JULY/ AUGUST 2012

Hello Fellow Allotmenteers, Gardeners, Friends & Subscribers - wherever you are!

imagePLEASE ACCEPT MY APOLOGIES IF YOU RECEIVE TWO COPIES OF OUR NEWS-LETTER - that'll be because your e-mail address is registered with both our Aeron Vale Allotment Society & Gardeners Chat-Shed web-sites. Consequently  it will have been automatically added to both data-bases. No harm done - just delete the second one to arrive! Simples!

Whilst you, our Gardeners Chat-Shed friends, may be members of your own gardening clubs and allotment groups, you can still share in what we have to offer here by way of gardening tips, news, information and gossip from our "grow your own" community.

There's something for everyone in our News-letter! If you're not particularly interested in the local gossip from our allotment society, just scroll on down to something else more general.

 


IN GENERAL

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) not to plant so many damned courgette plants next year - well that may not be the case this season - in our neck of the woods at least -  WHAT AN ABYSMAL YEAR!

I started vegetable gardening way back in 1976. By now that's a LONG time ago. In fact it's nearly forty years. This is the worst year I've yet experienced for vegetable growing - by a long shot. Especially the early part of the year.

Sure you have bad years and you have good years the rest fall somewhere in between. This year stands out like a sore thumb. It started off too dry in March. Then it went too cold & wet & we could do nothing for most of April, which also brought snow. May followed with a drought and hideous cold dry scorching winds at the beginning then it went cold & wet again. June was a total wash-out as was most of July, with annual monthly levels of rain falling in ONE day on about three occasions! We had three full blown floods in four weeks - not nice!

Hardly anything has germinated properly. Not only has this year been a total disaster for me, but all of the other allotment growers on our site have experienced similar problems. Seeds refusing to germinate, others dying off after germinating, some growing weakly - just not a very good season I fear! I almost gave up on the peas. Every school kid has managed to grow a pea in a bottle at some time in his early life (at least we used to when I was a child in school, goodness knows what they do now - I wouldn't be surprised if it's something like origami or yoga to widen their cultural horizons, or some similar cockamamie brainchild of an 'enlightened' education smarty somewhere)  I nearly failed to grow a single pea this year ! AT LAST I've got some seedlings in (thanks to Phil, Graham & Stephen's left-overs) and it's AUGUST!

HOWEVER whilst the cultivated tribes of veg languish, feeling sorry for themselves, the weeds have gone berserk - I've never seen such a "lush flush" of all the nasties under the sun. There are two real champions amongst them on my plot.

Chickweed. It's determined to carpet everything on my allotment that's in it's path. Thank goodness it's easy to weed, but what it loses in ease of removal, it makes up for in vigour and quantity - there's tons of it everywhere - it's like a never-ending nightmare!

The other is smooth sow thistle. Both the perennial and the annual varieties.

Sow thistle is a REAL survivor. Apparently seeds that are calculated to be about 150 years old have been brought to the surface by excavators and have then promptly germinated (jaw hits ground - brain puzzles why  can't peas do that!). It's quite common for it's seeds to lie dormant for 10years at a time and them germinate. How disheartening is that?

It's also annoying, not the fact the weed is there, but because the main source of my infestation of soft sow thistle is a badly maintained plot nearby. She (the tenant) has an annual crop crop of the weed that's allowed to grow to maturity. It seeds then get merrily blown over in the height of summer. If the wind isn't  very strong on the day they decide to go airborne they fall straight on my plot about 5m away! They lie snugly in the soil over winter, and then when a patch gets "bared" during the tilling period in spring - they SPRINGS to life. By August - if it was left alone - it could be well over six foot high - with it's very own army of self fertilised wind-pollinated  fluffy seeds!

Sow thistle - as I've always know it - is also known by some folks as milk thistle. This bewildered me when Tig, from Plot 11 (she was brought up in Kent), came over and said "Wow I see you've got loads of 'milk thistle' ". So it was research time, because what I have always known as milk thistle has a purple flower! Sow thistles have yellow flowers - very much like a dandelion. The one that bedevils my plot is definitely yellow flowered !

Mystery solved, 'proper' milk thistle is a thistle of the genus Silybum Adans., a flowering plant of the daisy family (Asteraceae) it is indeed the purple flowered member of the family that's also used for medicinal purposes. However in certain areas sow thistle also goes under the name of 'milk thistle' - cue confusion!

Apparently the Romans brought milk thistle over as part of their medicine chest - which in those days meant bringing some plants with you! When they went back to Italia they left us Celts (the Anglo Saxons hadn't arrived at that stage) exhausted from fighting them, but with an inheritance of many strange and beautiful plants from the Mediterranean that still grow wild in our country, we're still using them for our cooking and in our herbal remedies.

For those of you with liver problems (self inflicted through alcohol abuse or otherwise), many years of research shows that the active flavanoid-lignan group of constituents, called silymarin - contained in it's greatest concentration in the seed shell of the milk thistle plant - has liver-protective and regenerative properties, as well as antioxidant effects.

The liver-protective effects were known and written about in ancient Roman times, leading to the active chemical, pharmacological, and safety research that began in Germany in the 1950s (who else but the Germans - a brilliantly advanced race of people, they got on the case after they were allowed their toys back after the war!).

Clinical use for a variety of liver ailments, such as hepatitis, has also prospered throughout many parts of the world. So  you can thank the Romans for the milk thistle plant they brought to our shores, and which can now be bought over the counter in the form of tablets containing silymarin to cure liver ailments - thanks in no small part to the Germans. Take a bow Romans and Teutons!


