Black Gold



All Going On …

…this weekend up on the plots.

Saturday strong winds and slashing squalls, some loaded with stinging sleet. But in the background beneath grey sheets of cloud the autumn sown field is tinged with green as a cereal crop emerges.

But the stalwart committee were there, helping allotmenteers fill in forms and explaining rules. This is fee-paying time.

The as-promised bacon sandwiches, with trimmings like “red sauce” and pepper and porridge as an alternative. As a legitimate bribe/incentive to pay.

Get as much of the paperwork done as soon as possible we are offered food and tea/coffee if we pay this first weekend. It works. Most people now have been happily separated from their money; which pays for water usage, NSALG fees, insurances, land rental (the ground is owned by the Parish Council).

In addition the shop is open. While it has been open regularly over the winter this feels like the start of a new season somehow (perhaps that was just me?). People coming to pay their fees are – quite naturally – tempted by the low prices-high quality items. Slug pellets (the wet weather must really suit the slugs and snails), Growmore, secateurs, forks and bags of lime… and a gobsmacking offer on peat compost!


Seeds that have been ordered are being distributed, along with pre-ordered seed potatoes, shallots, onions sets and garlic. Because we order in bulk everyone benefits from enormous discounts and, surely, this is what allotment life should be about.

And, as last year there is a brazier going. The two guys nominally in charge of keeping it stoked –and alight! – have rigged up a wind-shield from a couple of pallets. which get “scrounged” so a plotholder can re-build his “muck heap”. Speaking of which a lady in a 4X4 with a trailer comes on site to deliver eight bags of stable litter. She leaves them at the top because she is “worried about damaging cars parked down the central roadway” – and there are a lot of ‘em! Banter, exchanges of information, word-of mouth conferences about compost (last week’s talk has stirred it up) and how-long-does-it-take parsnip-seeds to germinate (it’s not a joke people, but feel free to add a punch-line).

Sunday: same again, but sunny, bright blue skies and I could feel the land sunning itself. Driving back from the allotment we were followed by what I will describe with recognised political incorrectness as a W.A.G. and daughter in a top-down lilac convertible sports car: orange skin, big eyelashes and T-shirts. Blimey, I thought, it must be summer.

A little further along the main road I am doubly surprised: my first ice-cream van of 2014 touting for business!

Fees Collection: 22nd/23rd February


A big thanks from the committee to everyone who turned up last weekend to kick off the “new allotment year” in the four seasons that passed us by on Saturday and Sunday. We think that the free bacon sandwiches, porridge and hot drinks might have had something to do with so many turning up.


This weekend (22nd and 23rd February) is the second and last weekend for paying your fees and giving us your contact details.

If you wish to renew your membership, you need to get down to the plots between 10 and mid-day.

After that we will begin to look at the waiting list* to give those people  a chance to take on a plot.

It is also a chance to collect seeds and seed potatoes that have been ordered. The seed potatoes are in plastic carrier bags at the moment –and are already starting to chit. They really need to be collected and put into boxes or something similar where they will grow away better.


* If you are interested in being put onto the waiting list, please complete and return the form below:

Offer: Raised Beds Available.

Finally they are finished and waiting for somebody* to take them on.

We have been working on building five raised beds with associated level pathways as small, manageable plots for gardeners with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs.

This is a new venture for us and we are prepared to work with new gardeners in order to provide better facilities. Any advice you can offer will be valuable.

Each of the beds is 6 metres by one metre (or about eighteen feet by three feet) and two-and-a-bit feet high. Annual rent is an amazing £2.50 per bed;  named co-gardener can be added at an

additional annual cost of £3.

raised bed1

Each one is filled with soil enough to make a reasonable sized garden. What will you grow? That’s up to you. This is an allotment and you will rarely be short of advice or someone to talk with. Most of us agree that simply being outside is a beneficial therapy.

If you are interested and fancy having a go – or want to come and take a look – get in touch: either fill in the form below or ring our Chairman, Mick Powell (0797097812) to be part of an ambitious project.

Why not come and have a go?

*Stop the press: three of them have already been taken.

