AAA newsletter Archive

JULY  2011

 

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers & Friends,

July already! Where DO these months go to? We're by now well past the summer solstice so the days are gradually getting shorter - a gloomy thought I know, but it's not quite time to panic yet! Some plants are more sensitive to day length than others, so whilst some will continue to happily go full pelt, some will start to slow down their growth, whilst still others will start preparing to go to seed! The "bolters!" - especially those biennials (like onions) that were planted last year & who now think they're in their last year of life. With the days getting shorter some will be saying to themselves "time to reproduce before I die" that could mean sending up a flower spike to produce seeds, especially as the weather is dry, which on it's own can sometimes trigger a bolting.

July appears to be the growth month here this season. With that silly warm weather in early spring that confused the seedlings, followed by windy cold & scorching wind that made the same seedlings curl up with cold & dryness (which lasted through June) and then a mini drought! Most things on my plot I estimate to be about three weeks behind - especially the runners and the peas. Peas have had a struggle this year, not helped by the enemy.

Know who I mean? As I reported in our last issue the wood pigeons have been a bane when it comes to the brassicas. It seems they've discovered our allotment site after three years of searching for it! They've also expanded their taste scope. Everyone has been complaining about the pea germination rate. The weather hasn't been a help, but I'm pretty sure that our little meat treat on the wing (if they could be caught) are the main culprits. Good news for net sellers! Bad news for allotmenteers in Aberaeron!


OUR OTHER ALLOTMENTS SITE NEWS

1.  Aberaeron in Bloom Competition

You'll recall that in our last newsletter that I reminded you that this year an extra  section has been included in this competition, specifically for "Best plot/ allotment for producing vegetables and/or fruit". Although it may appear that this is a competition section included solely for our allotment association - it isn't, but obviously allows us an opportunity as veg & fruit cultivators to join in the fun. I did provide on-line forms for you to download.

It seems that our members have been a little coy to enter their plots for this competition. I spoke to Meurig Jones (Plot 2) about this a week or two ago and he informed me that one of the organisers of the Aberaeron in Bloom competition had told him that they were surprised that they had not received any nominations as they had included the section assuming that a few of us would compete and enter into the spirit of things.

I have therefore taken the liberty of entering some plots off our site en bloc. Before you start panicking it just means that those nominated will be judged. If none win - no problems & no harm done. If one of them does win well there's no problem there neither is there? The plots entered were: Nos. 2, 7, 9,10,11,12,13,14 & 17.

2.  Polytunnel Damage - Ongoing Investigation

There have been no further attacks on my polytunnel I'm pleased to report. I was starting to get despondent because I thought that the police had given the investigation up as a bad job. However I'm pleased to say that they are still following lines of investigation and are still in contact with me. There is a growing indication that the blame lies with a specific person, but unfortunately the only evidence they have to go on is circumstantial and the Crown Prosecution Service (the CPS) could not put a cast iron case together to take to court - at present. I can't divulge what evidence they have for obvious reasons but I am heartened. They are still awaiting chemical analysis reports on the polythene that was ripped in the last attack. Apparently the forensic lab is painfully slow with these routine things and because some serious crime has been committed in the Dyfed Powys Police Area in the meantime things have slowed down even further than normal when, it comes to less serious matters.

Funnily enough, after I sent out last month's newsletter, I received this e-mail below from one of our newsletter subscribers who's in Cardiff I believe. It seems that this crime that we have experienced here is not as rare as I would have expected. The similarities are astounding. The allotment association involved resolved the problem themselves. again, for obvious reasons, I've left out the specific details from the message.

Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 6:52 AM
Subject: Newsletter - poly tunnel
 
Hiya
I  read about your problems with attacks on your poly tunnel We had a similar problem on our site. Don't expect anything from the police they regard allotment crime as a bit of a joke (well in our area anyway). We solved the problem ourselves by $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $. We found that it was one of our own members he came in about 3.30 in the morning and slashed our tunnel, Well we were surprised to see who it was as the person was a very good gardener. He had his key taken off him straight away and kicked off the site immediately. That was last summer - His plot was full of produce so he lost all of that also he lost his shed and green house, You see in our terms of tenancy if any member is found to commit any  gross bad behaviour they are kicked off straight away with out any compensation. You probably may find that the person who is doing this to your poly tunnel may very well be a member with a grudge
Regards
Powerspade

It seems to me that person got off relatively lightly. If the same scenario unfolds here then there will be a criminal damages case by the Police and the guilty party will face a fine and will have a criminal record. Whoever it is will also be expelled for life from our association and on top of that I will issue a separate summons from the County Court to reclaim personal damages and commercial costs for repair or reconstruction of the structure. Perhaps it's time for the guilty party to consider a damage limitation exercise by coming clean at this stage - it might save a lot of serious heartbreak later.

