NOVEMBER/ DECEMBER 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

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PLEASE 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

Here in the UK, you can't do much on the allotment in December (in any year) can you? It's a 2 month. It's too wet, too frosty or just too flaming dark! This last year it's  been a too  season from start to finish. It's been one to forget for most of us gardeners! I'll remember it as a waiting year. It seems that we've waited all year for some good weather - it never arrived! Spring came, and it rained with floods, then summer came & we had more floods, autumn brought yet more floods & now we're in winter, and guess what? It's STILL raining & flooding! What a total disaster. The worst I can remember in my forty years of gardening, and the generation before me say the same thing. A real record breaker - for all the wrong reasons.

It's not just a hiccup when it comes to our small scale food production in the garden. The weather has hit the commercial growers in a big way, not just in the UK but globally. For varying reasons crops have failed on a global scale.

Droughts in America has meant that grain is in short supply. The United States is, by far, the largest producer of grain in the world. What is deeply worrying about US crop failures within a global context is that they supply the world with around 40% of its total food supply. Corn (including wheat, maize & soybean) is grown on over 400,000 U.S. farms. The key mid-west growing area has been hit this year by the worst drought in 56 years. The department of agriculture over there has said that half of the nation's grain crop was rated poor to very poor. The first seven months of 2012 were the warmest on record for the US; temperatures in July broke a record high that was set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. When America sneezes we catch a cold over here. Look out for a whopping rise in the price of bread from here on!

Similarly, here in the UK crop failures this year have been very high - due to the opposite cause - rain & floods. Potatoes especially have also been hit by more blight than usual, due to the unseasonal weather providing an ideal breeding ground for it. Heavy rainfall in the UK has also led to the failure of much of our tree based fruit crops, and wheat has also suffered. Cue high prices in the shops for potatoes (along with bread, it's the main source of carbohydrates in our food, a "bulk" & staple part of our diet). But it doesn't end there. It seems that with the shortage of potatoes for consumption, the available supply of seed potatoes for next year's planting is also drastically reduced. When I spoke to Ian Barbour (from JBA Seed Potatoes - one of our web-site sponsors) a month or two ago, he told me that many of the varieties they usually supply are simply not available for next season, because they've failed to get the potatoes out of the fields due to the water. He tells me that their family business, established by the Jamieson Brothers (Arran) has not experienced such a poor season in all the decades that they've been producing potatoes.

However, looking on the brighter side of things, it's just a few days to the shortest day! "Bring it on" 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 dydd 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 away 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!

Winter is the rest period. Some of us use this time between now & spring to start planning our plots for next year and ordering our seeds early, if not, it's that time when you can put your feet up in front of the fire and start writing your "wish lists" for spring. Assuming you're not plagued by a conscience that you haven't tidied your plot up for another year. Or that the autumn sown broad bean or onion sets that you promised yourself you'd get around to planting hasn't been done! We ALL have those moments - that's where the wet weather comes in handy - to blame it for our little procrastinations! But it's not a sin! The main point of growing veg. is to get enjoyment out of it.


SOME OF OUR OWN ALLOTMENTS SITE NEWS

Not a lot to report really from around the Aberaeron Allotment Association site at Cae Ffynnon Wîn. This site also has some of us Aeron Vale Allotment Society members with plots on it. It has NOT been a buzzing hive of activity this year. In fact it looks semi deserted. It's a classic example of a phase that many young allotment sites go through. Nevertheless I'm glad to say that the six plots on the site occupied by the Aeron Vale Allotment Society members are in an acceptable state of maintenance, and are all cultivated on the site. We'll have to see what 2013 brings - let's hope the weather won't be used as the standard excuse for a lack of activity this coming season.

It's been almost impossible to get a day to pick anything. If it's not too cold & wet to go on the lottie, then the ground has been water-logged and it's impossible to get anything out of it. Turning the soil over for winter has also been out of the question due to the autumn weather. However, the odd day does present itself. Here's a photo of my beloved picking some beetroot on the 8th of this month. Amazingly I've had quite good success with beetroot this year - despite the weather.

Not so with other crops. The two sixteen foot green-meshed mini tunnels in the background have brassicas in them. On at least half a dozen occasions (I've actually lost count by now) they've been totally covered by flood water. They don't like it. Consequently they've stunted, drowned or have just bolted - presumably because they fear for their lives in this weather and have decided to use what little energy they have left to produce seed so that another generation can carry forward their genes. Sadly for them, that won't happen either. My mate Graham who keeps chickens is "harvesting" them for his fowls - I hope they enjoy them - I certainly didn't! A "wash-out"!


