There is nothing like a day at the allotment to blow away the cobwebs and banish the winter blues. Admittedly everything is very brown at this time of year, apart from the weeds that have taken advantage, not only of the winter months but also my enforced inactivity during last years summer due to the misfortune of broken toes. But today I am back to do some proper allotmenting, as the few previous visits to the plot this year have been spent simply clearing away last years debris.
Although it is probably a little too early, after cutting down the autumn raspberry canes, I decided to tidy up the strawberry bed and remove some of the runners that were growing with gusto in the paths.
The allotments were surprisingly deserted given the bright sunshine, but I enjoyed my solitude and the company of the resident robin who remained with me throughout the day.
He hopped amongst the runners that I temporarily planted into another bed;
surveyed the newly tidied strawberry bed;
gobbled up an insect on the path;
sang a little song on the railway sleeper;
and posed for a photo shoot,
before casting his eye over the herb beds.
He was in his element though when I moved further down the plot to undertake some proper digging,
watching me as I turned over the heavy rather water logged soil
to dig up the very last of my crop of Red Rooster potatoes.
His beady eye caught sight of something pink and fleshy and in a flash, before I could capture the shot, the fat juicy worm was plucked from the ground and vanished into his sharp little beak. After this - his belly full, he flew up into the hawthorn trees disappearing from sight.
My day at the plot had helped to eradicate the latest annoyance that I have had with our local council, who yet again provoked the thorny issue of allotment rents. Initially the rental for our plots was £25, which we considered to be very good value for money. This then increased to £55, and we paid it, feeling a little put out, but accepting it nonetheless. The following year we discovered that the council planned to increase the rent to £100. We were incensed and requested a meeting with the council.
The council lined up their heavies - who met with us in their palatial offices, facing us down the length of a highly polished mahogany table. There followed an extremely unpleasant and heated debate which left us as the allotment committee feeling livid with their arrogance, unreasonableness and heavy-handed, aggressive approach. Our arguments seemed to fall on deaf ears, with the council thinking that the rents of £200 paid by other people on private allotment sites made their proposed £100 rent value for money. We tried to explain the difference between privately run and council run but to no avail.
However trying to remain calm through gritted teeth, we gave concessions to the council in exchange for a reduced rental increase. Our rents were now priced at £70 with the council doing very little for us, apart from cutting the grass in the lanes a couple of times a year and granting us permission to carry on allotmenting. (The threat had been vetoed that if we protested too much they would simply close the age old allotments!)
So we left it at that and the following year saw our rents increase by another £5 to £75, which we quietly paid as requested by the beginning of April. But at the beginning of February this year I was amazed when the thick embossed council envelope dropped through the letterbox with the invoice for the forthcoming years rental of the Plot. Not only had they increased it again by another £5 (no surprise there!), but this time they were demanding the full rent to be paid by the start of March 2014. In effect this meant that last years rent payment of £75 covered us for eleven months and we were being expected to hand over our money to the council for a month that we had already paid for.
Upon challenging them about this I was told that
- this was when they always sent out the invoices - (a blatant lie as I had kept every previous invoice with their payment dates of 5 April of each year), and
- they did this to make sure of an efficient payment of invoices - (next year perhaps to better their efficiencies they will no doubt invoice us in January for payment by the beginning of February!)
No, I am afraid that I remain convinced that this is just another disingenuous tactic by the council to extort more money from us soft target allotment holders.
In contrast to the site of our plots, (voracious weed covered waste-ground that is sandwiched between a road and the railway embankment), I found an article in an old Country Living Magazine about allotments in Sweden. These plots are tucked down leafy alleyways, along the banks of a broad moat that protects a 16th Century citadel, or perched on small hills overlooking the Sound between Sweden and Denmark.
At the centre of each is a brightly painted summerhouse.
In Spring, the plot holders leave their flats in the middle of town and take up residence in the summerhouses, which become their homes until autumn when the water is switched off to discourage anyone from living there all year round. The allotments are close to their offices so work continues as usual, but in the evenings and weekends, city life is abandoned as they tend their plots and live a rural life.
The Colony Gardens as they are known date back to the early 20th Century. The State owns the land and the plots are rented or bought from the previous owner - but they are for the use of local residents only, and this keeps the prices stable.
There are wildflower meadows,
plots full of blooms.
Life on the allotments is simpler; no TV, but time spent instead growing fruit and vegetables, reading books and listening to the radio.
I think I am experiencing allotment envy!