Articles Archives


Below are old articles written by members, gardeners and allotment holders.

(If you have written an article that you think would be of interest to the SGAA Growers members please use the contact page to let us know)


There are 4 Archived Articles on this page and 1 on the Article page

Make a splash for wildlife!

by Annie Sutcliffe


Did you know that a pond can be the most significant wildlife feature in a garden or allotment?


The UK is losing its natural ponds and wetlands at an alarming rate, and domestic water features can make a real difference to the network of habitats available for our wildlife.


Even the smallest pond can make a difference and you will be amazed to see how quickly frogs, toads, newts and damsel- and dragonflies will find and colonise any new water. You may find that birds and mammals also use the space for drinking and bathing.  All these visitors can provide valuable pest-control on your plot!


A washing up bowl sunk into the ground will do – as long as you provide a way for animals to get in and out easily.


There are some great resources available for the Wildlife Trusts website, including a downloadable booklet providing a step-by-step guide to creating a pond, and the link is here:



Bee on daisy

Photo © Annie Sutcliffe


Praise for allotments and “weedy corners”!

by Annie Sutcliffe


Recent research, published in the journal "Nature Ecology and Evolution", which examined land use in cities, has identified pollinators’ favourite places and flowers.

The results suggest that the best way to support a rich mix of pollinator species, resilient to climate change and other challenges, is to increase the number of allotments.  They are particularly good places for pollinators because they provide a mix of fruit and vegetable flowers, plus weedy corners full of native plants.

Planting appropriate flowers in gardens also helps, as does less-frequent mowing of the grass in public parks, allowing flowers to bloom (a strategy being adopted by Stevenage Borough Council).


The scientists also identified the flowers most visited by bees, hoverflies and other pollinators. Native favourites included brambles, buttercups, dandelions, creeping thistle, common hogweed and ox-eye daisies, with the non-native plants that attracted the most pollinators being lavender, borage, butterfly bushes and common marigolds

Dandelions are particularly useful as an early nectar source in the spring, so allow them to show off their beautiful flowers before grubbing them out!


Whilst we may not be too keen on some of the native species colonising our plots, do try to make space for a patch of lavender and you will be rewarded with the sight of bees buzzing around the flowers all summer, as well as having a source of cut or dried flowers – not least for some delicious lavender shortbread!


Borage, whilst keen to seed around, can be used as a green manure, fertilizer "tea" and compost accelerator, in the same way as comfrey.


In at the deep end

by Melvin Cator


“So, what are you going to do when you retire?” Was a question I was asked many times (mainly by my wife). In an attempt to put an end to the questioning, I flippantly said “I’ll get an allotment”.


As time went on, I realised that this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. When I asked around, people suggested that the waiting list for allotments was so long, I would probably be dead before one became available.


Undeterred, I went on line and applied for a plot on Fairview Road site and to my amazement, within a couple of weeks, I was being shown around vacant plots on the site. There was a choice between a very overgrown 1/2 plot and a very neat and tidy 1/3 plot. Thinking that I didn’t want to overload myself with too much work (I was still working full time for another year after all), I selected the smaller, tidier plot.


Now here I am, one year later, with some great experiences of “growing my own”.


First question was “what should we grow?” My view was that I would only grow what we eat. What was the point in growing a load of globe artichokes when I had only ever tried one in my life and I didn’t particularly like them?


“You’ll need a book” I was told. As I am sure some of you will know, there are hundreds of allotment books available and for a novice, the choice was difficult. I eventually plumped for “Allotment month by month” by Alan Buckingham which turned out to be worth its weight in gold.


When I had got my head around things like crop rotation, soil warming and feeding, I devised a plan. I decided that year one was to be a learning exercise. If I got some crops out of the allotment during the first year, it would be a bonus. I borrowed a rotovator from a friend and turned the whole plot over.


Soil quality looked very good and there was a distinct lack of stones. I started planting at the end of October with some Winter Onions and some broad beans. I put some string in place where I had planted them just in case I forgot where they were!! I went back a week later to find all of the strings in disarray. Some had been cut and others had been pulled up and discarded over the allotment. I must admit that my suspicious side came in to play and I thought “Who on earth would do that to a new allotment holder?” I reported the alleged vandalism but I was told reassuringly that it was probably a fox that visits the site occasionally. Sorry for doubting any fellow allotment holders.


After a couple of weeks, onion shoots started to appear and just before Christmas, my first broad bean shoot popped its head out of the soil. Embarrassingly I have to admit that I took photographs of my first shoots.


I left the plot alone for most of the winter and, when I went back in mid-February, most of the onions were still alive and the broad beans all appeared to be doing well.


I paid a visit to the SGAA shop at the Lawrence Avenue allotment site where I bought parsnip, carrot, beetroot and runner bean seeds and bamboo poles for the runner bean supports. I was very pleased to learn of the £5 discount!!