SOME OF OUR ALLOTMENTS SITE NEWS

Aberaeron in Bloom Competition

Here's The Man of The Moment!

Stephen Parry - Plot 14.

Whilst not every Aberaeron Allotment Association plot was entered into the Aberaeron in Bloom Competition (we have a bit of a problem with standards of cultivation I'm sad to say), we have nevertheless, again 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 against us for the prizes.

Not many of us really wanted to compete this year because things are not growing as well as usual, and because of time restrictions - due to the weather we've had (It has been difficult getting out to the allotment plots over the past few months because of the rain) not only are our crops behind, but so are all the other jobs - including the weeding etc.!

However Tig (last year's winner) quietly went ahead and entered about six plots, without our knowledge, telling us afterwards - before the judging date. A bit of panic broke out amongst some - to say the least!

The Result?

1st Prize has been awarded to Stephen Parry (Plot 14). Runner-up was Moi.

The competition which has been  independently judged by the Aberaeron in Bloom Committee judges will be officially presented to Stephen and myself at the town's annual carnival event on the August Bank Holiday Monday. For those of you who can - or who may be here on holiday, please try to be there to support and clap our Stephen!

WE ARE IMMENSELY PROUD OF HIM!


OTHER ALLOTMENT & GARDENING NEWS

Spot the 'Blue One'

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is calling on gardeners to watch out for the blue mint beetle - the latest pest to appear in the UK.

The beetle, Chrysolina coerulans or blue mint beetle, was confirmed to be breeding in the country by the charity’s entomology department when specimens were sent to them by an RHS member in Kent in July 2011.

However, as there has only been one reported finding, the charity is keen to find out if this is an isolated situation and therefore controllable or if the insect is more widespread but not yet reported. By having more information the RHS will be in a better position to advise gardeners on the most effective measures to take.

“The beetle is widespread on mainland Europe and the detection of breeding adults in the UK could mean problems for gardeners who grow this herb,” says Andrew Halstead, Principal Scientist Plant Health. “It is therefore important that we find out if there are any other breeding adults elsewhere in the UK. The adults and the black, soft-bodied larvae both eat the foliage.”

The 7mm long blue mint beetle (pictured left) is quite different in colour to our native beetle, the green mint beetle (Chrysolina herbacea) which is shiny, emerald-green. This beetle also eats mint leaves but is generally not a problem because it occurs more frequently on wild mint.

“At the moment our control suggestions are the same both for our native green mint beetle and the new incomer,” says Andrew. 'If there are only a few then removal of the beetle and larvae by hand works best.

"If the infestation is more extensive then it may be necessary to apply a pesticide. An organic insecticide, pyrethrum, can be used on mint to control pests. This short-persistence insecticide should deal with young larvae. However, it may not be effective to control the adults and so other insecticides, such as deltamethrin or lambda-cyhalothrin, may have to be considered.”

The RHS would like gardeners to check their plants for holes in the leaves and search their mint plants for beetles. If blue beetles are discovered the charity would like either digital photographs taken and sent to advisory_entomology@rhs.org.uk or live samples posted in stout containers to Advisory Service, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB.


What Will Be The Cost of Allotment Appeal to Gardeners?

Alex Mullins (pictured) believes rent increases will mean allotment holders will no longer view their hobby as "worthwhile"

An allotment holder who originally WON a case against his local council for increasing the cost of allotment rents by 60% has had his case dismissed on appeal. What could this mean for the future of the Great British allotment?

Some allotment growers, predict councils across the country will now feel freer to impose rent hikes and the traditional allotment gardener could be "priced out".

Georgie Willcock of the National Allotment Society (whilst commenting on the decision) said: "There are councils that have been waiting for the outcome of this court case". I am apt to agree with her.

It has become fashionable for middle class "professionals" with an envious amount of disposable income (the pink marigold gloved Margo Leadbetter types) to dabble with vegetable growing. Nothing wrong with that, although for the vast majority it's a novelty kick that wears off after about twelve months. In the same way as new marinas push out local boat fishermen because of prices, I personally fear the same will happen to poorer working class allotment growers.

Allotments were originally designed to allow poorer families with no land the opportunity to grow their own food at minimal costs. Put monied people into the equation and change the role of the allotment to a middle class hobby rather than a serious means of growing food due to a need, and you have a recipe for the wolves to descend on the carcass. Councils will realise that they have got rid of the small rent shackles that were once imposed on them and will ratchet up the costs until the traditional allotmenteers will drop off, replaced by the "new" allotment types with money and no energy.

Only time will tell what these councils will do over the next 12 to 18 months - but there is a very strong possibility that they will now start putting up their rents.

Case dismissed

Alex Mullins, of Eastleigh and District Allotments Association, challenged Eastleigh Borough Council in Hampshire over its 60% price increase, from £25 to £40 a year. A Southampton county court judge backed Mr Mullins at an earlier hearing, but the case was dismissed after the council appealed. A judge at Winchester County Court ruled that the small claims procedure taken by Mr Mullins was inappropriate for the dispute, and set aside the original ruling.

"I think a lot of councils will now think there won't be anyone to challenge them and they will take comfort in that and whack on huge increases," said Mr Mullins.

Mr Mullins said he believed most allotment holders would not be able to afford the court fees to challenge rent hikes.

He said rent increases would mean people would no longer view their hobby as "worthwhile" when taking into consideration the cost of seeds and tools and the work involved to keep a plot in a satisfactory state of growth and cultivation.