3. The Green Beetle Mystery

This one's for you Meurig (Plot-2). The beetle you & I observed on your broad beans is harmless - well at least harmless to your crop! I believe it was the Green Tortoise Beetle that we saw (picture to the right). It's quite harmless and lives it's days munching the leaves of thistles and dead nettle plants (not nettles that have died but that group of plants called "dead nettle"!). What made it wander on to your beans I don't know. It seems quite prevalent on Anglesey and Nottingham! What the common denominator there is I don't know!  Apparently it has a very quaint way of protecting itself from other insects (ants etc.). When attacked it grips a leaf and lowers itself on to it gripping very tight. It then draws in it's legs antenna and other bits and just freezes on there. The attacker can't get a hold and eventually gives up. I suppose that's how it got it's name "tortoise" beetle. Tortoises have a similar behaviour pattern. Quite fascinating really. Everyone leave it well alone it's harmless quaint & pretty!


DISAPPEARING APPLES
Click on the Afal Ynys Enlli banner above to see more details on the official web-site for this unique Welsh apple.

Click on the Pod-cast icon (to your left) to listen to a fascinating BBC Wales documentary on the  rarest apple tree in the WORLD! Find out how it was rediscovered who found it & who originally cultivated it. Also find out why it's SO unique.

We in Wales have an apple (plucked from the brink of extinction) fairy-tale! I'm talking of course about the "Afal Ynys Enlli" (the Bardsey Island apple). Here's a little background on the location and the discovery of this apple tree that was described by the media about 12 years ago as "the rarest apple tree in the world".

Wales displays two prominent peninsulas: Llyn in the North and Pembroke in the South. Between them is the broad sweep of Cardigan Bay - as you'll know Aberaeron lies slap bang in the middle of the bay. Two miles out to sea off the tip of the Llyn Peninsula lies Bardsey Island (Welsh name Ynys Enlli).

Bardsey Island has long been associated with religious activity. Pre-Roman Celts visited the island to pray and often to die on this most western isle as they followed the setting sun. During early Christian times Bardsey Island was a place of pilgrimage. There is a pilgrim's route along the North Wales coast with a string of churches built along the way. Indeed three trips to Bardsey was considered equal to a pilgrimage to Rome. Anybody buried on Bardsey was guaranteed eternal salvation.

On the island itself are the remains of the thirteenth century abbey as well as a large grave yard. Many people still use the island as a religious retreat.

The island is also of interest to ornithologists since it is a stop over for many migrating birds. The first UK bird observatory was on Bardsey.

In 1998 Andy Clarke, a friend of Ian Sturrock, (Ian runs the Welsh Fruit Tree Nursery in Bangor North Wales - it's called Ian Sturrock & Sons) was using a mist net to catch passing birds in order to ring them. To bait his net he picked some windfall apples from under a gnarled old tree growing up the side of one of the island's houses called Plas Bach (see photo on left).

Andy, a keen organic gardener, noticed that the fruit and the tree were free of disease, a very unusual occurrence in north Wales. He later took several of the fruit to Ian for identification. Ian didn't recognise the apples and subsequently sent them to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent where Dr Joan Morgan the country's leading fruit historian declared that the fruit and the tree were unique. "The rarest tree in the world" clamoured the media.

Ian has now produced trees from the mother tree on the island. If you would like to purchase a grafted rootstock of this tree you can contact Ian directly by visiting his web-site. Ian Sturrock has not only snatched the Afal Enlli from the jaws of extinction but he's repeated this feat many times over with a host of ancient Welsh apple trees that would have completely disappeared had he not nurtured and saved them.

Here is a list pictures & descriptions of some of the trees Ian has. Many are very rare indeed. Some don't even have an English name equivalent in common use.

Abergwyngregyn Damson

History & Discovery

A single tree grows at the college farm site on the Menai Straits at Abergwyngregyn near Llanfairfechan. It is perhaps over two hundred years old, yet it is remarkably disease free. It produces an abundance of good sized dark purple fruit of excellent flavour. The tree itself is quite remarkable (see picture inset opposite); the trunk is hollow and split open down one side (perhaps a lightning strike). Much of the wood is wood-wormed. The trunk also has many fist sized holes. On top of the old trunk grows an "s" shaped younger section which regularly bears the blemish free fruit.

Fruit

Excellent eaten raw or made into a deep ruby coloured jam. Presumably self fertile. Pick and use September / October.

