Revitalising the Allotments – February 2020

Weather

It’s soggy on the allotments at the moment and too cold to do much sowing of seed, although bare root fruit bushes and trees can be planted, as long as there is no frost in the ground. It is also the perfect time to prune bushes and trees but plums, cherries and other stone fruit should not be touched until April as they are susceptible to a fungal disease called “silver leaf” if cut during the winter.

If you grow rhubarb you can also cover a few crowns with an old bucket. This will force the rhubarb to seek light and in a month or so you should have beautifully pale but succulent fruit to pick.

If that doesn’t give the allotmenteer or fruit and veg gardener enough to do, these early months of the year are a good time to do structural work such as building compost bins or raised beds.

The Community Orchard, Jam Patch and Cut Flower Beds

These community areas go from strength to strength, although the prospect of carrying out our first major prune is a little daunting. The trees have grown well but if we want them to thrive and take on the attractive shape that marks out a really productive tree, they need some fundamental cutting back. If it looks as though someone has given our young trees a serious haircut, it is all for their good. It means that we should all have more succulent fruit to pick in the years to come.

Several volunteers have recently brushed up their pruning skill by attending fruit tree pruning courses at Waterperry Gardens and with Andy Howard, from the Heritage Fruit Tree Company.

The Jam Patch is looking good and there are now three rows of raspberries, two beds of strawberries and a good range of currant and gooseberry bushes. Once they begin to fruit later this year we will let you know so that you can come and “pick your own”. Depending on how well things progress with the cut-flower beds we are also hopeful that villagers will be able to pick some flowers for themselves. Issues surrounding imported flowers, their carbon footprint and bio-security have led many people to consider the virtues of homegrown flowers.

If, when sorting our their gardens this Spring, any villagers find they have surplus plants, tubers or bulbs, we would be most grateful if they could consider us before disposing of them. Please contact one of the numbers below.

Signs

Further information about what is available and where to find things will be signposted in the next few months. We will be installing a number of attractive notice boards around the allotment making it clear what is a community resource and what is privately owned. Goodwill and respect will be important if our venture is to succeed.

Help

We have a small band of volunteers working on the community aspect of the allotments but are keen to enlist as many additional helpers as possible. This can involve heavier, more labour intensive activities such as digging and clearing, or lighter, low level work such as removing the weeds from around the fruit trees. As an example, if everyone visiting the allotment were able to pull up a dozen shallow rooted weeds from the bark chippings surrounding each tree, it would save a small group of people many hours of work.

A noticeboard outlining the range of different jobs to be done will be attached to the shed situated in the middle of the allotment site. We would like the community aspect of the allotment to be as inclusive as possible and although some people are able to give more time than others, it is, as a certain supermarket says, a case of “every little helps”.

Equipment

A range of equipment is now available for allotment holders to borrow when working on the allotment site, this includes mowers, rotavators, wheelbarrows, brooms and watering cans. Many people will own some or all of the above, but for those who wish to get access to such equipment, please contact either Bill Corner (sue.corner@sky.com 01327 342124) or Mike Langrish 01327 341390). We can ensure that you get the equipment you require at a mutually convenient time.

Although it could not be described as “equipment”, we also have a large pile of good quality topsoil available for allotmenteers to use on raised beds or for topping up existing areas of their allotment. This can be found in one corner of the orchard – you can’t miss it at the moment as it is many barrow loads tall! Please help yourself.

Allotment Holders

As always, if you are considering growing your own fruit and veg and you want to try a small tester plot, or something larger, here are the usual telephone contacts: Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

As the soils warms up and the evenings get lighter, now is the time to give it a go – and it is cheaper than the gym! They’d love to hear from you.

Mike Langrish

Heyford Gardening Club – February 2020

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

We held our AGM at our January meeting at which Mike Langrish stepped down for a well deserved rest after ten years as our Chairman. Avril Minchin now takes over the helm for a year which looks to be full of exciting talks and events. We also held a competition for the best winter arrangement which was won by Chris Watts. Looking at the offerings on display our gardens are full of colour and interest even in midwinter.

After everybody had filled up with wine and cheese, I was allowed to update them on the progress on our wildlife area.

Our next meeting will be on the 10th February when we will welcome Liz Taylor of the Woodland Trust who will talk to us about woodland flora. We will also hold our annual Art and Craft competition; the classes will be

A photograph (on a theme to be decided)
A piece of visual art in any medium
An item of craft work.

