Category Archives: Events

Seedling Swap 2019

Saturday 11 May saw the annual seedling swap at the craft market in Cross and Pillory. We run this event each year and rely very much on locals and regulars to supply a wide variety of interesting  vegetable, herbs and flower seedlings to fill the stall. We had a busy time with both customers coming to swap seedlings with those on the stall, or to take away small plants for a donation.  We did make slightly more on donations than the last two years so thank you for your generosity if you participated.  If not please visit us next year. See our posters around the town or check out our newsletter for event timings.

Seedling swap stall with a good selection of lovely plants

The weather was kind on the day and we had plenty of interest in our stall. We always have plenty of runner bean plants, tomatoes plants and a selection of peppers and courgettes, and herbs including parsley, thyme, rosemary and many others. We had plenty of flowering plants too including geraniums and sweet peas. The stall changes in content as customers come and go. Some people come with the surplus seedlings they’ve grown, having attended the seed swap earlier in the year. The system is the same and there were some seed packets available at the seedling swap too.  Donations are used to help with plants, compost raised beds and the like for the plots and planters.

ALFI community picnic was a fruity event

Our first community picnic took place on Sunday 3 September on a rather rainy afternoon at the Jubilee Orchard on the Jubilee Playing Fields next to the Sports Centre where ALFI (Alton Local Food Initiative) have an orchard of fifteen fruit trees.

A range of activities were organised for participants, the fields looked splendid with newly-cut grass and some of the fruit trees were full of fruit and all were decorated with attractive bunting for the occasion. The afternoon included a conducted tour of the orchard to look at the range of apple, pear, plum, cherry and quince trees. Balloons that the children could take home decorated the area and guided participants to the event.

The main table was attractively laid out with a basket of fruit and flowers and had cut apples pears and apples to sample, dried apple slices, bramley jam pancakes, courgette cake and freshly picked local blackberries to sample or take away.

Picnics were eaten under the shelter of the pavillion whilst hot drinks and squash were provided in the pavillion.

Emily Crofts prepared a scavenger hunt for the children that directed them towards the orchard and an apple and spoon race had two heats with a final that was won by Sophie Tomson, one of the children, although the adults also enjoyed the heat that they participated in.

There were some imaginative hats with a fruity theme entered for the hat competition, from real fruit to a waste paper bin with fruit painted on it … and everything in between. The children’s section was won by Elise Clark, four years, with a hat straw cap that she had decorated herself, face paint reinforcing the fruity theme. Melissa Pritchard won the adult section with an elegant apple hat made of paper with a toilet roll core. (It needed to be seen to be appreciated!)

Our school’s competition prizewinners, in front of entries from Alton’s schools

Prizes were given to all the winners and those who had won the schools competition earlier in the year were also invited to receive their prizes.


We all had a fun time and we were pleased we could go ahead in spite of the weather, thanks to everyone who came, the sun is ordered for next time.  In the mean-time please come to the ALFI Harvest Feast, with special guest Apple Experts from Sparsholt College on Saturday 30 September at 10.00 a.m. until 2.00 p.m. for coffee and homemade cakes at any time and/or vegetable soups and bread at lunchtime. This is indoors at Alton Methodist Church Hall. See you there.

Project Wild Thing

Calling parents, grandparents and all those who want to help children enjoy the outdoors.

ALFI and Energy Alton bring you the film


On Monday April 3, at the Wesley Room, Alton Maltings Centre, Maltings Close, Alton GU34 1DT, 7.00 for 7.30pm. 

FREE event. Refreshments. 

David Bond is a worried man. His kids’ waking hours are dominated by a cacophany of marketing, and a screen dependence threatening to turn them in glassy-eyed zombies… His engaging film is helping to lead a movement to encourage children to get outside and enjoy nature, improving their health and wellbeing. ‘It’s not the kids who don’t want to put their hands in the mud.. it’s the adults who have said no.’ Chris Packham

See the trailer here:

After the film, join us for a discussion about how we can help children enjoy Alton’s wonderful open spaces.