 

Anglesey Pigs Snout Apple

History & Discovery

A large green cooking apple, long grown on Anglesey. First recorded in the 1600's. It is named because of its unique shape. It cooks to a robustly flavoured, slightly perfumed puree. Needing a little additional sugar. Wrapped in pastry and then baked, it was often eaten as dumplings in the field by agricultural labourers. The fruit keeps for several months in cool storage. The flavour mellows with time to an excellent brisk eating apple, ideal for enlivening salads. Crops Heavily.

Fruit

Ideal for organic cultivation in Wales. Very disease resistant. Pick early October. Use October to January

 

Bardsey Island Apple

History & Discovery

Bardsey Island is a lonely wind-swept island off the tip of the Llyn Peninsular in North Wales. It has long been a venue for pilgrims both pagan and later Christian. A single gnarled old tree was discovered near the remains of a 13th century abbey in 1999. Hailed as the rarest tree in the world it is perhaps all that remains of the monastic orchard. It is the only apple variety from the Celtic welsh heartland. On the island both tree and fruit are completely disease free.

Fruit

A medium sized eating apple with a unique lemon aroma. Sweet and juicy. Excellent straight from the tree at the end of September. Keeps until November.

 

Monmouth Beauty Apple

History & Discovery

Originating 1750 - 1800 in Malpas, Monmouthshire and distributed by Cissy Tamplin the grower's sister. A popular apple in local markets in 19th century.

Fruit

Monmouth Beauty is of medium vigour for September picking and eating The apple is crimson flushed with a rich scent and firm texture.

 

Denbigh Plum

History & Discovery

First mentioned in 1785. Exactly where in Denbigh remains uncertain. It is the only native Welsh plum to survive. It has large dark-red fruit that are strewn with golden dots. The flesh is sweet and juicy with a good depth of flavour.

Fruit

Excellent when eaten warm and straight from the tree. It is also good for cooking and jam making. The young trees now produced are the first ones available in over 100 years. Presumably self fertile. The handful of remaining trees are remarkably disease free. Pick and use in mid-September

Diamond Apple

History & Discovery

In 1820 the Diamond was the fastest ship on the Atlantic. On the night of 2nd January 1825, Captain Macey misjudged his approach to Liverpool and the ship was wrecked on Sarn Padrig, an undersea reef in Cardigan Bay.
The cargo of premium apples was washed ashore. Seedlings from these fruit eventually gave rise to the famous Diamond Orchard of Dyffryn Ardudwy. Diamond apples were especially popular in Barmouth Market in the 1850's.
Two local men were returning with their fortunes from America, one drowned dragged to his doom by his Gold. His friend threw his money belt into the sea and was saved, only to die a pauper in Caernarfon. American Gold coins can still be found on the nearby beach.

Fruit

The juice has a refreshing balance of sweetness and a vinous acidity. Picking time and pollination group are uncertain at this time.

Nant Gwrtheryn

History & Discovery

Nant Gwrtheryn on the Pen Llyn in North Wales was an isolated quarry community accessible only by the sea. A delightful golden russet eating apple with a fascinating fennel flavour was found four years ago in the remains of the quarry manager's garden. Although over 100 years old, the battered old tree still produces sound fruit.

The once derelict buildings of Nant Gwrtheryn are now restored and are used as a Welsh language and Heritage centre. The walk down to the village and the sea views are fabulous. Be sure to visit the museum and cafe.

Fruit

This naturally disease resistant apple is ideal for organic cultivation in Wales. Pick in October, use October to December.

 

 

Pig Aderyn

History & Discovery

Trees are still found growing at St Dogmael's Abbey near Carmarthen. An old Welsh variety perhaps of Norman origin.

Fruit

A midseason eating apple with sweet and juicy flesh. It is green skinned with deep scarlet stripes. The top of the apple resembles a bird's beak which is "pig aderyn" in Welsh. Pig Aderyn also makes an excellent single vintage cider. The Bishop of St David's is recorded as having criticized the St Dogmael's Monks for their excessive drinking!

Pig Skin Apple

History & Discovery

Found in Gaerwen (Ynys Mon) this tree is probably a highly coloured sport of Egremont Russet. Grown on Anglesey since the 1850s

Fruit

The name refers to the rough russeted skin of the apple. The distinctive skin minimises bruising and repels infection (it is one of the most disease resistant of all apples). The skin also enables the fruit to keep well in storage (at least 3 Months). It develops a lovely golden hue with an orangey pink flush on the sunny side of the fruit. The flesh is cream coloured, sweet and firm. The unique flavour is nutty with increasingly tannic overtones during storage. There is a good balance of sweetness and acidity. The blossom is frost tolerant. An excellent choice for Welsh Gardens.