Programme for rest of the year
March 9th: Anita Thorp: Snowdrops Mini Show – Daffodils
April 6th *: Clare Price: Propagation; Mini Show Tulips
May 11th: John Lee; Penstemons; Seed Swap ; Mini Show of Spring Flowers
June 8th: Patsy Raynor: Plants in Literature and Anecdote; Mini Show Roses
June 20th: Village Hall Fete
July 13th: Summer Party
September 14th: Autumn Show
October 12th: Philip Aubury: Garden Ponds
November 9th: Plant Swap
December 14th: Christmas Tree Festival
*(NB a week early due to Easter)

Things to do in February
1. Plant bulbs in pots for the summer
2. Plant bare root trees and shrubs
3. Sow broad beans and sweet peas.

Mark Newstead

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www.heyfordgardenclub.com

For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

Revitalising the Allotments – December 2019

Weather
As a nation we love to talk about the weather. It’s too hot, too cold, too wet. And gardeners are even worse. However, for once it would seem as though something very odd really is going on with our weather and more particularly, our climate.

As I write this, the river is again overflowing its banks, the playing field resembles a lake and the allotments are getting soggier by the hour. The poor folk of Fishlake are trying to salvage possessions from their flooded homes and it is snowing in Gloucestershire. Just two months ago I dug down two spade depths and the ground was as dry as a bone. For two years now we have had a bumper crop of grapes, the fig tree is flourishing and we’ve just picked the last of our beefsteak tomatoes from the allotment. In the near future we are likely to reap both the benefits of a Mediterranean climate and its drawbacks (including a whole host of little beasties that do nasty things to our flora and fauna).

I guess if there is any lesson to be learnt from all this it is be ready for ‘change’ … and plant more grapes!

Trees
The community orchard goes from strength to strength and the trees we planted just a year ago are looking in good health. Several of the orchard volunteers are about to embark on pruning workshops and they will then be wielding the saw and secateurs on the trees, creating an even better, well shaped orchard for the coming Spring.

I was fascinated to read an article in the Prattler some months ago about a local resident who had successfully grown trees from fruit stones and pips. It is a fascinating thing to do but does not necessarily result in producing good ‘true’ fruit.

All named fruit trees come about as result of something called ‘grafting’. This is a process whereby a young branch from a good, productive tree is fixed onto a vigorous rootstock from the same genus i.e. apple branch to apple rootstock (you can’t mix apple and pear or plum and cherry). The two cut pieces are spliced into each other and sealed with tape during February/March. Providing the two cut surfaces meet smoothly a ‘graft’ is achieved and the result is a tree with all the fruiting characteristics of the good, productive tree and all the vigour of the rootstock. Next time you see a fruit tree, particularly a youngish one, take a look at the trunk near the ground. You’ll see a knobbly knuckle. That is the graft union. Earliest records suggest this practice has been going on for thousands of years, although it is likely that it first occurred by accident when two different trees simply rubbed against each other, wore down the bark and fused together.

Grafting isn’t really complicated and if you have the right growing material, a sharp knife and little patience you can do it yourself. Whilst the bulk of the wonderful trees in our community orchard came from specialist grower Andy Howard, several have been grafted by us. It is as cheap as chips to do … £3 to £4 for a vigorous dwarfing rootstock and the rest is free or easily available in your shed or garage. Within a year you’ll have a tree that is a metre tall!

Community Cut Flower Patch
Following on from the creation of the community orchard and jam patch, work has now started on the community flower patch. Digging was hard when it was dry and it is harder still now the ground is wet (I told you that gardeners obsess about the weather). However, the beds are starting to take shape. With the kind donation of paving slabs from our local Bowls Club we will be able to divide the beds so that flowers are easily accessible. The flowers we have on offer will be a mixture of annuals from seeds collected or donated, some perennials and both spring and summer bulbs. If you can help in any way by letting us have unwanted seed or plants you have lifted/divided, do let us know. We are keen to cover the soil; that is good for the environment and stops the weeds from having a nice bare patch to colonise.

Allotment Holders
It is so good to see that more plots on the allotments are being cultivated and that many of the new allotment holders represent the younger generation. Growing your own fruit and veg is for old and young alike and all are welcome. If you want to join us here are the usual telephone contacts: Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707. They’d love to hear from you.

Wildlife
Dave, Pauline, Mark and Mary, our wildlife enthusiasts, have written quite extensively in the past about the wildlife area they have created on the allotment and I have no doubt they will be keeping you all briefed about future developments. However, I must just mention the wonderful pond they are in the process of creating within this area. It is going to be a huge asset to the allotments as a whole, as good ponds encourage a host of beneficial wildlife. We look forward to our first batch of frogs, newts and toads.