The Joys of Seed Saving

ALFI’s annual “Seedy Saturday” is next Saturday (4th February, 10am-12pm, Alton Methodist Hall). Please bring your seeds to swap; if you have none to share, you can still participate and collect seeds for a small donation to ALFI. Tea, coffee, biscuits and advice will be available.

“Seedy Saturday” is with us again, and so I’ve been busy reviewing my saved and purchased seeds, and sorting out which to share, which to keep, and which need to go to the “big stale seed-bed in the sky” [see our seed-saving guide].

Looking through my records (actually, just the hand-written labels on the little plastic bags I’ve re-used for many years), I’ve been saving seeds since at least 2007, probably a little longer, starting only a couple of years after taking on my first garden.

One of the first things I remember saving on a regular basis was French marigolds (Tagetes), picking the faded heads and drying them indoors, before pulling the weird little match-stick like seeds from their papery casing, and putting them away for the next season. Over the years it was fascinating to see them gradually change from their original bright yellow to a mix of orange and deep red, presumably reverting to an earlier, more natural form. I saved the seeds like this for several years, somewhat uselessly naming each packet after their parent plant things like “mostly red, with orange” or “red with lots of orange”, despite the fact that their progeny could be coloured pretty much as they chose!

But then one year, perhaps due to the weather, or maybe daunted by the prospect of the many nights of torchlit slug-hunting it would take to keep them safe, I missed sowing them, and my little packets of seed sat forlorn. When I returned to them in a subsequent season, no plants emerged: their fragile life had faded. It turns out that Tagetes seeds only really last a year, and that their increasingly unique DNA, surviving for so many years in my seeds, was only one careless (or busy) gardener away from dying out for ever.

French marigolds are ten-a-penny, and my failure to save mine is no great loss to the gene pool, but there are many varieties of edible and non-edible plants that are much more special, and have survived only by being handed down in an unbroken line from gardener to gardener for many, many seasons, in pretty much the same way that humans have selected and persisted crops for thousands of years.

These ‘heirloom’ varieties might not attract the commercial grower, being perhaps too difficult to harvest with a machine, or having too short a “shelf life” once picked, but they have been preserved by gardeners because they have something special: perhaps they crop a little earlier, or later; tolerate a sticky local soil or tricky climatic conditions; have a uniquely coloured flower or fruit shape; taste that little bit different, or just because they are a sentimental, yet tangible link to the past.

While few of us in this country lack the money necessary to buy seeds (though there are sadly those who do), and we’re always tempted by the offer of new varieties from the seed producers, with their reassuring silver-lined packets, bright photographs and bizarrely accurate instructions (“sow 7mm deep”!) , there’s also something quite satisfying about collecting those little capsules of life yourself, and popping them safely away in labelled packets through winter, to be rediscovered, remembered, and tended back to life come spring.

Sharing with your friends (and strangers) not only enhances the enjoyment, but also adds a bit of insurance, a little bit of protection, from bad weather, and bad gardeners!

Come along to our “Seedy Saturday” on Saturday 4th February, 10am-12pm at the Alton Methodist Hall, and bring your swaps. Don’t worry if you have nothing to swap yourself, you can still pick something up in exchange for a small donation to ALFI.

As well as locally saved seeds, we’ll also have some commercial offerings that we will divide up and share, making better use of our resources. Remember also that our “Seedling Swap” is in early May, so if you end up growing too many, or too few, you can also swap there.

Swap Shop

We had a very successful day at the Craft Market on Saturday, where we held our annual Seedling Swap.

A boot full of plants for the swap!

Starting with plants grown by our committee members, many from seed obtained at February’s Seed Swap, our stock soon rose and fell as ALFI supporters and friends arrived with new donations, and took away other people’s excess seedlings. Members of the public also browsed and took plants in exchange for a donation: just the way things are supposed to work.


Talk of the Town

What’s particularly nice about these events is the opportunity it gives to chat with fellow gardeners, whether hardened veterans or curious starters.

