AAA newsletter Archive

August 2010 

Dear Fellow Allotmenteers!

Well it's been some time since I circulated a Web-site Newsletter to our members. Some of the early members will remember that I used to  circulate a regular newsletter about once a month, mostly with news about the web-site, sent to everyone that's registered as a member on our site at www.aberaeronallotments.org (many of whom are spread across the UK and not just the Aberaeron area).

For obvious reasons - that most of you by now know about, I have been out of circulation for a while, and whilst playing "catch-up" on my plot I've been unable to get around to a monthly newsletter for all the web-site members. Besides, since the advent of The Gardeners Chat-Shed web-site (currently with 194 active members) most of the gossip and happenings are recorded there. So the need for a full web-site membership newsletter is greatly diminished.

 So I've decided to limit our regular newsletter to our plot-holders and waiting list members only. Whilst I hope in future to get one issue out per month  - depending on what's happening down on the allotments and how much news there is from our allotment association -  so as to keep our fellow allotmenteers up to running speed, I'm sure you'll forgive me for occasionally extending the time scale! Newsletters are quite time demanding things.

Site Work

Water Supply

You'll recall that in a previous circular I listed some of the things that we, as a committee, felt we needed to address as a matter of priority. One of those was the water supply on site.

The use of an impractically long hose pipe that needs to be hauled around the site is not an ideal solution. It's far too  long and troublesome, also it's perpetually in need of repair to joints etc. because it really is not robust enough to be fit for purpose. Added to that is the fact that some members leave it coiled up in full view of the public - inviting someone to walk away with it!

The keener eyed amongst you will have noticed two old men recently sinking posts and digging trenches across the site whilst laying a blue alkathene pipe underground . Incidentally if ANYONE would like to volunteer their services for this job any ounce of help would be greatly appreciated - just get in touch.

When the job's completed there will be 6 standpipes strategically located across the whole site. These will have hosepipe stop ends attached to them. Anyone wishing to use water will simply plug in a short length of hose that will be provided on site. Only one hose per plot will be used at a time.

For the time being we will continue to use the process of "honesty logging" the water meter reading for each user. The meter readings will be audited at lest once a month by our secretary.

The cost for water usage is £1.30 per 2,000 litres of water used and NOT £1.20 per 1,000 litres as was wrongly quoted previously to our members. As a rough guide - our total liability for all the water used so far is about £7.00. This gives you an idea of what it will cost on average to use the facility. At the end of a 12 month period we will review how much it has cost us in total as an association, and we may at that time consider incorporating the service for "free" to plot-holders by including it in the cost of the annual membership fee/ tenancy rent. However that is something to consider later.

As some confusion still seems to persist amongst some members regarding payment liability for water usage, I would like to explain it again. At present you only pay for your own actual personal  use of water. Whether you agree or disagree with the use of mains water on site is immaterial. If you prefer to "harvest" rainwater - that is purely a matter for you the individual. For those that wish to use mains water then they can do so by using the standpipes provided. Also any leakage that occurs whilst you are using the watering system will obviously go on your personal bill.

Each mains water user has to unlock the main standpipe cabinet a few yards up the lane from our main site entrance. (The key for the padlock can be found hanging on a nail at the rear of Meurig's shed on Plot No 2 - make sure it is returned there at all times).

In the cabinet there is a meter reading book, a torch, pen and a hose pipe rose that you can use. In the book enter the starting meter reading of your watering session. The meter is housed in the small inspection chamber in front of the cabinet. After taking the start reading turn the tap on and use as much water as you require. At the end of your watering session TURN THE TAP OFF and take a closing reading from the meter and enter it for your plot No. in the book. DO NOT GUESS HOW MUCH WATER YOU'VE USED - the only record that can be used to calculate your usage is the meter reading - which, as I said earlier, is regularly audited by our secretary..

Flooding Problem

We are currently in the process of approaching the Glanafon residents committee so that the problem of the blocked gulley on their estate can be addressed. It is a bit awkward at present because their secretary's wife is seriously ill, so for compassionate reasons we do not want to overly burden him with matters that can wait. Nevertheless we will instead possibly send their residents committee chairman a letter. Their chair is Nigel Bowen who unfortunately has rather a past unsavoury track record with our association.