OTHER ALLOTMENT & GARDENING NEWS

Are Fruit Trees "Productive Crops"?

A gardener who planted fruit trees on his allotment instead of vegetables is facing eviction from his plot, because his efforts broke regulations on “productivity”.

Michael Rock, 60, argued that by growing 11 pear, plum, apple, cherry and apricot trees he was putting his plot to good use, but council rules brought in this year say that three quarters of the land must be used for “productive crops” such as vegetables.

Mr Rock, an author who lives in a tower block flat in Hastings, East Sussex, said he had originally planted potatoes, leeks and onions, but produced so much it was going to waste.

He decided to turn the land over to fruit trees instead, intending to make jam for his pensioner neighbours.

When presented with the new rules Mr Rock refused to agree to them, and took Hastings borough council to court when it threatened to evict him. He lost his case, but has said he will continue his fight and will go to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. Not a cheap option!

At a hearing in Hastings County Court, Mr Rock told a district judge that the contract he signed in October 2007 “contained no detail on the definition of cultivation and what could not be grown on the allotment”.

In my opinion Councils tend to have skewed views on what is "productive crops", fruit trees are obviously productive food crops. There are also incidences where councils refuse to allow plot-holders the right to keep bees, because their agreements state that there should be no "livestock" kept on a site. Both are very ambiguous arguments to say th least! Perhaps they should revisit the wording.

However, much as I sympathise with our fellow allotment lover, I think it's only fair to ask him not to make his whole plot over to fruit trees. Whilst it's fine for him, whilst he has the plot, (and sad to say he will not live forever), who is going to take over his "orchard" after his day? The odd fruit tree is fine, but as trees establish they become permanent. It's fair to ask him only to use no more than 25% for fruit tree propagation - enough for most people's use. Furthermore they should be of the dwarfing or semi-dwarfing varieties so that their size will not cause a nuisance to others, and can be dug up a lot easier. We do tend to be a country dominated by the freedom of the individual rather than fairness to the community. Sorry friend - I'm not with you on this one!


Stand Still & Look Straight Ahead Please Mr Marrow!

Police caught two allotment thieves after holding a bizarre identity parade - of stolen vegetables! The "gang" of allotment thieves were arrested after the stolen items were included in an identity parade - of VEGETABLES.

Lawrence Miller, 44, and Steven Randall, 46, were caught carrying a bag of stolen fruit and veg at allotments in Brampton, Cambs.

To get evidence against the duo police lined up the food on the roadside and asked allotment holders to identify their stolen vegetables. They instantly spotted their crops, including a marrow with a distinctive stripe, rhubarb, leeks and cabbages. The two offenders were left looking red-faced as beetroot when they were ordered to pay £20 of compensation and £85 costs at Huntingdon Magistrates' Court.

Miller and Randall, who were both on benefits, were said to be living "in extreme poverty" and stole the vegetables to feed their families. Both men were granted a conditional discharge. Prosecutor Penny Cannon said police spotted them run across the road into the allotment and when they stopped and searched them found stolen produce. She said: "Police carried out a unique investigation by photographing the fruit and vegetables and then putting them on the verge, asking people if they could recognise or identify the vegetables.

One of the plots had also been damaged on the same night, the court heard. Kevin Warboys, defending said Randall had not worked since a serious road accident 20 years ago and Miller cannot work due to an ankle injury. He said: "This may seem trivial but it is not about value, it is about the disruption to the people who grew the vegetables. "It is about the disruption and upset for the people which, on reflection, they both regret. "They are day to day grinding along in extreme poverty." Mr Warboys said they stole the vegetables to feed their families and had nothing to do with the damage.

Speaking after the case, parish clerk Janet Innes-Clark said: "The police apprehended them and asked me if I would put up a notice because they needed to identify the evidence. They asked if any of our allotment holders could identify the vegetables and for them to contact us, which they did. "They put the vegetables out on a patch of grass in front of the allotments and I think there were two or three marrows, a butternut squash, leeks and a couple of cabbages."

I say if this pair were genuinely hungry due to hardship, and couldn't find enough food to feed their families, then they should have approached the plot holders and asked if they could spare some veg. In my experience about 99% of decent plot-holders would have gladly shared some of their produce with them.


Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Allotment Halves Anti-social Behaviour

Hugh Fearnley-Whittinghstall, the River Cottage chef, has halved anti-social behaviour on a housing estate with an allotment scheme.

The television chef launched the Landshare initiative, encouraging communities to plant food on unused plots.

