Thursday 27 January 2011

Green Tax 3 - A letter to the City of Edinburgh Council

I'm paying my allotment rent today:

City of Edinburgh Council
Services For Communities - Parks
Business Centre C3
4 East Market Street

Att Ian Woolard, Allotment Officer

27 January 2011

Dear Ian,

I have today received your invoice for £70.00 for Plot 15 at Lady Road, and now forward my cheque for £18.40 made up of the Association Fee of £2.50 and the first quarterly rental payment of £16.90. Three further quarterly payments will follow in a timely manner.

While the option for quarterly payment has been available for Scottish allotment rents over £1 since the 1950 Allotment Act (Scotland) I have not until now felt the need to invoke it. With the rent rises in the last five years, and those already line up for the next three, I now wish to exercise my right to do so.

Yours sincerely

The reason I have titled this series of posts Green TAX is because, in Edinburgh, EXTRA TAXES are being raised from allotment holders (In addition to the Council Tax we already pay). This turns the traditional ethos under which allotments were set up right on its head.

Here's the FEDAGA  2009 proposal to the Council:

Keep an eye on that bottom line. With detailed costings they are converting a subsidy of £8,425 into a tax surplus of £6,695 within 5 years (and pushing their members' annual rent from an already inflated £70 to £100 in the process.)  Guess what the Council bought it!

In their first Allotment Strategy published in 2002 (Cultivating Communities) the Council proposed that when setting rents the following comparability factors should be taken into account:

- the level of allotment rents in the rest of Scotland and the scale in England

- costs of other outdoor recreational or leisure activities provide by the authority.

Neither of these two factors has in fact been taken into account. Edinburgh rents are far in excess of the national average (this year they are £33.50 in Glasgow) and in England. (...and incidentally those across the USA)

Charges for other leisure facilities have gone up but by nothing like allotment fees.

My protest is, I admit, a token gesture. I hope it is one that other Edinburgh allotment holders will adopt too. 

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Green Tax 2 - How much does it cost to run?

This year I started to count what I spent but that soon fell by the wayside. So I am very gratefull to Kathy at Skippy's Vegetable Garden who kept track of her expenditure over a three year period. Here are her figures: (Reproduced with permission)

The figures are rounded and in $US. multiply by 0.66 to convert to sterling.

If you need UK corroboration then visit Dobbys Pumpkin patch where Sue and Lee are very good at keeping records (and brewing) dobbyspumpkinpatch

 In any currency the costs are probably more than you think. To run a plot productively you need a certain outlay. All the more when you are starting up.  Before you cover your expenses you need to produce at least £400 of produce. If you need a new shed, paving material or fencing it will be a lot more. And if you are spending less you must have a free supply of manure - or you won't be getting much of a return.  What happens if you add another £100 to your expenditure? - Your break even point is that much further away.

Do the Council or those commentators who think it's a doddle to grow presentable fruit and veg realise the outlay required? 

Now for the biggest cost:

The City of Edinburgh Council surveyed Edinburgh Allotment holders in 2007 and concluded that the AVERAGE time spent working on allotments was 11 hours per week in the summer down to 4 hours per week in the winter. Rounding the annual weekly average down to 7 hrs per week (or 1hr per day) means an annual total of 365 hours. Were you (perish the thought) to pay someone to take your place at the UK minimum wage (£5.93) that would amount to a tidy bill of £2,164.45. 

This time and effort input by gardeners is conveniently overlooked when considering what it costs to run a plot and what suitable rents are. While there are undoubtedly rewards too (which I spend the rest of the year going on about) there are also sacrifices.

If I were unwaged or on a meagre pension (looking increasingly likely for a lot of people) the increase in rent, even the 50% rate, would be the last nail in the coffin. So I hope to persuade my fellow plot holders to collectively object to the Council's policy. The next problem is how, given that my local association FEDAGA has gone over to the dark side. Maybe I'll save that for another post!

Monday 24 January 2011

Green Tax - Part One

It's that time of year again. The time when the Council's bill for the allotment rent lands on the doormat. It is made up of two parts the annual rental and the Allotment Association sub (currently £2.50) There will be no surprise about the rental £67.50 bringing up a round £70.00 total.

Five years ago it was £30.00 in total so it has risen steeply.

Worse still the rate for the next 3 years has already been set:

That's up £10 each year. The red line is our rent (excluding the Allotment Society sub). The green line is what our rent would have been if it had tracked the Retail Price Index, which is the accepted measure of inflation. As time goes on the divergence is getting dramatically wider. The RPI for future years is, of course, unknown but out rent increase has been fixed.

One of the most painfull aspects of this is that the Allotment Association (FEDAGA - full name Federation of Edinburgh and District Allotment and Gardeners Association) to whom we pay the annual the £2.50 membership subscription is said to have agreed to this on our behalf. Indeed the Show Secretary no less drafted the proposal and declared it passed by the Committee at the AGM which he chaired. I went to the AGM this year as a site representative but too late for any consideration of rent which had already been rubber stamped by the appropriate Council Committee, declaring full support from Edinburgh Allotment holders.

The upshot of this unhappy tale is that any benefit of having an allotment is going to be counterbalanced by the extra tax the Council is charging. Our green tax, instead of encouraging good ecological practice in the city's diminishing allotment plots, raises more money for the Council bureaucrats.

