Although the temperature is still low, the number of daylight hours is increasing quickly. The birds recognise this as their territorial bird song, courting behaviour and nest-building demonstrates. And most plants respond to day length too. Even in the cold weather the buds start to fatten, bulbs appear through snow and frost, and tree blossom starts to come out.
So ALFI gardeners are checking up on their plots and planters. At the orchard at the Jubilee Field, the apple trees have been pruned while they are still dormant. At the Westbrooke plot the daffodils, crocuses and primroses are a splash of colour alongside Lenten Street, and hopefully provide some nectar for the early bumble bees. Soon seeds will be sown indoors in seed trays, and once working parties of up to 6 are allowed again the outdoor beds and planters will be prepared and seeds sown.
On Saturday May 15th, the annual ALFI Seedling Swap will be in the Market Square as part of ATC’s Plants and Gardening market – bring your spare seedlings along to swap, or take some plants for a small donation. Spring is on its way!
The ALFI Seedling Swap is a popular part of our calendar, and usually takes place in early May as part of the Alton Craft Market, which, along with everything else, has been cancelled.
We’ve thought hard, and adapted to the current circumstances: we will be putting out our spare seedlings and plants starting Saturday May 9th, and continuing all week, at the Station and Vicarage plots, where you may also leave your spare plants for collection by others. We’ll be looking after the plants as best we can, and keeping them watered etc. so hopefully there’ll be maximum opportunity for people to take advantage of the swap during their permitted exercise or shopping activities.
Please observe social distancing rules, and stay at least two metres apart when you are browsing or dropping off, waiting your turn if necessary. You may also wish to leave collections for 72 hours before further handling to allow nature to remove any possibility of Covid-19 virus contamination, and… wash your hands!
It’s even more important to label your seedlings if you can, since you won’t be able to tell us what it is, and we won’t be on hand to help people identify what’s what!
We still have a donation box in the Station Office if you are going that way and want to leave a donation.
Yes, it’s a bit of an experiment, but we hope it proves useful!
Some hobbies cost a lot. Growing vegetables needn’t be at all expensive, and the benefits are many.
ALFI’s Westbrooke plot is a small roadside verge which a group of us have been cultivating for the last 11 years. From the beginning we have done this without spending much time or money on it.
At our first working party of 2020, 5 of us spent 1½ hours preparing the raised beds for cultivation. We forked them over with some good compost and soil improver, and planted broad bean seedlings which had been raised from seed. We hoed and weeded around other areas and pruned and mulched gooseberries. The flourishing herb garden must wait another month for a spring tidy up.
Almost all the seeds for this year’s planting came from ALFI’s Seedy Saturday in February, when people bring spare seeds to swap, or make a small donation to take some away. We have a variety of salad crops, peas and beans, beetroot, carrots and spinach – all waiting for the soil to warm up. At the Seedling Swap in May we shall be looking out for any extra plants to squeeze into spare corners.
Our narrow strip by the path was planted last autumn with insect-friendly flowering plants almost all of which were transplanted from other gardens. A few crocus corms and daffodil bulbs were all that needed to be bought to start the season early.
We collected some well-rotted horse manure from a kind horse-owner last October, and together with the soil-improver which ATC lets us have for free, we hope the ground is well fertilised. Paths between the beds are covered with bark chippings, again collected free from a donor in Selborne – no shortage of shredded bark after the gales we have had.
And tools? Well, yes, there is an initial outlay, but my husband and I bought some tools at least 50 years ago when we first had a garden. We bought good quality, and are still using them – hoe and rake, spade and fork, and our solid metal wheel barrow are all middle-aged and well-loved. But if you are starting from scratch, at ACAN’s Eco-Fair in the Public Gardens on Sunday July 12th, we hope to have second-hand tools no longer wanted by their owners, and also someone who can sharpen your tools which gives them a new lease of life. (If you have unwanted tools let ALFI know and we will collect them for this event.)
And the benefits? Working in the sunshine (I know, we were lucky!), chatting to the other volunteers, sharing our experience – none of us pretends to be ‘an expert’ – looking forward to seeing the beds fill up, and flowers coming out, exchanging a few words with appreciative passers-by, greeting our friendly robin… I know that I always come away from the monthly ‘Westbrooke working party’ feeling encouraged and energised. And if things go well, there are some lovely fresh vegetables to enjoy as a reward. If you would like to volunteer to help with any of ALFI’s gardening or other activities, you will always be welcome.
It had been raining for most of the week, and the forecast for the first day of November wasn’t encouraging, but 6 of us met at the plot at the corner of Lenten Street and Westbrooke Road and we were lucky. The rain held off until we were leaving.
Our main task was a change of direction for cultivating a narrow bed along the side of the path. Originally we grew potatoes there – but they were disappointingly small and scarce. Then we tried dwarf beans, with lots of manure to encourage them – too dry. Lettuces and other salad crops didn’t thrive either. One problem is the number of fibrous roots which grow into our plot from a nearby sycamore tree, which probably impoverishes the soil and dries it out.