"We might as well go to Harrods and buy our carrots there," he said.

Rents doubled

Eastleigh Borough Council said it was "delighted" that the case had been dismissed.

PlantsA spokesman denied there would be any more allotment rent increases in the borough over the next two years, except in line with inflation. He said the council did not want to discuss allotment rents further.

During the court case the council argued it had priced its allotments in accordance with what other local authorities were charging. It said when it set the price increase it wanted to reduce the cost to the local authority.

There are currently 100,000 people on the allotment waiting list in England and Wales, said Ms Willcock, of the allotment society.

Gym membership

Ms Willcock said local authorities should take into account the popularity of allotments and provide an "open consultation process" with allotment holders. Some councils across the country had increased allotment rents by 100% she said.

Last year Barnet Council attempted to triple rents in the borough but was met by strong opposition. Ms Willcock said: "Traditionally allotments are the preserve of people with not much disposable income.

"If rents are put up quite quickly it takes out a section of society, such as the elderly and the retired.

"We've had a fair few calls from our members concerned about the fact that their rents seem to be going up fairly substantially over the past couple of years.

"It might sound cheap to say that it is only £30 a year - but if you think about it, it is only the land that is provided.

"It's not like paying for a gym membership - which includes services like heating the building and the showers and providing the equipment and an entire service - you would expect to have to pay more for that."


KNOW YOUR PESTS

Do you recognise the difference between one cabbage white butterfly caterpillar and another? A cabbage white caterpillar is a cabbage white caterpillar right? WRONG. There's big differences between one (native) species and the larger visitor from southern Europe.

The two species, the large white butterfly, Pieris brassicae, and the Small White butterfly Pieris rapae are particularly important pests, and both common to our gardens.

Here on the left, are the differences between their caterpillars.

The caterpillars of both the small and large cabbage white butterflies are cabbage leaf munching vandalss with monstrous appetites! The first is pale green with a body up to 2.5cm long, the second is bigger at 4cm and is yellow with black markings. The adult butterflies lay eggs at different times: the small from February to April and again in late-summer, the large in April and May. This means the caterpillars can be busily munching away from early spring through to autumn.

This is a taster to help our readers sit up and realise how important it is to recognise the damage caused by various pests. What symptoms to look for, how to recognise the culprit when seen, and, most importantly how to guard against it - or if present - how to get rid of it!

In the following months we'll discuss various pests in our news-letter and provide a link to our web-site's Fact Files on the pests. Not ALL pests have had fact files compiled for them yet!

So to kick off here's a bit of info. about the

Cabbage Root Fly

The other evening I was admiring some of my plot neighbour's brassicas. Whilst chatting we both noticed that one cabbage was looking a bit limp and had a different leaf colour to that of it's brothers in the same row.

We debated whether we'd lift it for a post-mortem or leave it in situ to see how things would pan out. Anyway it was decided to lift it.

The first thing we noticed was how easy it came out of the soil - a sure sign that something had been having a go at it's roots, as it was no longer anchored as it should be.

The root was badly attacked and was only a couple of inches long. With a sharp penknife we started scrapping away the soil and sure enough, there were the culprits, little white "lazy" maggots. Cabbage Root Fly Larvae.

Too late to save the plant. It was too small to eat so after making sure no maggots were left in the root, it was moved to it's new home - the compost heap! A word of warning - if you're not sure whether there are any maggots or eggs left on the roots it's safer to burn what's left - rather than risk contaminating your compost.

A painful little lesson. When it comes to this pest it's ALL about prevention, because there is no cure.

The maggots of cabbage root fly eat the roots of cabbages and other brassicas, as well as tunnelling into the roots of swedes, turnips and radish - which all belong to the brassica family. So beware, if there are cabbage root flies about they don't just attack cabbage - they'll attack all it's cousins too!

 So, What is a cabbage root fly?  

Cabbage root-fly (delia radicum). Large numbers of this small fly, whose larvae feed on the roots of brassicas and oilseed rape, are often seen out of doors, basking on light coloured surfaces in warm humid weather. Adult cabbage root flies resemble house flies. The larvae are white, legless and headless maggots that feed on the roots and can kill seedling and recently transplanted brassicas.

 Brassicas attacked by cabbage root fly will be affected in the following ways:

  • poor growth, plant will wilt and may die, especially recent transplants in early summer
  • swede, turnip and radish are ruined when white maggots, up to 9mm long, tunnel into the edible part of the roots
  • maggots can sometimes tunnel into individual buttons on Brussels sprout plants

Prevention & Control

Recent transplants can be given some protection by placing a brassica collar around the base of the stem. These can be bought from garden centres or they can be made from circles or squares, about 8-15cm (3¼-6in) across, using carpet underlay, roofing felt or cardboard, my favourite material is lino - if you can get some bits from somewhere (modern terminology: vinyl floor covering). The collar prevents the female fly placing eggs in the soil surface close to a host plant. Eggs deposited on the collar often dry up and fail to hatch.

However the daddy of all control methods is to cover your brassicas with a fine mesh net - it's the only sure fire method of protection, plus the fact it will also protect you from all the other flying pests as well. Growing them under the cover of horticultural fleece, or an insect-proof mesh such as Veggiemesh will do the trick. This year for the first time, I've used the green mesh netting you get around scaffolding (to stop bits flying off into unsuspecting crowds and killing them all - good ol' British Health & Safety regulations!) Anyway, this stuff seems identical to the ventilation & insect screens you find on polytunnels. The difference is, if you know a local, friendly scaffolder or builder, he will probably give you some used stuff for free. They're glad to get rid of it because they have to keep on renewing it for each new job (good ol' you know who again). It doesn't take long for them to get sick of the sight of the stuff! I was a bit hesitant to use it because I wondered if it may cause too much shading, but I can report that my brassicas seem quite happy in their insect and wind free environment! Horticultural fleece may be preferred for seedbeds, being more dense it will warm the soil.

