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Fears over allotment land
6:50am Saturday 4th August 2012 in NewsXtra
Tips on how to choose the right allotment plot - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
Allotment holders nationwide are gathering to safeguard their plots in light of increasing worries that allotment land may be sold off.
A recent survey conducted by the National Allotment Society found that 74% of its members are worried that their allotment land will be sold off and redeveloped in the future, while the society itself receives hundreds of calls a year from allotment holders looking for advice on how best to safeguard their plots.
Donna McDaid, national secretary for the society, explains: "Unfortunately in this day and age, it is too easy for landlords to dispose of allotment land without realising the huge benefits they provide to individuals, communities and the environment.
"Since the Localism Act has come into force, there is now an even greater need to galvanise the interest and support of local communities, especially as planners see allotments as prime development land."
With National Allotments Week looming, local allotment associations up and down the country are hosting 'Parties on the Plot' to help galvanise community support for the allotment movement and in turn safeguard sites from the prospect of development.
More than 35 events are planned throughout the week, ranging from barbecues and plant stalls to cream teas and children's festivals. The week will showcase the wider benefits of allotment gardening to all.
There are an estimated 330,000 allotment plots in the UK and nearly 100,000 people on the allotment waiting lists, according to the society, with rents ranging from £5 to £120 a year.
The organisation is concerned that if this land was developed, billions of insects and animals would be wiped out, the risk of flooding in towns and cities would increase and air pollution would intensify, not to mention the detrimental impact it would have on people's health and wellbeing.
To find an allotment near you, call your local council or visit your library which should have a list of allotment sites in the area. Some councils provide literature, run courses for beginners and take part in National Allotments Week.
To find the right site for you:
:: Make sure it's close to home. You will not want to catch a bus carrying tools or get in a car after a long, hard day at work to get there.
:: Choose a site which has fences, hedges and locked gates at night to deter vandals.
:: Check water arrangements. Councils should supply mains water at a convenient distance for plot holders. A mains water supply in the form of tanks and standpipes is essential.
:: Check out the land, examining the plot which is offered to you. Work out if you have plenty of sun or if the plot is going to be in shadow, which isn't good for a lot of vegetables. Large trees may cast shade and sap the soil of nutrients.
:: Study the neighbours' plots. If they are neglected and dominated by tough, perennial weeds such as ground elder, you may be facing a losing battle.
:: It's important to feel comfortable there. Some sites have a clubhouse for meetings or a trading shed where you can buy gardening goods at more or less trade prices. Others will have tools or machinery for the use of members.
:: National Allotments Week runs from August 6-12. For more information, visit www.nsalg.org.uk
Best of the bunch - Lily
The weather may have been dire, but my lilies have brightened up the garden this summer despite the rain, providing colour in shades ranging from white to pink and zingy orange.
If you want lilies on the patio, Asiatic and oriental hybrids have short, stout stems with fresh green foliage and upward-facing flowers.
Good varieties include Lilium 'Mona Lisa', with its pink flowers with a deep pink centre, and L. 'Peach Pixie, with its peachy orange stems.
Older varieties of trumpet lilies make great border plants. Some grow very tall and aren't suitable for containers, but others which grow to around 1m in height make excellent subjects for large containers.
Lilium regale is among the favourites with its richly scented white blooms and 'White Sheen', a dwarf longiflorum type, is also popular with 40cm stems bearing scented white blooms.
Lilies like a rich compost with plenty of nutrients and good drainage. Plant bulbs 15-20cm apart, burying at least three times their depth and laying the bulbs on their sides when you plant them, to prevent water from becoming lodged between their scales, which can cause them to rot.
Good enough to eat - Beetroot
Gardeners should now be harvesting crops of beetroot to add to tasty salads grated or sliced, cooked or raw, with a dash of orange juice to add flavour.
They are best grown in an open, sunny site in well-drained fertile soil that has been enhanced with compost or well-rotted organic matter.
Seeds can be sown outdoors from early spring to summer. Sow a short row every two weeks to have a constant supply of tender roots. They should be sown in drills 2.5cm (1in) deep, in rows 30cm (12in) apart and thinned to 10cm (4in) when large enough.
Water every 10 to 14 days during dry spells as lack of water leads to woody roots, while irregular watering can cause the roots to split.
Dig the roots up when they are around the size of a tennis ball - any larger and they may taste woody. Baby beets can be harvested earlier, when they are a golf ball size.
Good varieties include Boltardy, a smooth-skinned, bolt-resistant variety, and Detroit 2 - Little Ball, a baby beet which is excellent for pickling.
Three ways to... Make grass work
1. If you are seeding a lawn for play, make sure your seed mix includes rye grass, which is tough.
2. Be practical if you are short of time. Keep the shape simple, so the area can be easily mown without having to back in and out of awkward corners.
3. If using curves, draw them with a compass when preparing a design, one flowing into another. Curved lawns can lead the eye away from stiff, geometric boundaries to create a softer, more interesting look.
What to do this week
:: Harvest cucumbers and continue to pinch off the tips of sideshoots two leaves beyond a female flower. Remove male flowers.
:: Sow a row of parsley now to produce leaves for picking in the autumn.
:: Water and pick sweet peas regularly to ensure that plants continue to flower.
:: Pollinate female flowers of melons by dabbing with pollen from a male bloom.
:: Water blue hydrangeas regularly with a solution of colorant to ensure blue varieties remain blue next season.
:: Hoe between plants frequently to stop weeds seeding.
:: Prune blackcurrants as they pass out of bearing.
:: Remove seedheads from bedding dahlias to encourage them to continue producing flowers.
:: Sow winter varieties of spinach in succession through August and September to provide crops from October to April.
:: Pinch out the growing tips of wallflowers for bushy plants.
:: Order spring-flowering bulbs to plant in the autumn.
:: Deadhead regularly unless you want seeds or hips to form.