Hello Fellow Allotmenteers!
You can't do much on the allotment in December can you? It's a 2 month. It's too wet, too frosty or just too flaming dark! This year it's also been too snowy! (Says your correspondent, who looks out of his window at an Arctic scene as he writes this Newsletter with a runny nose, Scrooge-like mitts and over a foot of snow on the ground plus a blizzard in progress!) In my nearly six decades of existence this is THE earliest that I've ever seen snow - of this magnitude - so early in winter.
However, looking on the brighter side of things, it's just a few days to the shortest day! "Bring it on" (a saying that seems to have crossed the Atlantic of late) say I! After the 21st (the winter solstice) we'll see the sun getting a tiny bit stronger by the day. The Old Welsh Folk had a saying "Bydd y dydd wedi ymestyn cam ceiliog erbyn y Calan" Our Celtic Catalonian cousins have the same saying "Per Cap d'Any el dia s'allarga un pam" - roughly translated it means the day will have lengthened the stride of a cockerel by New Year's Day. A nice thought to help melt the winter blues. December is a nothing month in the garden isn't it? Unless you have a shed or a polytunnel to build (or hide in) or some fruit trees to plant, and even then it's a challenge at this time of the year. Now, come January, things will change slightly and the hares amongst us will start eyeing up some seed packets to start things off early. I'm not much of a fan of that - so early in the year, but for those who do, it gets the urge going again for their spring flurry of activity!
For those of you who will be using the Saturnalia Holidays to start ordering, here's a few links for you to get your seeds. You can either order from Thompson & Morgan - if they are the seed company that beats your drum. Or we have other seed suppliers as well. They too advertise and support our web-sites, some are VERY competitively priced compared to the larger companies. They include:
(on our aberaeronallotments.org site)
(on our Gardeners Chat-Shed site).
Our main web-site is a T&M affiliate site (as most of you know) so any orders placed with them FROM OUR WEB-SITE - or by clicking the banner below right now - will mean that we receive a small commission to help with our site costs. Every little helps as some supermarket chains have a habit of saying.
I'd ordered an apple tree (variety - Scrumptious), an apricot (Flavorcot) and an improved strain of Victoria plum called Jubilee (sometimes it goes under the name Jubileum). They reckon it's bred directly from Victoria but is better flavoured (that'll take some doing) apparently it's fruit size is larger than Victoria and it picks around 10 days earlier. We'll put all that to the test if and when it grows. All of these are on dwarf stock so they shouldn't go out of control skyward! In addition I got a Brown Turkey fig tree and a Kiwi fruit plant variety called Jenny that's apparently been bred specifically for our climate.
I also ordered Blackberry (Loch Ness), Gojiberry, Tayberry (Buckingham) and I've been promised some "freebie" Autumn Bliss raspberry plants from a local source not a thousand miles away! Guess what my problem is? Yes - when the hell am I going to get them into the ground! With a prolonged hard winter forecast, am I going to be able to keep them alive in these Arctic conditions once they're in the ground? I think I'm sailing into unchartered waters here.
We've had our share of "weather" don't you think? Big dollops of it! Quite a few records have gone again this year, the latest being the one that dictates how early in the year the cold usually comes. Apparently, it has not been this cold and snowy so early in a year since records have been kept. Mind you, I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to these "since records began" statements. It gives the impression that humans have kept records since they decided to walk on this earth in an upright position using two legs. BUT - let's face it - in the grand scheme of things, we've only been keeping records for about two minutes! The Met Office has only been keeping records of the UK weather since it formed under Captain Robert Fitzroy in 1854. I also guess it was a pretty crude affair at that time. Ironically the "Little Ice Age" was only considered to be officially over in the 1800s (having started in the northern hemisphere around 1650 with spectacular freezing of the Thames accompanied by heavy snow around 1677). That probably puts things a little bit out of kilter. I'll bet we had snow and ice even earlier than this between 1650 & 1850 - then the RECORDS began :-)
OUR FLOOD PROBLEM
Sometimes "weather" gets a little bit over enthusiastic when it comes to rain! You'll remember that I mentioned to you in the last Newsletter that we would be contacting the Glanafon Residents Association (GRA)and Ceredigion County Council (CCC) with a view to sorting out the flooding problem that we have - which is greatly exasperated by the many tons of water that pours on to our site from the Glanafon housing estate.