The scheme's first project in Leigh, Wigan, has cut anti-social behaviour by 51 per cent, local police said. “This has been a wonderful project that gives children something positive, healthy and educational to do," said PCSO Wendy Walters. “The allotment has undoubtedly contributed to a staggering 51 per cent reduction in antisocial behaviour on the estate in the last year."

“The estate has seen a great improvement in antisocial behaviour since the allotment started,” said one resident. “The site gives children somewhere to go and something to do."

The Landshare scheme, backed by Channel 4, matches people in need of land and those wanting to help with growing with people offering unused plots. It also offers advice to novice gardeners. It has been used by more than 55,000 people since its launch by Fearnley-Whittingstall in 2009.

If you would like to know more about the "Landshare Initiative" then visit our Aeron Vale Allotment Society web-site, or click on this graphic:

 

Landshare brings together people who have a passion for home-grown food, connecting those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food. Since its launch through River Cottage in 2009 it has grown into a thriving community of more than 55,000 growers, sharers and helpers.

It’s for people who:

  • Want to grow their own fruit and veg but don’t have anywhere to do it

  • Have a spare bit of land they’re prepared to share

  • Can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself

  • Support the idea of freeing up more land for growing

  • Are already growing and want to join in the community

 


KNOW YOUR PESTS

The Vine Weevil

Vine weevil is a beetle that attacks a wide range of plants, both indoors and outdoors, but especially plants grown in containers.

It is one of the most common and devastating garden pests. The adult weevils eat plant leaves during spring and summer, but it is the grubs that cause the most damage over autumn and winter when they feed on plant roots, causing wilting, and often plant death.

Plants growing in pots or other containers, outdoors or under cover, can be severely damaged by vine weevil grubs. Plants growing in the open ground are less susceptible, although the grubs can kill strawberries, primulas, polyanthus, Sedum, Heuchera and young yew plants.

The adult beetles feed on the foliage of many herbaceous plants and shrubs. Vine weevils have been increasing in significance to gardeners over the past few decades, due to the increased use of ornamental containers and container grown plants from nurseries. Recently a couple of species previously unrecorded in the UK have been spotted in the London area; they have probably arrived in plant pots and can overwinter in the milder environment of the city.

Their presence is shown by semi-circular notches eaten into the edges of leaves, most notably on evergreen shrubs like Rhododendron, Euonymus, Azalea and Camellia. This damage by the adults is not fatal, just unsightly (although is a good indicator that there will be eggs, and larvae hatching in the autumn). The real damage is done by the larvae or grubs, which feed on the roots often killing the plant, especially potted and young plants. The first sign of the presence of the larvae is usually yellowing leaves, poor growth and a wilting plant which does not respond to watering. Unfortunately it is often too late to save the plant. Rescue is possible if the damage is not too extensive, wash off all the compost to remove the grubs and remaining eggs, then replant in fresh growing medium. Some plants are more at risk from attack than others, e.g.. Sedums, Primulas, Fuchsias and Impatiens, but most plants in pots are at risk.

The adults are all female, reproducing by pathogenesis (i.e.. they don't need a mate), and are flightless, but are very good walkers able to climb sheer surfaces. If one is spotted on a plant, arrange a tray or sheet directly below it as their favourite trick is to fall to the ground at the slightest disturbance and if this is not anticipated they are difficult to find.

They emerge from the pupa stage in late spring and after feeding on plant material for 21 to 45 days they are ready to lay between 500 to 1600 eggs over a one to two month period. These round eggs are about 0.8 to 1 mm across, laid in the soil close to a plant; white at first they become brown later and very difficult to find Slow release fertilizer pellets for which they are often mistaken, are much larger and usually the yellow outer coating crushes easily, the eggs are relatively hard. They hatch 10 to 12 days later into the creamy-white larvae which burrow down to the fine roots - when found in the soil these are usually C-shaped and about 10mm long. A pre-pupal stage develops in December and remains like this until late spring when it pupates fully for a few weeks before the adult emerges.

Conditions for eggs and larvae are optimal when soil moisture is moderate to high in July and August. Heavy mulches help to maintain moisture levels, so removal of excessive mulch layers and minimal watering of plants during this period is detrimental to their survival. (Unfortunately surface rooted shrubs such as Camellias need to be well watered at this time to set the flower buds, so this must not be missed.) Excessively damp soils in the autumn also force larvae to move up the base of the plant where girdling can occur, so good drainage around the plants will ease the problem. Indoors, the warmer conditions mean that they can reproduce all year round so all stages of the life cycle can be present at all times.
A natural predator is the Centipede which eats both eggs and larvae.

