Category Archives: Allotment Challenge

reclamation: return

This a really strange post to write. Has certainly been on my mind a great deal; all meshed with assorted feelings. There’s sadness, guilt; frustration and pain too. I wasn’t sure about sharing this, and that comes back to that horrible feeling of shame. Allotment shame.

It’s been hanging around me for a while. A horrible grey-green cloud, that has been really unshakeable.

For the last couple of years, I’ve struggled-there, I’ve said it-to get a grip with the allotment. My attention, my focus was divided by other things. My time, has been used up by other activities. So I’ve been disconnected from my allotment, pulled in other directions. I know that I’ve grumbled and mumbled, that I’ll come back and things. It felt weird.

So last week, I feel that burgeoning sadness tip over a bit. I was overwhelmed and annoyed by comments made by others. Comments that really made me feel sad, feel hurt. Feel judged too.

I had my own process. Whether it is stubbornness, I don’t know. Giving it up, is not on my radar.

I’ve seen my allotment blossom, bloom and be productive. It has been an oasis of calm. It was fruitful. There was so much that I took from the allotment, that I put into it. It’s difficult for me to be specific, and describe that connection. It is part of me, makes me who I am. It would be wrenching to leave it aside.

So I’ve been chewing over posting. I’ve not posted in a while, and it has mainly been about books. Making me feel a little disconnected and disconnected, from the gardening universe. There is a lot in this blog, that has come from the allotment. Given as to why I started it, and why it was read. I guess I ‘m recalibrating as I reclaim, or try to reclaim, the plot. It does feel overwhelming. I have a lot to do, I have a lot of space! That and I’ve had help in making a dent with it. I had two very willing family members give me their time and energy.

There is a time and a space forming in my world and life, where this allotment needs love. I need to love it, to be me again. I need to carve out that space that being on an allotment involves. That which nurtures me, and helps me grow.

It’s weird writing this post. As though writing or calling an old friend, who has been absent for a while. To restore a meaningful connection to something profoundly valuable. I don’t quite know where to start, how I feel or where I want to go, to be honest.

Behind the Scenes: A book and beyond


Well, hello, everyone. It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been a very long while.

Over the last few days, the blog has been on my mind a great deal.

The last time that I checked in, I had been spending a great deal of time of the allotment. The weather was good; Britain was not only in the grip of a pandemic, but also a heatwave. I was able to go to the plot, and do a fair bit. I had dug over the beds, and even sown seeds.

Then life became busy, with my counselling practice and teaching. It has been a very fast, very busy ten weeks and my feet have bare touched the ground.

So, this week, I am playing catch up.  I am also trying to have a rest, by shifting down a gear. I am trying to get some semblance of balance. I did have a fair dose of allotment guilt; a lot of sadness, actually. I popped down to the plot, to see how the plot had changed and to cut some roses. This, in itself, was a very grounding process. I even found some tomatoes. This was much needed. A bit of pottering, smelling the roses, to become grounded.

Social distancing still exists, and quite rightly so. And when not able to go the plot-there has been that much rain, when the sun isn’t shining. I’ve been otherwise occupied, beyond working and counselling.


Yes, at the beginning of lockdown, I learned how to knit socks. I started with flat needles, and have since graduated to circular needles. These, I do believe, make the process, easier. It is also a lovely opportunity to relax, experience mindfulness. To ground myself, and do something that isn’t energetically demanding; is wonderfully calming and therapeutic. As such, I now have four pairs of needles with as many cast on socks. As you can see, this are not boring socks. Colourful and comfy, I’m really very proud of my creations. I have enough wool now, to be really quite busy. It is really quite easy, to be seduced by pretty yarn. And the socks are all mine; there is no one to inflict them upon.

Talking of creations. There is a new writing project on the desk. All being well, that will be released next year. This has already spent a year in the pipeline, and is very different to what I’ve already written. A series of short stories, all inspired by the City of Birmingham. You’ll have to watch this space, for further details.

Best foot forward #gdnbloggers



And so it begins.

Where did Mama F put my wellies? Where is my hand fork and transplanting trowel? Is it going to rain?

I had to go find my wellies, having not worn them in a while. Not to mention the gardening trousers and grey Petal hoodie. No idea where my purple gauntlets were either.

My plan had been to spend time doing coureswork today. Having been to supervision though, I didn’t fancy my chances with doing anything academic or cerebral. Nope, today, I wanted to restore my soul.