For those of you who did not see the information regarding the flood problem that I circulated last month you can CLICK HERE  to view the contents.

Site Security

Some members are still forgetting to close the site gates when they leave. Whilst we do not suffer much from neither vandalism nor theft in Aberaeron, because thankfully we live in a low crime rate area, there is no need to put temptation in anyone's way. An open gate is an invitation to wander on site. Getting £5 - £10.00 for a gardening tool on a car boot sale can be incentive enough to walk away with a few spades etc. that look as if they've been abandoned when they're found lying flat on the ground where they were left after their last use.

Shortly we will be putting signs up to remind our members to close the gates after them and we will also be putting low security combination locks on the gates.

For those of you who may be worried about the cost - the locks will probably be bicycle locks from the £1.20 shop and the signs will be home printed and laminated A4 sheets. The total cost will be less than a fiver.

Contaminated Manure

Our members should be aware of a problem involving some farmyard manure (FYM) supplies from certain sources. You are also advised to be careful when eating home-grown vegetables that may be contaminated by a powerful new herbicide that is present in FYM and is destroying some allotment and allotment crops across the UK. Whether some of the FYM that has been delivered to some plot-holders on our allotment site at Cae Ffynnon Wîn is contaminated I don’t know. The stuff I get from a local farmer is safe, it is suggested that you make enquiries before you use manure from an untrusted source.

 

It appears that the contamination has come about since grass has been treated with a relatively new hormone based systemic weed-killer containing aminopyralid (used to eradicate docks nettles and thistles in grassland since 2007).  Allotment and veg allotment crops that are grown in soil that has inadvertently had contaminated manure added to it have been wilting and dying . Experts say the grass was probably made into silage, and then fed to cattle during the winter months. Once in the animal’s gut, the grass is broken down and the chemicals in the weed-killer is passed through in the excrement and is especially concentrated in the urine. The herbicide remains present in the silage that is eaten; it then passes through the animal and into the animal's droppings and urine on bedding that is later sold as FYM to many unsuspecting allotment allotmenters! Horses and other animals fed on hay that has been treated with aminopyralid is also a channel.

 

Dow AgroSciences has sold the herbicide here since 2006 - 2007 and the label stated that manure resulting from animals eating products from treated pastureland should not come in contact with sensitive crops. Apparently the most sensitive vegetables are tomatoes, legumes, salad crops and potatoes. A few ornamental plants are affected, especially roses, phlox and delphiniums. This advice was generally ignored or overlooked by farmers. I personally wouldn’t fancy eating anything grown in this chemical muck (excuse the pun).

 

Once the scale of this disaster started to dawn, the manufacturer withdrew the product from sale and DEFRA revoked the licence for use pending a review. That of course is not the same as an absolute ban and who knows what similar “nasties” may in future come on to the market with similar problems.

 

Unfortunately this stuff will be coming through in manure until at least 2012 and probably 2013. That is, assuming the farmers returned any stocks they held and stopped using what was a very cost-effective product when it first appeared on the market.

 

How do you know it's contaminated?

 

To test compost, set up at least six 4-inch seed pots, and fill half of them with potting soil. Fill the other half with a mixture of two parts of the compost you want to test and one part potting soil, and be sure to label the pots. Plant the containers with peas (in cool weather) or beans (in warmer conditions). If pyralid herbicide residues are present, germination will be poor, and seedlings that do grow will have curled leaf edges.

 

To test manure, plant at least six seedling pots with peas or beans, and let them grow for a couple of weeks. Mix a slurry of equal parts manure and water, and strain off 2 cups of liquid. Drench half of the seedling pots with the manure water; water the others as usual. If the manure is tainted, symptoms will appear within a few days.

 

To test mulch, use the same procedure as with manure, but soak the hay or other materials overnight before straining off the water.

Weed-killer Contamination - in the "air" on our site?

 

On the subject of weedkillers and contaminated crops – there is a possibility that some of our plot holders may be experiencing some crop damage/ failures due to contamination by wind drift of herbicides used in the near vicinity.

 

A few of our plot holders have noticed some strange effects on their crops. Some have noticed that some of their raspberry canes appear to have wilted. One plot in particular - that borders the Knotweed "exclusion zone" - has suffered extensive damage to many varieties of crops.

