Thursday, March 22, 2012

Polka-dot potatoes

potato ready for planting and tiny cherry tree with hover fly.

purple sprouting and artichokes to the left, potatoes and sown salad to the right. Empty plot behind the logs.
There was plenty of grumbling at the allotment this week about the new Tenancy Agreement's and Allotment Rules. The punk had heard we won't be allowed ponds. He has a good sized one that is home to newts. It was already on the site when he took it on and he has renovated and carefully maintained it. He was going to start another pond to put his frog spawn in because the newts eat it. He pointed out that they are protected and he's ready to squat his shed if he is forced to remove his pond. There was also a rumour of carpets being banned as ground cover. Many people use them to kill the dense and sinewy couch grass which makes cultivation a lot easier. They are easy to come by and are free, often thrown away in skips (or on the street in Hastings).

While I was planting out primroses on my plot one of the old guys came down to speak to me. 
"Have you just taken this on?" he asked.
"What do you mean? It's me. I've been here for years!" 
"Oh it's you," he said. 
"Yes it's definitely me".
He was expecting me to be a new tenant because he had heard my plot had been split up into three parts, that a new tenant had come along to have a look and my neighbour had advised him to plant potatoes.
"Why would I want to do that?" the new tenant had said. "I own a chippy". 
If you're reading this with your mouth hanging open that is exactly the reaction that I had. I wondered if the old guy was stirring it up to cause a bit of drama on site. 

I got on the phone to the Council. There is a new lady in the council managing the allotments. She informed me my plot is 8a, the one below me (beyond the logs in the photo) is plot 8b. This one is split into two and has had new tenants since last year (hasn't had a soul on it in two years actually); the one below that is plot c and also has a tenant (hasn't been a soul on it for a number of years). She assured me that my plot hasn't been divided or given to anyone. I asked if my name could go on the waiting list for the one below me because nothing had been done on it for 2 years. She said, "no". Because the waiting lists were too long and this plot already had a tenant. Feeling like I was having difficulty being understood I repeated that it's not been worked for 2 years. She replied with a sigh that they don't have the resources to monitor the plots. My mouth was hanging open again. Two years ago a lovely lady with a young down's syndrome child was working the plot. I was looking forward to our children being playmates. It was a lot for her to take on since, like many plots, it hadn't been worked for a long time. She was cultivating it a bit at a time. She received a warning letter that she wasn't doing enough and she left.

I spent the rest of the day transplanting strawberries (I find it hard to get rid of anything and always try and find a space), planting out primroses and cherry trees. My potatoes are in my new raised bed which is accessible from all sides. Everyone else has planted their tatties in rows of ridged up earth. Mine are planted in a polka-dot cluster with a dollop of compost on top. In between these I sowed lettuce, radish and spring onions. The whole bed is now covered with fleece.

When I got home a letter was waiting for me from the Council. I opened it and read, "NOTICE TO TERMINATE YOUR CURRENT ALLOTMENT.." I felt sick. I wondered if the Council lady was turfing me off for taking up her valuable time with a ridiculous phone conversation. How did she get the letter to me so quickly?! Was it hand-delivered?!? Or is it the carpet, the fruit trees, the pond, the wildlife area, the bug house, the slow worm sanctuary??? I looked again: "NOTICE TO TERMINATE YOUR CURRENT ALLOTMENT TENANCY AGREEMENT AND REPLACE WITH A NEW REVISED AGREEMENT". 


The rumours weren't accurate though I'm sure the rules will still cause plenty of grumbling. Amongst the ten pages of ALLOTMENT RULES:
5.12 Any ponds on the allotment garden must be made safe by being netted or suitably covered.
6.6 Underlay and asbestos must not be used on any site. If carpet is used, it must be removed on termination of tenancy. The Council supports the use of propriety weed suppressants and bio degradable materials such as cardboard to suppress weeds.

The carpet I have used doesn't have an underlay. I intended to move it around the plot as I created new beds. I left it over winter 2 years ago and when I looked underneath in spring the couch grass had died back to reveal a bumpy landscape of nooks and crannies and a whole colony of slow worms living in there. I was pleased to see a big pile of snails shells beside them. I have a cherry plum tree, a greengage and a pear that I rescued from the Community Centre. They had been heeled in at the base of  a bank as they were left over from a project and had grown far too close together. I wasn't even sure if they'd survive the transplant. They all have buds on them now. I intend to keep them small and have planted them in areas that won't cast shade on anyone else. However, if the Council decides they have to go they have the right to remove them. I have also just planted some cherry trees whips. I rescued these from the school who had been sent them by the Woodland Trust and had nowhere to put them. I plan to train them as espaliers and have them no bigger than waist height.

