Newsletter October 2021
Allotment gardening Q & As
In this feature we share with you answers to some of our plotholders’ recent gardening questions.
Q. How to prevent tomato blight?
A. This is the biggest question of the year. Tomato blight has affected plotholders’ outdoor crops this year on a large scale. In previous newsletters we mentioned the causes and how to remove and destroy plants and infected crops.
We recommend for outdoor growing to purchase fresh seed or young plants of blight resistant/tolerant varieties. Check seed suppliers’ websites or catalogues for suitable cultivars and further expert advice. Tolerant varieties include Gardeners Delight, Crimson Crush, Lizzaro, Shirley, Red Alert and Mountain Magic.
Early in the outdoor growing season apply a nutrient tonic to the plants. Vitax Copper Mixture is a tonic and is available from our trading shed. Simply mix with water and spray directly onto the foliage. This is not a cure for blight but can help the plants defend itself.
Q. Are there any easily grown edible flowers?
A. Edible flowers which do not take up too much space on the plot include lavender flowers, nasturtium, borage, chives, courgette, viola, French marigolds and calendula. They add colour and flavour to all sorts of dishes, some make soothing teas and are great scattered over salads.
Q. Any advice about using peat-free compost?
A. Cheap peat-free compost can be challenging with disappointing results. Go for well known brands and ideally choose those that do not contain composted green waste which may have traces of weed killer. Always check the packaging for contents. Peat-free is not a like-for-like replacement for peat-based compost typically needing more water and fertiliser. Although peat-free is suitable for raising vegetables we recommend the addition of John Innes loam-based nutrient mixes for seed sowing, pricking out and potting up.
We would be pleased to hear from plotholders about their results from using peat-free compost.
Q. How to control downy mildew?
A. Downy mildew is caused by fungi that thrive in damp and humid conditions. It affects crops such as brassicas, cabbages etc; grapes, lettuces, onions, peas and root vegetables.
It is identified as yellow or brown patches develop on the upper surfaces of leaves, with off-white fluffy mould on the undersides. As the patches spread, the leaves die and the plant is weakened.
The best action is to remove and destroy infected leaves and spray the plants with an organic fungicide. Ensure plants have good air circulation and avoid overwatering.
Q. This year weeds have been rampant, any suggestions?
A. It is a relentless battle with weeds as they compete with crops, drink water and absorb soil nutrients. They are anti social; crowding your crops for space and light and host pests and diseases.
Our tips are to hoe regularly when it is dry, do not let weeds flower, collect and dispose of weed remains, loosen your soil, do not compost perennial weeds, use lightproof membrane mulches to kill established weeds; spread surface mulches to suppress new weeds and only as a last resort use systemic weed killers.
Q. Thinking of switching to no-dig? How should the ground be prepared for the next growing season?
Once final harvests have been made (October/November) the ground preparation for no-dig is relatively easy. Begin with clearing the chosen ground or raised bed of any crop wastes and weeds which also reduces habitat for slugs over the winter. Rake the ground level. Spread 2-3cm of compost over the no-dig ground/raised bed. Mulch any paths on the plot with a little cardboard and woodchip on top. That’s it until spring except for any winter weeding.
Old-style growing brings success
In some good news for anyone concerned about the state of agricultural and the soil it depends on, a trial in Spain has shown that old-style growing of olives and wine has numerous benefits and can re-generate a landscape that is exhausted and run down. In a study, 20 olive farms were chosen to follow regenerative agricultural practices and within just three years the bee population increased by 47% and biodiversity in general improved significantly. For more details see The Guardian report: Days of wine and olives: how the old farming ways are paying off in Spain | Environment | The Guardian
Under the terms of our lease with the council (and indeed under the requirements of Allotment Law) allotments must be cultivated wholly or mainly for the production of fruit and vegetables. Thus under-cultivated plots put us in breach of our lease – and the law. They also cause considerable inconvenience to neighbouring plotholders, increasing their workload.
Under the self-management arrangements applicable to all Barnet allotments, the allotment committee has the burden of ensuring compliance. At Pointalls we do this by a regular series of inspections. If under-cultivated plots are identified we commence a staged warning procedure. This procedure is standardised to avoid any charge of discrimination and is publicised on our website. It involves a series of notifications, allowing and encouraging the plotholder to rectify the situation. There is ample opportunity to make representations. We issue two notices, each allowing the plotholder to put matters right within a 28-day period. We show flexibility if the plotholder comes up with a credible plan requiring a longer period. Only when the situation is not put right 28 days after the second notice do we move to a situation where we have to ask the plotholder to leave. Even then, the notice period is a further 28 days with a right of appeal.
The process was developed in 2019, approved by the board and published in April 2020 (see newsletter).
We believe this is a fair and impartial procedure. The vast majority of our plotholders maintain their plots well and gain pleasure and satisfaction from doing so. They should not be burdened by badly maintained neighbouring plots. Allotment sites in London are a scarce resource (witness our long waiting list) and we should ensure they are fully utilised.
Pallet busters due to arrive
We are imminently expecting delivery of pallet busters to the trading shed. These tools will be available to plotholders at no cost. All that is required is a £25 deposit that is fully refundable.
Fit greasebands to protect next year’s fruit
Autumn is the time to fit and replace greasebands to your fruit trees. Greasebands are an easy-to-use pest barrier that helps to minimise insect damage to fruit and therefore improve yield and eating quality.
Act now to save fruit from winter moth caterpillars and keep in place until the following April.
Inside each pack of Solabiol Boltac Greasbands you will find a prepared greased band approximately 1.75m long and some brown wire to tie the greased band onto the trees. The band should be fixed well above the level of any surrounding vegetation to ensure that it is not bridged, which may allow insects to avoid the grease. Also use the band around any supporting tree posts.
Replace the bands and apply again in the summer to trap earwigs and ants as they try to climb the trees.
Greasebands are suitable for organic gardening and available from the trading shed at £5.50 per pack.
Growmore fertiliser for strong plants
Growmore is popular with Pointalls plotholders. It is specially formulated to encourage strong healthy plant growth as a general purpose fertiliser for use all around the plot. Growmore contains three major nutrients which are essential for strong plants.
Following packaging changes, Growmore is now only available as a pre-pack size of 25kg. We recognise that this quantity is too large for many plotholders. However, if you bring along to the trading shed your own container we will supply Growmore in weighed out quantities at only £1.00 per kilo.
New price list issued
We have published a new price list following some changes to wholesale prices. The price list also includes a number of our popular products now in new packs with changes to pack sizes and content weights.
Pick up a price list when you next visit the trading shed or go to our website to download a copy.
Address changes must be notified
We would like to remind all plotholders that it is your responsibility to tell us of any change of postal address or email address. This is an obligation stipulated in the tenancy agreement.
We assume that the address we have will be monitored by yourself and any communication sent will reach you.
Water due to be switched off
John Waterhouse will soon switch off the water supply and get it ready for the winter. It is a significant effort to drain the system and remove all the taps. This way we can be sure that icy conditions will not damage the water pipes.
Some pictures to celebrate the harvest season
Please send any feedback and blog ideas to Brigitte at communications@pointalls.