Monday 28 February 2011

Harvest for St David's Day

The Welsh have claimed the leek as their national symbol (they also have claims on the Daffodil -but the leek is more reliably available come 1st March) My patch looks a bit raggedy but they clean up nicely. Leek and potato soup is on the menu tomorrow!

The story goes that many years ago when the Welsh were fughting off the Saxon invaders they wore a leek in their headgear. This was a very effective way of identifying friend from foe! To this day Welsh regiments are ceremoniouly handed out leeks to celebrate this event. (I think they must have won).

I don't think the Welsh are big parsnip eaters but I might be wrong:

Curly Kale has a definite Scottish connection. This is Pentland Brig and Its coming into its own.

Last but not least the chervil has decided winter is over and is putting on a spurt! One of my favourite herbs!

Call it at Daphne's for more harvests from around the globe:

Sunday 27 February 2011

Crikey Croci - It must be spring!

This week's new arrivals in the park. Crikey it's that time again.

And talking of croakers this sign amused me on our walk in the Pentland Hills today:

At home there was another surprise in store. The much neglected Lenten Rose, a gift from about three years ago and still in it's original pot,  weathered all this winter threw at it and is still alive and even thriving.  

Back to the park:  The snowdrops are in full bloom but the daffs have some wat to go yet.

It's been a glorious spring day. Here's a snap from our reservoir walk. That's Arthur's seat and the Salisbury Crags on the horizon beyond the dam. Edinburgh is in the dip between the two.

It's great to get out of the town and into the wilds:

Came across these in the hedgerow. Not sure if they are wild or garden escapees:

Went to the allotment too - but I'll save that for another post.

Friday 25 February 2011

Weapons of Mass Production

With the distinct prospect of  spring it's time to roll out the secret weapons from the armoury.

The Germinator

First there's the germinator. A Christmas gift from the adoring family I have to admit I'm a bit nervous about using it. After a flurry of enthusiasm in my early allotment years I soon adopted a policy of "grow what can fend for itself".  Stalwarts like potatoes parsnips strawberries and beans dominated my plot. But as the family has grown up and demands on time diminished I've got a bit more adventurous. Bluberries and carrots, onions -  and last year tomatoes and cucumber - have been accomodated. By pandering to my whimsy for one of these the family is keeping the old man usefully diverted.  Now I've just got to learn to use the force - wisely!

I've held off until now as there is no use producing masses of plants before the days are long enough and before you can plant them out. I think I'll start off with basil, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber to be kept indoors on our minimal windowsill space, and parsley, spinach, celeriac to go outdoors. It's too early for beans yet. They can follow later.  Some things I believe are not suited to heat. Parsnips carrots broad beans.  How about peas??  I feel all at sea with the new game plan, but I'll have some fun learning from my mistakes. Any advice or suggestions gratefully received.   

My second weapon is the 'scud'. This has been deployed for a couple of weeks now on top of  one of the rhubarb crowns. Having done this for the last couple of years I am more on home territory here.

The Enforcer
Hopefully this will bring on the advance guard of rhubarb stalks in a few weeks time!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Green Tax - 5 Text of Official Complaint

I object to the rent rises declared by City of Edinburgh Council on the following grounds:

1. They change the historic tradition that allotments are an amenity supported by public funding (on a not for profit basis), and instead knowingly raise revenue over and above the cost to the Council of running the allotments. (See attached FEDAGA document submitted to the Council and adopted without amendment)

2. After far exceeding inflation as measured by the Retail Price Index (RPI) for the past 5 years, rents increases are set to outstrip the RPI for 4 more years in a row.

