Allotmenteers, Friends & Subscribers,
It's arrived - August - the
month of plenty!
We should all, by now, be
in the middle of our annual glut. You know the one I'm talking
about, where you vow under your breath (AGAIN this year)
not to plant so many damned courgette plants next year - (as you
also vowed last year for this year no doubt . . .) !
Your neighbours, friends,
pensioners in your neighbourhood, family and even Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all, possibly let
out a quiet groan when they see you coming with a wide smile and your latest
armfuls of runner beans, courgettes, cucumbers and lettuce. The
pleasure is ALL ours though isn't it?
That's probably one of the nicest aspects
of allotment gardening, it's a direct throw-back to the old days
when communities DID share what little they had. A time when
being sociable, charitable, kind and friendly was not a choice -
it was a given - something that was expected of you and not
something that was just a personal whim, in your gift - when it suited you to be
gracious. Sad to say we now live in far more independent, cold and
uncaring times in 2011. However that little glow we get from
sharing our hard worked produce is a nice reflection of perhaps
how our lives should be - before we lost our way and became
islands in our own communities. Not so (we'd like to think)
within our allotment community!
So if you're
keeping up with the other jobs this month (weeding, watering &
hoeing etc.) you should be harvesting lots of lovely veggies
now, and looking forward to more great harvests over the coming
It's easy to see
that brassicas, beans, peas and spinach are now ready to pop
from plot to plate. But what about root crops? You can't beat
the pull-it-and-see method of determining when these crops are
ready to uproot, but there are a few tips to help you pick your
As a general guide:
be around the size of a 10p coin,
be showing around an inch of diameter, and
beets should be
about the size of a golf ball, with their shoulders raised
above the soil line.
To make sure that
your crops reach their destination (wherever that may be :-)
unharmed, keep up your slug and aphid defences, and if you're
harvesting potatoes, make sure you get them all out of the
ground. Any tubers that are left in can lead to disease and
weeds. After harvesting, you could consider sowing some green
manure to condition the soil for the next lot - more about that
below. So it's not a
month to sit back on our laurels!
you remember our little friend to your left who was featured in
our July newsletter? For the less squeamish amongst you you're
welcome to see a video of what to do with one of these little
"meat treats" - should you be able to catch one!
Please - no
complaints about cruelty to animals as no animals were treated
cruelly in the making of this video. As for any whingeing
who may insist that we should not kill and eat our
fellow feathered creatures who are our travelling companions
whist on this earth
- I say, "you're welcome to get your protein from whatever source
you can, I'll choose where I get mine". Preferably from something
that robbed me of my brassicas & couldn't get away fast enough -
probably because it was full of cabbage leaves!
Aberaeron in Bloom Competition
Whilst not every Aberaeron Allotment Association plot was
entered into the Aberaeron in Bloom Competition, we
have swept the board in the Best Veg Plot/Allotment
section of the competition! Not only were some of
the plots on our allotment site entered but other
privately owned and tended vegetable plots in the
town were also entered and were competing with our
members who have allotment plots at our Cae Ffynnon
1st Prize has
been awarded to Tig (Brenda George Plot 11). Tig is
our very popular "tattooed lady" who tends plot 11 -
all on her own. From digging & rotovating to
planting, weeding watering and harvesting she does
it all single-handedly. Not only is she a prize-winning
allotmenteer but she also looks after a severely
disabled husband and young family. What an example!
which has been awarded after all entries were
independently judged by the Aberaeron in Bloom
Committee judges will be officially presented to Tig
at the town's annual carnival event on the August
Bank Holiday Monday. For those of you who can -
please be there to support and clap our Tig.
WE ARE IMMENSELY PROUD OF YOU Tig!
But it doesn't
end there! We also have two runners up from amongst
our members. Because the judges could not decide on
an outright winner for second place that award has
been split equally between Phil Harries (our
allotment association secretary on Plot-07) and Anne
Lewis (our allotment association treasurer who tends
Plot-12). Congratulations to you both as well.