Perhaps I should mention here that non waged plot holders get a 50% reduction so will be paying £50 at the end of the term. Not much leeway for the necessary outlay required to set up and stock an allotment. In my next post I'll have a detailed look at this aspect of running a plot on a budget.

Friday 21 January 2011

Potatoes for Damo

I'm a bit piqued because folk "down sowth" are getting delivery of their potatoes. Potato days are appearing like a rash in January. This is faaar to early to start chitting spuds. Here in Scotland - incidentally the potato breeding centre second only to Chile - the Edinburgh potato day is 20th February whereas the daddy of them all the BOGS (Borders Organic Gardeners Society) Potato Day is not until 6th March.

Setting my resentment aside, Damo has asked for some coloured potato recommendations and I just happen to be dusting off some of my older pics.

Top recommendation has to be Rooster.  It is becoming rather common - and I can see why. It's heavy cropping, large, apparently pest free, has excellent cooking qualities (particularly mash or baking) and flavour! We grew it two years ago and again last year and will do again this year. The only criticism I have read is that it is becoming "ubiquitous".

Here's a cause celebre: Shetland Black. Promoted for eating, like a lot 'speciality' spuds by Waitrose. The idea that you are keeping a Scottish Island crofting tradition going is beguiling.

The reality is a bit more mundane. Poor yield, some disease and peeled they look like this:

Very floury they retain some of their colour but disintegrate in the blink of an eye. (Children may not be very impressed.)

Here's a newer introduction. Sarpo Mira. Supposedly resistant to all known potatoe diseases. Taste not brilliant. Curiously they are long and flat! Deselected on taste grounds.

Now for blue potatoes go for early Edzell Blue (named after a town in NE Scotland)  Disintegrates in a split second. The story goes that boiling Edzells was how cooks were tested by prospective employers in days of old. (Not pictured because they look almost identical to) Arran Pilot (Arran another Scottish Island - spot the theme) is a maincrop that looks good and tastes good if you like a floury potato. A good standard.

I'll be growing Rooster this year but also something (anything I come across on potato day) new. I haven't grown Shetland Black again, but they are so photogenic I might!

If you want to read more about them try Rebsie's blog entries at  Daughter of the Soil

As ever, the rider is that different soil and conditions suit different varieties, and tastes differ. Keeping as wide a range as possible is good for us and good for the future.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Did I Say Colour???

Following on from my rather dowdy planning post - and with many thanks to Mojo (aka Vrtlarica) and No1 Son, here's the 2011 plan in technicolor.

... Should I be getting out more?

Monday 17 January 2011

Harvest Monday - Terrible Twosome or Royal Cousins?

The only things cropping at the moment seems to be purple brassicas.

But for all their genetic similarity and colour, how different are these two?

Friday 14 January 2011

And Now In Magnificent Colour

In 2008 my plot was a bit of a shambles. Half was potatoes (a lazy but productive way of keeping the weeds down), half was half weeds and half plants enjoined in natures battle against the law of entropy.  I had half a dozen cabbages with a net draped over them in an attempt to renew my acquantance with that flatulant delight: the brassica! It was in a sorry state. So in the winter of 2008/9 I set about a bit of basic planning. As Dr Hessayan recomends, a three way division allows for basic crop rotation so that the needs of each family can be catered for while the pests that feed on them can be starved out for two years at a time. Here's the plan I came up with: (I also started my blog around this time).

Things went pretty well I thought. Parcelling up the tasks into smaller packages seemed to make them more manageable and more varied. I also made more time to carry out my plans. The results were a significant improvement on the dismal showing of the previous few years.  Thus emboldened, that winter I expanded my scheme next winter to a five way rotation.

Guess what I had more fun and more produce than ever. So now I've added soft fruit at both ends, and a bit of colour to my plan to cheer up the winter blues. I'm rarin to get out there and put my plan into action.

And just for any skeptic out there, aside from the broad brushtroke plans I also keep a more detailed record of what went where on those rainy days or dark evenings when the conditions are not fit for man nor beast. Here's last years detail.

It seems that planning produces results - but it's also quite fun when you can't actually do anything!

Saturday 8 January 2011

Edinburgh Snow - again

It took ages for the last snow (which started on 26th November) to melt away. And when all but the street corner stockpiles had gone we got more last night. Still, at least I feel exonerated from doing any work!!!   Here's some snaps instead:

The Union Canal with Polwarth Church on the horizon.

Corstorphine Old Parish Churchyard.

Every twig has got its own sprinkle of snow.

Artechoke and leek soup for lunch, seemed to suit the weather! 

Monday 3 January 2011

First Harvest - Happy New Year

I've posted a couple of harvests to Daphne's "Harvest Monday"  in the past year -see but I have to own up that they were Sunday harvests really. Thanks to the bank holiday this one is a genuine Monday Harvest(!):

Trying to make my New Year's resolutions I kept on coming up with building jobs, necessary to get ahead with the growing or protecting of fruit and veg. Oh well better get on with one of them:  using the bricks I'd gathered to make raised beds at home to bring on seedling for the plot. Off to get the tools of the trade. How's that for a trendy trug?

I've no experience of bricklaying or building generally, but having so many bricks I'm using them for the foundations as well as the walls themselves. Here's an idea of progress today. I'm doing 4 of these in a square with a cross shaped path running between them in what was an infertile rose bed before we moved in. It could take a few weeks but I hope to have everything ready before spring.!(?)