plants seem to be still growing, and I had to hand-weed out the buttercups from the strawberry bed (which is in a shallow brick bed).

All the apples are now off the tree.

I did a basic hoe and clear, getting rid of most of the weeds.

Took up all the remaining onions.

Picked a few new courgettes. Most are dying back, but some are still producing flowers and courgettes...

Came away with courgettes, potatoes, spinach, onions. There are still potatoes left to lift, but they can stay in the soil for now.

I found a newly refurbished 'vole hole' in a little mound in the long grass at the top... I shall have to make a close inspection of the exterior debris and see I can find some species-identifying spoor.

A light first-frost is possible in the grass on Thursday night, according to the five-day forecast, when a rather stiff north wind will be a'blowing.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

View to a plot

An alternative view of the Richmond St. allotments. Picture made today, from high up in the old Spode factory in Stoke town...

Saturday 28 September 2013

Restore the Spode rose garden

There's a now a crowdfunding campaign to raise £2,500 to create a ceramic rose as part of restoring the Spode Rose Garden in Stoke town, the town just below my allotment...


Cool new plant, a £14.99 TomTato that produces tomatoes and potatoes from the same plant. Available from Thompson and Morgan in the UK. Although, arguably, spending £15 at the supermarket would probably get you almost as many potatoes and tomatoes.

Friday 27 September 2013

'Seed Collection Champions' needed in the Midlands

The UK's Woodland Trust currently wants Seed Collection Champions in the "central" region of the UK... "Beginning late October / Early November" of 2013.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Bonfire day

Weather: overcast and warm, hazy, with a very light south breeze.

Perfect day for a bonfire yesterday, with just a light south breeze to blow the smoke away from the road. It was slightly damp and dewy, but the carpet "rain hat" had kept the centre dry. It took me about half an hour to get it lighted, but with the aid of pages from The Sentinel it eventually took...

Then it went roaring away, and frazzled to ashes everything put in it — even the green stuff.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Home greehouse

At home I have big full-length south-west facing French windows. For the first time, this year I've been experimenting with having it serve as a basic simple greenhouse. So in addition to the allotment, at home I've been growing peppers and chillis in big pots with standard compost...

It's not been especially economical the first year. I've probably put in nearly as much on the pots / compost / seeds as the value of the crop I'm getting off them. I haven't used any feed, other than topping up with fresh compost as the level settles. I might try letting a couple of the pods get ripe, and then save the seeds over the winter. And next year I might go with a half soil / half compost mix. That should make them much cheaper than just popping down to Sainsbury's.


Weather: glorious day, bright sunshine and light high clouds, light wind. Not too hot.

A long three-hour stint on the allotment today, in the light of the glorious Sunday weather. Possibly too long and exhausting, to also take advantage of the nice weather forecast for tomorrow — but I'll see.

I took a woodsaw and secateurs and tackled one of the big jobs. I cleared all the fading honeysuckle off the roof of the shed, tidied up the currant at the front, and sawed back some of the dead tree that the honeysuckle had been climbing. Although I kept enough of the tree so that honeysuckle can reach the shed roof again next spring. So I now have a nice clear shed roof, reading for some felt and nails at some point before the autumn storms...

It's also left me with big amounts of woody material, which has made for a nice-looking bonfire...

I also hauled out a thick heavy 5ft dead branch, which I've stashed under the back hedge as a "beetle bank", rather than burn it. I already have a little beetle bank, in the form of a little pile of the more rotten of the stepping-planks.

I cleared off the broad beans as well, and dug out some more potatoes. I hauled up one that was fused together: if H.P. Lovecraft had grown potatoes, this is what they might have looked like... :)

I plucked four cooking apples from the community orchard. Cooked apples are not generally my thing, but a bit of a taste is nice once in a while. I also pulled some rhubarb to liven up the apple a bit.