We are extremely
proud that the three of you have put our little
allotment association firmly on the map of our town.
I'm SO pleased your efforts have been rewarded in
this way - you thoroughly deserve it. The three of
you have not just put on a quick show for the
competition. You have been diligent, and have worked
hard at your plots throughout the year. In
gardening, input (work) is directly proportional to
output (good crops & rewards). There is no
short-cut. WELL DONE!
Polytunnel Damage - Ongoing Investigation
I certainly do. My polytunnel
got damaged by a person or persons unknown on two
consecutive days in May and again in identical
fashion a month later in June this year.
As some of
you who are keeping up with this story will know,
the Police firstly took away a spade from the scene
of the crime. They checked for fingerprints but
could only get a smudged set of results. After the
fourth attack they took away some polythene for what
they call "chemical analysis".
I had given up hearing from
them, because they have taken so long to get back to
me. Their reason was that the lab was processing
evidence slower than usual because of some murder
crimes that happened in our police area around the
same time as the attacks on the polytunnel. They did
however say that they did not suspect vandals or
children of perpetrating the crime and suggested it
was probably someone "closer to home". However, they
could not approach the Crime Prosecution Service
(CPS) without concrete evidence. All they had was
RESULT! On the 6th of this month
WPC Nia Griffiths contacted us. I assumed she was
going to tell me that the lab had not found
anything. However I was mistaken. The Crime Lab
found not one but FOUR clear fingerprints on
the polythene that was taken away, along with DNA
evidence from the chemical analysis - presumably
from sweat on the culprit's hands.
This is obviously a result. The
fingerprints and DNA have been checked against the
National Crime Database but no matches have been
found - yet.
This is probably the last
opportunity that the person responsible will have to
contact me personally to come to some amicable arrangement
without the matter getting into the public domain.
3. Our Annual
General Meeting (AGM)
AGM has been scheduled for September the 20th.
It will be held in the upstairs room at the Cadwgan
Full details of
the meeting will be circulated in good time by our
Secretary Phillip Harries, via e-mail to all members
of the AAA. This will include the deadline for the
General Management Committee Officer nominations for
2011. There will also be a deadline for any formal
proposals that will be tabled at the meeting. Any
formal proposals for changes to our rules or
committee officer nominations will need a proposer
and a seconder who are both plot-holding members of
our association and named on a Tenancy Agreement.
All nominations and proposals need to be sent to our
secretary by the deadline provided. They need to be
either written on paper or delivered via e-mail to
our secretary. If multi nominations are received
then a vote for the selection of officers will be
required. That vote will take place by private,
paper ballot on the evening. The results will be
counted and declared on the evening.
it is the goal to get ALL
members to attend the AGM,
or as many as possible - it is the most important
meeting of the year. Should you miss some other
meetings you should make a special effort to be at
AGM has been scheduled for September, when most
members have had their holidays and children are
back at school. Our secretary Phil Harries will
contact you with the details nearer the time. He
will also provide meeting details and an agenda etc.
at the appropriate time.
4. Gail's Allotment
us have dogs or cats as pets, but Gail & Richard (Plot-9) are a
little more extravagant in their selection of wildlife "pets" on
they discovered a drowned Larch Saw-fly in their water butt.
This year they found another one - still alive, but only just.
After masterful execution of micro Cardio-Vascular Resuscitation
on the insect . . . - no silly - just joking!! It
was scooped out and left to dry in the sun before flying away.