Treatments

  • The Nematode - Steinernema kraussei is a biological control. It is a recently discovered species of microscopic eel worm which kills the larvae and is able to tolerate soil temperatures down to 5°C, so it can be applied over a longer period outdoors. It is best used between August and November when the weevil eggs are hatching and again from March to May when the soil is warm enough and the larvae are active. The protection lasts for about four weeks - trade names are Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer or Grubsure.

  • Heterorhabditis megidis is another species of eel worm which enters the grub and carries bacteria that kill it. The nematode reproduces using the dead grub as food. It is also temperature sensitive and works best at around 12°C. They die out if no grubs are present.

  • Traps - corrugated cardboard has been used, made into a roll and left for the adults to hide in during the day. Moist sacking laid on a path provides a dark daytime hiding place for the adults, which can be collected during the day when they are relatively inactive.

  • Night-time sorties with a torch might show results, but the adults are quite active and difficult to catch. If disturbed they fall to the ground remaining still on their backs and their dark colour makes them difficult to spot - if possible lay something light-coloured on the ground before touching the foliage.

  • If the plants are in pots they can be placed a raised platform which is in a large saucer of water, as the adults do not swim so will not cross this barrier. With indoor plants on a stand, place the legs in water - only useful for rust or rot resistant legs, or use a second dry dish inside the other to form an outer moat.

  • Provado - contains the systemic insecticide *Imidacloprid applied to the growing medium as a drench, lasts for a few months and kills the larvae which do the damage. It cannot be used on edible or cropping plants such as strawberries.

  • Levington Plant Protection Compost - contains *Imidacloprid a systemic insecticide, and used as the growing medium - gives protection for about six months. Follow the instructions carefully and buy only what is needed as it loses its potency if stored.

  • Foliar insecticide - plants which are attacked by adults can be sprayed with insecticide starting in the late spring and repeated during the summer to kill them before the egg-laying period in late summer

  • Sacrificial plants - primulas, polyanthus and cyclamen are some of the favoured plants for adult weevils to lay their eggs beside. Some of these potted in Levington Plant Protection Compost and left beside your treasured plants will attract the adults, which will lay their eggs in the compost and the larvae will be killed when they hatch and begin feeding. You could use Provado to treat the sacrificial plants instead.

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


imageDID YOU KNOW?

If you're feeling a bit bloated after this festive season, and are worrying about loosing a few pounds to compensate in the new year,  then consider this: one 8-inch celery stalk contains about 6 calories. The energy needed to metabolize celery is actually more than the caloric intake due to celery's mostly cellulose composition. Cellulose cannot be digested by humans as we lack the enzymes necessary to properly break it down. Although there's no such thing as a negative-calorie snack, eating celery actually helps you to lose weight by satiating your desire to eat while automatically burning its own calories.

"Not a lot of people know that!"


SOMETHING A LITTLE DIFFERENT

Car Tyres Made From Dandelions

(Article By

As natural rubber production falls short of demand, it’s time to consider alternatives, like the dandelion.

Mention dandelion and a shudder wriggles down most gardeners’ spines. Scourge of lawns, borders, patios and allotments, they’re a major reason why we spend a fortune on weed killer or hours bent double, extracting their thong-like roots. Now, a species of Russian dandelion is set to become one of the most important plants on the planet, propping up civilisation with rubber made from the glutinous, milky sap found in its roots.

In July this year, Indian-Dutch company Apollo Vredestein rolled out the first prototype tyres produced from European-grown rubber. If tests go well, they hope to start full production in 2015. The dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), is one of three plants currently being investigated by various international consortia, made up of government agencies, big business and scientific research establishments, locked in a multi-million pound scramble to find alternatives to natural rubber.

Increasing demand

World supplies of natural rubber are falling short of demand, which is driven by the needs of developing nations such as China, India, Brazil and countries of the former Soviet Union. Around 80 per cent of the world’s natural rubber is produced from plantations of the tropical tree, Hevea brasiliensis, primarily located in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and South America.

According to The Rubber Economist, these countries produce 10.9 million tons of rubber, worth £32.6 billion, every year. Synthetic rubber, mainly produced from fossil fuels, weighs in at almost 15 million tons and is worth £31.5 billion. With demand projected to outstrip supply by around 20 per cent in 2020, there are serious concerns for the future. Falling yields of natural rubber, the monopoly of producer countries, crop diseases, changing climate and dwindling oil reserves paint an unsettling picture.

Native to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and discovered in 1931, TKS is a foot-tall yellow-flowered dandelion. It will grow in a range of soils, but prefers the cool conditions of its homeland and similar locations, such as northern Europe.