Crop rotation must be practised, otherwise cabbage root flies will emerge from over-wintered pupae in the soil under the fleece cover if host plants are grown in the same piece of ground in successive years.

Nemasys Grow Your Own is a mixture of pathogenic nematode species that is sold as a biological pest control for use against cabbage root fly larvae and other pests, including the larvae of carrot fly, onion fly, leatherjackets, chafer grubs, sciarid flies, caterpillars, gooseberry sawfly, thrips and codling moth - what a God-send - one size fits all eh? If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! Personally, my jury is still out regarding the practicality and efficiency (not to mention the astronomical costs) of using pathogenic nematodes. I tend to believe that there may be an element of "The King's New Clothes" at work here. I tried Nemaslug once. You can't see the microscopic nematodes, you mix them with water and hey presto ALL the slugs and snails above and below the ground die within 6 weeks due to bacterial infection in their bodies. If that really is the case then they must have sent in another battalion under cover of darkness to finish the job on the lettuce the year I tried Nemaslug!

If you are the kind of gardener that is so inclined to zap things with chemicals - FORGET IT!  There's nothing for you to use. None of the pesticides currently available to amateur gardeners are suitable for use against cabbage root fly.

General knowledge about your enemy:

  • There are three generations during the summer but it is the first generation in late spring-early summer that is often the most damaging.

  • Adult cabbage root flies resemble house flies.

  • The larvae are white, legless and headless maggots that are up to 9mm long. They feed on the roots and can kill seedling and recently transplanted brassicas. Later generations are less damaging to cabbages and other leafy brassicas, as older plants have larger root systems and are better able to tolerate the damage. Edible root host plants are damaged by any of the generations.

  • When fully fed, the larvae go into a brown pupal stage, either emerging as adult flies a few weeks later or remaining in that state overwinter.

No excuses for getting caught out next year!

More info. on other pests in future issues of our NEWSLETTER.


imageDID YOU KNOW?

Beginning in 1971, retired biologist Jennifer Owen catalogued the wildlife in her suburban Leicester garden. After 15 years she published her interim results, which included 533 species of parasitical wasp alone. Fifteen of these had never been recorded in Britain, and four of them were completely new to science. Britain has about 16 million back gardens (not counting allotment plots), each containing more than 4,000 invertebrates (worms, spiders, insects) and about 250 plants. Research from 2002 by Newcastle University included soil micro-organisms and calculated that the average back garden contains 3.5 million species – twice as many as have been identified on the planet.

"Not a lot of people know that!"


WEEDS & WEEDING

Webster’s definition:

Weed - “plant growing where it is not desired.”

A weed can be defined as a plant of any kind that 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 plant 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!

A Quick "Start-up" Guide to Allotment Growing

And The Task Of Site Clearance!

(hover your mouse pointer over the text to stop it scrolling)


The Golden Rule is - don't take on more than you can cope with. Allotment gardening is hard work and requires dedication - it's not as easy as gardening programmes make it look! But on the positive side, it's probably even more enjoyable than it looks on telly!

Right! Down To Work

First job? Knobble the perennial weeds (docks, nettles, couch grass etc.) before you start, particularly if you plan on growing long-term perennial crops, such as asparagus and soft fruit etc.

Fork out all their roots - not just the top bit -  but the WHOLE root. You can then smother the area with black plastic or old carpets to kill off any other less aggressive weeds and grass.
If you belong to an allotment group that doesn't mind using harmful plant poisons, and your allotment association or society does not stipulate that you mustn't use chemical weed-killing agents, then use glysophate (usually found under the trade name "Round Up") or a similar preparation - be careful - you don't allow it to drift on to your neighbours' plots, where it may damage their crops or cause animosity, especially if they are sensitive to your inorganic methods. You can use a combination of everything. In extreme cases, think about covering and forgetting about two-thirds of the ground for that first season, and just grow potatoes on the remaining third. Their cultivation can help break up the soil and cleanse it of some weeds. Who said it was going to be easy?!

 

Remember that some weed seeds can remain active in soil for many years. Never let weeds grow large and go to seed - hoe them out as tiddlers on dry days. Don't put the roots of perennial weeds in your compost bin. Boundary paths are weed hotbeds too, so mow and edge them regularly. No one wants foreign-looking allotments - all concrete paths, chain-link fencing and stifling rules - but good and tidy housekeeping benefits EVERYONE.

 

 

Raised Beds

Don't be surprised if the current love affair with raised beds causes raised eyebrows among some of the old guard, who regard them as a waste of space and prefer regimented rows. Each to his/her own, but defined beds enable you to improve soil selectively, crop intensively - and with paths of (slug/snail unfriendly) bark, mown grass or even Mypex between beds, life is easier, particularly on winter-heavy soil. Don't make beds you can't reach across or you will have to tread on them; 4ft wide and about 12ft - 16ft long is regarded as a good size, while others favour smaller square beds.

 

 

Soil Improvement

This usually takes the form of an annual autumn or spring muck-spreading frenzy - it is an essential task. If your allotment association or gardening society can't organise communal muck supplies, get together with one or two plotters and share a delivery.