Today, I took a walk, to survey my kingdom. Today, I took the first steps to go reclaim it. I didn’t go by myself either. I had company, namely Mama who followed me with my edging spade and ladies fork-tools, that she has now claimed as her own and doesn’t really part with. I had two trowels and a pair of secateurs, not to mention a thermo mug of tea. Mama F does have her own plot, and that usually means we meet in the middle when it is time to go home. She came to mine to give me a hand, to make sure that the plot is neat and tidy. I have no idea what this means, but I do no that my plot has never been neat and tidy. Organised, but never primped, preened and perfectly manicured. Mama F can also dig for England, and that is what she wanted to do; that is all she ever wants to on my plot. I wasn’t going to stand in her way.

Luckily, I had a good twenty minutes before she arrived. Twenty minutes where I could stand there in my own space, in silence whilst thinking. And it felt good to stand there. Okay, it was cold, murky and seemed like a different universe, but I was there. Walking down to plot 2a, it did feel like the walk of the prodigal. I was going back to somewhere important, somewhere that I had left my soul.

Thank goodness for my Petal hoodie, it served it’s purpose.

My plot didn’t feel or look as bad as it seemed. It’s untidy, overgrown, but it still has it’s bones. Beneath the masses, is the body of my allotment; the skeleton and infrastructure that I had created hasn’t been eroded away.


Walking around, I got the lay of the land to formulate the plan. The plot is a game of two halves. The top half, with it’s open ground, fruit trees and rose buses is Project Othello. At some point, this was sectioned off into seven beds. I have never had much success with open ground; this is why I have raised beds on the lower half. In the last few years, barely anything except the roses and a dozen cherries has grown up there. This new start presents me with a opportunity to re-create that canvas. Covering this area, and holding it won’t make this whole process so overwhelming. I can still look after the trees and roses, there is even the odd raspberry cane. This will mean that I can focus on getting the lower half ship-shape, with raised beds being added to the top half later on.

As for the lower half, the raised beds can be cleared and covered too. I do need to think about what to do with the bare earth, and how weeds can be discouraged. I did prune down the roses too. There are plenty of roses on the plot, with about two dozen on the last count. Some are posh, some less so. Raspberry canes, the autumnal ones, were also cut down. There was a lot of fighting with, and clambering around with wild brambles that have been dotted around. I could have done with an Excalibur, some where as thick as my fingers and didn’t like the secateurs.

Today actually felt nice, it felt the right thing to do. I might not have shovelled tonnes of earth, but it did feel connecting and grounding. I don’t plan to rush this, this is a slow return. I can only do so much, and that’s the key here. I don’t want to feel overwhelmed and at a loss. Allotmenteering shouldn’t be like that, it shouldn’t be about perfection and living up to unrealistic standards.

So, we have a beginning. Let’s see what happens.

Big allotment challenge the final

Episode six and it’s final time. I watched this last episode with some trepidation. Despite having spent 5 weeks swooning over @robsallotment, it was hard to think who might win. I won’t say who, you may want to watch it.

sadly I don’t recall last years final in detail. But I do think that this year the final was tougher. The grow challenge was all about cauliflowers and cape gooseberries. Cauliflowers, I have experienced growing and therefore can have some empathy with the contestants. I don’t find them easy to grow. There was some good growing advice and mentions of the pests that can cause a huge hindrance. Loved the beautiful purple cauliflower. You wouldn’t get that in the supermarket or would you?! Wasn’t sold on the cape gooseberries. Don’t think I would grow them myself.

Flowers passed me by, per usual.

The eat was as ever an opportunity for Thane. Seriously, give this lady her own show. I don’t think she has been as mean she could have been. Even then, thane gives constructive feedback. Yes, she’ll say if something is bad. But she has never stuck the palate knife in. There were cocktails. Which makes perfect sense if you hs shave ever made homebrew from plot fruit. Would have been nice to see more of that though. I don’t know how thane stayed sober. Confectionary was an interesting idea as was the canapés.

Big Allotment Challenge 2015: Epi five

This week’s episode was going to get my attention on two counts. The first, Okra. The second, pickles and preserves. This week, I was not going to focus on the perfect veg idea. I can understand how that is basis for the show bench and the idea of a village show. But with the okra, I wasn’t bothered about how this quirky, beautifully ugly vegetable could be presented on the show bench. I can only imagine the oohs and ahhs, should it be presented on a local fete.

