Thursday, 31 December 2015

The end of 2015 and a Summary

Yesterday evening we had a nice snacky tea, so I made up a few of these excellent little penguins - mozzarella pearls, black olives and home-grown carrot. Cute, huh?
And, these are cherry tomatoes with pesto (vegan) and a little cocktail onion in the middle for an extra bit of crunch. They were very tasty. I only made a few. My sister, Joanne, will remember the pain of making loads (probably 50 or more) for a party she had years ago. Hopefully next year we'll have some home-grown tomatoes and I know fellow plotholder, Alison, makes pesto using broad beans so I'll have to get the recipe from her.
As Storm Frank was causing havoc in the North-West we were having a blustery wet day. We took a walk up to the allotment as we haven't moved much over the last week. It was nice to be out in the fresh air, which was rather cooler than it has been of late so we got to use the hand warmers. They'll certainly be useful when cleaning veg on the plot in icy cold water! (Have I mentioned my sister gave me some nail varnish? I couldn't decide which colour to wear, so tried them all out :-)) You can see the gel in the hand warmer I'm holding has gone solid and that's when it heats up - amazing!
Compost bins and lids have been fairly scattered around the site as usual, but no real damage. I added a lot of kitchen waste (mostly tea bags and coffee grounds) to the compost bins. Plenty of worms doing their job but also a lot of (white) flies, which are less welcome. The temperature is forecast to go below freezing tonight so that may kill off a few of the nasties. The weather's been so mild! The rosemary has buds on and this is one of the Meconopsis plants (beautiful blue Himalayan poppy) that my sister gave us for Christmas. It arrived just before Christmas as an empty pot!
Happy New Year Everyone!!
I hope you'll have some happy blogposts from me in 2016!!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Pawns after Christmas

Christmas was fun. The weather didn't look like the Christmas cards but although warm I'm glad it was rainy so the Christmas lights looked pretty throughout the day. We received some lovely presents and here are a few which are at least vaguely allotment-based.

The red things at the front are hand warmer gel packs, which will prove so useful if we actually get a Winter this year! The West Country recipe book has some lovely recipes for veggies - I'm keen to try the potato, carrot and parsnips coated in herby flour and onion, fennel and red pepper tarts sound good too! And how about the Gardener's hip flask! I think the to-do list is definitely in the right order!!
Hopefully we will have somewhere to use these lovely pressies and our veggies will be home-grown...

In my last post I mentioned 'news of a further extension of our lease'. I was being more positive than I've felt over the last month. I probably should have said something like 'a further year's extension of our lease seems likely'. So we're not out of the woods yet.
Just before Christmas, Hungerford Town Council, HAHA and AONB (along with other concerned authorities and individuals) contacted West Berkshire Council to outline why the WBC decision on the Hungerford development plan is flawed and why they should listen to the opinions of the local council and townspeople. The argument refers to allotments because (I quote),
"Donnington Homes made a clear commitment that if planning permission is gained for their HUN001 site then the Marsh Lane allotment site would receive a lengthy lease extension at the very least, or it may even be given to the community of Hungerford permanently. So the future of our lovely site is unfortunately linked into these development machinations. If WBC’s Plan, as it currently stands, is approved by the Planning Inspector then we will probably lose the Marsh Lane site".
I grudgingly completed the paperwork to backup the HTC plan for the sake of the allotment site (and because the WBC plan does seem illogical based on traffic flow in the town). But I really hate being used as a bargaining chip, particularly when I'm still aware of the compulsory lease option which the Council doesn't seem to have looked into. We have another Council meeting next week, which I hope will have another big turnout of allotment holders, but I'm sure there will have been little progress over the Christmas period...

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas from Plot 7!