 

We suspect that this latest damage might have been caused through weed-killing spray being used on the Japanese Knotweed with a resultant fine spray drift across some of the plants on some plots. We hope to have a word with the council about this problem.

 

It has also been noticed that some of our own plot-holders also use weed-killers like glyphosate. Whilst I do not want to enter a personal debate about the use of weedkillers, I do think it would be prudent to limit the use of such chemicals in confined areas, especially where other innocent plot holders could be effected by spray drift (spray drift can be extremely fine and totally invisible when it takes place, but with devastating effects that cannot be reversed) or where surface water flows from one plot to another.  Also many of our members grow their own because they want to produce clean and healthy organic (or at least semi-organic food) for themselves and their families. For someone who is trying to keep their crops and soil free of chemicals to find a swathe of their plants destroyed by chemical spray from a neighbouring plot is not a pleasant experience.

 

We need to be good and thoughtful allotment neighbours at all times.

Weeding & Plot Upkeep

Would you consider the lady in the photo to be a good allotment neighbour? Incidentally she is NOT (thankfully) a member of the AAA! If she was I certainly wouldn't relish being her allotment neighbour - would you?

Weeding for most people is a chore - although some quite enjoy doing it, finding it therapeutic to quietly hand pick small weeds as they appear. I must confess I don't fall into that category myself!

I find a grass clipping mulch to be the best ally in the fight against weed seedlings and where that isn't practical the Dutch hoe is the tool of choice for me - in fact it's my favourite allotmenting tool in the summer months. But why weed at all? Some permaculture adherents even suggest that it's a bad thing to weed! Some even say that weeds are needed for bio diversity whilst still others argue that weeds distract pests from our crops.

Is weeding a bad thing? Weeds are not bad in themselves - they are just "nuisance" plants that are growing in the wrong place.

Weeds aggressively compete with vegetable plants for water, sunlight and nutrients, ultimately affecting the plot's yields. One survey has shown that yields can be reduced by over 61% where weeds are competing with the cultured plant. Weeds can also invite pests and some even carry viruses. Left to grow unchecked, weeds can shade seedlings and become so numerous that they crowd out desired plants altogether. Contrary to the myth pests do not get distracted - their numbers are always linked to the food source available - the same applies to all living creatures - more food = more critters.

What about bio diversity? The lack of bio diversity is a very real problem that is effecting the whole spectrum of wildlife. It is something that needs to be urgently addressed. However, when talking about an allotment site it IS a bio diverse environment by it's very nature. The varieties of plants grown on an allotment is truly varied, and besides there is usually a great variety of wild plant life around the perimeter of most allotment sites. We certainly have no shortage of bio diversity when you look at the Japanese Knotweed "exclusion zone" that we are forced to live with and which is left totally unkept by the Council!

Bio diversity is crowded out under mono culture conditions as e.g. thousands of acres of nothing but rape seed oil plants or sunflowers - it also accounts for colony collapse disorder in beehives that are wholly dependent on one crop that is grown and is then sprayed with a neonicotinoid  insecticide. that is hardly the scenario on a healthy allotment site that has a controlled weed environment.

What are Weeds?

Weeds are simply plants that are not wanted - or at least not wanted where they’re growing. Many weeds are wildflowers and others are wild foods. Weeds are naturally prolific, resilient and suited to local growing conditions: they’re survivors.

While weeds are undesirable in the allotment, they serve many useful purposes elsewhere. They cover bare ground and prevent erosion, for example. Weeds also provide food and shelter for birds and beneficial insects. If space permits, it’s a good idea to leave a “wild” spot in your allotment – not too close to the vegetable allotment - where weeds are NOT welcome.

Preventing Weeds

If you turn over soil in the allotment, within days you’ll have weeds growing. Weed seeds can remain dormant in the soil for years. Once brought to the surface, with a little water and sunlight, they’ll grow. Therefore, the first step in weed prevention is to disturb the soil as little as possible. No-till growing methods are advisable for this reason.

Be sure to destroy weeds before they flower and go to seed, which will multiply your problem, especially if weeds are added to the compost pile at this stage. A compost pile must be hot enough (60-71°C, 140-160°F) to kill the weed seeds.