I like okra, my mother likes Okra. It is one of the many vegetables that falls into her ‘Indian/Asian’ veg maxim. That is her main rule that goes with the plot. I should grow ‘Indian/Asian’ veg, and that’s about it. That’s why we have lots of spinach and fenugreek. Not to mention turnips and things, as well as garlic. Fruit is less asian/indian, but I am hoping that the gooseberries will clinch it as Amlas,

Learning that okra seed should be soaked for twenty four hours was very very useful. I’m glad that was mentioned, and that made sense to my mum when I regaled her about how that had been done on the show. Soaking of seeds, placing the seeds into the heated prop. Then to transfer at the six leaf stage into a big 25cm pot. This was good advice. Seeing the half a dozen plants in the greenhouses of the contestants, felt real. Okay, they have heated greenhouses and not poly tunnels. But there was context, there was technique and guidance. I did feel that I genuinely learned something here, that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. I had given up somewhat on the idea of growing Okra, but would definitely think about growing them again. Definitely not about the judgement on the show bench. You know if people grew straight forward simple things on the allotment, things would be very boring. Kudos for the show presenting a crop that wouldn’t ordinarily be on the box.

I have no comment to make about the floo’ers. Again, I wasn’t concentrating on this. So sorry about that!

Pickles and preserves. As you are aware, I am somewhat biased with these. It took me a while to appreciate them, and to be able to use my own crops. I love Thane Prince and her ability to keep it real. She does mention taste, she is quite clear about what she expects. Above all, Thane Prince advocates using your crops, and being creative. Two central ideas, when you are trying to make the most of the produce that you grow. Someone needs to give Thane Prince her own TV show. Would be epic and a whole new generation of preservers and picklers would be inspired. Think that’s a cue for Thane and the lovely Nigel slater to work together.

Big Allotment Challenge 2015: Epi Four

This week, it was tomatoes, tears, tantrums and jams.

The two key area for me were the tomatoes and the jams, quintessentially two good parts of allotmenteering. To be honest, it was through watching the show last year that I started making preserves myself.

With the tomatoes, the contestants had to grow and show as usual. You’d think that growing tomatoes is fairly simple. Lots of people do it and not always because they have an allotment. I do hasten to add, that in this context, with a show, being on show is the key. I watched this segment, as though I was watching penalties. I was sat on the sofa, huffing and puffing, about how complex-and competitive-tomato growing could be. Huffing and puffing, as I grow them-you have seen the previous posts about them-but never get them going red. Yet the contestants did that, no problem. In their fairly swish, heated greenhouses. And they were nice specimens.
Specimens. They are not exhibits. They are tomatoes. You eat them. And that was my biggest problem with it. I do hasten to add, that there was a tomato jam later on that they had to make as part of the eat challenge.

These were very pretty, very red, bountiful crops. The most pampered tomato plants in the British Isles. There were techniques and there were tears as some of the crops didn’t quite get there. Another thing, that got on my wick, Some of the contestants had bought plants from a garden centred. You can get tomato seeds anywhere, and the plants just need a little bit of TLC to get them growing. I’m not completely against plugging in plants. I do that with cabbages, and in the past, I have cheated and bought plants when things were a bit late and my seeds had died a death. This did slightly irk me. I am not for cheating. I would rather sow seeds and follow my goods from cradle to ladle as it were.

The floo’ers. No comment. I didn’t pay any attention there. Sorry.

I was too busy waiting for jams. Last series, the jams made me realise just what else you could do with your crops. This week, interestingly, there was a savoury jam and a sweet jam. And there were dramas, with jam that was burned, jam that wasn’t going to set. I had genuine empathy for that, I really did. That does happen. I have experienced that, and wanted to cry with having burned the bottom of the jam pan. The jams didn’t look like jams to me, more purees. Perhaps I expect a bit more wobble. Next week, it’s pickles and chutney’s, so I will definitely be paying attention.

Big Allotment Challeneg 2015: Epi Three

Peas, lilly growing, dips and crisps. That was the order of the day with this particular episode.

You’d think growing peas was simple. I’ve done it myself, I’ve even done it whilst working with young people in school gardening clubs. Yet it all seems a bit more complicated when it comes to the show bench. Loved Lena’s pea sticks, that to me is the traditional way of growing peas. However, if you want proper, show stopping peas, use the corden method. You grow them up, trim off the tendrils. Alot of time was dedicated to the growing technique of show stopping peas. Right down to how many you would expect in the pod per the variety.

There was even pea-gate. The Pesky pheasant was chomping things. I don’t wish a pest on anyone, but how many folks have pheasants running around. Pigeons, maybe.

Haven’t sown peas in years. Might try them soon, I do have seeds some place.