For those of you who may have forgotten what things were like a month ago at Cae Ffynnon Wîn - here's a flash-back photo to November the 19th, the day AFTER the main flood. Had Tig been standing in the same spot on my plot on the 18th her wellies would have been full! :
For those of you who may not have had a chance to view the flood pics gallery then please click HERE.
So to date here's what's been going on. Around the 20th of last July we had our first taste of floods since we occupied Phase 2 of the Cae Ffynnon Wîn site. We decided that we would have to tackle the problem of a blocked gully at the bottom of the Glanafon Housing Estate - which seemed to be the primary and main contributory factor. At the time we assumed that the residents had full responsibility for the roadway and it's gully, the street, pavement and all their maintenance. We were aware that they had a Residents Association and that they had previously had to foot a bill for a sewage pipe collapse at the top end of our site. We therefore automatically assumed that this was also the case when it came to the blocked gully.
It was unanimously decided by the AAA's General Management Committee that a letter should be sent to the GRA's secretary - John Davies, outlining our predicament and the solution we expected. However, in the meantime, we heard that John's wife was suffering from terminal cancer. Under the circumstances we quite rightly decided to reign in our plan of a letter. It was hardly fitting to trouble someone under those circumstances. Flooding of our site would be something far more trivial than the welfare of his wife and more especially given the obvious stress he would be under. Consequently the flooding problem solution went on the back burner.
Then about a month ago the heavens opened again and this time we experienced SERIOUS flooding. I got a phone call from Tig on Friday morning, the 19th of November (a full 15 hours after the height of the flood) saying I needed to go down to see the carnage on site and more especially the depth of water my plot was still under. When I got there I took the above photo. We then both went up to the Glanafon Estate to see what the state of play was up there.
We discovered that not only was the gully blocked, but the floods from the previous night had swept down from Pencarreg fields to Panteg Road where the gullies failed to deal with it. It then it gushed down Glanafon and with their gully (permanently) blocked a river of water flowed down to our allotment site. Although we have a "French Drain" at the bottom end of the site, and land drain pipes installed, when the river Aeron is raised by floodwater it backs back up the open drainage ditch/ stream alongside our site, where our drains flow into. As a consequence our drains have nowhere to drain off to until the Aeron's flow recedes. That can sometimes take quite a long time. So we have no solution on site to adequately deal with the problem of surface water accumulation. Our set-up is probably adequate for our own surface water accumulation, but not the volume generated by unabated water from halfway up a mountainside! It is evident that the problem needs to be stopped at source. We also noticed that the huge volume of water at Glanafon had actually forced it's way under the road and it was coming out like fountains formed by cracks in the tarmac.
Whilst we were on site taking in the scene at Glanafon we met Harold Jennings the GRA Treasurer. He told us that the (then) GRA Chairman (Nigel Bowen) had actually got the local Councillor - Elizabeth Evans out the night before to see what was happening. I asked Harold if it was now OK to write to their Secretary John Davies, explaining why we hadn't done so before. He assured me it would be OK, even though John's wife had quite recently passed away.
I then wrote a letter to the GRA later that day and delivered it by hand to John Davies' house. I also wrote to Councillor Elizabeth Evans she, in fairness, very promptly replied back saying she was aware of our problem and was in the process of arranging a site meeting between CCC engineers, a delegation from he GRA and a delegation from the Aberaeron Allotment Association (AAA). The following evening at around 6pm I got a phone call from Mr Bowen telling me that he was disgusted with me for writing to John Davies so soon after the death of his wife and that John was upset and had complained to him about the letter. I tried to explain to him that we had been given permission to write to John but he did not seem prepared to discuss the subject further, instead, he then put the phone down on me. I then immediately wrote a letter of explanation to him (with copies for Harold Jennings and John Davies). They were hand delivered to the houses of the three of them later that evening.
The next day I got a visit from Harold Jennings to apologise for Nigel Bowen's behaviour. He also informed me that Bowen had resigned, after John Davies had resigned (apparently because of the way Bowen had behaved). It appeared that Nigel Bowen had not expected things to take the course they had, and under the circumstances - as his behaviour had been exposed - he resigned. His excuse was that he could not work with us. Harold was at a loss about what to do - as he was now the only one left on their committee. I suggested that he send a note to everyone on the estate explaining his predicament with an invitation for anyone else - so inclined - to come forward as a new Chair & new Secretary.