So now we have planted it with a collection of little plants all of which are insect-friendly, gathered as seedlings from our gardens. They are tough, semi-wild in some cases, and we hope they will cope with this challenging habitat. With crocus, grape hyacinths, primroses and the native small yellow wallflower flowering from March onwards, and sedum, scabious, perennial geranium and purple toadflax in flower in the autumn there should be something to attract insects for much of the year. I am calling it our insect corridor; I’ll report back on its success.
Meanwhile, the other urgent job was to repair the leaking tap at the bottom of the water butt. And that involved disappearing into it!
Some foxgloves planted on the shady bank at the top of the plot, and the herbs given a tidy up and a haircut, completed our afternoon. And I think we all felt better for the time spent there.
Community gardening is satisfying and fun. Let us know if you’d like to join us.
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.
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.
On a warm sunny Saturday in late March we came together with the Alton Horticultural Society and the Alton Allotments Association for the first time to run a joint event to inspire Altonians to ‘Grow Alton’.
The first sight to grab visitors’ attention was an impressive array of second hand tools ranged against the Assembly Rooms garden wall, most of which had found new homes by the end of the afternoon. Some people took their new possession over to the stall opposite to be sharpened. Gardeners had also brought their own from home – keeping Hilary busy all day.
People got their hands into the dirt sowing some sunflower seeds, or making a grass seed head. In the hall the smell of baking wafted through the air as children made cheese and herb scones – pronounced delicious and incredibly easy.
At our stand we talked to people about getting involved in our plots and planters around the town, and even starting new ones in their own neighbourhoods, continuing conversations over a cup of tea or coffee.
Barbara shared her knowledge on all things composting and Ellis shared tips on ways to cut down on watering in the garden. More information and advice was on offer in the wide variety of second hand books and magazines to be picked up. Gardeners selected new seed varieties to try from the mini ‘Seed Swap’.
Visitors left inspired for the new growing season and with new, or renewed, knowledge of the many growing and gardening activities and groups in their community.
After 6 weeks without rain, it was with some trepidation that I went to check on the fruit treesonJubilee field (by the Sports Centre.) We had pruned the trees in the spring and I had thinned the fruit quite a lot in June as most of the trees had set a lot of apples or pears. At that stage it looked as if it would be an excellent crop.
Now though, the lack of water was having an effect. At least three of the apple trees have many leaves with brown edges, and the apples are very small. I watered every tree thoroughly, and also gave them a dose of Tomorite to encourage the fruit to grow. But, basically, we are dependent on some really heavy and prolonged rain to have any real effect. On a more optimistic note, several apple trees, the pears and the quince are doing well, and the plum tree we planted in the spring seems to be surviving the drought.
After a cold, wet spring, I was feeling frustrated at how difficult it was to get started on the vegetable-growing season. We had sown beans and parsnip seeds, and almost none had germinated, and planted out carrot, beetroot and spinach seedlings in April only to find wind and cold temperatures almost killed them. Although there was plenty of apple blossom on the trees at Jubilee Field, it was hard to believe there were many flying insects to pollinate them.
But a few weeks later, after some gloriously warm, sunny days, with intermittent rain showers, things are looking much more encouraging.
At the Westbrooke plot, the runner beans have started running (up the bean poles) and the sweet peas are suddenly following their example. The broad beans are formingpods, a row of peas and a row of parsnips have germinated quickly now the soil is warm, and carrot, spinach and beetroot seedlings have recovered from the cold shock and are doing well. Lettuces and rocket are coming on too. And a row of tiny leeks are getting established.
The Allen Gallery raised beds have filled out, with their interesting variety of herbs and perennial vegetables enjoying more light and sunshine after some of the overhanging trees have been cut back. And other planters around the town are all looking good, with their herbs and insect-friendly flowers.
On the Jubilee Field most of the trees have set lot of little apples or pears and we can hope for a good crop of fruit in a few months.
The Vicarage plot, full of soft fruit bushes and strawberries, is flourishing and we shall soon be planning a rota of people to pick the berries to put out on the wall at the front of the garden.
The Station plot is full of promise too; come and see it on Monday July 2nd, at 7.00pm, before our short and sociable AGM at the Railway Arms at 7.30pm.
2 large eggs
2 tbsp melted butter
75g frozen spinach, partially thawed, or 150g cooked fresh spinach, drained
Pinch of salt
110g plain flour.
Sift flour and salt into mixing bowl.
Break the eggs into a well in the centre.
Start to whisk the eggs, gradually adding the milk (or use a blender).
Add spinach and whisk until incorporated. Just before cooking stir in melted butter. Cook the pancakes in the usual way. Serve scattered with grated cheese or fill with tuna in white sauce.