Stoke town & Penkhull fireworks

New Facebook page for the Stoke town & Penkhull New Year's Eve firework extravaganza, for which the allotments and a deckchair (and a thermos) should give a fine view.

Friday 20 September 2013

Gallery 116 launches

The contemporary photography gallery in Stoke town had its formal launch tonight. Gallery 116 is just down the hill from my allotments. 116 Church Street, / 075 570 58582. My side/front pic from tonight, before the light went and the crowds arrived...

Mild autumn

Weather: mild and calm after plenty of showers, some heavy and prolonged.

Up to the plot to haul away another bag-full. This time I could only take as much as a natty back-pack could carry — as afterwards I was going to the launch of the new Gallery 116 photography gallery in Stoke town.

Courgettes still doing nicely, with flowers still bravely coming... although the leaves are starting to brown and skeletonise...

The plot needs a couple of days work on it soon, to clear it off, and to have a bonfire while this quiet patch of weather lasts. But I might take the overgrowth off the shed before I get a bonfire going.

Acorns and oak-galls (amazing micro wildlife havens, apparently) are forming nicely on the tiny oak...

Still a few larger apples on the tree... most have fallen...

Onions still fattening nicely... I should have put more in, despite the onion-fly threat... although this one is on its way out and was plucked...

Perpetual spinach still happy being perpetual... needs to be harvested more often...

Strange forest toadstools emerging from the woodchip on the paths...

Monday 16 September 2013

Losing the Plot 2

The Mikron Theatre will be back in Stoke this autumn to perform their sequel to the play "Losing the Plot" — the popular play about allotments that was hosted at Burslem School of Art. This year, there is only 1 performance, so tickets are limited. The data is Saturday 28th September 2013, at 8pm.

"Tickets are £5 each for all tickets (no concessions this year). To book tickets please email with the following:

Telephone number
Number of tickets required

You will collect and pay for the tickets on the night. (If tickets are not collected and paid for, you will be invoiced at the full price)"

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Pet Shop Girls

Need a few lizards or grass-snakes for your allotment? A new independent specialist pet-shop has opened up just down the hill in Stoke town, is in The Sentinel's business section today. HD Reptiles also has a rescue and re-homing service, if you find a stray boa-constrictor under your bonfire :)

Monday 9 September 2013

Hartshill Heritage Trail

Hartshill Heritage Trail walk on 14th September...

"A walk to highlight some of Hartshill's rich heritage. The walk encompasses the development of the area, the key people who helped to shape it, and how Hartshill's history differs from that of the general understanding of the history of The Potteries."

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Wild North Staffordshire - new film

"Halcyon Days", 16th October 2013, Staffordshire University.
"The work of local wildlife filmmaker Andy Holt, featuring his new films of kingfishers and close-up work on insects. This is supported by a new award-winning documentary Wild North Staffordshire by Peter J. Durnall."
A film which took four years to complete.

Sunday 1 September 2013

It's a gas

I'm not sure about this new idea in Stoke-on-Trent Council about methane coal bed gas extraction. I've nothing against it in principle. But apparently you have to pump the water out of the coal mines, and then keep them dry, in order for it to work. So that means...

1) You don't keep a deep coal mine clear of water without pumps. Pumps which use power presumably, unless perhaps they can be powered by geo-thermal energy?

2) Bringing massive amounts of highly polluted waste water to the surface. Where does that go? Getting the water out is not a one-time operation, but would presumably need a big decontamination plant to handle keeping them dry long-term. Don't the Council remember what was chucked down the mineshafts when Shelton Bar and the other highly polluted industrial sites in the city were cleared and decontaminated? All that sludgy water down there is not likely to be very nice. Dealing with it in huge open evaporation ponds might not do a lot for the new green eco-friendly image that the city is currently crafting.

3) Some of the recreational lakes in Stoke could be drained dry by draining the mines, because lakes such as Westport Lake apparently let down into 'bottomless' flooded coal shafts. Or so I was once told by an old local Councillor who knew the area well as man and boy.

