We’re going fruit mad down at the allotment

Sal, Nuthurst Community Allotment, July 2021

Well, the Exotic Fruiterie was just a germ of an idea only a couple of months ago. Now it’s a veritable jungle and harvesting basket-fulls of edible exotic-fruiterie-type-things is just around the corner (well, more accurately, it’s probably a couple of years away but it’ll be worth the wait!). 

We had an extremely generous donation of fruit trees from Vanucci Pianti which is an Italian nursery in Tuscany which have supplied Architectural Plants for years. We were also given a couple of lovely peach trees from Chris who is one of our Allotmenteers who gives lots of her time planting, weeding and watering and she has also grown lots of pollinator flowers which are going in to the soil throughout the raised beds to encourage as many flying critters as possible. Wendy and Anna have nursed a couple of avocado stones into life and Angus has taken cuttings of a prize fig tree and he has also resurrected a Persimmon tree (which also goes by the names of Kaki or Sharon Fruit) which looked more like a rather large dead twig for quite a while….until it stopped looking like a rather large dead twig and started looking like a rather large slightly less dead twig. Progress!

The Fruiterie is housed on the opposite side of the glasshouse to the veg beds and having the space to grow some fruit trees under glass means we can push the exotic boat out. Here is our roll call so far; Loquat, Orange, Lemon, Grapefruit, Pêche de Nancy (actually an Apricot), Avocado, Calamondin (a cross between a Kumquat and a Satsuma), Peach, Persimmon, Kiwi, Fig. Not a bad start. 

We have also purchased some fruit trees from Roots Plants which we have espaliered along the length of the fancy new fencing around the outside raised beds. In March we put a call out to the allotmenteers to suggest their most favourite varieties and we got as many as Pete (the treasurer) would allow us to get! These espaliered trees will flourish outside in this fine county; Gala, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Laxton Superb and Cox’s Orange Pippin (all apples), Green Gage, Victoria Plum, Quince, Blueberry, Hazel, Damson and Grape. Yep, we’re quite excited.

We’ve gone around in the glasshouse being bees; armed with a cotton wool ball on the end of a stick (rabbit tails or paintbrushes would also work), you find a flowering plant and you touch the cotton wool from one flower to the next. The problem with growing anything in a greenhouse is that you don’t have as many insects as outside, so in order to encourage cross pollination without an available beehive to hand, you have to do it yourself.

If you’re desperate for a look at the Fruiterie; our friend Chris (allotmenteer and photographer extraordinaire at The Nuthurst Parish Mag) made videos for both the June and the July edition of the mag (find them online http://www.nplink.org) in which Angus gives a guided tour of the fruit trees. Watch and admire the videos and then come on down to the allotment in real life and have a look around.  

Passionfruit flower
Angus planting the two Peach Trees donated by Chris
Blossoms on the Peach Tree!

A list of the fruit trees we plan on planting in the east glasshouse.

Jonathan, Nuthurst Community Allotment, April 2021

Actinidia chinensis ‘Hayward’ (Kiwi Fruit)

Citrus x paradisi (Grapefruit)

Citrus sinensis (Orange)

Citrus limon ‘Delle Quattro Stagione’ (Lemon)

Coryrlus avellana ’Nottingham’ (Hazel Nut)

Diospyrus kaki ‘Vaniglia’ (Persimmon)

Diospyrus kaki ‘Royo Brillante’ (Persimmon)

Eriobotyra japonica (Loquat)

Ficus carica ‘Dottato’ (Fig)

Juglans regia ‘Franquette’ (Walnut)

Malus domestica ‘Cox’s Orange’ (Apple)

Morus nigra (Mulberry)

Persea americana (Avocado)

Pistacia vera (Pistachio Nut tree)

Prunus armeniaca ‘Peche de Nancy’ (Apricot)

Prunus domestica ‘Mirabelle de Nancy’ (Plum)

Prunus persica ‘Saturn’ (Flat Peach)

Punica granatum ‘Wonderful’ (Pomegranate)

Pyrus communis ‘Conference’ (Pear)

St Andrew’s Primary School’s Inaugural Visit

Sal, Nuthurst Community Allotment, April 2021

At least thirty six-year-olds…..two hours…..one baking hot greenhouse….ummm doesn’t sound like a recipe for success; but it absolutely was! This week we had the first visit from the local primary school children who made the short walk across the road from St Andrew’s to spend the best part of the afternoon on the allotment. What a treat for the kids; they were so well behaved and completely engrossed in the tasks in hand. 