Sprouts, carrots and parsnips picked for tomorrow's lunch. News of a further extension to our lease.
So now we can relax and enjoy Christmas!
Merry Christmas to all who read my blog. Thankyou for your support, advice and comments. See you the other side!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Brief Visit

This was the first day we've been to the allotment since we received the awful news about the lease not being renewed and the news that the site had been broken into. We've both had colds and been busy with Christmas.
Here's a cheery photo from Longleat to stop this post being too depressing!
It started raining just as we were walking to the site, but it's still very mild. We were only dropping off some compost and checking that nothing had been taken from our plot - it hadn't been.
The site is looking rather neglected, although there are quite a few plots with vegetables, mostly leeks, carrots, parsnips and cabbages still growing. Obviously people aren't taking advantage of the dry, mild weather as we would have in previous years. So sad. We should definitely have sprouts and carrots and possibly a parsnip or two for Christmas dinner.
At least the pheasants are making use of the greenhouse. That's one of the dust baths they've been having in there!
We left in sunshine and met fellow plotholder, Vic and his family, popping in to pick veggies for their lunch. Let's hope our MP, Richard Benyon, can appreciate our position and provide some useful pressure to the landowner/developer when our Chairman and Treasurer meet him next week...
This is our treasurer, Ted, talking to BBC Radio Berkshire about our plight.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Marsh Lane Allotments in the Media

Marsh Lane in 2010
The Council meeting last week didn't go far to lift our spirits regarding the future of our site. However, it was great to see the room over-crowded due to the number of plotholders who turned out - we outnumbered the councillors by at least 2:1!

And the local paper (Hungerford edition of the Newbury Weekly News) had the full story on the front page and continuing inside.
A few weeks earlier I summarised our successful year of community events in the local ChainMail magazine (covering Jan-March 2016). I didn't consider that it could be my final post as an allotment holder :-(
Here's a link to my article in the Autumn issue of ChainMail. I was hoping to encourage people to make their own compost.

There's likely to be more media coverage before this is resolved, but I really hope we have a happy ending to this sorry Christmas tale...

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Return to Grassland

It can't be right, can it? Our beautiful site which is currently being enjoyed by over 77 families and has been providing a healthy pastime and community spirit within Hungerford over the last 7 years is to be "returned to grassland" by the landowner.
The reason for ending the tenancy is apparently due to a planning dispute. Not because of a plan for housing on Marsh Lane, but for another piece of land which wasn't included in West Berkshire's recent Development Plan. It's understood that the Marsh Lane field is unlikely to ever be given planning permission (though this may be wishful thinking).
So, we allotment holders are stuck in the middle of this dispute and Hungerford will lose one of its greatest community assets unless Hungerford Town Council manage to resolve the situation before April 2016. 
Hungerford will be left with an empty field with £5,000 of public-funded rabbit fencing and an unused publicly-funded £5,000 borehole in the middle of it.
Borehole digging in 2010
The town council has leased the land since 2009 and in that time we've received 3 notices to quit, which have been turned around at the last moment. I'm sick of it! It's time the town had a PERMANENT ALLOTMENT SITE, as outlined in the HungerfordTown Plan 2013.
'The Allotment' play in 2012
The Council meeting next Monday (7th Dec), which is open to the public, could be interesting...
Please come along if you think our allotment site is worth keeping!! 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Tiger Tiger...

What a horrible day! We should have got to the plot earlier; by the time we got there it was already starting to spit and when we left it was raining hard and blowing cold sharp gusts if wind. Ugh, lucky I had my new German navy parka to keep me warm and dry! (What a bargain from GoArmy - it's such a great coat I feel a bit bad getting it dirty, but I did specifically buy it for the allotment).
Anyway, this is an allotment blog, not a fashion blog :-) but this explains why we ventured out on such an awful late-November day... We had to harvest our tiger nuts (Chufa, to the spanish).
We were pleased to see that some of the tubers (they aren't nuts) had reached a reasonable size and there were some nice clumps of them around some of the stems - they seemed to be better around the edge of the pot, unless they were just easier to see.
We got a pretty good amount - hopefully enough to make our own Horchata de chufa, a lovely sweet milky-type drink which we drink in Tenerife and is very popular in Valencia
They're also quite nice raw, as a snack. They taste very much like hazelnuts but it's tricky getting all the dirt off.
Looks like a tiny spud or bug!
The grassy plant was attractive throughout the year and would be good for a bog garden, as it needs to stay wet all the time, although rather invasive which is why we grew it in a pot.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Chilly Chillis and Eskimo Carrots