 

Although some enjoy the "catalogue" neatness of pristine expensive infrastructure, not spending money is actually a traditional culture of allotment growers. Most allotmenteers recycle wherever possible, often in very ingenious ways. Compost bins can be made from wooden pallets, old scaffolding boards and split tree trunks make good edges for raised beds. Ingenuity is honoured and respected amongst allotmenteers.

 

Crop Rotation and Protection is Key

As sure as God made those little green apples that give you belly ache, growing the same family of crops in the same location will inevitably lead to big problems. Certain pests only attack certain plant families. If you grow the same crops in the same soil the pests associated with that plant family will become an epidemic in that area. You may then find it very hard to eradicate them. Also, by growing the same plants in the same soil every year the nutrients that crop requires will eventually become depleted, resulting in poorer crops. There is more information on crop rotation in the "Basics" section of this web-site.

 

Pests, (particularly flying and crawling ones) can quickly get the upper hand. Hoops of hazel, cut from hedges (failing that, polythene piping from plumbing suppliers and cut to size), make good supports for protective meshes and netting. And which netting? Drapey "pond netting'' is easier to handle than that annoyingly springy nylon stuff that is hard to peg down and control!

 

 

Storage

If you live some distance away, a shed (with a water butt) is a boon, with hooks to keep tools (and that essential old fleece) off the floor. It also serves as a good cool and dark place to store crops - such as potatoes or carrots. And, (it should be added), an old chair is an essential!

 

Growing Don'ts

Don't grow too much of any one thing, get the hang of sowing seeds a little at a time every few weeks (a tough one, that - even though it's quite easy with a bit of acquired self discipline) and even if you don't practise classic crop rotation, at least don't grow the same crop in the same place twice for more than two seasons.

 

Obviously only grow what you like to eat, but there are definitely 'easy' and 'difficult' crops. Potatoes and leeks as well as onions (from sets) all belong in the easy camp. Peas and beans, too. Strawberries (netted) and autumn raspberries (no need to net) are a popular and easy must for some. Unless you live on the doorstop, grow cut-and-come-again salads at home since they need almost daily snipping. Parsnips are tricky to germinate; carrots need fine sandy soil (adding as much sand as compost before sowing helps). Without efficient mesh and netting protection ( to protect against pigeons and butterflies), don't grow any form of the space-greedy winter cabbage family. Chard and perpetual spinach, however, are long-life, relatively low-maintenance crops worth learning to love, if you don't already.

 

Free, or even cheap, food is sometimes a myth, certainly at first. Needless to say, allotment growing is more cost-effective if you buy (and share) seed, rather than plug plants. Once you are established, producing compost and saving seed from your crops, you go into a different economic league. Allotment growing is not ALL about economics anyway, it's mostly bout producing fresh, tasty, healthy and wholesome food for you and your family.

 

 

Finally, something slightly controversial:

Don't listen to the kill-joys. It is perfectly OK to grow flowers for picking on your allotment and it encourages pollinating insects. If your allotment group allows it - keeping bees is an excellent idea as they are the No1 pollinators on every allotment site in existence.

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 shame.

The 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:

  1. ANNUAL weeds, and

  2. PERENNIAL weeds.

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 infestation.

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 their population.

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. plants.

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).

Weeds compete 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 through photosynthesis. 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 parasite.

Certain weeds,  can out-compete other plants by a kind of chemical warfare called allelopathy (examples include creeping buttercup - which is rampant on the Cae Ffynnon Wîn allotment site). Creeping buttercup also depletes the soil of potassium. Some 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.

Weeds can 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 develop deep 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 & sunlight.

Why Control Weeds?

Simply put, if you don’t control them, they WILL 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!

Green manure, 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 clover, alfalfa, mustard, fava beans, rye and 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 ourselves to 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 week.

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 neighbour?

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!

Annual meadow-grass    
Annual mercury    
Barren brome    
Black bent    
Black bindweed    
Black medick    
Black nightshade    
Black-grass    
Bracken    
Bramble    
Broad-leaved dock    
Bulbous buttercup    
Canadian fleabane    
Caper spurge    
Cat's-ear    
Charlock    
Cleavers    
Cock's-foot    
Coltsfoot    
Common amaranth    
Common bent    
Common chickweed    
Common couch    
Common fiddleneck    
Common field-speedwell    
Common fumitory    
Common hemp-nettle    
Common mouse-ear    
Common nettle    
Common orache    
Common poppy    
Common ragwort    
Common sorrel    
Common toadflax    
Corn chamomile    
Corn marigold    
Corn spurrey    
Cow parsley    
Creeping bent    
Creeping buttercup    
Creeping soft-grass    
Creeping thistle    
Curled dock    
Cut-leaved crane's-bill    
Daisy    
Dandelion
Dove    
Dwarf spurge    
Evening-primrose    
Fat-hen    
Field bindweed    
Field forget-me-not    
Field horsetail    
Field Madder    
Field pansy    
Field penny-cress    
Flixweed    
Fool's parsley    
Gallant soldiers    
Garlic mustard    
Giant hogweed    
Goat's-beard    
Greater plantain    
Ground elder    
Ground-ivy    
Groundsel    
Hairy bittercress    
Hairy Tare    
Hedge bindweed    
Hedge mustard    
Hemlock    
Henbit dead-nettle    
Himalayan balsam    
Hoary cress    
Hogweed    
Ivy-leaved speedwell    
Japanese knotweed    
Knotgrass    
Lesser celandine    
Lesser trefoil    
Long-headed poppy    
Meadow buttercup    
Mouse-ear-hawkweed    
Mugwort    
Nipplewort    
Onion couch    
Oxford ragwort    
Pale persicaria    
Parsley piert    
Perennial rye-grass    
Perennial sowthistle    
Perforate St John
Petty spurge    
Pineappleweed    
Prickly lettuce    
Prickly sow-thistle    
Procumbent pearlwort    
Red dead-nettle    
Redshank    
Ribwort plantain    
Rosebay willowherb    
Rough meadow-grass    
Rushes    
Scarlet pimpernel    
Scented mayweed    
Scentless mayweed    
Selfheal    
Sheep's sorrel    
Shepherd's purse    
Slender speedwell    
Small nettle    
Smooth hawk    
Smooth sow-thistle    
Soft brome    
Spear thistle    
Spear-leaved orache    
Sticky mouse-ear    
Stinking chamomile    
Sun spurge    
Swine cress    
Thale cress    
Thorn-apple    
Thyme-leaved speedwell    
Volunteer cereals    
Volunteer oilseed rape    
Volunteer Potato    
Wall Barley    
Wall speedwell    
Weed Beet    
White campion    
White clover    
Wild radish    
Wild-oat    
Winter wild-oat    
Yarrow    
Yorkshire fog    

SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT

This news-letter is primarily for allotment growers and gardeners. It revolves around their dedicated work to grow their own healthy, fresh and clean food both for themselves, their families, and others they often share their produce with - like friends and neighbours. The News-letter is also produced to help the allotment movement across the UK.

Being the type of people we are, many of us have an interest in other health promoting foods and beverages, apart from the fruit and veg we grow in our gardens and on our plots.

Many years ago I came across something called Kombucha - some of you may have heard about it. It's a health promoting beverage that's brewed from tea, using a living culture. I brewed it for years, but when I was diagnosed with diabetes I stopped brewing, because I mistakenly thought that because the brew requires a large amount of sugar, it would not be very good for the diabetes problem. I say mistakenly, because recently I discovered that German scientists who studied the Kombucha brew back in the fifties discovered that it can actually HELP diabetes sufferers! All the sugar is brewed down by the yeast and bacteria culture, so instead of being laden with sugar the final drink transforms the glucose and in exchange, produces other valuable substances such as: glucuronic acid, glucon acid, lactic acid, vitamins, and amino acids. Some of these actually have a positive effect on the surplus sugar in the blood of diabetes sufferers. however it doesn't end there.  Dr. Rudolph Skelnar used it in his practice to treat cancer patients, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure and of course diabetes.

At the end of June this year my mate Dave Amphlett & his partner Samantha from King's Norton (whom I met through our Gardeners Chat-Shed web-site) came to stay in Aberaeron and spent a few days with us. During a chance conversation I discovered that Dave also brews Kombucha! I explained that I had once done the same but had stopped a few years ago, but I mentioned that I would be interested in starting again. being the kind soul that he is, he sent me down a "child" culture so that I could start the process off again. When it arrived, I had the idea of including some information about it in our News-letter.

So for all those who may have an interest please read on. This next section is an excerpt from a web-page that I will soon be including on our web-sites. Here's a preview for you all.

Kombucha

What's It's History?

The first recorded use of Kombucha was in 221 B.C. during the Chinese empire of the Tsin-Dynasty. They called it “The remedy for immortality” or the “divine tische”.

In 414 A.D. Dr. Kombu from Korea brought Kombucha to Japan to treat the Japanese emperor Inkyo. From Japan, this incredible tonic spread to Russia, Europe, and India.

In the early 1950's, Soviet scientists were researching the large increase in cancer that had occurred after World War II. They sent two teams of researchers to two districts in the region of Perm on the Kama river of the Ural mountains where there were hardly any incidences of cancer occurring. They discovered that despite living in an area highly contaminated by lead, asbestos, and mercury, these people were experiencing no illness. Investigating further, they found that almost all the households were drinking “tea kvass” the Russian word for Kombucha.

After the war Dr. Rudolph Skelnar created renewed interest in Kombucha in Germany (those clever Germans in the 50s again!) When he used it in his practice to treat cancer patients, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Today, Kombucha is becoming increasingly recognized as a delicious beverage that has many health benefits. It's so easy to "brew" it can be done by anyone at home with basic utensils and no previous knowledge and it doesn't take a lot of time. All you need is a Kombucha culture called a s.c.o.b.y. - see below.

 What is it?

Kombucha is a living health drink which has been used for thousands of years to help stimulate the metabolism and maintain a healthy immune system.

Recently, Kombucha has become even more well-known for its ability to increase the effectiveness of natural detoxification processes and replenish vital organic acids and enzymes required by the body for optimal health.

The Kombucha culture looks like a beige or white rubbery pancake. It's often called a “s.c.o.b.y.” which stands for ' symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts.' The culture is placed in sweetened black, white or green tea and turns the tea into a sea of health giving organic acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and nutrients. The Kombucha culture feeds on the sugar and, in exchange, produces other valuable substances such as: glucuronic acid, glucon acid, lactic acid, vitamins, and amino acids. Kombucha also contains beneficial bacteria in the form of Lactobacillus Acidophilus, as well as dozens of other probiotic strains. By ingesting Kombucha, we can increase the amounts of good bacteria in our bodies to maintain a healthy digestive tract. Kombucha has been known to possess anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal components which make it a powerful addition to the health conscious individual.

How Does It Work?