The group was split into four teams with one or two teachers/enthusiastic parents in charge of each. The school have been allotted a large outside bed as well as a raised bed in the glasshouse which the children are going to tend entirely themselves. There was a (rather apt) rotation of groups, with one outside planning their planting schedule, the second group sowing seeds in trays, the third group collecting items from outside to create a work of art (Art Attack-style…see the end product above; a chicken with her chick!) and the fourth getting seeds into the soil in the raised beds inside. After their first session there were chickpeas, sweet peppers, strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes planted. We were seriously impressed by the slick organisation and the teachers and parents didn’t lose the children’s interest even for a moment! 

From our very first conversation with the headteacher, the school has shown nothing but enthusiasm for the project and we were so chuffed to hear that such a large group were turning up this week armed with seeds, trays and mini watering cans, spades and forks! Whether the kids get involved as part of the after-school gardening club or as part of the curriculum, the allotment will provide the children with a wholesome education in the good stuff that the earth can produce. In our minds there isn’t anything quite as important for children to learn. Having their growing areas right in the centre of the allotment will mean that the kids are surrounded by the huge variety of vegetables that we are planning on growing (as well as our exotic/obscure fruit glasshouse) which we’re hoping will broaden their tastes and their confidence in trying new things. 

I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that digging holes in the soil, getting a bit dirty and talking about food (not to mention getting out of the classroom on a sunny afternoon) should be quite as exciting to the children as it clearly was. It gave us so much hope for the continued involvement of the school. Our next stage on the allotment of starting a field kitchen will hopefully be able to peak the children’s enthusiasm even more, by teaching them how to harvest, prep, cook and eat the vegetables that they are growing from seed. Pretty mind blowing. 

A very happy bunch of faces left the allotment on Wednesday, all chattering about who planted what and where, and we can’t wait to see them again. 

Notes on Pollinator Plants

Jonathan, Nuthurst Community Allotment, April 2021

This is a list of Dave Goulson’s sixteen favourite garden plants for pollinators…if you happen to have any in your garden, we would love it if you would bring one with you when you visit the allotment!

Bush vetch, Vicia sepium

Catmint, Nepeta racemose

Plume thistle, Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’

Comfrey, Symphyticum officinale, ‘Bocking 14’

Dahlia, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’

Field scabious, Knautia arvensis

Meadow cranesbill, Geranium pratense

Giant hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, ‘Blackadder’, Blue Fortune’, ‘Blue Boa’

Lavender, Lavendula x intermedia, ‘Gros bleu’

Lungwort, Pulmonaria, ‘Blue Ensign’ or ‘Trevi Fountain’

Marjoram, Origanum vulgare

Pussy willow, Salix caprea

Sicilian honey garlic, Allium siculum

Sneezewort, Helenium, ‘Moerheim Beauty’

Thyme, Thymus polytrichus subsp. Britannicus

Viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare

Notes on Crop Rotation

Jonathan, Nuthurst Community Allotment, April 2021

The whole point of crop rotation is to avoid a build-up of pests and diseases and to keep the soil as healthy as possible. Rotation means moving vegetables around the allotment in succession, and not growing the same ones in the same place every year.

Most pundits advise a four-fold rotation of roots, brassicas, potatoes and miscellaneous vegetables. The problem with strict rules like this is that we would end up dividing the allotment into specific areas, which means that we’d grow fixed amounts of certain crops every year.

So, it’s better – especially in a community allotment – to keep a record of what we’ve grown and where, and try to avoid growing the same vegetables in each particular place for as long as possible and, most important, to keep adding plenty of organic matter to the soil before planting each crop, so as to build up the health of the soil.

