Friday, 24 August 2012

Rossendale Council - the Sequel

Following my last blog post on the subject of the letter I received from Rossendale Council, the Lancashire Telegraph got in touch about running the story.  It took them a few days to get some information out of the Council as they generally avoid answering phones, as I mentioned last time.  I did get an email from the chap at the Council who had gone on holiday after sending the letters, eventually, though it was fairly general and nondescipt.   He did try hard to play nice, still, no apology, no clarification and no answers to my questions.  No surprise there.

But yesterday the Telegraph finally got a response from the Council on the subject.  Apparently, this inspection was 'run of the mill'.  Hmm, not sure you can describe the first inspection since 2003 as 'run of the mill', but OK, let's move on to the next statement.  Letters were sent to 4 people.  Now that was interesting, so yesterday afternoon I had a brief wander round the allotment site to look for uncultivated plots or those which had fewer vegetables growing on them than I did (for the record, I had 11 types of fruit or vegetables not counting the apple trees).  I stopped counting at 9 un- or undercultivated plots.  Some of these plots are completely uncultivated and covered in plastic, others have a couple of things growing but a good selection of weeds as well.  NONE of them had as much growing as I did.  I actually didn't go round all the plots and I wouldn't want to criticise other gardeners as this has been a terrible gardening year, I've lost a lot of plants and so have many others.  That was one of my points to the Council, it's unfair to judge people in such an appalling season.  But 9 and only 4 letters?

On reading the paper this morning I was interested to find this statement from the Council: "The (allotment) society and council are concerned about plots that have fallen into disrepair or look like they have been unworked.  In these instances the council agrees with the society which plot owners to write to requesting that the plot is worked."  Oh dear.  So if anyone from the Council is reading this, and I know that you have read my last post, let me just leave you with this thought.  If there are at least 9 other plots worked less than mine, just what selection criteria were used to decide to send a letter to me and 3 others?  I do hope the selection criteria were lawful, and in line with the Council's statutory obligations.  For example, I do hope the fact that I have chosen not to join the allotment society (it's not obligatory) was not one of those criteria, though I can think of a few other possible explanations as well.  

That's my final word on the subject for now, on with the gardening!

 This is a patch of weeds interspersed with cabbages, and it neatly encapsulates the problem many gardeners have had this year.  We've not had dry soil here since May 2011, and it means that the weeds and the grass just keep on growing.  This bed was weeded when we netted it two weeks ago, and in that time the weeds have outpaced the cabbages.
 So yesterday it was time to get the chickweed, docks, grass, rosebay willowherb and other assorted unwanted plants out.  Not an easy job as the net is below head height so you end up bent over the whole time!  We have naughty pair of woodpigeons on the plot who have been helping themselves to our fruit and veg this summer, and they had stripped all the cabbages to some extent.  Netting them has not only protected them from the cabbage butterflies but also from the birds.  At top and left are purple sprouting broccoli plants which I also managed to germinate successfully during the monsoons.
 Last year I grew a few green peppers for the first time and decided to have another go this year.  The weather has been worse than last year and they have spent a lot of time under cover to try to keep them warm, but there are two little peppers formed as you can see in this photo.
 It's also been a bad year for peas and beans, but we finally have the first runner beans set.  The variety is White Emergo, I have been growing this for some years now and it always does fairly well, though I did lose a few plants early on.
 The marrows are one crop which have done extremely well, they seem to like the wet conditions.  I have about 8 now set, and put tiles underneath them just to prevent rotting from the wet ground, we had torrential rain here earlier this week, which resulted in flash floods, so anything I can do to keep the fruits a bit drier will help.
Now this is interesting.  It should be a pumpkin.  This year I used some saved seed from previous pumpkins rather than bought seed as the weather was atrocious and I didn't want to risk wasting the seeds early in the season.  To my surprise they germinated, grew into standard pumpkin-like plants and have now flowered.  But this fruit, while light green and pumpkin-like on the surface, seems to have developed an elongated shape more like a marrow instead of being round.  I have another one just the same, so I'm wondering if the marrows and pumpkins crossed last year when flowering?  I will post further pictures of what I am tentatively naming my "mampkin" as it develops, will be interesting to see what it turns into eventually.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