What's all the fuss? You may ask, well it's not one of those
insects that you bump into on a regular basis. here's a picture
(I happened to have my camera with me on the day it was
what looks like a huge "stinger" at it's tail end? It's not a
stinging implement at all - these flies are harmless - so
whatever you do don't kill one in assumed self defence because
you think you're about to be stabbed by a giant sting. That
organ at it's rear end is a saw that it uses to saw a round hole
in larch tree bark where it then lays it's eggs. Unless you
think you're a larch tree you don't need to panic!
content with larch flies sharing their plot, they then
discovered an Elephant Hawks-head moth caterpillar five minutes
later. Ever seen one of those? Here it is - don't run away!
the squeamish perhaps, but again don't be alarmed by it's
appearance & size. Totally harmless - unless you think you're a
fuschia bush, that's right, they have a weakness for fuschia
WEEDS & WEEDING
Weed - “plant growing where
it is not desired.”
weed can be defined as a plant of any
kind which is growing in the wrong
place. There are many examples of this
situation including chickweed smothering
lettuces, moss in the lawn and last
year’s spuds in amongst current crops
such as leaf beet. All weeds compete
with cultivated plants for the three
essential requirements of life: water,
nutrients and light. For that reason
alone they have to be removed before you
start cultivating and continually during
cultivation. Weeding ranks right up there
with housework: it's one of those chores
that just never go away. As soon as you
clear out a patch of weeds, it seems to
grow right back, like a gecko's tail.
But it IS possible to achieve.
Starting a vegetable plot on an
allotment filled with weeds can be an
overwhelming task. However, it is
possible to start a vegetable plot even
from the most weed infested patch -
if you put in some hard work!
We have excellent examples of how this
can be done when you look at the
incredible job that Stephen Parry has
done on Plot 14 and Mike & Eileen Evans
have done on Plot 10 this season. Both
of these plots had been seriously
neglected by their previous occupiers.
Neither had been cultivated and both
plots were absolutely infested with
docks and other weeds. However within a
matter of DAYS the plots were back under
the control of their new occupiers -
what another wonderful example to all of us.
It also shows us how important it is for
us as a committee to be selective in who
we rent plots out to. Some on our
waiting list are obviously keen, serious
and hard-working gardeners. Sad to say
not all existing Plot-holders on our
site can be categorised in that same
Before anyone starts a new vegetable
plot, they MUST clear away the weeds,
otherwise they will continually struggle
to produce meaningful crops, even worse,
it will only be a matter of time before
they lose the joy of growing their own
as the perpetual weed battle coupled to
the sight of their unkept plot and
moans from other plot-holders changes
their experience from being a joy to
being a chore. That would be a huge
old adage of 1 year’s seeding means 7
year’s weeding is not far from the
truth. Some seeds, (such as poppies for
example), remain viable for decades and
will germinate when moved to the top
inch of soil. So it's very important NOT
to let them seed in the first place.
The weeds on a plot come in different
sizes and characteristics. Weeds can be
divided into two groups:
ANNUAL weeds, and
Annual weeds mature, reproduce
and set new seeds within one season.
They can spread rapidly through wind or
mechanical dispersal and set on the soil
of neighbouring allotment holders as
well as the soil of the plot where they
are growing. This is a grossly unfair
and selfish deed on behalf of the
plot-holder responsible for the weed
Perennial weeds are much harder
to control because they can survive in
the winter weather. Perennial weeds can
spread by root and seed, as their name
suggests they also reappear every year.
To completely get rid of perennial
weeds, you must dig out the roots to
prevent them from growing back. Some
perennial weeds such as horsetail and
ground elder cannot be got rid of. The
only thing that you can do is to control
Having to weed is a bind for most
gardeners. It's certainly a headache if
it's allowed to get out of hand. The
only way to get on top of the job is to
snaffle them at a manageable stage in
their growth. Give them too long to
establish (quite easily done at the
height of the growing season because it
takes a VERY short time for them to
germinate and get going at an alarming
rate) and you're going to be staring
down the barrel of an impossible task.
The weeds will have overtaken your crops
and may be growing in greater numbers and
more aggressively than your crops. It
can soon turn into a hopeless task
because your attempts may destroy your
crop or the weeds may have strangled and
shadowed them out before you can save
them. Weeds have also evolved strategies
to get the drop on our cultivated veg.