Some time later I was contacted by a gleeful Harold informing me that he had taken my advice and amazingly their committee was back up to full strength. More amazingly the members were John Davies as Chair & Emrys Harries (the previous secretary - who had resigned some time previously - for reasons that seem obvious)!! Their first job was to arrange a meeting with our General Management Committee. We duly obliged and Anne our Treasurer & I met with them a few days later at Harold's house. Unfortunately our Secretary could not be there as he was in Denver, Colorado at the time - incidentally, welcome back Phil! And you thought you might get snow-bound? Eat your heart out Denver and look at the photos from the old country!
The meeting was a roaring success with good friendship bridges formed on both sides. More importantly, from the information collected it would appear that the blocked gully problem at Glanafon may in fact be CCC's responsibility. Together we ascertained that the original developer of the site did not make an application to the council under Section 36 of the Highways Act 1980 to have the street pavement, road and drains adopted by the local authority - as would normally be the case. The conveyance notes for the properties does NOT show that responsibility lies individually or collectively with the residents for upkeep of the roadway, gullies or pavement. However, the key factor in all this is that the developer's company went into liquidation BEFORE the adoption process could be started. This therefore puts a different light on things. It is our belief that the Council is wholly responsible for the prevention of our flooding problem - from Pencarreg, along Panteg Road and finally the gully at Glanafon, which seems to be their responsibility. Add to this the fact that they are the AAA's landlord Paramount then they obviously have a duty of care to make sure that the land we lease for crop cultivation is fit for purpose.
We now await the meeting that Elizabeth Evans is arranging. the current problem is the weather. It is the Highways Department of the Council that are involved with these issues - guess where their priorities are at the moment? :-)
I'm sure once the weather gets back to normal we'll have our meeting and I'm fairly confident that the solution to our flooding problem may be in sight. For the sake of transparency (and to whet the appetite of the curious in our midst!) Please click HERE to download a zipped folder containing copies of all the correspondence on this subject to date. I'll keep you informed via our newsletter of future developments as they occur.
Some of you may be wandering when the on-line member voting system will be implemented. Well it's ready to go, however as Phil our Secretary has been away for a month, and has only returned to the fold in the last week or so, there were a few things that we needed to finalise as a committee before I sent out the necessary information to you so we waited for Phil to return. For those who may have forgotten what this is all about here's a recap from the November 2010 Newsletter:
"As a committee we have decided - for the time being - to engage our members for decision making via electronic means. Thankfully, each plot-holding member has access to e-mail and the Internet. We have therefore decided that any matters that require consultation, or a vote, will be decided by using an on-line voting system. As soon as you've received your personal identity access code you will be able to access the on-line voting page at this URL address:
I will be sending each of you an individual e-mail message, in the near future, outlining how this is going to work. Each individual plot-holder will also be given an identification code to allow him/ her to cast their vote securely on-line. The result will then be circulated to all members."
Hopefully, now that we have been able to finalise things as a full committee, I should get this out to you in the next week or so. Keep an eye on your inbox it's an important issue.
Do you remember in last month's newsletter I told you to look out for "our Denise" (plot 15) on Channel 4's Countdown programme? Well she did us proud! Isn't it lovely having someone of that intellectual calibre in our ranks? CONGRATULATIONS 'DENNIS' -
You are a STAR!!
If ever we decide to while away our winters with an AAA pub quiz team we all know on whose door we'll come knocking on first!!!
Here's a little collage of stills from the programmes she appeared in from Thursday December the 2nd to Tuesday December the 7th. By clicking on the ". . . view whole episode on-line" link you will be able to see a recording. However this facility will only be available to you until the 31st of December (the last day of this year). So don't dawdle!
DID YOU KNOW?
Health experts reckon that just half an hour on the allotment reduces the so-called stress hormone cortisol twice as much as relaxing by sitting down reading a book does!
"Not a lot of people know that" !
So what does cortisol do?
As a result of repeated and prolonged high cortisol levels, the negative effects become apparent. Blood pressure rises. Blood sugar levels increase as insulin is blocked from doing its job leading to unhealthy fat building up in the abdomen. Gastric acid production increases in the stomach. Bone formation is hindered.
The cells in your body fall victim to prolonged high cortisol levels. Telomeres, the "end caps" that protect your cells as they reproduce shorten, causing your cells and immune system to age faster.
Long-term exposure damages and reduces the number of cells in the hippocampus, the brain's primary memory centre. This damage results in memory loss and impaired learning.
