Friday 26 April 2013

Friends of Hartshill Park website

I happened to meet the guy who does the website for the Friends of Hartshill Park tonight. Despite the lack of new activity dates on the website's events page, the group is still going and the website should update with 2013 work-day activities soon.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Gallery 116

Gallery 116 is now open in Stoke town, just down the hill from my allotments. The same site as the old SHOP artists' shop in 2010/11, at the main road entrance to the Spode works. 116 Church Street. / 075 570 58582.


Weather: very mild and warmish with a brisk west wind. Rather humid. 20 degrees on the side of the shed. Sunny, clouding up in the afternoon.

I got my shed's water hose sorted out, and able to be properly fitted to the nearest water tap (with Gareth's help). It works fine with a £1 B&Q connector, no leaks, and the big water-butt was filled up in about ten minutes. Fragments of that little green micro-weed which commonly infests ponds appeared on the water's surface, almost instantly :-|

I'm going to have to have a look at the other hose that's in the shed, as a connector-hose if I'm going to avoid using a watering can for the top plot. I did look at watering cans: B&Q too huge to dip into the butt; Poundstretcher wrong shape to get into the butt; Sainsburys only had dinky metal ones in bright pink. All too expensive. I want a cheap slim one for £2.99 or something.

I got my sprouting seed potatoes planted.

Fitted and nailed a bit of shaped carpet to the compost heap, to keep out most of the rain. Pulled some rhubarb, and its discarded leaves were the first things in the new "heap box".

"Free wood bonanza" time up at the clubhouse. I had some better planks, and a panel which might come in handy as a "prop-able" plant shader for when we get the intense heat. Also half a big railway sleeper, which I slowly walked down the path. It'll serve, for now, as a movable weed suppressor for the path-edge.

Along with the wood I also now have a roll of old roofing felt to patch up my shed roof with. Actually, thinking about it, I might also be able to roof the compost bin with it too.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Monday 22 April 2013

Crockery bits

More old crockery bits found in the soil...

Feeling seedy

Weather: cool at 10 degrees, but a mild calm wind. Cloud and overcast, sometimes threatening to spot with rain but never doing so.

Up to the plot to start to get some of the seeds in. First up was sorting the best of the Red Onion (Karmen) bulbs, planting up the two lines of the best bulbs. Then putting the leftover mankier bulbs in the strange "nothing grows there patch" that I noticed at the end of last summer, to see if they'll make something of it there.

Made some peg and string markers, by sawing up some lengths of bamboo.

Then I got the Garlic (Casablanca stiffneck) in, as two lines at the back, and then one big line all the way down the side of the path.

Finally I finished with getting some Perpetual Spinach (Leaf Beet) planted in three rows.

I couldn't get to water the seeds in, though. I hauled the old hose out of the shed and wrestled the knots out of it. It's long enough to reach to the nearest tap, but I'm obviously going to have to buy a connector if I want to get water into my barrel. I'm also going to need to get a watering can.

Put a bit more woodchip down around the shed. Hoed a few weeds and seedlings. Used the spade to dig out a few dandelions.

Still to get in: Potatoes; Rocket; Broad Beans; and the flowers, herbs, and some catnip. Courgettes too, but it's too early for them — they'll go in in early May if it's not too cold.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Spring springs

Weather: a lovely sunny spring day. Cool in the shade, but warm in the sun. Frost last night: ground still warming up.

Up to the allotment to show my friend Pete the progress, although no seeds have gone in yet. The rhubarb is coming up very nicely...

Loads of Red Admiral butterflies everywhere. A few bumblebees hunting for early nectar. Buds coming though on the apple tree.

Gareth says my robin has a nest in next door's shed, being able to get in and out with the aid of a broken roof and a broken window.

I also learned that the water-taps are back on again, so I need to haul out the hose that's in the shed and make sure it's serviceable, and get my water-butt filled.

The site's main clubhouse is coming down sometime next week, to make room for a new one. I may be able to get a free roll of old roof felt off it, if it's still flexible enough to roll, with which to patch my shed roof.

The false currant at the front of my shed is coming into flower very nicely...

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Dig for victory, says minister

We may all need allotments in the future to get fresh veg, says government minister. Growing world population, and an inflation hike once the recession ends, are both contributing factors or so he claims. Before you panic buy a ton of radishes, watch this video by Matt Ridley author of the excellent The Rational Optimist.

Monday 15 April 2013


Weather: incredibly mild despite the gusty wind. Ground still very dry, even after recent dampening showers, and wind skirls up dust. 20 degrees on the side of the shed.