Mike Langrish

“When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree”
Vietnamese Proverb

Heyford Gardening Club – December 2019

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

At our November meeting we had the pleasure of a return visit from Caroline Tait formerly of Coton Manor, who has spent a year in Philadelphia in some magnificent gardens on a Horticultural Fellowship. Caroline’s account was fascinating despite the technological gremlins that tried to sabotage her pictures.

Our December meeting will be on the 14th and will feature a talk on snowdrops, to anticipate the spring, and there will be a competition for a Christmas display. The meeting will start at 8:00 pm as usual.

Disasters and triumphs

This year my leek plants grew particularly well, and knowing that they can be attacked by leek miner (which is a species of fly) I kept them covered with fine mesh netting all summer. I took this off in September, but when I pulled the first leek a few weeks later I found it full of little maggots. At this point I did what I should have done much earlier and checked the RHS website where I discovered that the fly is active in October and November. The net went back on. So far it seems the damage has been limited. Moral: know your enemy!

On a more encouraging note I had several areas where I had spread compost over vegetable beds without digging it in, mainly due to lack of energy. These areas turned out to be particularly productive despite the hot dry summer. This is a system I shall continue in future.

We tend to think of trees as being long lived organisms, but this year a white-berried rowan that I had grown from seed suddenly died after twenty years. This had happened to another rowan that we had some years before. Is this due to the rich living in Heyford? They seem to live much longer in the hills of the north and west where the soil is poor and conditions more exacting. I have noticed that the same seems to have happened to the hawthorns outside our house on the Green, which were healthy bushy trees when we arrived forty years ago, but which have dwindled sadly since.

Some Things to do in December and January

1 Keep ponds clear of ice.
2 Put out food for the wild birds
3 Buy and plant bare root trees and shrubs (if weather permits)
4 Sit indoors and decide what seeds to buy for the spring

Mark Newstead

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www.heyfordgardenclub.com

For more information visit the Heyford Gardening Club & Allotments page

Heyford-Gardening-Cluband-allotments

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – November 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

We have been busy preparing the patch in preparation for sowing the wildflower seed on the designated meadow area. We have removed the weed smothering covers and raked over the soil ready to receive the seed; all we need now is for the rain to stop and the seed can go in.

We were extremely pleased to find during the uncovering operation that our resident toad is still in situ.

HeyfordResidentToad

We shall have to ensure that we keep an area covered over for it to lurk in. Toads, unlike frogs, are very conservative creatures and will only lay their eggs in the place where they themselves were tadpoles, so it is unlikely that we will have toad spawn in our new pond. However we shall almost certainly find frogs and newts in there fairly soon.

As the days shorten and cool, the amount of insect life in the patch is reducing, but the flowering ivy is still producing things of interest. Recently there has been a group of large black flies with showy orange wing bases hanging out there; these were noon flies, something I don’t remember seeing before. A large orange flying insect also appeared, looking at first like a hornet, but it turned out to be a species of hoverfly. This creature not only looks like a hornet, but flies and moves like one too. Its larvae actually live in hornet and wasp nests where they eat the rubbish in the bottom of the nest, and so are tolerated by their hosts.

On a recent trip to Suffolk (prior to the wet weather) I was astonished to see on lawns and patches of grass numerous little bees flying just above the ground. These were mining bees which had just hatched from their burrows in the soil. This is something that would normally happen in the spring (I have seen that at Harlestone Heath in the past) but September would seem too late for the bees to get enough pollen and nectar to make the nests to raise the next generation. If we keep an area of close mown grass we can hope for a similar colony of bees on our own patch in due course.

Mark Newstead

Nether Heyford Community Wildlife Area – October 2019

View from The Wildlife Patch

The heads of Ivy in the bordering Roadside Hedge are now in full bloom and providing a bounty of nectar for a variety of insects. Right now there are several species of Wasp, Hover Fly, Bee, Butterfly and many more insects, including massive European Hornets which are really just huge Wasps. On warmer nights, nocturnal insects, especially moths will be found on the same flowers.

Elsewhere, we have cut down as much of the long grass as we are going to. This has been collected and put in heaps. One of these has a cavity underneath which will hopefully be taken up by a Hedgehog.

Grass has been cut and removed from the area where the pond will be. Most of the area exposed thus will be cut quite short and covered with spoil from pond digging. This will be planted with a wildflower /grass mixture though some will be kept as bare earth. This being essential for some solitary Bee and Wasp species.

Early in October we will sow the Cornfield Annual patch with the same mixture as the new ground and those patches now covered with plastic sheeting will be stripped bare and sown with Cornfield Annuals. The seating/picnic area will be sown with a Wildflower Lawn seed.

When the pond is in we will need to provide a barrier to keep small, unattended children from the pond. One of my Grandchildren, when younger, tried using my garden pond net as a trampoline which was not good idea. I think we will need to put a fence round the pond with a gate for access. This should be much safer.