Lillies. Aren’t these toxic to cats? Again, I phased out with the flowers. The growing and cultivation, the decorating of the candelabra. I can see why people would sow flowers, I can see how the logic lies when being Bumble bee friendly. But when am I going to be decorating candelabras?

Then cam eat, and the crisps and dips. That’s logical, things you can make with your produce. But why leave this til the end? Eat is important, it is the very premise of growing. I love Thane, her comments are useful, and she stands by using your produce. Eat and grow should be the collective fulcrum of the show. The make can be part of those two components.

‘Big Allotment Challenge 2015: epi two

Caught up with this last night, after the Hampton Court Documentary. I didn’t want to get behind.

The one striking thing with this series is that the contestants are different compared to last years. They are more competitive, and there is clear indicators of how good they are at both growing and cooking.

First came the growing challenge of cucumbers. I was glad, actually, that there were growing tips. Such as sowing seeds on their sides and also pinching out. That was a good educational component, I actually learned things that would help me. So far, I have not had much success with cucumbers. And respect to Rob, for a heritage cucumber, when everyone else went with standard yellow ones. Plus. I think Rob is the eye candy that all the girls on the plot are cooing over.

Cut flowers, I zoned out for, and hugged. I have no idea about larkspur flowers, I did see the seeds. Can’t say I would try them. Currently looking at chrysanthemums for mama.

Last was the eat challenge. There has been alot said about Thane being negative. I disagree, her feedback this week was good. It was constructive, and expert. I listen really carefully to what she has to say, so that I can incorporate it into what I do when I am preserving. Thane Prince is a like a good, effective, considerate OFSTED inspector. The lollies and syrup was a good idea, something that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.

What I will say, is that the feedback is indicative of the quality of the contestants. In terms of how skilled they are, how resourceful they are. The extent to which they use their products.

Big Allotment Challenge 2015: Epi one

9pm, a Friday. And the Big Allotment Challenge was back. With baited breath, Britain’s allotmenteering community flicked on BBC2 to see what changes had been made since last years first series.

So I commandeered the family tv, complete with Mama and her knitting needles. I would watch this, on the larger screen, rather than on a portable device on catch up.

Credits rolled, and I could feel myself slipping into observation mode, It’s hard not to be a teacher. There was even my notebook and a pen, I was going to make very close observations.

Plots have changed since the end of the last series, back down to blank canvasses. We saw the series 2 contestants plot and plan out what they wanted to do. One of the opening statements was that these were amateur gardeners. Significant, as a large proportion of other horticultural shows will involve professionals. Important, as amateurs can get things wrong and not necessarily get huffy about it.

Spuds. Spuds, were the first challenge. Can’t say these featured directly in the first series. But with the show being short, the focus was on new potatoes. These would also feature with the eat challenge later with Thane Prince. Okay, so they all grew spuds. What I took umbrage with, was Jim’s dismissive remarks about spuds being the basics of the allotment. why did I get cheesed off? I have issues with my spuds. I plant them, monitor them, and still end up with holey spuds, with the occasional green one. I am clearly failing, with the basics.

What was nice, was there was focus on growing. Advice, techniques and strategies on how to do it. What to expect, and how to do things. There was also experimentation, by Lena one of the contestants. There is nothing wrong with experiments, and if you don’t try, you don’t know. Something Matt was also interested in. Testing the acidity of his soil. I have yet to do that. I am happy knowing I have clay.

And we saw pests! yes, slugs, snails, things that eat your crop before you do. Growing, is not perfect. Things go wrong. Both potatoes, and the zinnia flowers were afflicted by pests. I could have done a small whoop whoop cheer, for the critters that finally got shown to the unsuspecting public. There were twenty minutes of new potatoes, as they went to the show bench. One of the contestants tickled her spuds, I have furtled, but never tickled.

I get that people do grow for show. But the fact that veg has to be perfect, that annoys me. You can see Jamie Oliver’s campaign for ugly veg hit the news here. Perfectly good veg, but not pretty. Is avoided by both supermarkets and consumers. There is nothing wrong with it!

Flower growing, I shall gloss over. I glazed over with that bit. I am not a bouquet or floral basket maker. Glazing and glossing over. I wanted to fast forward to the eat, but couldn’t zap the tv.

Eat. Mustard and another sauce. You can make your own mustard, who knew. Sauces, to accompany a roast dinner. A sacrosanct meal, I tell you.