Moisture & Nutrient Robbers
Weeds are serious
moisture, nutrient and yield robbers.
Sometimes they can have a drastic effect
on crop size and quality (onions and
sweet-corn are an
excellent example of this).
successfully with your cultivated
vegetables because they absorb more mineral,
nutrients & water in the soil around
them, simply put they're better at it
than our cultivated plants. Many weeds have very shallow roots
& can absorb the rain water before it
seeps into the soil for the desired,
slower-growing plants who have deeper
roots. Fruit trees suffer enormously
from weed overgrowth around them – hence
the reason fruit tree experts always
extol the virtues of keeping the area
around fruit trees weed-free and using a
mulch to keep the moisture from being
robbed by weeds and/ or evaporation.
Weeds can cause
significant crop reductions: 10 to 50%
or more depending on the circumstances.
Sweet Corn plants growing without competition
from weeds are taller, more vigorous, &
better able to withstand drought & any
insect or disease damage than the weedy
corn growing right next to them. The
weed-free corn yields more & the ears
are fuller. When it comes to onions, if
you want under-sized bulbs that often
bolt, because they're stressed and
robbed of moisture - grow them in a weed
infested bed. Onions are even sensitive
to sharing their water & nutrients with
other onions. That's why exhibitors grow
them at least a foot apart and remove
all weeds from the vicinity.
Adequate light is
essential to plants because it powers
the process of photosynthesis whereby
green leaves convert the sun’s energy
into things essential for plant growth.
Weeds that block out sunlight from your
crops will starve your cultivated plants
of sunshine and consequently they won't
be able to convert nutrients into food
The ultimate competition is achieved by
parasitic plants, those that get all
their nourishment from the tissues of a
host plant to which they are attached.
These parasites are almost impossible to
control without destroying the host
plant. Ivy is a good example of such a
can out-compete other plants by a kind
of chemical warfare called allelopathy
(examples include creeping
- which is rampant on the Cae Ffynnon
Wîn allotment site).
Creeping buttercup also depletes the
soil of potassium.
weeds have what is called ‘allelopathic’
(poisonous) tendencies. The roots of
such species produce chemicals that
inhibit either the germination, growth
or development of their neighbours. This
can include veggies. Allelopathic plants
include creeping buttercup, couch grass
(sometimes called twitch), creeping
thistle and chickweed. Rhododendron is
the classic poisonous plant. An allelopathic plant secretes a growth
inhibiting substance (gaseous or
chemical). This substance is
absorbed by another, sensitive species
growing close to it. The result is the
target plant's growth is then inhibited
- how "sneaky" is that? A good idea to
let the weeds get on with it
undisturbed? I don't think so - do you?
Pests and diseases can often be
harboured on weeds. Fungal rust, an
orangey powder that coats leaves, can
affect garlic and leeks. It also thrives
on groundsel, for instance. Fat hen
(also known as Good King Henry) and dock
frequently host vast armies of aphids
which then home in on runner and broad
bean crops. Common nettle is an
important alternative host of carrot fly
and removal of nettles from hedgerows
has been suggested as a means to
suppress the pest.
Certain weeds are alternate hosts for
plant diseases. These are viruses that
can only be stopped by destroying the
weed. Otherwise, once infected the plant
must be destroyed.
also be hazardous to your
health. They can cause allergic
reactions – I personally have a
particularly nasty skin reaction to
certain nettles. After being stung I
watery blisters that turn ulcerous for
about two weeks before they heal -
leaving scars. Other gardeners I've met
over the years suffer from all sorts of
plant allergies - it's an occupational
hazard, but it is one that can be
reduced greatly if your allergy is
caused by a weed.