Suddenly, spring is here. The rhubarb clumps seem twice as big as they did last time I visited, and twice as dark. Some cheeky dandelions have appeared from nowhere, some with closed-up flower heads on them.

I had another hoe of the main beds. Then I took the weeds out of the little side bed, bagged them, and gave the bed a good forking. I also cleared off the little brick path in front of it, ready to weedkiller any further weed growth on it.

At the top of the plot, among the grass by the apple tree, I spotted yet another gooseberry by its new leaves. It had been lurking there, unknown, all winter. Taking the spade I had it out, and brought it down to join the other gooseberry bushes...

Changing my boots ready to go home, I spotted something I thought was a big bit of woodchip at the heel. Trying to get it out, it turned out to be a frog. He hopped down and vanished behind the water butt. Obviously the odour eaters in the boots are working!

The Bird Yarden - launch day Sat 4th May 2013

The Bird Yarden: Launch Day, for the yards at the side of the AirSpace contemporary art gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

Sat 4th May 2013, 11am - 7pm.

A day of activities and talks for all ages to celebrate the launch of ‘THE BIRD YARDEN’ at AirSpace Gallery. As well as the talks and activities below, there will also be drop in workshops and activities all day, for all ages.

11.00am - 12.00pm - THE BIRD YARDEN will be open to the public for the first time, take this opportunity to look around the space and our first Yarden exhibition showcasing the work of 5 site responsive art commissions, as well as the “Speaking in Tongues” exhibition in the gallery.

12.00pm-2.00pm - Clive Mollart (aka The Garden Design Doctor) will present the 7 Principles of Good Garden Design and offer diagnoses for all your garden design problems, so bring photos or sketches of your outdoor space for bespoke advice.

2.00pm - 3.00pm - Professor Chris Baines, original presenter of BBC's Countryfile, and author of “How to Make a Wildlife Garden”, will deliver a talk entitled, "Wildlife gardening and the nature of the future", followed by Q&A's.

3.00pm - 4.00pm - David Tideswell from the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will give a demonstration in how to build the perfect birdbox and bird feeder, plus plenty of tips and advice on the best way to attract and look after urban birds.

4.00pm - 5.30pm - Yard activities and food, interactive sound sculpture by ECHOMAP, Bird Painting activity, and drop-in workshops for all ages. There will be food and other refreshments available.

6.00pm - 7.00pm - Sarah R Key leads a tour of, and talk about, her exhibition, “Speaking in Tongues”.

Find more information at or email

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Mine's a pint of mild...

Weather: very mild when out of the light fresh wind. A strange haze and a feeling of rain on the way. Spring just around the corner, and 'for real' this time?

I got up to the plot for a short while this afternoon. The change from yesterday's bitter east wind was very noticeable.

I took advantage of a new woodchip delivery to get the front of my plot woodchipped, and also re-covered some of the wood-chipped areas around my shed and up the path on my side.

I painted up the last bit of bare wood that needs painting, the rustic panel along the side of the mint bed.

I moved down the little cold-frame, from its long-time and totally useless home up by the apple tree. It wasn't used for anything, and (being placed under the apple tree) the falling apples had smashed its panes of glass. It'd be a lot of work to try to cut and fit new glass for it, since the bolts holding it together are obviously designed to prevent dis-assembly. But... I'm thinking that six cheap clear perspex panels, and a tube of superglue, might get it working again approximately as intended.

The friendly robin is back, a very bold little bird. It was down inside my newly re-located cold-frame within minutes, flying in through the glassless sections, grabbing insects from the newly uncovered ground I'd placed it on.

Then down to Sainsbury's at Stoke town, which now has a big section of gardening stuff in — although the high prices certainly don't entice.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

On the fence

Weather: East wind continuing. Some sun. 12 degrees out of the wind, but bitter and cold in the wind. A zero degree frost forecast for tonight.

Back up to the allotment again. Painted and fitted the top of the new compost heap. Painted and fitted the side part of the fence, fixed screws and nails along the fence to secure it better, and then painted the rest of it...

Cut back the top hedge a little, and took some of the dead wood off the vegetation climbing over the shed. Started a new bonfire pile.

I also gained a clearer idea of what's going to be planted where, once the frost / east wind departs.

Monday 8 April 2013

Big stain

Weather: the bitter east wind still blowing, bars of snow still lingering on the opposite side of the valley. Very hazy and patchy sun. 10 degrees on the west facing side of the shed.