During the Thirties, Stalin led a drive to make the Soviet Union independent of imported natural rubber. TKS soon caught the attention of Soviet scientists. With the outbreak of the Second World War it became strategically important. As rubber plantations fell into the hands of the Japanese, the US Emergency Rubber Programme trialled TKS in 28 states. It was also widely planted in Canada; in Britain experiments were conducted at Kew.

Although initially sceptical, preferring to rely on synthetic rubber, the Nazis began to farm Russian TKS in concentration camps, using forced labour.

Once post-war supplies of cheap natural rubber were restored, the industry was abandoned, although the Soviet Union continued research until Stalin’s death in 1953. China too, persevered, and produced their first tyres the same year.

Improving yields

Early on it was discovered that, although TKS produced rubber of comparable quality to Hevea brasiliensis, yield was variable. Spurred on by renewed global interest, this fuelled a search for the most productive wild forms. Aided by conventional plant breeding techniques, selection has raised yield from 1.4 per cent to 8.9 per cent of dry weight, with some clones now exceeding the 10 per cent target required for commercial use.

The advantage of TKS over other plants is that it has a wide climatic tolerance, can be grown as a short term or even annual crop, and harvested and processed mechanically. This enables it to be farmed according to need, which tree-sourced rubber cannot.

It also creates the sugar-substitute inulin as a by-product, and is being investigated as a potential biofuel.

Other plants being investigated for second natural rubber (SNR) are the American guayule (Parthenium argentatum), and China’s hardy rubber or gutta-percha tree, Eucommia ulmoides, which yields a glutinous sap, termed eu-gum.

The American model

Guayule (from the native Indian name for rubber), is another member of the daisy family, a 3ft silver-leaved shrubby perennial thriving in the Mediterranean climate of the south western United States and northern Mexico. Although initially wild-sourced, it was field-grown from 1910 into the Thirties. As with TKS, war raised its importance. The US government invested around $40 million to support 32,000 acres of guayule.

When the war ended the industry was terminated as the US focused on imports of natural and home-produced synthetic rubber.

Recent commercial interest has resulted in high-yielding forms being farmed on a short, year-round cycle, the crop being cut to the ground after two years, stimulating a flush of new shoots for further harvests. Unlike Hevea, rubber from guayule is hypoallergenic (as is that from TKS) and so is preferred for manufacturing medical, dental and cosmetic products and appliances.

Research has also identified that the green waste, termed bagasse, can be used as a fuel, comparable to charcoal and is also a potential source of ethanol and synthetic gas.

Chinese history

Eucommia is a living fossil, the only remaining member of an ancient family of trees once widespread in North America, Europe and Asia, until the last Ice Age caused the extinction of all but this single species. Found in the mountains of central China, this deciduous elm-like tree, reaches 40-60ft, is drought-tolerant and hardy to -30C. Although almost extinct in the wild, it is estimated that 95 per cent of the world’s population of Eucommia inhabit the 300,000 hectares of farmed forest in central China. Its bark has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to cure ailments such as arthritis, osteoporosis and hypertension. All parts of the tree contain rubber-producing sap, the leaves 1-3 per cent, the bark 6-10 per cent and the seeds 10-12 per cent, but it is the leaves and seeds which will be harvested commercially.

Britain left behind

Tyre producers such as Bridgestone, Ford and Apollo-Vredestein have all invested heavily in the research and commercial and sustainable development of TKS and guayule. Apollo is an industry partner of the EU-based Production and Exploitation of Alternative Rubber and Latex Sources (EU-Pearls), the European consortium involving 10 partners in seven countries: France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Holland, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and the United States. Crops will be grown where most suited. The US will grow TKS in the north and already grows guayule in the south, while Canada recently approved growing TKS.

In Europe, Germany grows TKS, with Holland extracting the rubber for the Apollo prototype tyres. China plans to grow all four, TKS in the north, Eucommia and guayule in the centre and Hevea in the south.

So where is the UK in all of this? Well, nowhere. Our native dandelions don’t contain enough rubber to be commercially useful. We’re not part of any European initiative. Agencies that would be involved if we were say there is no political or commercial will to become involved. So while the rest of the world drives this technology forward, the dandelions of Britain will continue to reign as pests supreme.


Well - that's it for another issue friends. The last one for 2012.

For all those of you who celebrate & get involved in the commercial manic mass madness called Christmas then I wish you a merry and happy Christmas & New Year. For those who don't then have a nice relaxing break.

If you would like to write something for our future NEWS-LETTER then all contributions are gratefully accepted. You can contact me via either of our two web-sites:

aeronvale-allotments.org.uk or gardenerschat-shed.net/

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 yourselves warm (or cool for those in warmer climes), and safe, but above all have fun & ENJOY on your allotment plot or in your garden!