Among the many thousands of kinds of
plants, only a couple of hundred are
undesirable enough to be considered
important weeds. There are some weeds
that thrive only in the wild & there are
some that thrive only in cultivated
areas. Besides making an allotment plot
(or garden) look ugly, weeds rob
desirable plants of nutrients, water &
Why Control Weeds?
Simply put, if you don’t control them, they
control you. The main reason to
eliminate weeds is that they are
out-and-out robbers. Most are aggressive
plants; that’s how they survive in spite
of much adversity. Their aggressiveness
is often the characteristic that defines
them as weeds.
After a while you begin to wonder if it
really is all that important to do.
After all, many books (and certain
modern "garden gurus")
espouse the benefits of "green manure"
and "living mulches" - what makes those
different from your average weeds? These
are the red herrings raised that
confuses many people
Not only do weeds compete against whole
crop and single vegetable plants for
moisture and nutrients, they can also
harbour insect and disease pests which
then move to your valuable plants. Don't
be fooled by the "Lazy Gardener Myth"
that weeds distract pests away from your
crops - they are not blind or stupid!
It's a supply and demand thing - you
provide lots of food & shelter for pests
in the form of weeds - they'll supply
the plague that will devour what's put
in front of them - including your prized
veggies. Worse still you supply the
weeds and it may be your plot neighbour
who suffers by having his crop devoured
by the pests you've encouraged.
I will not put too fine an edge on it,
to be bluntly honest, most of the
way-out theories of many modern
gardening gurus are myths created for
lazy gardeners! Unfortunately like many
other myths, some of them are picked up
and believed. Especially by fresh new
gardeners, and through no fault of their
own, they get bogged down trying to get
things to work. As the theories are
often nonsense the new gardeners get
disillusioned and pack it in. Thank you
for your fine help modern "Gardening
Gurus"! Mind you, it's not all to do
with "modern" myths. There are some
Victorian techniques that need
dust-binning as well. As an example they
believed that you could get a plant
cutting to root better if it was allowed
to wilt for a few days! They also
encouraged the bending over of onions
before they were ready to fall over
themselves; believing that you were
aiding the ripening process. Crop
rotation was new to them and some still
used the third year fallow system -
believing the only way for soil to
recover it's fertility was to leave it
alone. All myths I'm afraid!
properly used is fine and cannot be ruled
out as a myth WEEDS ARE NOT GREEN
MANURES for digging into soil. Green
Manure is the name given to
plants/crops sown that will later be
tilled into the plot soil. These plants
are usually those that provide nutrients
to the soil (like nitrogen) and as a
rule are planted in
off years when you don't put any food
crops in the bed. Green manure plants
include amongst others, plants like
mustard, fava beans,
buckwheat. They are also great for
attracting pollinators. You DON'T sow
green manure plants among the plants
you're cultivating, anymore than you
allow weeds to grow around them.
Often used in the vegetable garden,
their foliage smothers weeds and their
roots prevent soil erosion. When dug
into the ground while still green, they
return valuable nutrients to the soil
and improve soil structure.
Living mulches, on the other hand, are
plants you stick in the ground in and
among your food plants, like clover. In
theory they stay low, shading the soil
from the harsh rays of the sun and the
sharp patter of raindrops. Additionally,
they are supposed to smother out
"weeds." I know someone who tried some of the clover last
year...it did very well, it grew quite
tall, and took over a section of his
garden. It seems to me like what we're
talking about here is just
another weed! I.e. "a plant of
any kind which is growing in the wrong
place" (at the wrong time).
So where do you draw the line between
weeds and living mulches? Maybe it all
comes down to the species of plant.
Clovers, after all, do help provide
nutrients to the soil. "Weeds," on the
other hand, steal the nutrients and
water from your crops, reducing your
yield, sometimes monumentally. Does the
clover not do this, too? If you sow it
amongst your food crops it will. Because
although it contributes nitrogen to your
soil via it's root nodules when it's dug
in, it also has to live on something
whilst it's growing. The idea is that
those nutrients it sucked up are
returned to the soil when you dig it in
NOT whilst it's growing and competing
with your vegetables for nutrients,
water & sunlight.!