Here’s a list of some vegetables which share the same characteristics:

Brassicas: (Cabbage family), cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussel sprouts, calabrese, broccoli, kale, rocket, oriental greens, swedes, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi.

Alliums: (Onion family), onions, spring onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, chives.

Umbellifers: (Carrot family), carrots, parsnips, celeriac, celery, parsley, fennel, dill.

Solanaceae: (Potato family), potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, chillis, aubergines.

Cucurbitaceae: (Marrow family), cucumbers, melons, courgettes, marrows, squashes, pumpkins, gourds.

Legumes: (Pea and Bean family), peas, broad beans, runner beans, French beans.

Beet: (Beetroot family), beetroot, spinach, chard, spinach beet.

Miscellaneous: Lettuce, chicory, endive, basil, sweet corn, Jerusalem artichokes.

We don’t have to worry about perennial vegetables and fruit, because once their roots are established, they’ll survive the Winter and start growing leaves in the following Spring.

Here’s a list of some perennials we could grow: rhubarb, asparagus, globe artichokes, raspberries, strawberries.

Small-time Ploughing and Worms

Sal, Nuthurst Community Allotment, Feb 2021

So, we got our hands on a single furrow plough this week and we have (well, the tractor has) been enjoying dragging it up and down the land outside the glasshouse. We aren’t fans of regular ploughing but this particular bit of ground was in need of some attention; for years it has been standing out ground with plastic on top; there are no roots and it was really packed down. In order to break up the pan, we had no choice but to plough it. The next step is to take a rotavator to it in order to break up the large hunks of packed earth that the plough has turned over (massive thanks to an extremely generous local by the name of Amy who has offered to come down and work her magic with her rotavator), and then we will cover it with a shallow layer of compost (again, massive thanks to KPS and Eurogreen Environmental Ltd…for their kind donations). After this, we vow never to plough or rotavate this ground again.

This brings us to the worms. Indeed. These guys are an absolutely vital component to healthy soil. The worms perform three main tasks; they turn leaf litter into fertile soil, as they tunnel through, they aerate the soil, allowing oxygen to travel down to the plant roots and they improve drainage and thereby reduce the amount of water running off the topsoil in heavy rains. Not bad for a day’s work. Or a life’s work more accurately. The earth worms are in there somewhere and, Jonathan assures us, (“as sure as day follows night”) that the worms will come.

The two sections of earth that we are preparing in the above manner….plough, rotavate, compost…will soon be ready to accept some seeds. This is where is gets fun (well the tractor bit was fun too I’ll be honest); the core allotmenteers get to argue about what to plant first. The two beds don’t have the same access to sunshine as each other so we will have to be careful about what grows where….for an idea of our thoughts so far, see Jonathan’s blog from January entitled ‘What Shall We Grow’. It does what it says on the tin, and it does it really well.

We hope you enjoyed reading our thoughts on the matter, but thoughts are nothing without pictures so we thought we’d share some pictures with you too. Aren’t you lucky.

Need we say…. please do contact us if this is striking a cord with you.

One of the newly ploughed sections of ground (the sunnier section) outside the glasshouse……ready for the rotavator, and then the compost (waiting in a patient heap to the left).
Our single furrow plough in action.

Film Crew On The Allotment

Sal, Nuthurst Community Allotment, Feb 2021

We had the pleasure of welcoming David and Chris from the local Parish Mag (The Link) to the Allotment today. Despite the wind and rain, we had a photo op outside and a bit ‘o filming inside. We all took turns to blather on about our plans for future allotment expansion and what we have done so far on site. We were ever so slightly excited to share our thoughts and now I can only imagine the team at The Link will be hunched over the editing table in an attempt to make us sound coherent! No, no, only jokes, I think we got our point across rather well. The lens was trained on Jonathan (the original brains behind the whole shebang) and Angus (the owner of the land and the other brain….in fact there are a few brains but you get the idea) who took turns explaining when the idea started and how we are going about putting it into action.