Snowdon Queen Pear

History & Discovery

In 1984 three very old diminutive pear trees were found growing on the side of Snowdon above Llanberis. All trees were found in gardens that were originally part of the Vaynol Estate. In 1998 a similar pear, trained as a fan, was found in the remains of the walled gardens of Sir Michael Duff Asherton Smith, the owner of the Vaynol Estate. Perhaps in the past, Sir Michaels gardeners lived in Llanberis and planted trees in their gardens. This remarkable pear produces excellent fruit both at sea level and at 600 feet. Most other pears coming from France, southern England or the continent, do poorly in Wales as they suffer from cracked fruit and disease in our wetter climate.

Fruit

The shiny yellow-green pears have a delightful pinkish flesh with plenty of delicious sweet perfumed fruit. They have a distinctive rosewater aroma. The tree forms a pleasing pyramid shape and crops well. Pick in late September. Use through October.

St Cecilia Apple

History & Discovery

Raised by John Basham & Sons of Bassaleg in Monmouthshire in 1900 from a seedling of Cox's Orange Pippin. This juicy apple was a popular variety and has an intense aromatic flavour. The flavour is said to be at its most exquisite on St Cecilia's Day (Nov 22nd). St Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

Fruit

St Cecilia is a vigorous and heavy cropping tree. Pick in October and use December to March.

Welsh Cox

History & Discovery

At about 6 feet tall, Anne Jones was an imposing figure as Bangor's first motorised milk lady. In her garden at Goetre Bach, near Felinheli, Auntie Annie had a justifiably famous apple tree. She called it the "Cox Cymraeg". A medium sized eating apple with an excellent balance of sweetness and acidity with a Cox like flavour and aroma. In the 1940's, the council straightened out the A487 and Aunty Annie's house was flattened. She then moved 100 yards to one of the last remaining houses along with her apple tree and her husband Bob's budgies. The tree thrived in its new location until it was buried under the new A55 fifty years later. Fortunately one daughter tree survived nearby, allowing the continuation of this fantastic fruit tree.

Fruit

Unlike the English Cox's Orange Pippin, it is easy to grow and disease resistant. Pick in October. Use November to February.

Extremely Rare Almost Extinct Fruit Trees

There are a number of Extremely Rare Almost Extinct Welsh fruit trees of which Ian has a very limited number. Please contact him for more information about the following fruit trees.

If you have any further information about any of the trees listed here, Ian would be delighted to hear from you so that he can expand this section!

  • LLWYD HANNER GOCH (Carmarthen)

    A quality late russet.

  • MONMOUTH GREEN (Radnor)

    Late dual purpose. Round medium size, green & yellow apple, 1872.

  • PRENGLAS (Pembroke)

    Early eater from St Dogmaels. Reputedly of Norman origin.

  • GLAN SEVIN (Llangadog)

    Mid season eater.

  • MARGED NICOLAS (Carmarthen)

    Late dual purpose yellow russet. Also cider.

  • WERN (Pembroke)

    Large dark green cooker.

  • BRITH MAWR (Mid Wales)

    Mid season cooker

  • PG Y FRAN (Anglesey)

    Early red "Lady's Finger" eating apple.

  • MACHEN (South Wales)

    Popular red dual purpose apple.

To view a press cutting from The Times relating the story of the rediscovery of the Afal Enlli in 1998 please click on the thumbnail image to your left.

Of course it is not just in Wales that the phenomenon of heritage apple variety extinction is in force. The main culprits are the supermarkets (click HERE for more info.). They have a VERY limited range of apples being sold (usually from abroad and chosen for uniformity of colour and shape and nothing else). Whilst you may think they stock a large variety range, you soon realise the invalidity of that statement when I tell you that we have (or had until relatively recently) more than 2000 varieties of apple existing in Britain, but only some 30 are grown commercially. That's a sobering fact isn't it? There are over 7,500 varieties World-wide.

Even more sobering is the fact that many locally bred varieties that were unique to a very small area (like the Afal Enlli) have disappeared - in many instances - without even being recorded on paper. The only knowledge of them dying out when the last grower of the variety died! Many of these lost varieties had a taste and crop quality that cannot be rivalled by the offerings in a modern greengrocer's or to a much greater degree, the all encompassing supermarkets. The only considerations with them is uniformity of size and colour, ability of growers to bulk supply at the lowest price (from anywhere in the World) and of course how "pretty" they look. Taste and overall fruit quality are pretty near the bottom of their priorities list. What a sad world we support when we buy our fruit and veg in a supermarket!

'Plant and Protect' campaign

As British apple growth declines, new independent research has highlighted how out of touch with their heritage varieties Britons are. The study of over 1,000 Britons commissioned by apple juice experts, Copella, has revealed that over three quarters of the population (76%) think that the Granny Smith is a British variety - when in fact, it's Australian!