We'll just have to resolve
pulling the weeds out by hand or by
using some weeding tool like a hoe. And, if you are like
me, and keep putting it off, let me give
you some hard-learned advice: don't. Get
out there and pull those weeds as soon
as you see the little swines sticking up
between your plants. If you don't keep
on top of them, they will take over and
before you know it, those lovely plots
that you sweated and strained over,
digging by hand, planting with loving
care, will once more become part of
nature's jungle and you'll stand there looking at
your strangled veg wondering what
happened. Yes - and then you'll find
yourself back at square one, having to re-dig those beds, only this time you'll
have to be careful not to damage the
surviving food plants as you
thrust your spade into the soil to
uproot the weeds and grasses. The hard-won truth is that you
must keep up with the weeding every
Gardening - including weeding is a
management exercise. You can only cope
with what you can manage (each
individual has his/ her own level -
depending on age, health, strength,
knowledge, experience & efficiency).
Provide 50 square metres of food for
pests in the form of crops AND weeds and
you'll have the corresponding greater number of
pests to deal with. Cut out the weeds
and your management load decreases -
it's quite simple. If you have a pest problem
that you can't cope with - (through bad
weed management) then you may be
shipping that pest problem on to your plot
neighbour. Not to mention the weed seeds that
will land on his/her soil. Is that fair on your
Know Your Weeds
Click on any weed
name from the list below to see pictures
and a full description of that weed from
the Garden Organic web-site.
Fascinating! It's always good to be able
to recognise your enemy - before you meet
it face to face!
Perforate St John
Volunteer oilseed rape
EUREKA! Then Disappointment.
As some of our
members who venture into my polytunnel from time to
time will know, I've had a little problem with
tomato leaf curl this summer. The tomato plants
appear healthy and were producing well, BUT their
as if they've got big problems.
curling upwards, and although there are no signs of
dryness, brown edges or the like, it's been the
source of a little mystery. Another popular name for
this condition is "tomato leaf roll". The plants are
meticulously watered every evening during sunny
spells, and are fed with organic tomato feed
containing seaweed extract once or twice a week
during watering sessions, the leaves still give the
appearance that they are growing in the
suggestions that vary from a virus infection,
to herbicide exposure, as the possible causes. The
most popular theory being the effect of heat - as
polytunnels aren't as well ventilated as
greenhouses. Also air dryness and night cold have
been added to the list. The general consensus is
that overheating may be the culprit. Well it seems
that the over-"heaters" have it!
On the left is an
excerpt from the Grow Your Own magazine. It seems to
hit a chord when it comes to describing what seems
to fit my tomato leaf problem symptoms.
So - EUREKA -
I've found it! Without a doubt the cause is too much
heat. So now I've deployed the services offered by
Graham Thomas (one of our waiting list friends who
is standing in the wings patiently waiting for his
plot). As Graham, walks his dogs past our site every
morning, at a very early hour, he has kindly offered
to open my polytunnel doors for me on sunny mornings
- as he goes past.
temperature in there has been recorded at over 100o
F at ten in the morning then Graham's help
will be invaluable. THANK YOU VERY MUCH INDEED
Graham. Your kindness is greatly appreciated!
Chris Beardshaw (see the article to your left), leaf
curl (or "roll") is nothing to worry about, as long
as the plants are healthy and producing.
With such a
drain on their energies - to produce and ripen fruit
- they can't concentrate fully on their leaf
condition because energy resources are being
there we are then - it's nice to know they're not
spoke too soon. No later than a few days after
writing the above I've been hit with blight!
On going down to
my plot on the 15th of this month I was confronted
with an "S" shaped swathe that looked as if a huge
snake had slithered across my potato patch! You
guessed it - BLIGHT. The scourge of all potato and
tomato growers. Late blight had raised it's ugly
head once again this year. It wasn't unexpected.