Another major negative effect of cortisol is that it inhibits collagen formation. Collagen is a molecule that makes connective tissue. It's vital for structural support and is found in muscles, tendons and joints, as well as throughout the entire body.
Stress studies done on rats show that collagen loss in the skin was ten times greater than in any other tissue. Remember that during stress the body prioritizes what is important for fight or flight. Wrinkle-free, young looking skin is not one of those priorities.
Adrenaline and cortisol work together during stressful times to create memories of emotional events. You've probably experienced an event that felt so emotionally charged that it seems forever burned into your memory as if it just happened. This is called a flash bulb memory and probably serves as a protective device - a powerful reminder of what you want to avoid.
If you don't want to be a victim of overweight, wrinkling, premature ageing, heart disease and diabetes (God that sounds like a description of me - I should have got my plot sooner!) Then spend more time on your allotment plot!!
GOVERNMENT (WAG) REPORTS ON ALLOTMENTS
Following an 'Inquiry into Allotment Provision in Wales' and research into community grown food, WAG has produced two new reports.
Allotment Provision in Wales - from the Sustainability Committee makes 16 recommendations about future provisions of allotments including a 'mapping' exercise of allotment provision versus allotment demand, in order to effectively implement and target policies in this area.
Meanwhile, the Community Grown Food Action Plan sets out the Welsh Government's aims to promote, support and encourage community grown food in Wales.
I've prepared a PDF document containing the reports for inclusion in the documents section of our main web-site. It hasn't been uploaded yet but you can have a sneak preview by clicking HERE.
If you have a minute to spare it's well worth a read, because it shines a light on how things should - in the future - greatly improve for us in the allotment gardening fraternity here in Wales. With local authorities having their loopholes (that currently enables them to drag their feet) being plugged and generally a stronger implementation of the Allotment Act 1908 and it's subsequent amendments being brought to bear, things should start to work the way they were meant to, all those years ago when the act first saw the light of day.
If you have an interest you can read the full text of the Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908 by clicking HERE. We have a copy of it in the "Legal Beagle" Group in the Gardeners Chat-Shed.
ALL I WANT FOR
CHRISTMAS IS AN ASPARAGUS BED!!
Andy Allen, who grows 100 acres of asparagus in Norfolk and is chairman of the Asparagus Growers' Association, has perfected the art for more than 20 years now.
He emphasises the importance of initial bed preparation - it is all about having well-drained, deep, fertile soil. If you can, cultivate it to a depth of 45cm (18in) and incorporate lots of weed-free muck it means those small, one-year-old crowns that you will be planting at a depth of 100mm (4in) in March, can establish well and bulk up in size. Meurig may still have some plants left from his successful raising of plants from seed earlier this year.
Our Cae Ffynnon Wîn site does not have the naturally perfect soil type or drainage for first class asparagus, but, with a bit of effort you can decide how your asparagus bed soil turns out. So with plenty of manure and spent compost you should be able to provide the near perfect environment for them. If your plot is at the lower end of the site water-logging could be the ,ain problem.
The other requirement is sunshine. Choose a sunny position, away from hedges and trees that will vie for light, water and nutrients.
For the first two establishment years, it is helpful to water the crowns in dry periods to promote growth.
A high-phosphate fertiliser will encourage good root development, too. For these first two years, remember weeds and greed are your biggest enemies.
Weeds will rob sun, moisture and food, and greed must be kept in check. Don't cut any for the first two years, the third year you can pick a light crop and in the fourth and subsequent years never cut after June 21.
Size of Bed and Varieties
Decide on the size of bed you can afford - if you have the room it is worth going overboard as asparagus freezes brilliantly and its culinary versatility for soups, salads and barbecues is broad.
The plants should be spaced about 30cm (1ft) apart, even five plants will give you a kilogram of asparagus - quite a few decent meals, but 30 would make the family very happy.
Asparagus are naturally male or female plants. Male plants are far more productive, live longer and do not waste energy on producing berries, so most people plant all male varieties.
The variety that is the industry standard is 'Gijnlim F1'. This is slightly earlier than the other prolific Dutch variety 'Backlim F1'. Excellent early and later equivalents are 'Mondeo' and 'Guelph Millennium'.
Purple varieties such as 'Pacific Purple' are much sweeter and less fibrous than green varieties, and look colourful. Steam them lightly to retain this fabulous colour, or oil lightly and barbecue. They yield about 20 per cent less, but have higher antioxidant properties.