The live, active cultures present in Kombucha remain dormant until they come into contact with the sugars in the digestive system. Kombucha thrives on these excess sugars and binds to toxins commonly found in the diet, clearing the way for the body to absorb the full nutrient content of the foods we eat. While the probiotics in Kombucha are detoxifying the digestive system, they are also producing organic acids and B Vitamins which speed the cleansing process, creating a wealth of rejuvenating effects throughout the body.

The boost of probiotic strains provided by Kombucha helps to flush out harmful bacteria and pathogens by regulating the level of acidity in the digestive tract.

Kombucha has been documented by various users as having the following effects. It apparently:

  • Boosts Energy

  • Improves Digestion

  • Strengthens at a Cellular level

  • Prevents Acid Reflux

  • Assists With Weight Loss

  • Improves Sleep

  • Relieves Constipation

  • Strengthens and restores hair

  • Beautifies the skin

  • Improves Circulation

  • Removes toxicity from the body

  • Improves eyesight

  • Eases the pain of arthritis

On a personal note, I would not listen to EVERYTHING that's said about Kombucha. Only take on board what has been proven in trials. We have to keep our feet on the ground. Whilst it may have a superb effect on some of it's users who are suffering poor health, others (probably due to their adequate level of health & fitness) probably won't be so impressed.

Also, as with many alternative cures and elixirs some people go over the top. I've read of people attributing magical powers to it and some even believe it communicates with them telepathically from it's glass jar in the corner of their living room! These sort of accounts often come from people who also have regular alien abduction experiences and sometimes think they are a teapot for whole days at a time - you probably get my drift! However there ARE well documented scientific records, especially from our Russian & German friends that this brewed drink IS generally good for our health.

How Do You Make It?

The Basics - what you'll need:

  • 1 Kombucha culture (s.c.o.b.y.)

  • 2 litres of water

  • 3 or 4 tea bags or 3 or 4 teaspoons of tea (green, white, or black tea)

  • 160 grams of white sugar

  • 200 ml of Kombucha from a previous batch as a starter or 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar if you don't have any Kombucha.

To make larger batches just increase the ingredients used in the correct ratio

The Equipment:

  • A 3 litre glass Pyrex bowl

  • A tea towel for covering the bowl

  • A rubber band or piece of elastic to secure the tea towel

  • A teapot or saucepan to make the tea in

  • A measuring jug that can measure 2 litres

  • A scale to measure the sugar

  • A strainer

  • Some bottles for storing the finished drink

The Method

A Note on Cleanliness

Make sure everything is very clean when handling Kombucha. It's a living culture, a complex system of bacteria and yeasts and you don't want to risk contaminating it. Use freshly cleaned hands, clean jars and clean non metallic implements.

Making  the tea

Make a pot of tea with the tea bags and leave it to brew for 15 to 20 minutes. Alternatively add your tea to a saucepan and simmer it gently for 5 minutes.

Strain the tea into your measuring jug, add the sugar and stir it until it dissolves. Now add cold water to bring the tea up to 2 litres. Hot tea can kill the culture. It should be no more than blood heat before you add it to your culture, so if it’s still too warm then let it cool down before you add it to the bowl.

Making the brew

Add the starter.

Into the Pyrex bowl put the starter liquid from the previous batch of Kombucha. If this is your first batch then use 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar as your starter, (It adds the acid environment the culture likes) or some commercial Kombucha if you have some. Once you’ve made your first batch you’ll have your own Kombucha to use as a starter on the next batch.

Pour the cool  tea into the bowl

Make sure your tea is cool before you add it to the Kombucha culture! Hot tea can kill the culture. It should be no more than blood heat before you add it to your starter.

 

Add the Kombucha s.c.o.b.y..

Pick up your s.c.o.b.y. and slide it into the bowl. It will probably float but sometimes they sink. It will make no difference if it floats or sinks so don’t worry about it. If the s.c.o.b.y. has a 'dirty' side where it's darker in colour and has beard-like brown bits sticking to it then put that side facing down into the tea. The brown bits are just harmless yeasts.

Cover it and leave it to ferment

Put your tea towel over the bowl and secure it with a rubber band or a piece of elastic. This keeps contamination out of your culture. Fruit flies especially like the smell of Kombucha and can appear like magic out of thin air to lay their eggs in the s.c.o.b.y.. So it’s important to cover it properly.

Put the bowl in a warm dark place (23°-30°C or 70°-86°F) like an airing cupboard or in a kitchen cupboard or near a radiator.
And that’s it!

Checking The Brew

The fermentation will take 5-14 days depending on the temperature. If you check your brew after 2 or 3 days you’ll notice a scum forming on the surface. It’s not scum at all; it’s the first thin membrane of your new Kombucha s.c.o.b.y..

Start tasting the brew after 4 or 5 days. Gently move the s.c.o.b.y. aside and dip a spoon into the liquid, or a more refined method is to dip a straw in to suck out a small amount  to taste. When the Kombucha is ready it should be neither too sweet nor too sour. This is rather a personal taste and will depend on how much sugar you want left in the brew. Some like it sweet but others prefer it sour. If you suffer with diabetes I have no need to tell you that for you it needs ro be well brewed and more on the sour side (for obvious reasons). It’s up to you, so test it every day until its the way you like it.

The round creamy blob is the starter culture. All around it is a thin new culture developing and you can see bubbles under the surface.

 

 

 

 

In this close up the new s.c.o.b.y. is lifted off the surface of the Kombucha so you can see how thin and transparent it is compared to the starter s.c.o.b.y. at the bottom of the photo. The yellow sediment floating in the brew are yeasts and quite natural.