The study also revealed that only 11% of Britons are able to identify British apple varieties from a list of names and 45% of Britons buy apples based on perfect looks alone (what sad people that group are)!

For some unknown reason, those in Northern Ireland and Scotland were the most successful at identifying British apples (28% and 23% respectively) compared to their Welsh & English counterparts. People in Birmingham were the least successful at identifying the British apple from a line-up (7%), However,,65% of Britons are actively concerned about the plight of British apple varieties. Thank goodness for that at least!

The news comes as recent apple market data has revealed that the iconic Cox, as well as over 50 other traditional British apple varieties, are in decline and could face potential extinction due to a lack of consumer demand for them; as the 'apple a day' mantra results in the pursuit of more aesthetically pleasing varieties.

To reverse this decline (and to get consumers re-engaged with great tasting British heritage apple varieties that they have forgotten about), juice experts Copella have launched the 'Plant and Protect' campaign with the support of David Bellamy and the National Trust - with the ultimate aim of getting consumers planting and protecting British apple trees themselves.

The campaign calls on Britons to support the wide range of British apple varieties by asking them to pledge their support for British apples. For every pledge, Copella will make a donation to support the planting and protecting of apples at British National Trust orchards.

In 1972, there were 55,000 acres of eating apple orchards; by 2010 this had fallen to 4,886 acres. Copella aims to change this, with the support of the National Trust, whose orchards around the country allow visitors to see and experience apples local to their area.

Dr David Bellamy explained: "With more and more scary information about the heritage of the British apples, please join me in this battle, a battle that must be won. With the UK's help and the vision of Copella and the National Trust, we are going to do just that. The National Trust cares for some of our most wonderful houses and estates, some of which boast wonderful orchards, buzzing with biodiversity and sustainability. What a team.

So we can show our support for national apples - whether it's planting an endangered variety in your garden or on our allotment plot, or pledging support for the campaign.

On our site at Cae Ffynnon Wn quite a few of our Plot-holders have actually planted apple trees. If you are thinking of planting more, or would like to plant some for the first time, sit down and have a deep think about the variety you will choose. Rather than decide from the advertising splurge in a fruit tree catalogue or web-site, why don't you do a bit of research? Taste different varieties, ask about their characteristics enquire about their suitability for your type of soil and it's pH, above all try and choose a variety that is time tested for our area - like the Afal Enlli/ Bardsey apple. This is an apple tree, because of it's adaptation to a harsh environment and exposure to salt winds and gales had been bred especially by the monks of the island to counter those conditions.

Leave the Braeburn apples to Mr O. Moran from Waiwhero New Zealand and the Williams Brothers of Braeburn Orchards where the Braeburn Apple has been commercially grown (with copious amounts of insecticides, pesticides crude oil based fertilizers and hormones) to flood the supermarket shelves over here - 11,800 miles away! WHAT a CARBON FOOTPRINT! What fools us for paying money for such stuff when we can grow our own apple trees that will still be producing for our great grandchildren. So go on - PLANT A FRUIT TREE this winter!


DID YOU KNOW?

Farm workers wages in earlier times included four pints of apple cider a day.

 

"Not a lot of people know that!"

 

 


WHAT'S IN A VARIETY?

If someone was to ask you to train up an athlete to become an Olympic pole vault champion, would you start your search amongst the pygmy tribes of the African Congo?

It sounds like a stupid question - of course you wouldn't - you would be more likely to start searching amongst the Nilotic (Sudanese) tribes like the Maasai, Turkana, Samburu or Dinka. In the case of some of those tribes, males can have an average height of 6ft, 4in, while the women average 6ft. These people have slim but strong bodies, and their heads are more elongated than in the case of the other African tribes. Perfect pole-vaulters I'd say - with a bit of practice!

What on earth has this got to do with  allotment veg. growing? Lots! Out of interest, I often ask fellow gardeners what variety they're growing. A keen & experienced gardener will usually answer with a name and an explanation of why that variety has been chosen by him or her. Others will just answer "I don't know - I don't notice the variety I just grow them!" Of course it can be argued that any variety will do, and if all you want is a green runner bean or a red tomato, the choice of variety is not important - a bit like saying "I'll have a white wine - anything will do", or "I'll have a red wine - don't worry what label it is". So in that one sentence you've just committed thousands of years of grape selection, climate choice & soil acidity regulation & growing expertise etc. to the bin - which obviously highlights the fact that you are not a wine connoisseur - and probably have no interest whatsoever in being one and never will be! All those varieties of wines with subtle differences don't count for you - after all you just want a choice of red or white! As with the pole-vaulter you're training, if you are that kind of "any wine" type person, a 4ft Pigmy will hurdle a small bar - so he will do for you,  great! But if you want a real Olympic performance and the joy that comes with winning an Olympic medal you need a tall muscular athlete. Any old athlete won't do.