I wanted to see the reactions of Thane Prince. I like Thane, no nonsense in her approach. There was definitely no nonsense. Holding no punches, Thane gave her verdicts on the sauces. The contestants did appear to have fun in the kitchen, but that didn’t improve the matter. Thane wasn’t overly impressed by some of the sauces. Neither was I, to be fair. Was holding out for jams, jellies, chutney’s and cordials. Think there is syrup next week, insert your own toupee joke there.

Overall, I am not sure what I think. I even had to sleep on it. I may have even dreamt about it. Whilst there are changes. More growing advice, individual contestants who actually get irked with one another. Of course I will watch the next episode. But this still requires improvement.

Big Allotment Challenge: It’s Back! 2015

It’s back! The Big Allotment Challenge is back!

I watched this earlier this year, with a mix of curiosity and excitement. Of all the things to base a reality television game show. An allotment. Remember, we had already allotment wars, showing just the sort of Machiavellian mischief that could happen with mud, manure and marrows.

For the whole series, I was hooked.  A bit cynical throughout, huffing and puffing a little, as to how it didn’t necessarily reflect my experience of allotmenteering. My little 200sq metres, isn’t for example, in the back yard of what looks like a very posh country house. So my viewing, was a bit mud splattered, and fairly closed minded.

There were lessons to be learned though. Or at least nuggets to be taken from it. You’ll have to look through the assorted blogs, for the whole picture. The show inspired me to try aubergines again. I did. And I still don’t know how the contestants managed to grow them. I had diddly ones. Nothing from the seed’s I’d sown. but a few oddments from the shop brought one’s. In a poly tunnel, my crops, didn’t compare. So I am at loss, as to how those lovely people got those whopping big aubergines. I might just sow a couple of them, leave them in pots this time. Then there was the melon. Sown, planted, I didn’t get one of those either. It just snaked itself around the polytunnel.

The growing, seemed absent of wonky veg. Okay, the showbench is about pretty and perfect. Thing is, I don’t have perfect veg on the plot. I have beautifully ugly, a bit bruised, slightly worn around the edges, but still home made and mine, because of it. Don’t necessarily have pretty perfect ones. After all, if it’s edible, it’s going to be chemically and mechanically digested, and possibly taste good with it. If I can grow a perfect cabbage, then yes, I shall concede.  That was the ‘Grow’, primarily for the show bench.

The two things, that I took away from the make section. How to tie a handmade bouquet, when the roses have have thorns. I was glad to see the show have roses, there is something quintessentially English about them being in an garden. I have quite a few, including one that is supposed to be blue. It’s a funny shade of lilac, actually. As far as the flowers were concerned, I became aware of Gladiolus. And planted dozens and dozens on the plot, of all different sizes. High summer came, and the plot looked as though fireworks were going off in assorted directions. As for growing one that was perfect. Nah, it was pretty, that I can live with. And bumblie bees seemed to like them.

Then there was the eat section. And the world was re-introduced to the wonder that is Thane Prince. Prior the show, I have dabbled in the odd chilli jam, the odd chutney. But watching the show, the world of preserves became that bit broader and a bit more colourful. Makes sense really, you do have to eat the stuff you grow. Yet, there is only so many curried courgettes and aubergines that you can take. In watching the show, I learned how you make sure that a chutney was cooked, If you can part the mixture with a wooden spoon, and it stays parted. Then the job’s done. The Thane Prince torch test with Jelly, passing a beam through. Was also a nugget. Though I do intent to make a jelly-santa brought me a jelly straining kit-with edible glitter to see if the beam will bounce. I brought a jam pan, I wanted one anyway, having window shopped it throughout the series. I ended up making a lot courgette chutney, a lot of jam.  My second batch of blackberry jam, set rock hard, I didn’t have a thermometer at that stage. I had faffed with the cold plate test. I found a jam thermometer. My mama was all very excited at first. We had discovered how to make jam. So of course she was going to pick a pound of blackberries, and were going to make jam. But then came the rest. The chutneys. And lots of them. Mama’s enthusiasm has since waned. The assorted handful, yes, a handful -I gave away my experiments- in the pantry are a few too many and clutter the pantry.

Then there was the homebrew.  A case of, now I realise that I can do something with that.

The show did have good aspects. Allotmenteering was having a renaissance. The illusion that it was an old man’s game, was being shattered. Women could do it too, and it wasn’t as sedentary as you might think. In my own allotmenteering experience, I’m quite happy to bust those myths. Happy, to spread it’s assorted messages.

All being well, I shall be tuning in again. Apparently there have been some format changes. It will be interesting to see what these are, and what impact these will have.