Earthing up and Cutting Down
Commercially, the plants are earthed up in spring by covering the crowns with about 15cm (6in) of soil, which stops the shoots opening so fast. To maintain the mound, you will need to redo this mound every other year or so.
Supermarkets have tight requirements: they must be tightly closed heads and should be 20cm-21cm (7¾in-8¼in) long. The taste and texture difference of closed or open spears is imperceptible - it's just for appearance's sake.
Apart from weeding (mulching helps here) there is little else to do. In autumn, when there is no moisture left in the stalks, cut down the fern and put it on the compost. The removal of the trash helps control the asparagus beetle and rust, a common fungal disease.
Salting asparagus beds was traditional, but Andy Allen did trials on this for ADAS and found that it had no effect on growth.
If the salt concentration was high enough to prevent weeds, it also killed the plants! The Romans used to grow asparagus by the sea and maybe the sea air helped control fungal problems.
The first light pick in the third year is exciting, but don't be greedy. Just cut over a four-week period so the plant continues to get sturdier - that way it will have a longer, more prolific cutting life.
Start cutting when the spears are about 15cm-18cm long (6in-7in) with a sharp knife (or asparagus knife) and cut them about 5cm (2in) below soil level without disturbing neighbouring shoots.
In the fourth growing season you can cut over a longer period, but definitely not past June 21. The foliage needs a good period of time to develop and grow to feed up the crown for subsequent years.
Having put your back into it now, order your crowns, pop them in in spring and you will be feasting from them for up to 15-20 years.
Pop over to our web-site and click on the Thompson & Morgan banner (or even easier click now on their banner above) - they have the variety "Purple Pacific"
SPARE A THOUGH FOR
OUR FEATHERED FRIENDS
In this weather - especially if it's prolonged - our garden birds will need help to survive. Most of the smaller birds will perish overnight in the cold if they can't find enough food during the daylight hours - daylight time is extremely short right now. Severe winters can be a major hazard for survival. A bird can use up to 10% of its body weight during just one cold winters night, and unless it's able to feed well every day to replenish its reserves, a prolonged cold spell can be catastrophic. In normal circumstances the fat reserves built up by the bird will keep it going for a few days, but mortality tends to increase rapidly if a cold spell continues on to a second week.
These little creatures REALLY are a gardener's best friend. We know the odd blackbird will pick out your newly planted shallots and the wood pigeons can be a real menace in the brassica patch, but overall birds are a huge ally to us in the garden and especially on the allotment plot. It doesn't take that much effort to protect your cabbage, shallots and peas from birds. What they'll give you in return makes their nuisance habits pale into insignificance.
We have a host of friends that are sometimes ignored and unsung, or worse still, even shunned or frightened away by some who may not be aware of who their friends and who their enemies really are. We all know the real enemies - those pests that compete for our crops and destroy them. However in our hurry to exterminate those pests we sometimes overlook what effect this can have on the long term. By destroying the pests indiscriminately ourselves we often deprive their natural predators of food. The predators decline and the pests increase, starting another round of an unending battle to rid ourselves of slugs, weevils, aphids, greenfly etc. etc. until in the end the only wildlife on our allotments are our pests!
Now here's a sobering thought. Numbers of robins are at their lowest levels since 1997, following a huge drop in their population - according to the British Trust for Ornithology (REALLY bad news for us allotment growers). The Trust say that the number of robins is 27% lower than average for this time of the year, which they attribute to the great reduction in their food during last year's big winter freeze. If last winter decimated the population on that scale, can you imagine what will be the result of a winter like we're having this year, that's started in November with great snowfalls and ice? If it goes on like this until the spring, then last year's winter will seem like a trip to Florida!
What can you do? Get out there and start feeding! We have this silly mind's eye picture of robins enjoying the snow - as first depicted on Victorian Christmas cards - as if they love it like penguins - THEY DON'T. Apparently the robin is one of the bird varieties that fares least well in cold snowy conditions. They actually do badly in these conditions. What they (and lots of other little birds) need is a fat-rich high protein supplement to keep them going. Just think of it - their lives may be in your hands!
And finally - here's a recipe my sister-in-Law kindly sent to me the other day via e-mail. Thanks Sue! (She also gets a copy of our newsletter every month now).
It's by far the best Christmas cake I've ever tasted. It'll probably be the best you've ever had as well. Here goes - I'll write it as I actually prepare the recipe myself for our family:
Mmmeyee Rismas to yooo all deea fends . . .