Tag Archives: vegetables

National Allotments Week! Read on to find out more

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 21 August 2016.

From 8-14 August 2016, allotment sites around the country opened their gates to tell us how and why allotments are good for you, good for communities and good for the environment.  Organised by the National Allotment Society (NSALG), National Allotments Week offered a way to find out about allotments in your area.

I had a great time finding out about allotments in my area and hope you did too. If you missed it – here’s some of the things I found out.

Is an allotment for you?

Seen from trains, buses or a dog walk, allotment sites often look a bit of a jumble and not always very inviting. But in the jumble is a huge variety of people, allotment ‘looks’ and personalities. There’s sure to be someone with interests like yours.

Allotments come in different shapes and sizes. Sarah Buchanan.

I met gardeners like Robin, 78, who grows fruit and veg. for his family and, this week, is not sure if he will grow potatoes next year (due to potato blight, not his knees). And Sarah, a senior public sector manager, whose suburban allotment supplies family and work colleagues with some of their five a day. And Alex, a 30-something parent who enjoys gardening with his children so much that he also helps at a community garden which grows vegetables and fruit to sell at low prices to local people who don’t have gardens.

Gardeners’ interests and energy vary, and so do their allotments. Sarah Buchanan.

The best way to find out if an allotment is for you is to visit an allotment site, look around, and imagine yourself there. Sites that opened their gates last week are listed here and the list can help find out who to contact and at your local site a notice board is likely to provide information. The NSALG provides information on how to sign up for an allotment here.

Allotment notice boards can help you find out about allotment gardening. Sarah Buchanan.

The BBC Big Allotment Challenge

If you were inspired by BBC TV’s Big Allotment Challenge perhaps you signed up at your local allotment society for a vacant plot. Or perhaps just how very good those TV gardeners were, and the tasks they were set, scared you as much as it did me?

The BBC TV Big Allotment Challenge team at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04wlw4w

Don’t be put off! At local allotment sites across the UK I saw less tense and exacting gardening challenges and many opportunities to enjoy gardening with friends and neighbours. Where I live, allotment gardening is about being out and about, enjoying the earth and its produce and the social life of allotment holders (swapping produce, plants, seeds and – yes – manure!). The allotment gardeners I met were not gardening to show (or show off) but to get their hands in the soil and fresh fruit, veg, and flowers on their tables.

Here’s the history of allotments

Allotments in villages, towns and cities across the UK today were kick-started by the need for people in cities to grow their own food. In 1908 the Small Holdings and Allotments Act placed a duty on local authorities (but not in Northern Ireland) to provide allotments for local use, but it was a slow start and only after the First World War was land made widely available, largely to support returning service men (Land Settlement Facilities Act 1919). More Acts of Parliament followed with a major change in England in 1925 when local authorities were banned from selling or converting allotments without ministerial consent. Over the years, allotments have gone in and out of popular use.

The NSALG reckon there were 1.5 million plots at the peak, but now there are around 330,000 and over 90,000 people waiting for a plot. Allotments are provided by local authorities and private and charitable local and national landowners (including the Church of England, the National Trust, Cambridge colleges and local industries).

Organisations that can help you find and enjoy an allotment

The NSALG offers information and advice on allotment gardening, the rights of allotment holders, and the responsibilities of landowners providing allotments.

In Scotland the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society supports allotment gardeners and works to promote and protect allotments.

In Northern Ireland there is no central point of contact for allotments. Local and regional organisations supporting allotment gardeners have websites and work together to share information on vacant plots.


Maybe having an allotment is part of the New You for 2017?

Garden care for vegetable plants: runner and climbing French beans, salad leaves

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 10 June 2016.

Vegetable plants need your care – now!

Garden care for vegetable plants is essential if you want good crops. Here’s some advice on what you need to do to care for your runner and climbing French beans, and how to keep a steady supply of salad leaves for your table.

Garden care for vegetable plants
Ordinary looking runner beans. Simon Speed. Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Frameworks for runner and climbing French beans

If you followed up our ideas in May on growing beans you will have young plants ready to plant out in the garden. To produce good crops, both climbing French beans and runner beans need a framework to climb up and a good soil to grow in. Here’s how!

