Thursday, 15 August 2013

And on it grows

This post is brought to you courtesy of Paul and the growing committee so I can't take any credit for this. 
This is the first monthly newsletter from the Growers Committee for a while (we've been too busy working on the plots!).  The snow, late frosts and dry spring and hot July are behind us and high summer brings a very healthy looking allotment.  Many crops are ready to harvest and the pests have been much less destructive than last year.
The Summer on Lotti
Our beds are looking in the best condition ever and are testimony to a lot of hard work since the winter.  Every area has had a crop of some kind and we have had many more successes than failures this year.
May and June tend to be barren months for harvest, just a few salad crops.  Our first harvests were the winter onions and garlic, reasonable numbers but on the small side, reflecting the difficult weather.
The fruit trees are covered in small fruit so we are hoping for a good crop of pears, apples and plums later.  The Black Currants have been excellent.  The Strawberries were tasty but not abundant and we lost a lot again to mice or possibly squirrels.
     Leeks and Sweetcorn      
Our Pumpkins are rampant and the squash have set fruits already so things look good for the autumn.  The courgettes are bountiful and as always happens in these circumstances, we have some large marrows  (there is pile in the shed so help yourself and try making a stuffed marrow dish).
The potato crop is very good this year, specially the early crop of Charlottes.  We still have the main crop in the ground and we will be lifting that shortly to store for the winter.  The summer onions are good and starting to dry off ready for harvest.
We lost a lot of young beans in the frosts in late May but enough have survived to produce a good crop along with our Mangetout and Sugar snap peas.
This year we have planted three old baths with carrots and took the first harvest this week. They look amazing and are the best I have ever grown. Another success is the summer Brocolli.
In the Poly Tunnel, the first tomatoes are just staring to turn red and the cucmbers are producing well.  The peppers refused to grow earlier but are now finally flowering and the first fruits are visible.  We also have a number of exotic Cambodian plants (curtesey of seeds from my neighbough).  They include several different types of  unusual shaped cucumbers and some Bean Curd plants.

We have planted the areas near the main path with wild flowers and sunflowers. The bees and butterflies love them and they bring a welcome bit of colour to the plot.

A lot of regular maintenance jobs are needed to keep such a big plot going through the main growing season. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the watering rota this summer, tidied up the brambles and kept the big weeds in check around the site.  Cisse has done a splendid job of cutting the privet hedges around the site.

Eleanor has made an automatic Comfrey juice generator.  Raw comfrey in the top, liquid feed from the bottom – it’s in the Greenhouse, take a look. As we harvest and clear beds we are sowing green manure or mulching with Comfrey. In the late autumn we will dig this into the beds to improve fertility for next year.

The Coming Months
There is no more sowing and planting to do for a while but, as always, plenty of weeding to prevent weeds seeding into the beds.  And lots of harvesting!
There is still opportunity to spend a productive time down on the plot in the fresh air and sunshine, so we hope to see you on a Wednesday morning, Saturday afternoon or at the August and September working days.

Paul on behalf of the Growers Committee

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Summer Colour

It's not all about the vegetables down at Lotti. Flowers have brought a burst of summer colour. I'm going to let them speak for themselves in this picture post. What flowers are you growing on your plot? What have you found goes well with the veg? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Saturday, 29 June 2013


Midsummer is here and despite the cold start to the year everything is growing like crazy - including the weeds. A case in point are our specially prepared carrot beds. We've planted our carrots in reclaimed baths with a mixture of soil, compost and sand. They've started off really well but were in danger of being crowded out by weeds so some fine weeding was required. See our before and after shots.
Before:                                                                         After:                                                       

Elsewhere on the plot these beetroot were being planted out.

 And the potatoes were doing well, with a few showing flowers. 

There were also beans and peas being planted out and the onion beds were being weeded. All in all a satisfying time. It's good to see all the hard work paying off.

Friday, 24 May 2013


Hello gardeners, after a bit of a break the blog is back. Following a prolonged winter the growing season is suddenly in full pelt. If you have rhubarb on your plot it should be about ready to harvest.

We certainly have some down on Lotti and if you think you might get sick of rhubarb crumble here's a recipe for rhubarb and ginger jam courtesy of my mother. I've been enjoying it for years and it never disappoints.

This is the recipe and method for rhubarb and ginger jam - this is for a large amount which I make in 2 batches - you can adjust it to fit what you have.

5.8kg rhubarb - cut into 1cm lengths 
400g fresh ginger-peeled and grated 
12 lemons - zest & juice
4kg granulated sugar

Start the night before and layer the rhubarb and sugar in a large heavy based pan (a jam pan is ideal of course but expensive)
Add the juice, zest and ginger to pan and cook the rhubarb on a medium heat - slowly until soft and sugar is dissolved.
Bring to boil - I turn it up and then back down again when boiling.
Check for set after 20 mins  - put a small amount on cold saucer if it wrinkles when pushed with your finger it is done - or use a sugar thermometer 
Stir & leave to stand for 10mins then pot into warmed jars.
To sterelise jars put in oven for 30mins at 140 c
Happy cooking!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Growing communities

The Big Dig 2013 is not a televised archaeology marathon. What it shares with its predecessor of the same name is a multitude of opportunities for people to get their hands dirty. The Big Dig, taking place from 16-22nd March, has a national scale but a local focus involving people in improving community garden spaces. Here in Sheffield the volunteering opportunities are being organised by Grow Sheffield. 

This isn’t the first time Grow Sheffield has been involved in encouraging volunteering. In fact it’s probably fair to say that without volunteers there would be no Grow Sheffield. The organisation was started  just 6 years ago to ‘to connect people to each other, to their environment and the seasons using food and food growing.’ The most straightforward way they’ve done that is through the abundance project. 