Every member of our crew got to introduce themselves and explain why they wanted to be involved in the project. The team have been working so hard over the past two months to get the site ready for planting….and we can smell Spring in the air. Here’s a shot of us all standing in the rain holding various gardening-type implements. Obvs.

From the left: Angus, Michael, Madison, Wendy, Sal, Jonathan & Pete

Nearly the entire original crew were on site for the action, (the action consisting of pretending to rake the soil in the background while the camera was rolling) only Suzi was missing; she is our incredible Membership Secretary and Sponsorship….ummm Manager who has managed to secure us multiple lorry loads of top soil from two lovely local businesses (see our Sponsorship page).

Anywho, the team at The Link are writing up a double spread for the March edition and they will be uploading a video to the online version of the publication. Please give it a watch and then tell us how much you enjoyed it….but mainly, get in touch and tell us you were so inspired by our words that you simply HAD to get involved. We would like that a lot.

Until next time….

What Shall We Grow?

January 2021. On the allotment.

A blank sheet! Or, rather, an empty glasshouse and some vacant land. What an opportunity! Yet – how daunting – where do we start? Well ORGANIC it must be!

Of course it would be crazy to try to grow too many different types of vegetables to begin with, but over time, with a fair wind and lots of hard work, and enough space, it’s amazing what we could achieve. Here are some suggestions from which we can select the most popular to start with.

In the GLASSHOUSE: salad crops.

  • Lettuce – in sequence, grown from seed in plugs, planting them out every week or so to avoid a glut.
  • Tomatoes – large, medium and small, selecting the tastiest varieties.
  • Cucumber – one plant can produce dozens of cucumbers and small fruits are best; one of the femspots would be a good variety.
  • Rocket, a peppery fellow but good in salads.
  • Watercress, which grows well in damp soil and can be picked frequently.

More ideas for the GLASSHOUSE:

  • Peppers – red bullhorn are a good variety.
  • Chillies – red Thai is a good one.
  • Aubergine, or eggplant, which grows well in a glasshouse.
  • Small amounts of other vegetables to get an early crop, such as broad beans, peas and spinach, with the main crop grown outdoors.

Outside, in the WEST BED, which is less sunny than the east bed, so root crops to start with.

  • Potatoes. An embarrassment of varieties – it depends on what you want them for – salads, boiled, mashed ,roasted, baked, or just general purpose, they’re the most versatile of veggies.
  • Beetroot, sow bolt-resistant in March/April, for later use sow May-July.
  • Carrot, again can be spread across the season with different varieties.
  • Parsnip, sometimes difficult to germinate but worth persevering.
  • Jerusalem artichoke. Flatulence-inducing, but makes wonderful soup.

In the sunnier EAST BED.

  • Broad beans, wonderful early veg, can be eaten whole when very new.
  • Butternut squash, which is prolific and can be stored if you’re careful.
  • Courgettes will turn into marrows unless you harvest them regularly.
  • French beans, earlier than runner beans and very versatile.
  • Leeks sown in a seed box, plant singly in a hole which you fill with water.
  • Peas like broad beans can be eaten whole when young, but delicious at any time when freshly picked.
  • Runner beans, scarlet or white flowers, bumble bees love them.
  • Spinach beet is the best variety and lasts for a long time, pick regularly.
  • Sweet corn, plant in a square, not a row, for maximum germination.

Brassicas are difficult to grow because they get eaten by caterpillars, slugs and sparrows, so they have to be protected, but we could try a few.

  • Brussel Sprouts, grown in the summer, harvested in autumn.
  • Cabbage, spring, summer, winter – take your choice.
  • Cauliflower, difficult to grow well, small varieties probably best.
  • Purple sprouting broccoli is a winter crop harvested from January to May.

The onion family is another opportunity, garlic, onions, spring onions and shallots, but you can get such good locally grown products that they’re probably only worth growing when you’ve exhausted all the other vegetable varieties.

And of course herbs – Basil, Fennel, Mint, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, to name but a few. This is a specialist field and could be the province of a herb enthusiast if we’re lucky enough to find one in our midst!