This year it was notable that many people were complaining about the generally cool Spring and the late frosts, with parts of Alton experiencing a degree of frost in the first week of May. Not unheard of perhaps, but what’s quite ironic, of course, is the complete lack of any frost this winter until well into the New Year, resulting in daffodils blooming at Christmas!

Set up and swapping

As a result of the cool weather, there was a complete lack of French beans, and notably fewer other less-hardy plants such cucumbers & courgettes. If it hadn’t been for a very generous donation of Runner beans early in the day, we’d have been completely bean-less! Tomatoes were in plentiful supply though, with several varieties on offer, since only a fool would ever try to germinate them in outside this time of year (Er, I did, which is why mine are still tiny!).


Stock take

What we lacked in legumes, we made up for in other species: we had strawberries, rhubarb, chard, celery, artichokes, peas, beetroot, chillies & peppers, and a wide variety of herbs; plus a number of companion plants, flowers, and plants for wild gardens, to keep the wild-life happy!

Thanks for everyone who contributed, it was lovely to chat to you; good luck growing your fresh acquisitions! See you at the AGM*?

*Our AGM is on July 11th, meeting at 19:00 to admire the Vicarage Gardens, then from 19:30 at the back room in the Railway Arms.

ALFI Harvest Feast was delicious

We had our annual Harvest Feast at the Methodist Church Hall on Saturday 10 October during the morning and at lunchtime.  The hall was decorated with berries and autumn leaves and flowers and some impressive pumpkins grown by our members. We offered delicious homemade produce, including seed spelt biscuits, beetroot and chocolate cake, and apple cake with coffee or tea. There were a variety of homemade soups for lunch including spicy parsnip, butternut squash, and watercress soup with homemade bread, rolls or muffins.

There was a photographic display showing the plots and planters around town, including the latest Vicarage Plot in St Lawrence Vicarage front garden and the Sensory Garden at the Limes that ALFI volunteers work on.

We offered bags of eating applies and packets of autumn seeds and green manure.

Plenty of local people dropped in to look around and sit and have a chat over coffee or lunch. Donations were invited and profit from the event will be used for materials needed for the twelve sites around Alton that ALFI garden.

Charities Fete at the Allen Gallery

A lovely sunny day in the beautiful Allen Gallery garden brought lots of people to see the stalls set up by a number of charities.

ALFI had a tombola with a lot of garden-linked prizes and a fun activity for children to sow cress seed on an egg shell head, so that when the cress grew they could give it a ‘hair cut’.

Thanks to  all who helped – we raised about £70 to help fund our plots and planters. Visitors were able to admire the ALFI raised beds there, planted with herbs and flowers which attract bees and butterflies.


Our AGM on July 20th was a lovely gathering of committee, volunteers and supporters.

The formal meeting was quite short, with a most encouraging annual report from our Chair, Clare Allen. This served to remind us all that we have had a busy and successful year in terms of Sowing, Sharing and Supporting local food. We now have 11 different plots and planters around the town, and 3 regular events each year. Our children’s poster competition was the most successful yet, with over 300 entries.

The committee was re-elected as it stands, except for our treasurer Deborah, who is moving away. Clare thanked her and she was presented with a card and present.  Ellis Pritchard was elected treasurer in her place.

After the meeting everyone had a chance to exchange ideas over a drink and refreshments. There were photographs of our plots and events, on a lap top, and some of the winning posters of the competition were on display.

Seedy Saturday

On Saturday February 7th we again had wonderful support for our annual seed swap. A continual stream of people of all ages and interests came into the Methodist Hall and went away with seeds, potatoes, newsletters and renewed enthusiasm for the start of the growing season. There was a buzz of conversation around coffee tables as old friendships were renewed and new ones made. It was particularly good to welcome some enthusiastic new supporters. One of these, Ellis, brought some New Zealand yams (Oxalis tuberosa), tiny tubers with a tangy lemon flavour. He even had some freshly roasted ones for us to sample, and several people took some away to try growing them this year.

Don’t forget when you start germinating your seeds, to keep some spare seedlings for our Seedling Swap on May 9th.