Molehills are usually very much in evidence at this time of year. They live singly and feed mainly on a diet of Earthworms. Each mole digs series of subterranean tunnels which it “cruises” along, picking up any worms which drop into the tunnels. Earthworms migrate up and down vertically in the soil according to outside conditions. For example they go deeper in times of drought, then Moles dig their burrows at a lower level to trap them. When they dig these new tunnels they push the spoil to the surface to create Molehills.

I know that some gardeners believe moles eat vegetable roots from underground. This belief is erroneous. Moles cannot digest any form of vegetable matter, they are not rodents and just do not have the dentition to gnaw roots. Moles need to eat every few hours and dine EXCLUSIVELY on earthworms and insects. Having said that I did find a beetroot on my allotment that had been well and truly gnawed below ground underneath was what appeared to be the top end of a Mole Tunnel. A closer look at the damage showed very clearly the double tooth marks of a Rodent. This was no doubt the work of a Brown Rat which had modified a moles tunnel to burrow up to my Beet.

Dave Musson

Revitalising the Allotments – October 2019

About two years ago we began to despair that the main allotment site in Nether Heyford was going to rack and ruin. Those conscientious souls who kept their plots in good order were often fighting a losing a battle, as weeds from abandoned plots encroached onto their veggie beds. Trying to find a way through the site involved hacking your way through a jungle of tall grass and vicious brambles and at the same time trying to negotiate your way round abandoned car tyres, scrap metal and various wooden obstacles. The allotments, taken as a whole, looked a mess.

Fast forward to the present and what a change has occurred. Thanks to the support of the Parish Council, a group of volunteers have been able to make the allotments not only look good but once more become productive – in so many ways.

A section on the site that had long been abandoned was cleared and, with generous support from local businesses, organisations and individual residents, over thirty heritage fruit trees were purchased and planted. As we approach the first anniversary of that planting, I am pleased to report that they are thriving and have put on a considerable amount of new growth. In the next few years we look forward to harvesting our first crop and inviting you to share in this bounty.

Maintaining good pathways around the allotment site had always been a problem. Several allotment holders went above and beyond their remit of keeping their own area in order and often mowed whole sections near to their allotment. But that became the exception, not the rule. Over the past two years that has changed and thanks to volunteers and more individual allotment holders, the pathways are in good order. No longer do you hazard life and limb when you enter the allotments.

Following on from the success of the community orchard, a “community jam patch” has been created, again using several abandoned plots and utilising fruit bushes that have been rescued in the clearance work. We try to ensure that nothing goes to waste. Plans are afoot to extend this by including a “community cutting garden”, made up of annual and perennial flowers.

Another, long abandoned area of the allotments, has been turned over to a “wild area”. This is not an excuse to simply abandon land but is a carefully managed space that includes a wild flower area, nesting boxes for birds and smaller mammals as well as areas for tall grasses to flourish and a host of butterflies, beetles and other mini-beasts to thrive. Pathways have been mown through the area for safe access and a clearly defined perimeter rope has been fixed to posts to show where the area starts and finishes. As this is an area of sensitive growth and development the wildlife volunteers would ask that anyone seeking to visit first contacts one of them to arrange a convenient time. The next development for this area will be the creation of a wildlife pond.

Having a place to sit and eat lunch after a hard session on the allotment or for just taking the opportunity to sit and admire the orchard and the surrounding allotments, requires a community seating area. Again, thanks to the generosity of villagers and fellow allotmenteers we have been able to create a green space with tables and chairs. It was a joy to be able to gather here several weeks ago and share a drink as well as BBQ some food. As the sun went down it was good to reflect on what a lovely village we live in.

For those intrepid, long standing allotmenteers who have cultivated their plots over the years, despite the sea of weeds and the piles of junk, a big thank you. If you hadn’t battled on regardless then the allotments could have been in real jeopardy.

Finally, and probably most importantly of all, it is wonderful to report that more and more allotments are being cultivated. Ever since I began reporting on the refurbishment of the allotments I have always included an invitation to everyone out there to take on an allotment. I think it is beginning to pay off. Once abandoned land is now being put to good use by villagers and from folk in the surrounding area. It is so heartening to see this change in fortune, and whilst we’d never want to deny anyone an allotment, wouldn’t it be an achievement to say that we had a waiting list!

So here we go again…If you are interested in trying out an allotment (you can have a small “taster plot” free for one year – or you can plunge straight in and select a more permanent plot that suits you) then contact either Sue Corner on 01327 342124 or Lynda Eales on 01327 341707.

Come and join us.

Mike Langrish