During that warm but humid weather we had, the Fight
Against Blight team from the Potato Council had had sent
me quite a few warnings that "Full
had occurred in the SA46 & SY23 areas (those are the
areas that I watch for the Potato Council as their
Allotment Blight Scout).
To work -
usually the procedure is to cut the haulms at ground
level and then lift the tubers before they get
affected. They shouldn't be left longer than about 3
weeks after disposing of the blighted haulms.
However as my main crop was reasonably mature I set
about lifting the tubers straight away. Thanks to
some help from Stephen & Ben his son (Plot-14) I
managed to get most of them dug up in two evenings.
Then the horror
of horrors. Not only had the blight got to the
spuds, but because my polytunnel doors are open during
the day (to stop the tomatoes getting too hot), the
blight spores must have blown straight in there and blighted
ALL of my tomato plants (blight spores get carried
by wind AND rain in temperatures above 10oC-
as it does not rain in a poly-tunnel I can safely
assume it was the wind). Now that WAS a BIG
Indoor tomato plants are usually pretty insulated
from blight, it's their outdoor relatives that
usually get struck down. AMAZINGLY I see some
outdoor tomato plants on our site that have survived
unscathed (yet that is). I'm in the process of disposing of
my poor plants right now - most are covered in semi ripe but now rotting
fruit! You just can't win sometimes can you?! OK -
think positively - only
six months to go before I can start next season's
off. Who am I kidding - I'm gutted!
to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest tomato
tree grows at Walt Disney World Resort’s experimental greenhouse
and yields a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes and weighs
1,151.84 pounds (522 kg). The plant was discovered in Beijing,
China, by Yong Huang, Epcot's manager of agricultural science,
who took its seeds and grew them in the experimental greenhouse.
Today, the plant produces thousands of golf ball-sized tomatoes
that are served at Walt Disney World's restaurants, and can be
seen by tourists riding the "Living With the Land" boat ride at
the Epcot Center.
"Not a lot of people know that!"
RIGHT TOOL 4 THE JOB!
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?"
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.
A few issues ago I promised our readers that I would write a
series of short articles on traditional gardening
tools. Here is the second tool described in this
Aberaeron Shovel (Y Rhaw Goes-hir)
second tool in our series is the Aberaeron Shovel.
This shovel is also known in other parts of the
country as a "lazy-back" shovel (e.g.
Pembrokeshire Lazy-back shovel), Cardiganshire
Shovel, Cornish Shovel, Celtic Shovel, Lurgan
Shovel, Irish Potato Spade etc.. From this selection
of names it becomes evident that this tool is the
product of the Western Celtic Fringe of Europe. It
is still widely used to this day in upland Wales,
Cornwall, Devon & Ireland.
shovel has a long, slightly bowed ash staff with
rounded end and a wide pointed blade. People who
have used this type of shovel will tell you how much
easier it is to use than the conventional spade/
shovel. The steam-bent ash shaft allows the user to
dig and twist the shovel, the front of the thigh is
also used to push the shovel forward into the soil
when shovelling and loosening the soil while keeping
an upright posture.
with triangular blades and long curved handles were
made in the forge in the mill in Aberaeron by the
Davies family which was established in the 1850s.
Surviving records show that thousands of shovels
were made at this forge each year from the
1850s until January, 1939.
They were also made by Griff Jenkins of Cwrtnewydd,
Ceredigion until 1976 and similar shovels were made
in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. They were designed
to avoid back-bending work, and for that reason were
sometimes known as lazy-back shovels. They were also
known as the Irish potato spade, the Lurgan shovel
and the Celtic shovel. Large firms such as Elwell
and Nash also made shovels of this type.
The photo on the
left (date not known but probably around the 1930s).
Was taken of a work gang. Notice that every worker
in the gang is armed with an Aberaeron shovel.
Ceredigion County Council road workers were all
issued with this type of shovel.