I find all the mathematical rules make my head hurt. Sheds must have 48 square feet (4.45m sq) of floor area. Height should not exceed 7'6" (2.28m). Greenhouses or polytunnels must have a maximum floor area of 80 sq feet (7.43m sq). Toolbox must have maximum capacity of 2 cu metres. No more than 25% of allotment should be used for keeping hens or rabbits. A fruit trees crown must not exceed 33% of total plot area. 25% of the plot must be cultivated within 6 months, 50% in 12 months, and 75% in 24 months. Only 25% is allowed for recreational purposes. I think my plot is less than 5 rods which means I'm not allowed a shed at all.

On top of all this the Council came and chopped down a lot of trees at the back of my Polish friend's plot without her permission. The trees are on a bank that has a busy road at the bottom. As well as being an established environment for birds they were a very good screen from the noise of the cars, buses and lorries. The children had recently made a den there and were very upset to find it destroyed. We live in a world with very few safe places for children to play unaccompanied by adults outdoors. It was a place for them to play while we worked our plots.

All this made me feel for a moment this week like giving up. I can't imagine how people must feel being confronted with these contracts who have never owned an allotment before. I've been doing it for 15 years now. I have a very small garden at home, I want my son to know where his food comes from, I want to garden in harmony with nature, I love the social side of the allotment and the mavericks it attracts, I want to grow food that is fresh and free from poison. But there is nothing worse than feeling that an authority that doesn't function very well has the power to control you and to impose their will on you especially when this often causes so much distress.


  1. What a NIGHTMARE. But I can't say that's it's atypical of how governments run things. It would make far more sense to hand the day to day running of the allotment over to an elected allotment committee - have any of you approached the council with this idea? They may be willing to do it since it would free up time that their paid staff spend on the project.

  2. I like that idea! There was a letter sent out recently with proposals for new methods of running the allotments and your suggestion was on there Tanya. But everyone said, "NO". I think they were worried it would be a whole load more work for them. The Council have put a lot of effort into better run allotments, even installing composting toilets. Ours has been neglected. People only started taking on plots a couple of years ago; I only had to wait a month to get mine because no one wanted one there, it had such a bad reputation. There is a good feeling at our allotment amongst tenants, it's a friendly, supportive site. The new site secretary is on the whole doing a good job keeping us informed of Council plans. We could really do with better communication with the Council. I might suggest a committee again to everyone.

  3. Actually, there is a committee, what I mean is I might suggest running it ourselves. It really couldn't be any worse?!

  4. Sounds very complicated for what should be a relaxing and happy pastime! Made me smile thinking about the punk squatting in his shed to protect the newts! Good for him :)

  5. We had some allotments near to us and the Council was making it very difficult for the allotment holders. It transpired that the Council wanted to sell the land to developers but it had been left in someone's will in perpetuity so they couldn't or so you would have thought but after making it difficult for the allotment holders they were able to argue successfully (!) to sell half the allotments to a developer! I hope that this is not the case with your allotments but when Councils interfere it may be that they're up to something!

  6. Serendipity - exactly!

    That's just shocking to hear June. Thanks for letting me know about that.

  7. Goodness what a palaver - who would think that growing a few veg would cause so many problems! The power of the people in authority seems to have gone to their heads methinks!

  8. Trouble in paradise. Chin up Lorna! That story from June is sickening, absolute scoundrels.

  9. It's ridiculous isn't it Elaine.

    Thanks Bertie. I liked it better when no one gave a monkeys about the site and I could go make my wee garden in peace.


  10. That's a lot of drama for a veg plot! lol. I hope that the rules aren't as onerous in practice as they sound in writing. At any rate, I would love to have a sunny plot for veg myself. There is a community garden in my neighborhood, but the waiting list is years long.

    Thanks for visiting Bramble & Bean!


  11. What with the rules and regulations and the wild animals eating most of my crops it feels a bit like going into battle rather than enjoying a simple, relaxing hobby.

    Thanks for the reminder Michael that in spite of it all I was lucky enough to get this plot. I do like a bit of drama to write about :)


  12. So much bother to grow a few veggies. Allotments are supposed to be stress free places, somewhere you enjoy visiting. It seems anything but when there's all this going on.

  13. It's utter madness isn't it?

    We have so many rules and regulations at our allotments, but some things slide - like the chairman having an enormous plot but is never there - to if you plant too many flowers then you will be given notice. It's almost as if some jobs worth has nothing better to do. It's that or you need to be in someone's back pocket.

    Totally mad and utterly wrong.

    Nina xxx

  14. I find the time I love best Jo is when no one is around and it's just plants and nature.

    Nina, that's so funny and true!

    Thanks for your comments everyone.



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