4) The possibility that draining the mines could cause mine collapses and thus housing subsidence right across the city. There used to be fairly frequent housing subsidence due to the mines but that stabilized around about 2003-ish and has hardly bothered us since (despite what the Council's spurious housing-clearance surveys have claimed). I really wouldn't want to risk triggering housing subsidence again, if I was in the Council and keen on being re-elected. And what is being planned is directly under the city, as the council themselves said in a report for the Green Bank, the city is...

"the only English city immediately above sources of geothermal energy and coalbed methane reserves"

Maybe it can work. It's been done elsewhere, although seemingly not directly underneath a major city. But all in all, I reckon environmentally responsible shale gas extraction would be a far better option to explore, in terms of bringing much-needed cheap power to the pottery industry safely and cheaply.

Saturday 31 August 2013

Open Day photos

Up to the annual site Open Day, for a few hours:

People arriving at the top gate entrance...

The bee area with hives and display...

The first of the new plots next to the beehives is let, and is starting to be cleared...

The little wellies of the school plot...

Part of the feast behind the HQ. Burgers from local Hartshill butcher, and buns from the local London Rd Bakehouse...

The HQ was locked and I couldn't get in to photograph before I went, but I managed to get a few decent photos of the Prize Veg and Flowers displays through the windows...

Thursday 29 August 2013

Allotments Open Day: Sat 31st August 2013

The new general site HQ has been erected, and is looking very nice, ready for the Open Day this Saturday...

Here are the times for the Open Day on Saturday 31st August...

Harvest haul

Weather: a cool start to the day, but sunny. Light SW wind. Entering a period of dry weather, that looks like the start of an 'Indian Summer'?

Up to the plot to haul away another "big bag of o' swag" and to tidy up a bit ready for the coming Open Day.

I hoed the plot, sprayed more weedkiller on the path, and hacked back one of the courgettes to prevent them overgrowing the rhubarb I'm trying to establish in a corner. Only a couple of new smaller courgettes have emerged, so obviously the plants are happy to put their energy into growing mega-marrows. Still a few flowers on the best of the courgettes...

Still, I bagged three nice big chunky courgettes/mini-marrows, which should be good for about five curries.

About 7lbs of potatoes were lifted from three plants, and there are still plenty more to go.

I cut a big bundle of perpetual spinach, three of the red onions, and a small cut of chives, to perk up a curry.

A lot of apples too, which are now much more edible than there were last time. I scrumped two while I was there.

Half the remaining broad bean pods had turned black, but I still got a decent bagful. Delicious as they are fresh, the broad beans haven't really been successful for me. In that I've probably not had much more from two fairly short rows than I could have got in a £1.50 bag of frozen broad beans from Sainsbury's, so I have actually lost money on them.

And I found out that my neighbour has finally been evicted, after doing very little to her plot for two years. It's a big jungle of weeds at present, and the large wooden greenhouse needs some serious repairs to roof and windows. But I'll hopefully be getting a new neighbour in September-ish, who'll clear it off and start doing something with it.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Art Garden

Artists are clearing the weeds off the garden flagstones in front of Spode, near Stoke Town's war memorial... to make space for art...

Berry good!

I've discovered one of the best blackberrying places in Stoke! Hauled back a massive weight of blackberries in carrier bags, some of which are now washed and dried and in the freezer. The rest are in a pot on the stove, ready to be boiled down to a fruit sauce. And I only took one-in-ten of the berries! Another picking due in a week's time, I'd say... :)

Saturday 17 August 2013

Getting the buzz on city meadows

In the wake of Stoke-on-Trent's decision to encourage more wild meadows and rank grass verges this summer, it's interesting to see that there's a large-scale science project on that in Bristol, Reading, Leeds and Edinburgh. It's looking at exactly what type of grassland and wild flowers work best for pollinator insects in a modern city environment. It's good to see — and it's also refreshing to be reminded that there are sensible UK environmentalists who are about making things better with hard facts and data, unlike the woolly-minded loons who are gleefully pumping up a big bubble of outright lies about shale gas. Above: managed meadowland alongside the River Trent, Staffordshire University Nature Reserve at Stoke-on-Trent.