  • Decide where your beans are to grow. Clear weeds, dig in lots of well rotted garden compost or leaf mould from your compost bin (if planting climbing French beans, make sure it really is well rotted as the plants may rot themselves in  soggy and damp materials)
  • Firm the soil down
  • Tie canes, about 20cm apart at ground level, into a wigwam or a row, or use garden poles to create a framework to support netting, mesh or a trellis. Not sure where to start on this sort of garden construction?  Try Gardeners’ World, Capel Manor, or YouTube
  • After the risk of frosts has passed, use a trowel to plant one plant per cane, water well and keep watch to encourage the trailing stems to twine round their support
  • In very dry spells use a household plant water spray to damp the flowers lightly to help the beans ‘set’
  • Runner beans like water so don’t be shy about watering them, but climbing French beans can cope with less water and, in fact, don’t appreciate being overwatered so they are a good choice for dry gardens, and busy people.
  • Follow any instructions on the seed packet for the beans you chose.

You didn’t plant any? No problem…

Head for the nearest local fete or garden centre and buy some plants now, because beans really are a good value and colourful veg. to grow.

Garden care for vegetable plants
Runner bean wigwams ready for planting.  Image from Jonathan Wallace’s blog at: ,http://self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.co.uk/

Last year I grew a wigwam of beans in a 60cm diameter pot, tucked into my flower border to fill a gap among the plants. It needed a lot of water, and looked good, but was tricky to reach to pick the beans. Nice idea but not so clever! This year I am putting the wigwam into the soil near the edge of the border and planting one bean per pole. It should be easier to care for and pick the beans I am sure will grow.

Sow for a steady supply of salad leaves

Salad leaves are one of those things we have too much of, or run out of, in my garden. The solution? Successional sowing. This means sowing small amounts of seed often. A 30cm row of thinly sown lettuce, or mixed salad leaves, sown every week or two from now into August will provide young leaves to enjoy rather than endure. Follow our tips for sowing seeds of leafy veg such as spinach and any instructions on seed packets.

garden care for vegetables
Successional sowing of salad leaves or lettuce to ensure a steady supply. Thompson & Morgan salad leaves, ‘Speedy Mix’

What’s not to like?

Care for your vegetable plants for an easy and tasty way to your five a day, and with exercise too.

Gardening really is good for you!

Sunny days and April showers

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 9 April 2016.

Time to prepare to grow some fruit and veg that will be good for you, the environment (no food miles), and fun. My Dad started me off with a packet of radish seed: nothing has tasted so good. Start enjoying those sunny days!

Even a little space can grow something good.

Clear a windowsill for a seed tray or pots on a tray. Or make a space near a doorway or patio for a big pot on a pot saucer, a grow bag on a tray or a raised veg bed or box. Garden centres and stores sell all you need. Some refuse collection sites offer recycled flower pots (clean old pots with hot soapy water before you use them).

Plants are just germinating by Dennis Brown. Shared under licence CC BY-SA 3.0
Plants are just germinating by Dennis Brown. Shared under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunny days or not, make a vegetable plot

If there is room in your garden, make a vegetable plot. A one metre square is a good start. If you are keen, an old BBC programme called ‘Dig This!’, suggested that a well planned space 3m by 3.5m could provide a range of family veg all year. What’s not to like?

Sunny days at Mill Cottages by Rebecca Beeston [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sunny days at Mill Cottages by Rebecca Beeston [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Ideally your veg plot will be in a sunny spot and easy to reach with watering cans.

Mark the shape of the plot using sticks in the ground and string.

If you are making a veg bed from your lawn:

  • Starting on one side and working across the plot, push a spade into the grass in straight lines of about 30cm square. Think cutting a cake.
  • Start at one side, push the spade under each square (think lifting cakes from a tray), and lift each square of turf away from your plot. You are left with a bare patch but …
  • Old turf makes good garden compost so it’s going to a good home: come back to future blogs, and store it in a pile out of your way.

If your veg bed is cut from a flower bed, shrubby area or that piece of the garden you never quite got to:

  • Clear the weeds with a good fork
  • Dig down to remove deep roots or brambles
  • Carefully dig up plants you want to keep, keeping some soil around their roots, and plant them in their new home
  • Put weeds and roots in the green bin for refuse collection.

And wherever you started:

  • Use a good spade and dig a trench, the width and depth of the spade, at one end of your bed, heaping the soil at the other end
  • Work across the plot, digging a strip about 10cm wide along the trench, tipping the soil into the trench
  • Roughly level the ground with a fork or rake.

Make the edges of the plot clear: use a spade or half moon cutter (see our next blogs on the tools you need). Or use commercial edging strips along the edges, the top level with the ground around. Or make the plot into a raised bed – garden centres sell kits or use recycled timber.

Later this month you start filling the space you created, so come back to the blog for ideas!