Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Eynsham Allotments will get upto £12,000 for much needed deer fencing

Tesco Bag Of Help
Over recent years there have been increasing concerns about of deer on the allotments. Indeed at the last two Annual General Meetings strong requests have been made asking for something to be done about the loss of produce from deer ravaging plots not only in Winter months! Now we have found a funding source for this very expensive project.

Tesco “Bags of Help” offers community groups and projects in each of Tesco’s 390 regions across the Scotland, England and Wales a share of revenue generated from the five pence charge levied on single-use carrier bags. The public will vote in store from 27 February until 6 March on who each should receive on of the £12,000, £10,000 and £8,000 awards.

Tesco has teamed up with Groundwork to launch its Bags of Help initiative in hundreds of regions across Scotland, England and Wales. The scheme will see three community groups and projects in each of these regions awarded grants raised from the 5p bag charge.

The Eynsham Allotment Association made an application back in December and has gone through a couple of selection rounds. Great news - our application has successfully reached the final round.  We are now one of three projects for this area. Voting will involve placing a token into the box for their chosen community scheme at five local Tesco stores.

Our project goal is to completely surround the allotments site with quality deer fencing, and if budget permits deer-proof gates and also ensure the whole site is rabbit-proofed.  
  • Jacky says, “the deer have been a real pest on my plot for the last 2 years digging up and eating my parsnips, etc.”  
  • Fay says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were to be able to get enough to rabbit and deer proof? (I’m a bit grumpy about both as they’ve been helping themselves to a lot of my winter veg.)”  
  • Gil adds, “Last year was our worst year for pests. Beans were eaten at the tops as soon as they came through, and peas didn't even make it out of the ground (presumably mice). We have teeth marks in beetroot every year, rats? Since Christmas our parsnips have been eaten down from the top, and early planted broad beans have had the tops removed. We may have to net all but the onions and leeks, or perhaps plant them amongst the other crops.”

These allotments, as locals know, are on the River Thames flood plain.  As such during winter months deer are pushed away from the river and the allotments are in their direct path.

Votes can be cast by any Tesco customer between the 27th February and 6th March at ONLY these Tesco stores:
  • Tesco Cogges Hill Express, Witney
  • Tesco Esso Petrol Station on the A40, Eynsham
  • Tesco Fettiplace Express, Witney 
  • Tesco Esso Petrol Station, Station Lane, Witney
  • Tesco Kidlington Metro
Obviously we would like customers to vote for “Eynsham Allotments Deer Fencing Project”

Friday, 1 August 2014

Controlling Rats

Rats are a fact of life and they are everywhere, including the allotments.  Rather than trying to achieve the impossible of eradicating them the best approach is to work to keep them under control.

In doing that we all have a role. Besides the fact that plotholders have lost crops, simply in terms of hygiene and safety of the food we produce then rat control is important.  Also in past years the local Pest Control Officer has visited.  On each occasion he has emphasised it is our own interests to do what we can to help control the rat population.

Looking for rodents

You may not see any rodents roaming around, but they will be nearby. Rats take regular routes and leave runs that can often be seen in damp weather.  Typical runs will be from compost heaps or from under sheds. You might also see entrances to their extensive burrow systems in the soil.  An entrance is typically around 3cm diameter.

Rats tend to love plastic 'Dalek' styled compost bins.  It is not unknown for rats to have excavated near the base, or even  tunnel through to the top of the contents.

Reducing the population

The Allotments Society has purchased a number of Fenn traps, a type of humane killing trap recommended by the Pest Control Officer. These do not use bait, but need a demonstration of how to set the mechanism, and daily checking. Traps arc available for loan from Heather Homer, Field 2 Plot 74.. Advice is also available on where to place the traps for best effect - and safety.

Poisoning?

Use of poison bait is a matter for individual conscience. It is very effective, though expensive. It is cheaper in larger sizes.  A group of neighbouring plotholders could club together to do a bulk purchase.  When laying poison it is important not to under-bait.  Also it is an imperative to protect the poison from both weather and birds.

Other Methods

One interesting method is to half fill an old coffee pot and lay it on its side near the shed or compost heap where you know think is a rat run. Better still, a plastic milk bottle with just a part of the base removed provides a good protective container. Always replenish the bait as required. {f the bait is chewed on site rather than being taken that may mean you've. probably got rid of the rats and the mice have moved back in!

A temporary shelter for rats AND bait can be made from a sheet of old iron supported on four bricks. This is best if placed ov€r a known run. Altematively, make an artificial run from planks. Bear in mind the goal is to protect other wildlife whilst.making an enticing place for any rats.

Tips for reducing nest sites and food supplies

  • Lift up any sheet: iron or flat boards, and store them on edge
  • Also check that carpet or black plastic sheeting laid to smother weeds is not providing a perfect shelter for a rat family.
  • If rats are under a shed, try to seal the gap with fine mesh wire netting.
  • When building a new compost bin, include a layer of fine mesh wire netting in the floor and sides.
  • Lift root crops and store them in a clamp; a shallow pit lined with fine mesh wire netting.
  • Cover with more netting and soil.
  • Take care to be aware of ANY possible source of attractive food scraps, including compost bins and bird seed, and so forth.
Never think you  will remove ALL the rodents.  Rather think we are trying to give nature a helping hand to restore balance.

Records

Please keep a brief log of sightings, actions, results, etc., to prove that we are taking some action. If things get very bad the Pest Control Officer may be obliged to step in.  If this is the case costs
might spiral...

Finally

Don't forget safety first!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Digging holes, my way

I am feeling quite pleased with myself.  With an almost daily effort of around 2 hours I am almost half way through my half plot in both ridding it of weeds and also planting some vegetables.

