Newsletter Questions and Answers

My monthly newsletter went out on Thursday 2nd April. Amazingly, there are over 4,700 subscribers now. I use a company to run the distribution for me which is far easier than spending 3 days trying to send them out from my own computer. They also handle un-subscribes automatically so it keeps my life simple. I don’t want people accusing me of spam because I forgot to cross them off the list.

I always get a bit of surge in my email after it goes out  Now to be quite honest, I can’t reply individually to everyone (although I try) or I’d get nothing done. A lot of questions are best asked on the forums, not only does it get a variety of answers from a range of gardeners but it also helps people with the same problem.

Anyway, these questions / comments may help everyone.

Water Charges on Allotments

This wonderful idea of the government that everyone should pay towards handling ground water is hitting charities like the scouts, village halls, churches and even bowling clubs. From our point of view, they threaten to price allotments beyond the pocket of  the non-banker. I’m pleased and proud of the 500+ people who signed the petition after the newsletter went out but, come on people, it only takes a minute and we have to fight to keep our plots affordable.


I mentioned that I prefer to sow my parsnips in March and April as the germination is better and they’re ready after the first frosts have sweetened them. I had this sent by Chris Donohue.

The traditional advice was to plant in February. The year before last’s February was extremely cold and inhospitable and I didnot start thinking about sowing until well into March when it warmed up a bit.

Those at the allotment who followed the traditional advice and sowed in February had much bigger and better parsnips than mine during the early summer. Last year, self-sown parsnips on my plot came up in profusion in mid-January.

This year, following appalling weather conditions when for 14 days my frozen low-lying allotment never thawed out, self-sown parsnips are covering my plot at the moment.

Early March was not too early to sow even in the most severe weather conditions. I pre-germinate my seeds by soaking in water for 3-4 days, then draining to leave a wet environment in a yoghurt container with a plastic top. This enables one to space the parsnips sensibly by planting only those which have germinated when the roots are about 1/8″ (3 mm) long. Not being in any way a “traditional person,” Tradition wins.

My Response

I’ve never had self-seeded parsnips, being a biennial they have to be left in the ground to throw up a seed head in the second year although they’re actually considered a noxious weed in the USA so I can’t speak as to that.

Neither have I tried pre-germinating parsnips, preferring to sow and thin as I’ve found root crops really don’t like transplanting and parsnip seed is pretty cheap and not saveable year to year so it’s sow the whole packet or throw away the unsown anyway.

Finally, I prefer my parsnips after the first frost so early parsnips aren’t a real benefit to me. However, it’s really interesting to get another viewpoint.

Runner Beans

Chris also sent me this in response to my warnings about sowing / planting runner beans too early.

I normally sow two tranches of beans, one early, one later. Last year, there was an extremely late frost which caught out for the first time a plotholder of 40 years’ experience. A number of people lost their runner beans. I didn’t. My early crop survived and cropped well as I covered the outside of the bean wigwams at the bottom with 2 foot (60cm) wide pieces of polythene wired to the outside of the canes.

These offered sufficient frost protection in my low-lying plot very susceptible to frost for them to survive and thrive.

My Response

That’s a good idea, last year I fleeced up my beans to protect them but in earlier years I’ve lost them. One year I was out of the country and the other in a hotel in London when I heard the forecast of frost so a bit late. However, I always end up with enough runner beans to sink a battleship even from a late planting. Good tip, Chris

Twig/leaf/bark chips as a soil supplement

Mike Adamson asked: “Have you any views on using this to improve the soil . I understand this needs a good few years before it can be used as a growing medium as there are insufficient nutrient value when applied fresh.”

My Response

Leaves are best used to make leafmould. Although this has no nutritional value to speak of, it is a good source of organic matter and helps hold water in sandy soils as well as breaking up the tiny particles in clay to allow better drainage.

Wood chippings have a negative value in that they will suck up nitrogen to help them decompose, depriving the crops. I use them to make paths that gradually rot down to provide humus but did try composting them with a load of sulphate of ammonia to provide nitrogen to fuel the process.

They will rot down that way eventually but I think the lack of air (as the compact) slows things down. My advice is to use them as paths between beds and let nature do the work for a few years.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
4 comments on “Newsletter Questions and Answers
  1. alan edgar says:

    Just to let everyone know, today (11/04/09) here in cornwall several cabbage white butterfly’s about, that after a frost last night which burned some peoples potatoes..alan out.

  2. Caroline Brett says:

    I Follow Sherwell Cooper’s advice in The Complete Vegetable Grower (my edition is 1955)and till autumn leaves in shallowly in the autumn or on my current clay allotment, dig in roughly in the autumn and till to break them up in spring. Good for potatoes…

  3. richard penlington says:

    Hello John.
    I would just like to say what a great site this is,i found it after reading your book which is also very helpfull.
    I was lucky to obtain an allotment last May after waiting some time and i am slowly getting the way i want it.I would like a shed,but some have been set fire to by vandals
    Keep up the good work,but how you find time to do it all i but wonder.Best wishes.

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