It’s a simple idea. Around Sheffield there are fruit trees full of fruit that would not otherwise be picked. Volunteers harvest fruit gluts and then distribute it to the communities it is grown in on a not for profit basis. Nothing is wasted with surpluses being used to make chutneys. If you’ve always relied on the supermarket for your chutneys you can even learn how to make them yourself. 

A natural progression from abundance has been the community growers project. Community growers are gardening gurus who provide the expertise and the encouragement for people to try their hand at growing their own food. The project recognises that many people living in cities do not have their own garden. And despite a healthy interest in allotments there hasn’t been a growth in allotment sites. Instead of bemoaning the lack of allotments community growers help people seek out solutions. This might mean growing in pots and on windowsills or utilising what otherwise would be abandoned patches of land. 

Each community grower concentrates on one local area in Sheffield. There are currently 8 ongoing with a plan to add 4 more this year. The idea isn’t that Grow Sheffield will seek perpetual funding to keep these projects going. The aim – that runs through all their work – is sustainability. In this instance that means equipping communities with the knowledge and skills to establish and sustain the activities themselves. It is a model that ensures local people are at the heart of each project and it is the participants that shape each project and determine what is grown and whether it will succeed. 

Last year Grow Sheffield organised events for people to see what these projects were like. This year, as part of the big dig they’re going a step further and asking people to take part. Tom Sutton, who is coordinating the big dig in Sheffield, feels that by taking part people will get a better idea of a project’s benefits than they would by looking around. Anyone who gets involved will be part of a project with activities around the country taking in Taunton, Ipswich, Blackpool, Coventry and many others beside our very own Sheffield.  

If you want to get involved what can you expect? Around the city several projects have already signed up. At Lowes Garden on Abbeydale Road you could end up clearing the garden, pruning trees or planting fruit bushes. Hillside Harvest community allotment in the Rivelin Valley is teaming up with Grow Sheffield for an open day that includes workshops on planning allotments. Volunteers are also needed to help build a path and bridge that will improve access to the allotments. The last word goes to volunteer Chaitrali Dhamne, "Grow Sheffield is providing wonderful events, memorable days and unique opportunities to volunteer across the city, in a very well organised manner! It was my first experience of volunteering and I wasn't sure what to expect, but I would definitely get involved again!"

The easiest way to get involved in any of these projects – and more besides – is to go to and find Sheffield on the interactive map. Or you can enter your postcode and the site will find the projects nearest to you. And it’s not too late to get involved if you have a gardening project that you need volunteers for contact
Go on, give it a grow this March.

This is taken from an article I wrote for now then magazine, Sheffield

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Muck & Magic

Last week we had our first open day of 2013 and it was a real success. My day started early with an appearance on BBC Radio Sheffield's Breakfast programme with Georgey Spanswick. I'd never been on radio before and it was a real treat. Georgey was a great host who completely put me at ease and was a good laugh.

Then it was on to the open day, which a lot of people had put great efforts into putting together. There were two workshops on composting - beginners & advanced - that both attracted about a dozen people. I wasn't aware there was so much to composting but everyone seemed completely engrossed. As I was involved in the volunteering side of things I couldn't sit in but as a group we've gained some valuable knowledge which will help in seasons to come.

Composting is all about improving the soil and that's what our volunteers were doing too. Of course we're all volunteers but a volunteering marathon arranged by Sheffield University provided 11 extra pairs of hands for those jobs you never quite get round to.

We have a soft fruit area and the area in between the rows of fruit had become overgrown with weeds. This was actually good soil and our volunteers cleared the soil of weeds and topped up some of our beds with it to make them ready for planting. Once cleared we began filling the area with fresh wood chippings to help keep down the weeds. Eventually these will rot down and the whole process will start again. It sounds easy when written down but this involved a lot of shovelling and barrowing of both soil and woodchips.

It's heavy work and all of our volunteers can say they earned the hearty vegetable stew on offer for lunch. We finished the day tired but with a great sense of achievement at the transformed patch of Lotti. There's more to come on 16th March - see the website for details. By then I know we'll be itching to start planting just as soon as the frosts stop. When they do we know we'll be ready.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The good, the bad & the ugly

 The good news is that after the snow comes the thaw. Snow can be great fun but there's a limit to how much can get done on the allotment.
There will be a period when Lotti is a bit soggy but we should be clear of snow and ice for Hillside Harvest's first open day on 16th February. The day is free and includes workshops, hot lunch and opportunities for volunteers to get stuck in. Considering the amount of planning it would be a shame if these couldn't go ahead because of snow.

The bad news is that the polytunnel got squished by the weight of snow. Our polytunnel is really useful for extending the growing season and allowing us to grow things that might suffer outside. Losing it would be a big blow, particularly as we don't have a  greenhouse. 

Today a rescue was underway. First the snow was pulled off with the flat side of a rake, taking care not to puncture the polythene membrane. Once we could get inside we discovered things were not as bad as it had first looked. The flexible plastic tubes, that form the arches over which the membrane is pulled, had not broken as feared.
 Some of the wooden supports had. makeshift wooden supports were fashioned from spare wood and put in place to prop up the tubes. Further repair will be needed, along with permanent central supports, but the polytunnel lives to last another season.

And finally an ugly truth. These are, or were, allotment sites. Now they are an overgrown wilderness. Wilderness has its place but it is a shame that this has been alllowed to happen at a time when waiting lists for allotments are on the increase. The Rivelin Valley could see a vibrant allotment community but too many sites look like these. The silver lining to this particular cloud is that community allotments like Hillside Harvest do exist. So if you're on the waiting list come and join us. This weekend we found out once again that we can achieve a lot more working together than we can separately.