The technique I have adopted starts by digging a hole.  I have talked to some people on the allotments who have reported how hard the ground is, some using the term "impossibly hard".  Well, I can't think my plot is any harder or softer.  In fact the pit I just re-filled was full of packed clay.  Given the ground was covered with grass, which a week ago I had strimmed, I found the best starting point was to skim just below the grass with my trusty spade.  Once below the grass, apart from areas of arguably pure clay, the ground had moisture enough to make digging quite reasonable.  The biggest problem for this piece of earth was a quantity of stones, and no spade can get through a stone, no matter how damp the weather.

Whilst digging down I kept pulling out weeds.  Here's a picture of just one tray full of them.  All the soil (and other weeds yet to be sorted) gets piled to one side.  One thing that is interesting is that the pile seems to get bigger than the hole, even without the weeds that have been pulled out.  I guess this is a sign that the soil (and clay) is becomes less compacted.

To help find the weeds I keep looking for lumps of soil.  Weeds act as the binding agent, thus if there is a lump of soil, then typically inside it is part of a weed.  I generally stop digging when I am about a spade and half deep, but that all depends on what deep roots I am finding.  Whatever the depth any large root is coming out, one way or another.

Once dug I like to call it a day for that hole and leave everything overnight.  I find this has a benefit of helping remaining clumps of soil (on the large pile) dry out as the air gets to them, and then finding more weed roots is easier.  In a new day I feel better at spotting weed roots.

It then remains to begin to refill the hole.  I do this with either spade or rake to help draw the soil back down all the time filtering out weeds, however large or small.

There is no such thing as a totally weed-free.  However providing I have got rid of all the big roots and as many of the smaller weeds as I can then that's my limit.  When the hole is nearly full again I start adding some compost to help build some fresh nutrition.  Topping off with a last layer of soil, and I am ready for planting.

I do not say my technique is right, the easiest or even the best.  But it is my way and so far any plants I have planted seem to be growing in both reasonably weed-free soil and also the soil is easy to dig to get out any small weeds that will appear.

In this ex-hole I planted twelve beetroot plants.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Potato Blight

Over the years, Potato Blight can plot holders.

What to look for

Typical symptoms of blight are dark brown or blackish, round patches, appearing on leaves, particularly around the leaf margins at first, and on stems. Tubers develop dark, sunken areas which may extend to cover the whole potato, giving a dry firm rot. Other fungi and bacteria may invade the tuber to produce a wet, foul smelling soft rot. Seemingly healthy tubers may rot latei
when in store.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

At last my plot gets some attention

I started my plot almost a year and a half ago. Family commitments kept me away until very recently. So apart from strimming weeds not much was done. We had found  time to plant a herb garden and also created a small crop of both potatoes and onions. Finally our first year was rounded off with a bumper harvest of apples: that however required no effort, it just happened, being a good year for the three apple trees on my plot.  During the early part of this year looked like it was going to follow a similar pattern, but instead I now seem to be down my plot two hours a day from what seems like three days or more each week. An opportunity to get something done and at last my plot is getting some love.

But what to do? As a result of neglect my plot is inundated with weeds.  A very low point for me last year was hiring a digger in an attempt to clear some space fast for growing something. That did not work for at least two reasons. Firstly the only day I seemed to manage was very wet and also my plot was so ravaged by weeds that even a digger was a waste of time.  So this time I decided that whatever I did I was going to do it with spade and fork. It might be slower but at least I will begin to understand my plot., my soil and my plants.

In for a penny, I elected to work the very worst part of the plot first. This is the area at the back and was blighted by weeds. In with the spade I just started digging. My first goal was to tackle the biggest weeds.  These were both tall, and as I soon found out deep. Very soon my plot began to look as if bombs had dropped all over it with gaping holes everywhere making walking around a treacherous affair.

I quickly filled two "compost" bins with weeds. And then over the days that followed re-filled them time and time again. So many weeds! I began to read on the Internet about double-digging and realised that in this worst of areas some of the roots had gone very deep, in fact I felt as if I was even treble - digging in some places. In my mind I reassured myself that my goal was to clear weeds and felt if that was my task then I would do it as well as I could.

With a landscape looking more like Snowdonia I realised I had in fact dug a lot of weeds, but.. Another Internet search about clearing weeds and I learnt a bit of jargon. Rhizomes are the smaller strands of weeds running from the main root system.  New ones near the surface tend to be coloured white. Getting rid of as many of them as possible is very important since these rhizomes can quickly generate new weeds.

Suddenly I was beginning to feel had in fact cleared an area sufficient to plant something. Not only had I disposed of a lot of weeds, but more importantly what was left looked like good soil.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Toilet Roll tubes for planting out

Toilet roll tubes can make handy root trainers for growing half-hardy crops that don't like transplant root disturbance. Tubes can be filled with that lovely fine soil that the moles keep processing for us, and stood close together in a tray. After hardening off, the whole tube can be planted out, and will biodegrade as the plant grows.

Mike Dale, 2003

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Horsetail

Some years the infestation of horsetail can be particularly bad. As it spreads by spores, as well as by rhizomes, it certainly has the mechanics for successful invasions. But can this weed be controlled in any way?

lf you are not an organic gardener you might try glyphosate, but this will only suppress it for one season, and there is evidence that the plant is becoming glyphosate resistant.

You have more options by choosing an organic method, but these have varying success rates. Double digging a plot is the least successful, and some argue it can make matters worse. Other organic methods require you actively to set aside the plot for at least a year, and preferably two. 

After this use a smothering technique. The most successful smothering technique is to seed the plot with perennial rye grass, and mow it regularly. But you have to do this for two years, and then hope no stray spore enters your plot!. Another method is to keep on top of the weed by cutting it below the surface, and pulling it out by hand. This of course takes time and effort.