New Beginnings?


That really is no kind of a title when writing an introduction for a piece of ground that has been allotments since at least 1892! The time of Queen Victoria and historical marvels and inventions: the nearby Black Country the Staffordshire coal fields and agriculture, the potteries of Stoke (not so far away), the saddleries of Walsall (still sending fine saddles and lorinery all over the world), the canals and Birmingham. Populations growing and moving faster and further than ever before.
The gifting of a piece of local land (“The Far Field”) to the community for use as allotments: the beginning of a community asset and a long-standing tradition (repeated all over the country)

But, as time marches on things inevitably change and so it has been with the image – and, indeed reality – of allotments and, indeed the people who “inhabit” them has changed and switched over time: essential land on which to grow produce to feed a family, Dig For Victory grounds, The Good Life, neglected overgrown wastelands …
Of course many allotment sites have closed down, but In Cheslyn Hay we hope to keep ours going in the county of Staffordshire in the English Midlands; to showcase here some of the sights and activities and pride we have in our plots.
the sheer variety of techniques and people who spend time there.
You are welcome to look around – use the Categories list at the side or simply bump around from place to place.
We hope to inspire, educate and, who knows, entertain you.

Beginner’s pluck: Follow our expert’s choice tips and you’ll be mulching in no time

Anna Pavord

Saturday 25 January 2014

The following is an interesting copy from The Independent newspaper (UK) and does contain well-written “tips” in a readable style. useful information for those who are uncertain and a valuable reminder for those who beleievd they already knew.

Round our way, amateur versions of Gardeners’ Question Time are a popular way of raising money for charity and from time to time I get to sit on the panel. “What tips would you give to a new gardener?” is a favourite question and more interesting than the usual queries about scrofulous bits of greenery. Answers depend very much on the panellist’s own interests. And character.
Well, the first tip I’d give is not to suppose that if you follow rules you will get results. General principles are what you need to grasp. In this country, seasons are unpredictable and that makes fixed dates and fixed ways of doing things meaningless. Your trawl through the internet may tell you that March is the time to sow broad beans. But if the soil in March is still waterlogged and freezing cold, then it isn’t. A seed needs much what we need: a comfortable bed.

All gardeners start with a huge advantage, which is that plants will do their best to grow no matter what crass obstacles we put in their way. But we can help them survive by understanding something of the way they live in the wild. The cradle of all tulips, for instance, is Central Asia, particularly the Tian Shan mountains where the flowers push through the shale-strewn slopes as soon as the snow begins to melt. Before the searing heat of summer, they disappear underground again, but it’s the heat that initiates the flower bud for the following season.

So in our gardens, there are two things that tulips are looking for above all else: ground that drains as fast as a mountain slope and a good baking in summer. We can at least provide good drainage, by using masses of grit when we plant. Heat in summer is beyond our giving, which is why tulips do not always come back into flower after their first fine fling.

I’d also suggest that new gardeners take time to understand their soil. All soils are made from a mixture of bits of rock, water and organic matter such as rotted leaves, but they differ enormously in the proportions of one to the other. Light, sandy soils are made from relatively large bits of rock, heavy clay soils from small particles. On heavy soils, plant roots keep bumping their noses on the underground equivalent of brick walls because there is not enough air in the ground. On light soils, there may be too much air and the fine, hairy rootlets that absorb nutrients are unable to clutch at what they need.

The most rewarding way to garden is to go with what you’ve got. If you have light, sandy soil, think Mediterranean – sage, rosemary, lavender, iris, cistus. If you garden on clay, choose crab apples, elder, lilac, monkshood, campanula, hosta and lungwort.

There’s another distinction a new gardener needs to understand: the difference between an acid soil and an alkaline one. Acid and alkaline are terms that apply to the pH (the potential of hydrogen) in the soil. The pH scale runs from one to 14 with neutral somewhere in the middle. Most vegetables grow best in slightly alkaline soil. Shrubs such as acers, camellias, pieris and rhododendron do best on acid soil, between 4.5 and 6 on the pH scale. I’d say accept what you have got. Nothing looks more sad in a garden than a miserable rhododendron, gasping in an alkaline soil for its fix of acid.