Thursday 15 August 2013

A berry nice autumn?

In the offing, at least according the eco-boffins at the UK's Woodland Trust: a bumper fruit crop...

"autumn fruiting will be late this year due to the delayed onset of spring flowering, if the warm weather interspersed with occasional wet spells continues, this should mean the fruiting of shrubs like bramble, rowan and blackthorn is abundant".

Wednesday 14 August 2013

"Apples for Eggs" food-swap in Hanley - 22nd Sept

Apples for Eggs might interest readers...

"We are now taking bookings for our very first Apples for Eggs food swap to be hosted at AirSpace, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, on 22nd September 3-5pm. If you like to grow, bake or make food, bring something along and swap it for something else, all completely free..."

It's in the bag...

Weather: overcast, very muggy and threatening to rain.

Up to the plot to grab a nice "big bag o' stuff" before Thursday's all-day-rain: apples; rhubarb; chives; potatoes; spinach; the more mature of the broad-bean pods; courgettes.

I found that the sample onion I took home was fine, nice and firm and no onion-fly holes and no horrid grub in the centre...

Despite the lack of proper top growth due to the onion-fly, the actual onions themselves are now bulking up fine. It looks like the garlic also went a bit topsy-turvy, presumably also due to the pesky onion-fly, but I'm hoping the bulbs will be delish like the onions.

Lots of small apples fallen off the tree. I suspect someone's been giving it a shake. Some are a bit wormy, but they should taste good — if a little tart. The apples still on the tree look like they're bulking up nicely...

My main block of potatoes is still continuing its "total die-back", but the potatoes I'm lifting as I follow along after it are fine and large. My potatoes elsewhere are doing OK. Courgettes are still doing well, although not putting forth flowers in quite such a triumphant manner as before. My flower-cull has meant that they've basically had a useful lull in putting out new courgettes.

Still no signs of any flowers on my useless strawberries. I gave them four doses of Gareth's Gro-More Crystals, in a watering-can, to see if that will encourage some late fruiting.

The new lavender is establishing itself nicely now, against the south-facing wall...

Rose bush is managing fine, despite being in a narrow walled bed and not being sprayed against black-spot. It'll need a proper pruning back this winter...

You can also see Gareth's fab new flag in the above picture.

Acorns are starting on the little oak tree...

The Resolva weed-killer has worked nicely and, as I chose my day carefully, the spray hasn't affected anything other than the patch I sprayed.

Home on the bicycle just before the rain descended in sheets... nice.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Fruity prices

Apples in the shops are a whopping 36 percent more expensive than a year ago, and fruits in general currently cost 10% more than last July, reports The Telegraph: "Fruit and veg push inflation higher". UK food price inflation as a whole rose by 4.4% pa, but bear in mind that this figure also includes "Non-alcoholic Beverages" (sugary pop, coffee, teas etc). Drink a bit less fruit tea, and you may be able to afford some actual fruit :) The reason for the high cost of fruit, is not the shortage of pickers or the cost of fuel, but the weather.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

In which I resolve never to buy Resolva again...

Weather: 66 degrees, warm and a bit overcast, almost no breeze.

Up to the plot to keep the weeds down with the hoe, and to give the top grasslands another weedkiller-ing. Perfect weather for it, as there was only the tiniest breeze once the sun went down. I got a big Resolva weedkiller for a fiver, heavily discounted at Sainsbury's, but just could not the damn system working in terms of producing any kind of spray. I put it all together correctly, and then worked at it for 30 minutes or so, trying everything. The tube wasn't blocked. I still had the receipt, so in the end was set to take it back and get my money back — when I remembered I still had the 1-litre Roundup sprayer bottle that I got from Tesco in the spring. So I carefully decanted the Resolva until it filled the Roundup bottle, and hey-presto was finally able to spray. I'm not buying Resolva again, at least not in that type of useless sprayer. I'll post pictures of the results in a month or so, to compare the effects of Resolva with the previous Roundup picture.