When it comes to veg varieties the choice is sometimes so vast that it becomes bewildering, little wonder some of us just grab the first packet we come to and go - anyone can be forgiven for that! However the REAL joy of vegetable gardening - especially allotment growing is the opportunity to get engrossed in varieties, after all you'll be able to grow anything and everything every year - but it gets a bit mundane and to be honest, quite boring. NOW bring in a bit of dabbling with varieties and you've just added the spice of life - which after all, (according to the proverb) is exactly what variety is - the spice of life!

Those of us who have been doing this for years have our selected favourites. Click on this button

 

to view my personal favourites that are listed on our web-site. In fact that list is quite old and I need to update it - it's not exactly accurate anymore, because the process of variety choices forever changes as you find better and finer plants on a seasonal basis.

Our personal favourite varieties are those that have impressed us by their taste, vigour and suitability to the soil and climate where we live (not all of the UK is the same you know - we have micro-climates all over the place, even two gardens in the same village can have different conditions). In fact there are many heirloom varieties of veg that have been bred by gardeners over the decades that are unique to one area. It's a mistake to think that one variety will grow the same everywhere. Out there, there's a variety of every kind of veg that is particularly suited to your plot, and your taste, all you have to do is search for it! To do that you don't need to try every individual variety yourself (you'd never live long enough to do it!). Rather, read up on various descriptions of varieties in catalogues (but be careful there - seed catalogues are designed to make you buy seeds and nothing else), search the Internet, also read gardening books and TALK to fellow gardeners - especially the grey-haired ones! As long as they haven't gone too old, grumpy or forgetful! There are even social networking sites just for gardeners - like our very own Gardeners Chat-Shed. Immerse yourself in your hobby - it's good for your health and your "soul"!

However the one sure indicator of excellence is when a certain veg. variety is listed - as for instance - a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit (AGM) winner. That indicates that the plant variety selected is recommended by the RHS. Awards are usually given after a period of trial at an RHS garden, (often Wisley). Plants are judged by one of the RHS plant committees. These Awards of Garden Merit (AGMs) helps gardeners make informed choices about the plant variety they choose - look out for this symbol when you wade through seed catalogues:

But it doesn't end there. Continually talk & get good feedback from fellow plot-holders and growers either on our own allotment site or elsewhere. I find many keen garden & allotment growers who are here on holiday, they often walk past our allotment site & are usually bristling to chat with anyone who will spare the time to talk to them about their hobby at home. All of these people can share with you what they know about certain varieties that have been a success for them. All of this way be a new experience to those of you who are new to allotment gardening, cultivating this traditional activity of garden chat is something that will bring dividends to you. Your allotment plot is more than just a square area of soil where you spend some time in isolation - it is a way of life that has evolved a social personality over a long time, after all it's possible to trace the origins of allotments back over 200 hundred years, and there are time-honoured traditions and an evolved culture that goes with it.


A TASTE of THE ORIENT

Every year around this time I get asked "what can I sow in July?" This is quite understandable. most of us have put in our main crop seeds - you know - the usual suspects, only to realise you have space left and the season is marching on. Or due to various circumstances (like taking on a plot late in the season) you find it's past the usual spring-time sowing period, so you're scratching your head wondering what - if anything - you can sow around this time of the year and still catch the boat to harvest before autumn sets in.

Maybe more familiar in Japan, China and other Asian countries there is a wide range of vegetables that are perfectly happy being grown in British allotments, and our climate means that most of these vegetables are at their best from late summer through the autumn and on into the winter.  They follow on from the more traditional vegetables and so give you a wide variety as other harvests tail off.

They are also among the most productive vegetables it is possible to grow: versatile is the perfect description.  Many can be eaten as salads from seedling size onwards.  Leave them to grow on and both leaf and stems can be used.  Allow some to carry on and the flower buds will also form tasty meals.

When you come to cook they are not limited to stir fry.  Steam them, braise them, mix them with more familiar veggies such as carrots and serve them with your roast.  Some can be added to soups, others can be used to make parcels for baking.

Some of these more unfamiliar but easy to grow crops include:

  • Chinese Broccoli

  • Chinese Cabbage

  • Choy Sum

  • Komatsuna

  • Mibuna & Mitsuba

  • Mizuna & Mustard Leaf

  • Pak Choi

  • Senposai.