Back up to the plot, to get the shed painted up with some wood preservative. It'd been dry as a bone for five years and possibly more, with nothing done to it. Even after one coat, it's looking a lot better...

I still need to fix back on a side-panel of the front fence, and then paint that with preservative too.

The basic compost bin is slotted and nailed together, and now just needs a piece of carpet cut and nailed as a semi-waterproof base layer, and a stained top with a bit of a board fixed to it, to keep it from getting drenched by downpours...

Nothing to put in it yet, but I can hope :)

Some things are starting to grow leaves, including the gooseberries which have their leaves out already...

It seems the frosts are gone, but the April showers are struggling to arrive. It'll be interesting to see what happens when things get a wetting. Lots of dormant weed seeds sprouting, I'd suspect :( But I guess that's good, as I can clear them off before I start planting.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Set up your stall in Stoke town

Denise O'Sullivan's Pop-up Emporium now has booking forms for those wishing to take stalls at the big London Road Festival in Stoke town in June 2013. For those unfamiliar with the area, that's the town which sits below my plot on the Richmond St. Allotments.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Pre-spring visits

Weather: bitterly cold and strong NE wind, but sunny during the days. Frosts at night.

Back up to the plot after a month away, on Wednesday and Friday of this last week. The plot was not much changed, as nothing much is growing yet due to the intense and regular night frosts. The frosts have continued with intensity throughout March, and there was another -2 on Friday night. The snow is still lingering on the hilltops across the valley, and also on the sheltered parts of the bank at the edge of the allotments site. There was not a whit of weed growth to see, but I did a bit of hoe work anyway — just to discourage a few hardy weeds that might be sheltering just under the soil.

Up at the top of my plot there are now clearly about five patches of rhubarb coming through, ready to spurt once the frosts have gone. Also at the top, a small patch of nettles had started. A dock had also started to show signs of life. These were also discouraged with some hoe work, although of course it's really their roots which need digging out.

I was very pleased to find that Gareth has kindly provided my plot with a lovely new fence and a latching gate. Ingeniously made from old pallets and a pole he found discarded in the street...

He also gave me a tub of wood preservative, which I can use on my (very dried out) small shed, so it will match the fence.

The wood preservative also came in handy in constructing my own new compost-heap container out of old pallets — pictures of that will be here when it's finished. It's cut, nailed, and stained, but just needs a top cover to be made and stained for it now, to help keep rain off the top.

I've also purchased some basic seeds for things I'll actually eat: broad beans, courgettes, wild rocket, perpetual spinach. Plus some garlic bulbs and small onion bulbs. The seed potatoes are still covered up in the shed, raised up in the midst of some mounded netting, and (hopefully) protected from the frost.

I also discovered that Stoke town does have a basic garden centre after all, in the form of a wing of the Poundstretcher (opposite the independent second-hand record shop). Quite a bit of stock in there, at better prices than B&Q. Although no large bags of general pelleted fertiliser, sadly, or I would have had one.

Stoke Council now encouraging self-management of allotments

There has been what appears to be a significant change in allotments policy at Stoke-on-Trent City Council. The Council are now going to be actively encouraging self-management of sites, with the aim that...
"over the next five years 75 per cent of sites will have accepted a degree of shared management."
Why are they doing this? Presumably to reduce the number of hours that staff have to spend managing allotments, when autonomous committees could do a better job. But note also that user-managed sites are not counted when compiling the city's official allotments waiting-list figures. So the waiting-list will probably appear to go down. I wonder if this effect may: 1) benefit the Council politically in the elections of 2015; and 2) lessen public demands for establishing new allotments in the city, meaning the Council has more spare land to sell off to developers?

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Gardeners’ Question Time in Stoke

BBC Radio 4's "Gardeners’ Question Time" programme will be coming to Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday 28th May 2013. Venue is Harpfield Primary School on the corner of Palmers Green (off Hartshill Road), Hartshill, Stoke-on-Trent.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Market forces

A unwanted municipal 18-hole golf course in Stoke-on-Trent has been given Council permission to be turned into a "community market garden", which sounds like good news. I think that means it's to be a huge allotments site which grows commercially? But I'd guess also with community features, like work for agricultural apprentices, work activities for the disabled, maybe a petting zoo for the local kids etc.

Urbivore, who are taking over the site, are advertising now for a Head Gardener and a Horticultural Trainer. Bizarrely, they've illustrated the job ads with a picture of "beautiful Cannock Chase". Erm, wrong place, lads...