This shovel was
the primary tool used by all workers on farms and
building sites, not to mention gardening plots. It's
ergonomic shape and efficient leverage meant that a
worker could continuously use it as a tool to move
earth without undue strain or tiredness.
The use of all
types of shovels has fallen into disuse with the
advent of mechanical diggers & excavators over the
last thirty odd years. However on the allotment plot
this long, bow-handled shovel can still rule
supreme in the tasks it was originally designed for.
It's greatest use - where it cannot be equalled by
any other tool - is in the job of digging out potato
rows and then ridging the rows. Later, it is perfect
for the task of earthing up, after the ground
between rows has been loosened up using a mattock or
azada (the Spanish name for mattock, that comes in
many varying forms, the azada was features in Part 1
of this series of articles).
So popular was
it's use in the potato fields of yesteryear that
many local shows still have ridging competitions
where these shovels are used to compete in the task
of ridging. The winner is the competitor who digs
the straightest row, at a set depth against the
This is a photo
of David Williams from Broad Oak, Llandeilo,
Carmarthenshire. Mr Williams, a country carpenter,
is seen here shaping the handle of an Aberaeron
shovel at his village workshop in 1982.
On the far left
is a picture that shows off the carefully crafted
"bow" of the shovel. Notice that the end of the
shaft is also shaped slightly to provide maximum
comfort and ease of use. A lot of thought had gone
into this design. The tool has been made around the
body of the worker. Not only is it ergonomically
efficient, but the principles of leverage are used
to their full potential.
of shovel is still available. Most large shovel
manufacturers and tool suppliers sell them, usually
by the tag of "West Country" shovel. Whilst the West
Country shovel is very similar in design to the
Aberaeron shovel, it does vary somewhat in it's
design. The modern West Country shovel, whilst
sporting an almost identical blade, has a straight
connoisseur who has been brought up with the
Aberaeron shovel, this straight handled version does
lose a lot of it's efficiency by not having the key
feature of a bow in it's handle.
cannot be choosers. A long (but straight) handled
shovel still scores very high over the "mad-man's
shovel"! That is the quintessential
blunt, square blade, with a yard long shaft
(designed for a dwarf) that needs you to stay
doubled up with your back bent whilst you try to
scoop & lift your material in the most awkward
"stress" position that you could imagine. A torture
tool - obviously not designed by the person who had
to use it!
Big, Bigger, Biggest!
Never let it rest,
'Till the BIG is bigger &
the BIGGER'S BIGGEST!
Try saying that after trying
out the home-made rhubarb wine!
I can't finish this
newsletter without giving large potatoes a mention. It all
started off with me opening my big mouth about my modest 1lb ¾oz
single Maris Piper spud (see below). Well I thought it was quite
big at the time!
a flash Tig pops up and informs me that she had a
1lb 6½ oz
and single Kerr's Pink that weighed in at 1lb 3½spud
- both beating the pants off my effort (I now have the evidence - she
forgot to attach her pics to the e-mail she sent me earlier. - but I
believed her! ;-) Now here's the proof. .
casually mentioned this in the
No sooner had I done that, than my friend Dave Amphlett (a keen
allotmenteer) from Shirley up in the Midlands comes back with
pictures of his effort which he posted on his Blog in the
Chat-Shed. Wait for it -
To put this in
perspective, here's another photo of the same spud but this time
he's taken it on a shovel!
Mama Mia what a
Tig & Co.
this looks like a gauntlet throw down to me!! Are we going to
take this lying down? Time to plan the strategy for next year!
this has the makings of an annual cross-border competition don't
you? With the prize being the bragging rights for a full 12
months after winning. In fact if it catches on perhaps some
gardeners in Scotland & Ireland might want to join - then we
could make it the "Four Nations Biggest Tater" prize!
That's it for another edition. Hope you
enjoyed it. If you have any contributions you would like to make to our
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