More traditional veg that you can sow this month with confidence are:

Beetroot early and maincrop; until July.
Calabrese until end July
Carrots early variety; until end July. Try some in a box if you've run out of space on your plot.
Cauliflower mini - until early July
Florence fennel for sowing before mid June, choose a cultivar listed as suitable for early sowing; some cultivars are very sensitive to day length and will bolt if sown before the longest day (21st June); until early August
French beans until end June, or July for a late crop of dwarf beans under cloches
Hamburg parsley Until end July. Grown for its white parsnip-like roots. By the way this is a perennial.
Kohl rabi until August. A personal favourite with us as a family.
Lettuce loose-leaf, Cos, crisp head and butter head. Lettuce, apart from crisp head varieties, germinates poorly when the soil temperature goes above 25C. This can happen in summer. To avoid this risk in hot weather, sow into well watered soil between 2 and 4pm, then cover with some form of shading material for the first 24hrs.
Salad onions to mid June; sow winter varieties from August onwards. Check out the Japanese varieties - milder & sweeter as a rule.
Parsley Until end July
Peas maincrop, mange tout and sugar snap [ to end July].
Radish, until end August
Radish, winter Until end August. Sow winter varieties such as China Rose and Black Spanish.
Spinach, perpetual Until mid August, or end of August under cover.
Swiss chard Until mid August, or end of August undercover. To brighten up your winter plot, try the variety 'Bright Lights'.
Turnip early varieties till end August; maincrop varieties till August. A good one to try - Milan Purple Top (a really fast grower).

THE RIGHT TOOL 4 THE JOB!

Series of articles on traditional gardening tools

"Why do we insist on making such hard work of digging and cultivating our plots with tools that make us bend and strain our backs when millions of people all over the world work the soil with faster, easier and more logical tools which avoid much of the drudgery and backache that we take so much for granted?" (Simon Drummond - Get Digging web-site).

In fact we have come to expect pain when gardening in this country! How many times have you heard quips about gardeners and their aching backs? Or how the bank holiday will come and bring sore backs and lost work time to over enthusiastic "Sunday" gardeners!

If you subscribe to the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" then go no further - if, on the other hand, you see no virtue in making hard work even harder then try these tools and you'll wonder how you ever managed without them.

An issue or two ago I promised our readers that I would write a series of short articles on traditional gardening tools. So I thought I'd make a start this month. The first tool in the series is the Grub Hoe (also known as an azada, a grubbing mattock or many other local names for the same, or a very similar tool. One thing's for sure the mattock/ azada is the No. 1 favourite tool on my tool possession list! Closely followed by the long (bow) handled Aberaeron shovel (sometimes called the "lazy-back" shovel in other parts of the country - but more about that one in another issue.

Part 1

The AZADA (Spanish/ South American name) GRUB or CHILLINGTON DIGGING/ TRENCHING HOE or a GRUBBING MATTOCK (UK & Ireland)

One tool - many names (as you'd expect from a tool that's used by millions of people the world over. Strictly speaking, the traditional mattock that we are possibly more familiar with in this part of the world is a slightly different tool to the azada, although the two tend to overlap. The traditional mattock usually has a less acute head to handle angle, and is used for digging deeper (for narrow trenching etc.). The mattock is also used more in a pick axe-like role, rather than shallow surface ground clearance of turf and weeds etc. (as is normally done with a huge effort and stiff back using a short handled spade). Having said that, the mattock is just as good for that job and the heavy duty azadas/ digging or trenching hoes can do a sterling job on your trenches, more especially the ridging hoe. I'm sure that you're starting to realise that there is a right tool for the right job on every occasion. Many tend to double up and use one tool for many jobs - that is NOT the most efficient way of doing things (as a good friend and allotment neighbour of mine discovered recently whilst helping me to clear a space for our shared tool shed. Sad to say a long-handled shovel does NOT work very well as a stone lever! That job is for a fencing bar or a similar contraption! Not to worry - panic over - all fixed now - with a 2" shorter shovel handle! Good job the original was a long one!).

History

It's difficult to know exactly where or when the azada came into existence or when it started to be used as a mainstream tool for cultivation. We are certainly talking of tens of thousands of years. Archaeologists have uncovered examples of primitive azadas made of bone. Heavy azadas were originally used in the role of primitive soil ploughing for seed sowing - before proper pushed or dragged ploughs were invented. One thing is for sure, this tool has survived to our day and passed the test of time, simply because it does what it does so well that nothing else can surpass it for practicality and ease of use. Other tilling and cultivating tools have come into existence in it's wake, like spades and various hoes but the azada or mattock rules supreme as the ultimate clearing, digging & trenching tool. This of course is why it is so useful on an allotment plot.

For some strange reason the azada has fallen off the radar in the UK (apart from the western Celtic fringes). In the rest of the world it is the key tool for tilling. From China to south America nearly all peasant land workers use azadas or mattocks - often it is the ONLY tool they possess and is second only to the machete as a critical tool for survival.