Don’t leave areas of bare soil in the allotment. Plant vegetables closely together – without overcrowding, of course – to eliminate spaces where weeds can grow. Practise interplanting and succession planting to keep beds full, productive and as free from weeds as possible.

Crop rotation also helps keep weeds from taking over a section of the allotment, as some crops are better at weed control than others. Mulch around plants, making sure that organic mulch is 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 inches) deep, to prevent weeds. Plant a cover crop such as buckwheat or winter rye in beds that are fallow to prevent weed growth. Both of these cover crops are “allelopathic” – they contain natural growth inhibitors that release toxins which suppress the growth of certain weeds.

Target your watering using soaker hoses, drip irrigation, watering cans and container watering systems. Weeds need water to grow: watering with a sprinkler will water weeds as well as allotment plants.

When and How to Weed

Weed before planting and when seedlings first emerge, to get them off to a good start. If you keep weeds in check for the first month after your seeds sprout, your plants will be large enough to compete with weeds that come up later. After that, weed as often as needed to prevent weeds from taking hold. The key is to get rid of weeds while they’re small – it’s a lot less work!

Use a hoe to stop emerging weeds. A stirrup hoe - so called because it looks like the stirrup on a horse’s saddle - is a good choice for weeding. It’s operated with a back-and-forth motion which requires little effort, and it cuts weeds just below the soil’s surface. It also causes minimal disruption to the soil and doesn’t stir up dormant weed seeds. Weeding with a stirrup hoe may be done when the soil is dry. Then any tiny, uprooted weed seedlings can be left to wither away in the sun.

For larger established weeds, hand pulling is advised. Grab the weed from the base of the stem, and make sure to pull it out root and all. It’s best to pull weeds after it rains: the roots, even large tap roots, will come out more easily. A hand cultivator – which has fork-like tines – can be used, but it may disturb the soil, creating more weeds. A allotment trowel may help dislodge a deep or stubborn root. Be sure to discard pulled weeds: left in the allotment, they may take root again, especially in wet weather.

Weeding Obligations

 

Some plot-holders may think that to weed or not to weed is a personal choice for them - after all they've paid for their plot so shouldn't they have the freedom to do what they want with it? Life doesn't quite work like that in a civilised and organised society. Can you neglect to repair the rainwater guttering on your house when it is shared with a neighbour? Certainly not - if you damaged your neighbour's house through your neglect you would be held responsible for it! Although the rules are not as hard and fast when it comes to allotment plots the principle remains the same. If you have masses of weeds that go to seed and then blow all over your neighbour's plot that he or she has worked hard to weed is that a fair thing to allow to happen? Of course not. Dandelion seeds blowing in the wind may not be a big deal for you, but they'll certainly be a big deal for your neighbour when his seed beds start sprouting dandelions next spring!

Also we have an obligation to care for communal paths that run alongside our plots but which are also shared by our plot neighbours. It is a matter of decency to do your share of upkeep on the areas that form the boundary of your plot. The attitude of "it's not mine so I'll leave it to someone else" is not the attitude that's welcome in an association of people who have a warm, friendly and helpful relationship with one another.

Finally, for those of you who have actually read your agreements you will note that there is a clause there that specifically dictates that you have to care for the upkeep of your plot and keep all weeds under control. Failure to do that puts you in breach of your contractual obligations. Similarly the AAA are bound by a similar clause in the licence agreement that has been entered into with Ceredigion County Council. There is also of course nine others on the waiting list for an allotment on our site. It's hardly fair on them to see someone who does not care for his/ her allotment when they are eagerly waiting in the wings.

The allotment site has become quite an attraction for people walking along the footpath. In fact virtually everyone that walks along there makes comments about the site. There is overwhelming support for us from the public and generally people are delighted with what we are doing. We REALLY don't ant to undo that appreciation by allowing ourselves to become open to criticism of our individual upkeep of the site.

Well that just about sums it up for August. By the time the next newsletter comes along the summer will be over bar the shouting, the children, students and teachers will be back at school, the nights will start to draw in and you'll need a jumper to work on your plot in the evening!

I hope you've all had a happy and bounteous season. Next year will be a tad easier I hope - this one has been exceptionally tough, especially for those on the phase 2 section of our site.