Tulips blooming in the Tian Shan mountains (Alamy) Tulips blooming in the Tian Shan mountains (Alamy)
I’d also advise a new gardener to mulch, mulch, mulch. Anything bulky and organic will do: mushroom compost, spent hops, homemade compost, farmyard manure. The easy way is to spread mulch thickly over the surface of the soil, leaving earthworms to drag it underground. Mulch opens up heavy soils and adds bulk to light ones.

In natural habitats, nature replenishes the soil with gifts of dying vegetation and animal droppings, which are gradually pulled down into the earth by worms and insects. We need to compensate for the fact that we whisk away dead leaves as though they were a problem rather than a prize.

Another tip I’d hand over is to buy a garden fork before you buy a spade. Digging may be necessary on heavy ground that hasn’t been cultivated before (like a new allotment). You might also need to dig over compacted ground, where, for instance, you are changing the route of a path. But generally, the less you disturb soil, the better. You don’t have to take out mighty trenches to plant potatoes. Stretch a line to keep you straight and plant them along the line using a trowel.

Which brings me to another tip. If you are new to the business of gardening, stick at first to the things that are most likely to succeed. Potatoes are easy. You can grow a crop in an old plastic compost bag (make it a big one). Turn the top of the sack down, so it is about half height. Poke a few holes in the bottom. Fill the half-sack with compost (your own will be the cheapest option) and plant the potato in the middle, 10-12cm deep. Water the sack. As the plant grows, earth it up by unrolling a bit of the sack and adding more compost round the stem. Waxy ‘Charlotte’ is the potato I’d choose, a second early rather than a first, but fabulously flavoured. Second earlies should be ready to eat within 16-17 weeks.

And a final tip. Do the job you most feel like doing. Gardening is not a penance. It’s supposed to be a pleasure. Certain things have to happen, like sowing seeds if you want a crop, or tying in a rose, if you want to continue using a particular path, but one day you will wake up in the right mood to make that thing happen. And you’ll make a better job of it than if you force yourself to do it when you are not in the groove. Conditions need to be right, too, of course. It’s madness to try and tie in a rose when the wind is blowing. And the job is more easily done in winter, when the branches are bare, than in summer when you can’t see stems for foliage. Allow the plants to teach you a few lessons. They will, if only you listen.

Anna Pavord

What to do in February – 2


This time last year I wrote a post to remind me on what needed to be done on the allotment or garden this month.  This is a guide to help me organize what needs to be done.  More of a one stop shop for jobs to do this month.  Of course, a lot of the jobs require suitable weather conditions and the weather that we are having at the moment seem to be testing all of our patience.

What’s the betting that by the end of May, early June the UK government bring in a hosepipe ban!!

Jobs to do………in February

  • Continue to plan what you intend to grow this year and order seeds before your favourites become unavailable
  • Harden off autumn sown cauliflowers and cabbages
  • Sow salad crops in succession under cloche protection
  • Check your soil’s PH level to test for alkalinity and acidity and add lime if necessary

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What to do now in January


Happy New Year to you all and my apologies for the late posting for what jobs to do now for January.  The Christmas holiday period is always a busy affair at my home and I have struggled to find the time to post.

Now that we are back to normal and most of us are returning back to work, it’s definitely time to start planning ahead to the new growing season.  Apart from the atrocious rain that we have incurred, we haven’t experienced any bad snowfall as yet, but as we are still in the midst of winter, I don’t suppose that we can expect to have a winter free from snow.  When deciding what seeds to grow bear in mind that most seeds will still need some sort of heat and protection. So if you don’t have a heated propagator or heated greenhouse, some seeds can still be put on hold until next…

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“As A Cure …”

“As a cure for boredom, gardening must be the best; whether your plot runs into acres or is just a few inches of soil in a window box …”

Mr W. Belcher (Secretary/Treasurer, Cheslyn Hay Allotments and Cottage Gardener’s Association);
Report to General Meeting, January, 1963