Shall we establish some perennial crops?

  • Asparagus – a massive challenge for the organic grower, difficult to establish and weeding is a nightmare, but………what a reward, if only!
  • Globe artichokes – beautiful sculptural plants with wonderful foliage and rewarding edible seedheads. Can be propagated by planting suckers.
  • Rhubarb takes time to establish and shouldn’t be picked in the first year, and only lightly in the second, after which you get a delicious result.

And what about fruit?

  • Strawberries, Cambridge Favourite are hard to beat and easy to establish.
  • Raspberries are trickier to establish than strawberries and they need supporting with wires and posts, but if you grow different varieties you can harvest them from midsummer until October.

Progress Report

Jonathan & Sal, January 2021

Despite Covid, we’ve managed to get a lot done since we launched in early December 2020.

Thanks to a shout-out in the local Parish mag, we have recruited some VERY keen allotmenteers from the village and are now a small committee of seven. It turns out seven people can really get stuff done; we’ve been weeding, clearing, shovelling soil, chitting spuds and amassing a fairly wide range of seeds. First of all, working in bubbles, we cleared the weeds and other detritus from the first glasshouse.

Trust us; it looks a lot better than it did!
Flame-thrower action shot.

Then we used the tractor to carry loads of topsoil into the glasshouse, which the team then raked into raised beds on top of the shingle, ready for planting. We are experimenting with pilling up the soil in narrow enough rows so that we can reach the veg from either side without having to stand on the beds, but the beds also have to be wide and sturdy enough that they don’t just collapse (our current budget doesn’t stretch to railway sleepers or boards to hold up the beds). 

Shovelling and raking duties = sweaty work!
The lovely neat raised beds were our reward.

The next job was to tidy up the large centre glasshouse (nicknamed the Cathedral) and sort through all the stuff inside. So, now we have a great space, ready to use for storage, propagating plants, and ultimately as a field kitchen/café when the time comes.

This sweeping malarkey keeps you pretty warm despite sub-zero January temps.
The allotmenteers’ umm…….meeting room.
We found LOTS of useful bits and pieces in the Cathedral that will come in handy….including loads of pots!

Wendy, Michael and their kids have been hard at work drafting up a planting list, chitting potatoes and getting some seeds in the soil too. VERY exciting.

This is getting real!
Chitting the Charlotte potatoes.

The next challenge is to get the ground outside prepared and fenced off so that we can start planting when the weather allows. We’re hoping a ploughman will soon arrive to do his stuff. We’ve had some massive loads of organic soil/compost mix donated by local company KPS Composting Services (www.kps.uk.com), ready to spread on top of the ploughed soil.

Beautiful piles of steaming….compost!
What an aroma!

So, we press on hoping that, when the current Lockdown is ended and we’re all able to get out, more and more enthusiasts will want to join in and share the work and the companionship and the delicious veg and fruit and flowers we grow together. Please do get in touch if you are keen to get involved.

Slugs and Snails

Jonathan, Bulls Farm, January 2021

Slugs and Snails can cause problems in the allotment. If they get the chance they’ll eat all the best bits of our produce: lettuce hearts, ripe tomatoes, juicy cabbage leaves, even beetroots aren’t safe. So, what’s to do?

Well you absolutely mustn’t use ordinary slug pellets. The Metaldehyde chemical is completely toxic to any creature which might eat a pellet, or which might eat a slug which has eaten the pellet – any bird, especially a thrush, and hedgehogs, foxes and badgers too.

You can now buy slug pellets made from wool which act as a protective barrier which the slugs and snails won’t cross. Being sheep farmers, we use wool which was sheared from the back-ends of our sheep – the dags, to use a good old Aussie expression –  and spread it on the ground round the plants we want to protect. I’ll bring a sack of this wool to the allotment when we start growing stuff and we can try it.

Of course, natural predators are the best solution, and these include slow worms, hedgehogs, ground beetles and rover beetles, and centipedes. So these allies should be welcomed.