I took home another good haul of courgettes. About half a dozen of them are getting very large and turning into mini-marrows, so I've had to leave those. Even one of them weighs a ton. They might have be given away free at the gate on the coming Open Day... :) Bring your own fork-lift truck, to get them home...

A nice bag-full of potatoes was also dug up. Four of the potatoes plants have gone now. Half the main block of potatoes are definitely dying right back to nothing, but they're fine under the ground and are a nice size. The die-back doesn't seem to be affecting the potato plants that I popped into spare bits of ground elsewhere on the plot, to fill space. Nor does it seem to be spreading to the next door neightbour's potatoes. I did find a leatherback grub in the soil, so I wonder if some larvae have been chomping on the roots?

I took my first red onion home too. Despite the onion fly hitting them in the early summer they're looking ok on the outside and most are swelling up to normal onion size and hardness.

Still absolutely nothing happening with the strawberries, no flowers at all. Otherwise they look full of health, and are throwing out healthy runners. But they just don't want to make strawberries... :(

The new bee lavender is finally looking like it's establishing nicely.

Generally a feeling of the year turning, today. The faintest hints of Autumn around the corner... apples on the tree about a week away from tangy edibility...

Tuesday 6 August 2013


Last in the new BBC Radio 4 garden wildlife series, on Stones.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Allotment waiting times dip in the UK

Waiting times for an allotments are dipping a little, when averaged across the UK, according to today's Sunday Telegraph. The journalist doesn't mention that local Councils are significantly raising plot rents in many places.

Friday 2 August 2013

Moth Night, 8th August 2013

British Moth Night is Thursday 8th August 2013. Part of the National Moth Recording Scheme. So if you see someone with a lamp and a giant net on your allotments that night, don't panic :)

Thursday 1 August 2013

In which I escape the Killer Apples From Above ...

Weather: Very hot sunny day, after plenty of rain. 82 degrees. Light south breeze.

I spent an afternoon chilling on the allotment in the shade, courtesy of a Sainsbury's cheapo choc-ice multipack and a Sentinel newspaper to insulate them in the shade a bit. And a pint-glass of water from the allotment tap. Nice to get an allotment with a strong bit of shade, I must say. But it is shade-by-apple-tree, so there's a literally growing chance of an apple falling on one's head...

Which can be a bit dangerous, once they get beyond about the size they are now. I'm just going to be sensible and start moving the seat further out, so there's no branch directly above me.

My courgettes are huge now and loving the heat and constant moisture. I had to cut about twelve flowers off them, or else I'd have had a glut I couldn't have coped with just by eating them. Big curries take a couple of the big ones quite nicely, chopped roughly. Smaller ones can be chopped up very finely, fried down, then added to a Campbells Condensed Mushroom soup along with a bit of shredded chicken and black pepper.

My strawberries don't seem to like being netted and have stopped making flowers, and thus stopped making strawberries. So I've taken the nets off completely for now, in the hope that the air and sun will make the flowers return. Possibly they need feeding with some more fertiliser.

Some of my potato plants are also struggling. Most are coping, but about three have died back with yellow leaves. I was going to start lifting some young potatoes anyway, so it's not a great loss — as long as the wilt doesn't take my whole crop.

Got some nice oak galls forming on my tiny oak tree. Since hearing this week's BBC Radio 4 wildlife programme I now know that an oak gall can be a home to many different types of useful micro-wildlife. The hairy multicoloured galls are apparently the best, though.

And here's a peek through the hedge at one of the nice sheds at the back of me. A great advert for having a "secret allotment hideaway", if ever I saw one!

Had a visit from a young black cat too, although she didn't stop.