Look at that sad little plant.
The temperature went down to -4.8° in the greenhouse overnight marking the end of the chilli plant and the tomatillos.
It's been a cold weekend; not one for working on the plot but I wanted some carrots for soup so we wandered up this afternoon. The sun just peeped out for a short while, but didn't hang round and neither did we!
I pulled a couple of the Eskimo carrots - one of these weighs 500g, so I only need two for 3 days of soup! And we saved some of the red chillis - they aren't very hot but will add a little spice. Clearly Wilkos had labelled the plant wrong, which I'm quite happy with, as I couldn't have eaten them if they were too hot.
The sprout stems have been blown sideways by the recent storms but the sprouts are looking firm and have plumped up nicely over the last month.
The birds were active on the allotment today. The magpie family are ever-present and were having a stand-off with one of the kestrels before they took to the sky for a dogfight.
The kestrel chasing the magpie off

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Pumpkin is not just for Halloween...

... particularly if you grow 6 plants and one of you doesn't like them!
So, I've been lunching on pumpkin soup and pumpkin seeds for a couple of weeks now and am just using the last one to make another batch of soup.
I've used a Thai stir fry paste rather than buying the individual ingredients - it's more economical and easier. Last week's soup included a little can of coconut cream which made the soup extra fragrant. This week I'm roasting the pumpkin with garlic first to ensure the pumpkin flavour gets through the spice.
The rest of the pumpkins haven't gone to waste; I've taken chunks into work for friends and I've also had some roasted as part of a meal, oh, and the bugs and beasties have been enjoying the remains on the plot!

Jack-o-Lanterns rotting away on Plot 3
One pumpkin stored in the greenhouse went rotten because there was a leak directly above it :-( As have a few of the big onions and lots of the silverskin onions started to re-grow because the weather has been so wet and mild. The greenhouse isn't as good for storage as we'd hoped, but we may just need to organise it a bit better...
Pumpkin, squash, onion and garlic
We had a few hours on the plot today - the first dry(ish) day for a couple of weeks. We cleared the runner beans and most of the greenhouse. The pepper is back in the greenhouse and the peppers are finally going red!
We planted up two tubs with layered bulbs for Spring - crocus, narcissus and tulips; topped off with some viola for a bit of Winter colour before the bulbs emerge.
The bulbs should flower at different times to provide some early season colour on the plot next year. Well, that's the plan!
Mmm, the soup was ready before I finished writing this, so I had a bowlful - very tasty, I'm quite glad when Jamie doesn't like my soups :-)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Hallowe'en Feasting

So the pumpkins had their big day yesterday! We gave some to friends and family and we used three for our Halloween activities. We still have a couple left in the greenhouse which I think will be soup (I'm keen on making a thai-style one).
We carved these two during the day and I roasted some more of the seeds - not all of them we'd never get through that many. They're so tasty roasted in a little oil and seasoning, I also added a little turmeric.
I read about taking the hulls off and using the inner kernel like sunflower seeds. The idea of breaking the outer shell beforehand was entirely unsuccessful, so i just boiled them as they were. The hulls didn't slip off easily - in fact it was a real pain and took ages, so I'll stick with the roasting whole method in future!
Our Halloween meal consisted of a starter of purple carrot soup (flavoured with a bouquet garni). And accompanied by cool star-shaped toast.The main was Cornells Delicata squash roasted in rings and filled with chilli Quorn mince.
The allotment site had one Pumpkin Jack as protection against the night's ghouls.

Jamie and I went for a midnight meander and it seemed to be doing its job - no trouble on site apart from two slightly tipsy plotholders ;-)

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Wet Weather Walk

And guess where we walked to... We knew we wouldn't be able to do any work on the plot on such a rainy day but it's nice to see it in all weathers and all seasons.
We did manage to pick the last few ripe Sungold tomatoes from the plants in the greenhouse. I may make some green tomato chutney with the remaining fruits but will see if I have the time and inclination.
Geese flying West for Winter(?)
The site and surroundings are looking good in their autumn colours even though it was such a grey day. The strawberries have flowers on but it's the leaves that are stunning red now!
The chard is still making a good display and the marigolds are still looking good (from a distance!)

The birds have been making the most of few visitors to the site and are enjoying eating our sunflower seeds. We saw blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits flying from the hedge to the plants when we first turned up.