3. The Council has disregarded the benchmarks adopted in the first Allotment Strategy published in 2002. This cites two “comparability factors”:

a. The level of allotment rents in the rest of Scotland and the scale in England

b. Costs of other outdoor recreational or leisure activities provided by the authority

The 2010 rent proposal sees Edinburgh allotment rents , which are already head and shoulders above other local authorities, projected to widen the gap with the rest of Scotland and the rest of the UK. In 2011 Glasgow is charging £33.50 for a full plot, Edinburgh £70. Glasgow rent rises are in line with the RPI, Edinburgh is increasing rents by £10 per year regardless. There is no centralised database for allotment rents across the UK but I can produce evidence from surveys which indicate the average UK allotment rent is between £30 and £40. Edinburgh is £70 rising to £ 100. ( I have been unable to gather information on the second comparability factor as City of Edinburgh Council has hived off the provision of sporting facilities to Edinburgh Leisure who are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act – but I can find no indication that this factor was taken into consideration either)

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 deems such arbitrary increases to be automatically unfair and Guidance by the OFT indicates that unless increases are linked to such external factors as the RPI or evaluated by an objective person independent of the landlord they may be deemed to be unfair.

4. I do not accept that the CEC allotment budget has to break even. Some degree of public funding has been part of the equation since they were first set up under legislation in 1892. The current target of covering costs through rent clearly integral to the Council’s logic in setting rents. The basis of calculation used, being the total rental income, takes no account of the 50% concession granted to the elderly and unwaged by City of Edinburgh Council. If the Council requires a concession to be made, then the funding of that concession should be drawn from the whole of the Councils revenues and not just from allotment holders. Under the proposed scheme the base allotment rental has been increased to the point where income after concessions exceeds costs. Roughly 40% of plot holders currently pay a concessionary rent. Their rate is being increased to cover the discount and, by double this amount, so too is the rent of the 60% full rate payers. Allowing for the concessionary provision from outside the allotment budget, Edinburgh Allotments became self-funding in 2010. The £40 increase in rent thereafter represents an extra tax on allotment holders over and above those levied on all other Edinburgh Council Tax payers

This is indefensible, morally and probably legally too. I ask City of Edinburgh to halt their programme of increases now, and to return to a “fair rent for the purpose” as stipulated in the legislation. Allotments(Scotland)Acts 1892 to 1950

Thursday 10 February 2011

Our Daily Bread

A lot of people who have allotments also bake their own bread.

It's the same mentality. If you want to be sure about what goes into your food and how it is produced, there one surefire way: grow it and cook it yourself.
I'm not overly proud of using a breadmaker, but it's the thing that means I DO make my own bread, all the time. Years ago I went about 6 months making it by hand and not buying a single commercial loaf in that time. Work and other commitments meant that went by the wayside, until the arrival of the breadmaker. One breadmaker has worn out and this is the new model.

My 'regular' loaf is 80% wholemeal and 20% Rye/White/seeded mixed. Getting a good crust can be a bit of a challenge. I find myself going for the lowest setting as it's needed for slicing. I'm happy with the results.

Monday 7 February 2011

Green Tax 4 - A Fair Rent?

City of Edinburgh Council's first Allotment Strategy "Cultivating Communities" (2002) (p28) adopted the following "comparability factors" from the "Growing in the Community - A Good Practice Guide for the Management of Allotments" (produced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions, The Greater London Authority, the Local Government Association and Shell Better Britain Campaign (2001))

The three factors are:

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

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

- rent concessions should be granted, on a published scale.

(I know that last one doesn't look like a comparability factor , but that's how it is written)

When the next City of Edinburgh Allotment Strategy "Cultivating Communities: A Growing Challenge 2010-2015" was published in 2010, setting in stone steep rent rises to £100 for the period up to 2014, no reference was made to these guiding principles.

So, how would they fare against these comparitors? Not an easy question as there is no central database of information. However various surveys have been run on blogs and allotment websites. They all show that Edinburgh is head and shoulders above the rest in pressing for higher rents.

Here is an extract of the figures from (of all places) (see link) who ran two threads in October 2010 and most recently  January 2011.