To Rossendale Council, With Love

 This week I got a letter from someone at Rossendale Council whose job title is "Amenities Officer", whatever that is.  In it he stated that my allotment plots had "not been worked in some time" and that they were being "overgrown with weeds".  Now for those not familiar with this small corner of Lancashire, Rossendale is a little valley which rejoiced in having the official title of "Worst Council in the Country" not too long ago.  It has improved slightly since then, but not much (making national headlines last year for its waste collection proposals which could best be described as "do it yourself").  The council has taken no interest in the allotments apart from collecting our money for some years, and the last time letters like this were sent out was about 8 years ago, by someone who later admitted she knew nothing about gardening.
So if we want to keep our plot, we are required to contact the said "Amenities Officer" and promise to improve, be good, that kind of thing. Being fair incandescent with rage, I did so immediately by telephone (voicemail engaged) and then email only to find the said "Amenities Officer" (who shall remain nameless, I do have some heart, you know) had sent the letters and promptly buggered off on holiday.  That's Rossendale Council for you, if in doubt, don't answer the phone and ideally don't be there at all.

I don't have any faith that the "Amenities Officer" knows one end of a potato plant from the other, so this post is dedicated to Rossendale Council.  Here is a collection of photos, all date stamped to prove a point, from my plot which has apparently "not been worked in some time".  At the top is the harvest of Cosmos potatoes, an early maincrop which does well for us, being fairly blight resistant , the only damage they get is the occasional slug hole.  Directly above is my garlic harvest, not as good as last year but after 3 months of solid rain better than I could expect.

Just as I finished digging this up yesterday (it's now under a cloche on the plot to dry), a group of walkers passed by and peered over the wall.  "That's a busy lady" one said, to which I replied "No I'm not, according to the council my plot isn't being worked".  They tutted, rolled their eyes "What do they know?".  We then had an interesting discussion about artichokes, mine have been very poor this year and have also created havoc by escaping into the next bed.  According to one of the walkers, this was discussed on Gardeners' Question Time recently and apparently everyone's had a bad time with artichokes this year, so it's not just me.
The brassicas got hit by pigeons the day before I was planning to net them, but since doing so they have recovered speedily.  You will notice there are weeds in the photo, now this is a crime according to the Amenities Officer, but I might point out that we have had the wettest June/July in 100 years and given that fact it can be difficult to get out to weed given the short gaps between downpours generally occur when I'm working.  Today, for example, it is currently raining again.
 With all the rain, the pea crop has been poor but I managed to pick these. Also managed to cut the grass and do some weeding (are you reading this, Amenities Officer?) but given that I have a day job and don't have a weed-related OCD condition like some, there are still weeds on my plot.  Tsk, Tsk.
 Although getting off to a slow start, the lettuce has done well this summer.  I weeded this two weeks ago, but with all the rain they come back straight away.  It's a never ending task.
While the first beetroot sowing failed, the second (on the right here) went in under a cloche in early July to keep it drier and warmer and these beetroot are now doing well. Next to them are autumn carrots which are also looking pretty good.
 This is the last crop of rhubarb for this year.  I must split it this winter, I also need to dig up and replant the strawberry bed - some plants are now past it and it's 5 years since I put them in.  Also, there are now a lot of weeds in there which it is impossible to remove without taking the plants up as well, so that's a job for the autumn  if it ever stops raining.  I've never seen weather like it, our soil was last dry in  May 2011, can you believe that?  We've had over a year of constant rain!
My final photo is dedicated to the Amenities Officer.  This is a Weed, a Very Big Weed.  A criminal offence, no less.  I allow one of these to grow on my plot each year, just the one.  Why? Because it provides valuable food for hoverflies (you can see one in the photo) and other insects with its pollen, and then food for cinnabar moth larvae on the leaves.  I have a patch of nettles for the same wildlife-related reason, and weeds around the trees where I cannot cultivate (not fruit trees, these are regular trees which belong to the council).  My plot is sloping and on three levels, it will never be the "perfect plot", it will never be weed or grass free, I have no intention of covering it with paving and gravel and polytunnels like many others on the allotments.  I do, however, have toads and frogs and moths and butterflies bees and lots of other beneficial yet endangered insects, oh and I manage to grow lots of fruit and vegetables as well.

So there you have it, my "not been worked in some time" plot.  I could use some stronger language but  think "Stick that in your pipe and smoke it" does the job nicely.