Monday, 25 March 2013


We finally got the nod from the council, regarding our request for an allotment at the Witts Hill site. Lasts year we had helped out and shared our friends patch but it was right on the other side of the city and difficult to frequent as much as was needed.
Allotments are great places for the kids to get used to digging, growing and weeding, they enjoy the freedom and open air. Witts Hill is only a fifteen minute walk away from us, so we set off to see what we had been allocated.
Our space was on a slope at the bottom edge of the site. Plastic sheeting had been laid down by the previous owner, to suppress weed growth but this was mostly shredded to bits by the storms and largely unusable but at least some of the earth was fairly bare.
At our friend’s allotment, we constructed a rustic fruit cage, out of coppiced hazel. It proved quite a success, so we had already decided to replicate this plan on our new plot. We chose a suitable spot and got digging to define the edges and remove weeds, roots and grass.
The children were assigned an area to keep for themselves, they love the allotment and set to work keenly and with fairly few squabbles. The kids are also great for fetching wood chippings and water, not that we have needed much of the latter recently. Cucumbers and strawberries seem to be their favourite crop to plant – perfect for a summer picnic I guess.
Digging grassy ground over can be back breaking work and the official advice is to work in small portions. Many people watch too many TV gardening shows and think that it will be easy; they get a nasty shock when the hard work kicks in and often give up before they get any benefit out of the land. Cold and wet weather can also put off less determined and hardy allotmenteers.
Being walking distance from the house is a real advantage and I soon had the fruit cage plotted out and fruit bushes in the earth. I got some stout Hazel poles and, from a rather precarious perch, hammered them into the corners. Meanwhile, the plot next to the cage was being thoroughly dug over by Sarah who also planted some strawberry plants.
The children were busy planting onion-sets in their own patch and my son also planted his young apple tree; he has nurtured this sapling from a pip. I planted a pear and a nectarine tree that I found reduced and lonely in a store; Sarah assures me that the nectarine will never bear fruit in the UK climate, but it does already have very attractive flowers and the label says it will be provide plenty – so I guess we’ll wait and see.
My other jobs seem to be attacking the mass of bramble bushes and stinging nettles at the bottom of the allotment and collecting enough scrap wood to make a shelter/shed. I’m considering nettle beer and aim to train some of the brambles, so that we can collect a decent blackberry crop this summer. A compost heap is inevitable…
Tough Work All That Digging
On any allotment site, Heath Robinson rules; you really do see the best of British eccentric behaviour, inventiveness, cunning recycling and shear resourcefulness at work.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Beautiful Springtime

Despite the British weather doing its damndest to convince us otherwise, Spring is gradually turning the corner.
Crocuses have put on particularly handsome displays this year. I love the way that the swathes of colour filling the roadsides, shift shades, from one week to the next.
Daffodils are now beginning to brighten the verges, waving their fresh bright yellow trumpets defiantly at the relentless streams of dirty traffic.
The plum blossom and blackthorn came out strongly but has been looking a bit battered after recent weather conditions (the Beast from the East). But it is still a good marker to note where plums may be plentiful, when the Summer finally arrives.
While enjoying the colourful displays that brighten my damp rides to and from work, I am now looking forward to more warmth, sunshine and green leaves in the hedgerows and trees.
I'm also looking forward to April, when delicate Bluebells fill those secret woodland floors with magical carpets of azure.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Mansbridge Community Orchard Funding News

We Need More of These
We are very happy to announce that the Mansbridge Community Orchard has received a generous amount of financial backing from the Southampton Airport Community Fund.
We Always Need More Funding and Volunteers
We will use the money to purchase tools, training and equipment for use in the orchard and other orchard related projects. Primarily we will buy fruit picking and processing equipment (like a shiny new apple mill and cider press) but we will also invest in tree pruning training and tools.
We Need More of These
Fruit tree renovation can be a lengthy process; this is because it can only be done by degrees and during certain periods of the year. Given the number of trees in the Mansbridge Community Orchard (around 50), we believe that five years is a fairly optimistic target, for returning the majority of the trees to good health.
We Need More of These
 Last year was spent clarifying our position, mapping the area as well as keeping most of the brambles and ivy out of the easily accessible trees. All the efforts culminated in a wonderful Apple Day event, organised by the Southampton Woodcraft Folk, who have taken on an active role within the orchard.
We Need More of These
The Southampton Airport Community Fund has also promised us volunteers. We will organise another introductory Orchard Blossom Walk, when the trees come into flower (around April-May). Around this time, we will also set up a meeting for anyone else keen to get involved.