 

Bottling

When the Kombucha is ready, with clean hands gently lift the mother culture and it’s offspring out onto a clean plate. The "child" culture can be passed on to someone else who wants to start brewing, or you can use it for another batch thereby doubling your output!

Strain the Kombucha into your measuring jug leaving behind about 200ml in the bowl as a starter for the next batch.

Now fill your clean bottles with the Kombucha, label them and store them in a cupboard or the fridge. You can use any kinds of bottles but some batches will be a lot fizzier than others and it's a good idea to use pop bottles, like the Grolsh bottles, that have rubber gaskets on them. This kind of bottle will let out any excess pressure and prevent explosions!

After bottling your Kombucha make up a second batch of tea for the culture and set your second brew to ferment.

Kombucha is ready to drink immediately, but storing the bottled Kombucha for a month or two will give you an even better drink. This kind of bottle conditioning can improve the flavour as any home wine brewer will know. The sugar continues to ferment a little, giving you lighter, drier taste and producing more fizz.

The Kombucha will often grow little s.c.o.b.y.s on the top of the liquid in the bottles. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about but look out for them when you take your first mouthful!

You are now ready to drink your first home made Kombucha!

ENJOY!

The Next Batch

Now you can make a second batch of sweet tea and when it’s cool add it to the bowl and the waiting starter. Then add your s.c.o.b.y. and put the tea towel back over the bowl and put the bowl away to ferment.

For your first 2 or 3 batches it’s a good idea to use both the mother and the baby together until the new s.c.o.b.y. thickens up. When they are new they can be paper thin. With each brewing a new layer will form on top and your s.c.o.b.y. will get thicker. Then, when it's somewhere between a quarter and a half an inch thick, you can gently separate the mother and baby and use the mother to start off a second brew.

Each s.c.o.b.y. will grow with each brew, gradually getting thicker. You can leave them like this and occasionally peel of a layer from the bottom and discard it. Or you can separate them and either pass new s.c.o.b.y.s on to friends or store them as spares in another jar of sweet tea which you can keep in the fridge to slow down fermentation. It’s useful to have spares in case your active culture becomes contaminated and you need to discard the Kombucha and the s.c.o.b.y. and start again.

A close up of the same s.c.o.b.y. as above after the second batch has been brewed. You can see it has thickened up and is now a creamy colour rather than transparent.

Notes and Variations

Containers

The Kombucha culture needs oxygen for the fermentation. A Pyrex bowl gives a large surface area and is an excellent brewing container. But you can use taller jars to brew the Kombucha, it will simply take longer to brew because there's a smaller surface area exposed to oxygen. So 5-10 days in a bowl becomes more like 10-20 days in a jar.

Several brewing suppliers now carry Kombucha fermenting jars They are wide mouthed jars, usually sat in a wicker container that helps to keep the light out. A 3 litre pickle or sweet jar will do very well too.

Temperature

Kombucha likes a steady temperature of 23°-30°C (or 70°-86°F). A steady temperature gives a more consistent brew. In summer when the air is warm this isn't too difficult. Keeping the brew in an airing cupboard will keep it at a constant temperature too. But if you can't do that then in the winter as the temperature changes from cold to warm with the central heating in modern homes there will be a fluctuation in the brewing time and possibly in fizziness and taste too. The Kombucha Network UK sell heating trays specially for Kombucha.

Tea

Kombucha requires tea for its fermentation. That's real tea (Camellia Sinensis) not herbal tea. Use black, oolong, green or white tea and look for organic tea as contaminants in some commercial teas can affect the culture.

Kombucha can be also be sensitive to strong aromatic oils. A tea like Earl Grey that contains Bergamot oil, can sometimes kill or badly affect the culture. So avoid these types of flavoured tea.

Sugar

White sugar is cheap and works very well. Organic white sugar would be even better. Sugar is used by the yeasts during fermentation, and is broken down and transformed into acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and carbon dioxide. Sugar is also involved in the propagation of the Kombucha culture. It uses the sugar to build the s.c.o.b.y.. At the end of the fermentation period, if done correctly, the sugar will have been virtually all converted and there should be little or no sugar left in the Kombucha. Using raw brown sugars can give the brew a bad taste and result in poor culture formation.

Water

Chlorine added to water supplies to kill harmful bacteria will, unfortunately, also affect the millions of friendly bacteria in Kombucha. That’s why the water you use for brewing your Kombucha tea should be filtered. This can be done with a cartridge and jug, or a system plumbed in under the sink. Jug filters will remove chlorine from water and make it taste better. However, only the best quality water filters will remove aluminium, bacteria and heavy metals, like lead, along with organic pollutants like herbicides and pesticides.

If you don't have a filter then bring to the boil 2.5 litres of water in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. This will remove chlorine and fluoride and other unpleasant things. You need more than your 2 litres to allow for evaporation. However you'll need to let this sit until it's cool before using it to make your Kombucha


That's it for another issue friends. If you would like to write something for our NEWS-LETTER then all contributions are gratefully accepted.

If you have any friends or gardening acquaintances who you think would like our news-letter and would benefit from it then by all means point them towards our news-letter archive on the web-site where they can also subscribe on-line to receive the publication by e-mail - it's FREE!

 

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Until the next time - keep busy, keep hoeing those weeds, but have fun & ENJOY on your plot or in your garden!

 

Best Wishes,

G

 
 
Gwilym.

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