On the other hand we in the UK have taken a madman's choice of short handled spades (along with short handled forks and shovels) as the mainstream tilling and cultivating tools. This defies logic, as we are, on average, taller now than in past generations and yet use tools designed for midgets. Consequently we expose ourselves to back injury and force ourselves to use tools with poor leverage, these are operated in awkward & tiring "stress" positions - that ultimately cause permanent bad posture (imagine how many times you've seen someone digging on a plot, who regularly straightens up with a sigh (or groan in my case!) - usually holding the small of his/ her back whilst wiping sweat off the brow - because of the wasted energy expended in a crouched, bent back, position using a tool more appropriate for someone measuring 3' 6" in height! Azada users can work all day without much ill effect. With the added bonus that the tool they're using does a better job!

Using Azadas & Mattocks

It is difficult to describe in detail the action for using any tool and  most people tend to develop their own particular technique. Using an Azada should be no problem for anyone used to using hand tools and having reasonable bodily coordination - that statement about co-ordination might make you smile, but believe me, you can tell at a glance if someone has natural co-ordination or not. Through no fault of their own some people (unfortunately), will always look awkward and clumsy using hand tools, regardless of how long they practice.  Others seem to make working with hand tools look totally effortless, effective and easy.

Azadas are basically used with a swinging action and, as with an axe, pick-axe, sledge-hammer etc, much of the knack is in letting the tool do the work as far as possible (click on the graphic to see a streamed video of the tool in action!). As when using most tools, take your time and don't rush it (any golf coach will tell you the same) - don't try and take huge swings and shift vast amounts of soil in one go. If you're worried about chopping your toes off or decapitating your neighbour in the next allotment plot then you're not using it properly!  Unless you're dealing with very hard ground, there's no need to swing the blade from a great height - apart from anything else you'll probably end up with half the allotment in your hair! If you're jarring your wrists or arms, they are probably too rigid - relax, loosen your wrists and let the tool swing and slacken your grip once the tool has been swung. One of the big advantages of this type of tool is that the shock of impact is absorbed by the tool and not by your arms and wrists as occurs with the ramming action of a spade.

  The type of operation you're doing will govern the angle of entry of the blade into the ground. If you're  cultivating then you'll probably only want to work the top 2-3 inches of soil so you'll be using a pretty shallow angle. If on the other hand you want to go deeper, dig a trench or hole then blade angle will be greater. An Azada will cover the ground very quickly and with much less effort than a conventional spade. For cultivating lightish ground with moderate weed cover, I reckon to cover about one square metre per minute and for thick matted weed cover perhaps half that. Having said that, a lot obviously depends on how thick the rubbish is, the type of soil, how fit you are and how often you like stopping for a cup of tea!  

 Keep the blade sharp. I use a small bench grinder to do the rough sharpening and then keep the edge with a sharpening stone on the allotment. A good quality file or carborundum stone will do the job nicely.

Apart from digging and cultivating, Azadas are also very useful for many other jobs from scraping concrete surfaces, turning compost, offloading trailers, mixing cement etc. in fact most jobs you'd do with a spade - except for throwing material forwards for which they are not really suitable. The Medium Azadas are excellent for earthing up potatoes - go up and down the row pulling the soil up into a ridge then go round again and firm it by patting with the back of the blade which happens to be just the right angle.

Occasionally, the blade may become a bit loose on the handle. If this happens, do the following: hold the tool vertically with the blade downwards, lift it up and then bring it down hard on a concrete floor, pavement or similar. Do this  several  times which will ram the blade down and seat it on the handle. When you've done this, leave the tool soaking in a bucket of water overnight or longer, this will allow the wood to swell and make a tight fit.
 It's a good idea to give your new Azada a good soaking when you first receive it. Due to the natural expansion and shrinking of the wood due to temperature and humidity changes blades can sometimes seem a bit loose on the handle - especially after some pretty robust handling in the post!

As a matter of routine it's worth leaving the tool soaking in water overnight every now and then, especially in summer. This of course applies to any wooden handled tools. I'm sure Phil Harries (Plot-07) will kindly lend you his bath for the job, and as long as you don't mind the stench of rotten rhubarb leaves on your tools!


I think that's about it for another month (although I usually remember something I've forgotten a few days down the line!).

 

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Until the next time - keep busy, keep hoeing, have fun & ENJOY on your plot!

Remembering the golden rule:

"Always treat others as you would wish them to treat you . . . "

 

Kind Regards,

 

G

Gwilym

Aberaeron Allotment Association Chair

AAA and Gardeners Chat-Shed Webmaster

 

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QUOTE:  

"The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies." -- Gertrude Jekyll