£25 per year
£35 for a 20X150 feet plot
£11 for 5m x 25m
£60ish last year in South Notts
£17.50 a year for a full plot
£40 a year for 259sqft
£30 a year
Our fees will stay at £11 this year
£25 in South Wales
£20 for a full plot (80’ x 40’) ..the next council area costs £60
**“I charge £100 for a full plot 30 x 90 feet” Private site owner
£25 annual fee
Up from £17 to £19 last autumn
£65 ish for a year for a full plot in London
£30 for a 30ft by 80ft app
Birmingham council are increasing from £24 to £75 over the next three years (You can buy a lot of veg for £75)
£15 for 20 rod
£35 annually for a full plot (Glasgow)
£35 including water (Leeds)
£35 per yr with water
£50ish Manchester
£40 Leeds
£20 for ½ plot North Notts
£28 this year £40 next year
£27.50 for a 5 rod plot including membership to the allotment society
**£125   10m x 12.5m  (a private allotment)

Leaving in the two private allotment sites** of £100 and £125 the average is still under £37. (Without them it would be £31) Both a lot less that the £70 we are paying in Edinburgh this year

City of Edinburgh Council are allowed to charge a fair rent for use as an allotment under the laws governing the regulation of allotments ,  not an arbitrary one. They must make reference to some other factors rather than the law of supply and demand. I've already shown they are completely out of step with the RPI, now it seems they are out of step with the rest of the UK. So where is the justification? I am calling my local Allotment Association (Lady Road) to demand a rent review - asap.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Oops I Did It Again!

Seed greed? I couldn't turn down the special offer of 5 coloured varieties with my £5 off voucher from T&M. As I already had three orange varieties on order that's a hell of a lot of carrots. It's kill or cure for me this year for carrots!

I like a challenge.

Unhalfbricking - Answering Ali's Question

Ali's question was: "On a scale of 1-10, exactly how much skill would you say you needed to construct your beds?"

Well Ali, here's a picture taken today.  The two beds in the background are finished. The one in the foreground shows the starting point- dug out ready to lay the foundations. As the experts always say, once you have got a level base the rest is easy(!)(?)
(The bed to the right is just a mock up from last year to check what it would look like and whether I had enough bricks).

In between these two stages is this stage: laying the foundations. You need sand/grit/cement to bed in the bricks sideways on so that it is double the width of the wall. If you don't have lots of bricks the usual advice is to fill the trough with concrete. (In our case all the materials for the garden have to go through the house so we don't favour bulk materials like hardcore and concrete)

And of course you need the raw materials:

They need cleaning up before they are ready to be used.

There are quite a few steps and you have to allow time for each step. One correspondent suggested that when it comes to bricklaying you should just do four at a time (thanks Iggy). I thought he was joking, and with 400 bricks to lay I was more adventurous. It turned out to be good avice. The main point is not to rush it. Bricks are quite heavy really and a bricklaying session is like a weightlifting session - not to mention mixing the mortar.  And as for circular beds - that's beyond my expertise


The foundations should be twice the width of the wall

Start the foundations from the LOWEST level.

Use a spirit level at every stage

The advice is that if you use a single width of brick (a halfbrick wall) the maximum height is 18 inches

So on a scale of 1:10 I would say 7, but if it is only 3 bricks high (like me) 4.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Another Brick in the Wall?

This winter's project progress report:

The foreman has his doubts "All that digging and not one bone to show for it!"

Two down and two to go.

The white spots are lengths of polypipe through the wall for drainage. All the bricks are recycled. Each raised bed is about 100 bricks. The quality of workmanship has improved slowly from a very low base. I might have to do some repointing before building up the soil level.

It's a hard time of year just now. The carrots are running out, the spuds all eaten,  cabbages and sprouts all gone. It's just turnip, parsnip  kale and leeks left!  With possibly some purple sprounting broccoli to come, that's not much to fill the hungry gap until the first salads. Also I don't feel like I've gardened unless I'm growing something, so here's my little (indoor) kick off of the year's sowing: six lettuce varieties (all but one from an already open packet - so nothing lost if they don't work). With some more soil and some fleece over the top one of the new planters should be the ideal place to plant these out into!

So  there you have a whole post without a sideswipe at the Coucil...

                                                                      ..... mind you, Christmas trees on the street in February!!!