“You’ll need a shed” I was told (by my wife) and in mid- March, having paid my £30 fee to SGAA, I put the shed up. “You can use it tostore your tools, somewhere to drink your flask of tea, eat your sandwich and somewhere to shelter from the rain”. So far I have stored my tools in it. None of the other suggestions have happened yet despite receiving the obligatory Gardener’s flask, diary, calendar and other gardener’s gift sets for Christmas.

Mid April and it was time for 2nd early potatoes that had been “chitting” in my garage for a few weeks. I started off the runner beans in the greenhouse at home and in mid May erected the bamboo pole structure and planted out the well-established plants.


Broad beans were starting to bear fruit. How proud was I when I took the first 3 broad beans home? Even though there were only 6 beans each, my wife and I thought they were very tasty.


By the end of May, the plot was looking on the up. Onions were plumping up, potatoes were heaped up, runner beans were growing up and the broad beans were fruiting up.

Over the next few weeks, the beetroot and carrots started to appear but still no sign of the parsnips!!


Then, the problem all gardeners face I guess, weeds. Why do weeds grow better than the plants you are trying to cultivate? A bit of digging and hoeing soon got rid of most of them.


I am now in a position where I am reaping the rewards of my labours. Broad beans finished some time ago. Black fly got them in the end. Potatoes, runner beans and beetroot are being picked on a regular basis. The carrots will soon be ready and there is still no sign of the parsnips. I think I will give up on them!!

What have I learnt over the last year and questions for next year? Winter onions don’t appear to do as well as summer ones. Pick the broad beans a little earlier. Grow sunflowers, everybody else seems to?? Don’t bother with parsnips unless somebody has some great tips on how to grow them. Is all of the material deposited near the gates a free for all or has somebody bought it? Where can I get some manure from? Why do people grow things and never harvest them. I have seen so much wasted produce.


For the princely sum of £12-77 per year or my 1/3 plot, minimal expenditure on seeds, bamboo canes and a few hours of planting, watering, weeding, etc. I have managed to get a freezer full of vegetables, met some very friendly people and am thoroughly enjoying it. I am even thinking of an additional plot if one becomes available. Back to rotovating, crop rotation, soil warming and feeding for next year. Oh and my wife is very proud of me!!



Going Big

by Kevin Moores


I grow giant veg for shows and would just like to take you through some stuff that I have learnt over the years, on how I grow giant veg/show veg. I’m not saying this is the right way to grow these veg but I’m telling you how I’m growing and showing them.


First will be carrots, I grow sweet candle carrots for show in 2ft x 2ft boxes filled with sharp sand. I bore holes out with a 3 inch drain pipe and fill with potting compost (clover). I also add in calcified seaweed in powder form into the compost then fill them almost to the top. I then put 3 seeds in the top and cover with compost. When the seeds germinate, I then select the best one out the 3 and discard the other 2 and cover with netting for a few months till the carrots are well away its as easy as that.


Next I want to talk about giant pumpkins, these are easy to grow. The main thing is that you need the right seeds, not just what you get out of a packet and they come fairly cheap. To grow them, just dig a hole 2ft deep by 4ft square and fill with manure. You can add what ever ingredients you want, I just put anything I have to hand in there, but don’t go overboard with it. You start the seed off as like any seed but when its got 5 leafs on it then its time to plant out you want to plant out in May, weather permitting, so your timing with this does matter. The thing with pumpkins is you can’t give them enough water. I was putting 30litres a time on mine, so don’t be scared to water it and be prepared for it to grow long and wide. I’ve had these at 50 foot long and 30 foot wide. You can cut the vine once it starts out growing your patch but the bigger the vine the bigger the pumpkin.

Giant onions and show onions for giants, I will only use one type and that’s Peter Glazebrook strain. His type of onions can grow up to a very large size, I have seen them at 14lb in weight and for the smaller ones I grew kelsea last year. But this year it will be Peters’ again but I’ll stop them when they get to the size I want, but that’s a different story. What you put in the holes? Well I’ve still not found the right mix for this and if you ask other growers what they use, it seems to be a big secret. Last year I put growmore fish blood and bone (raked in) on my beds and in the holes I put chicken manure pellets with fish blood and bone. This work quite well and I got mine up to 3lb in weight which is a good show size but as always I’m still learning, everyday.


So potatoes, I grow mine in grow bags. I fill the bag half way and mix chicken manure pellets in to the bottom, how much does not really matter. I add about a handful then I put 3 to 4 potatoes in the bottom then I’ll fill the bag to nearly the top and mix more pellets in, I then put 2 to 4 potatoes in the top and finish filling the bag up with compost. You’ll get a good crop with this method. Finally when it’s time just find some that are the same size to put in the show.

Runner beans I don’t really have any type I just use what I can get my hands on at the moment. But I’m trying to grow giant runner beans and had them at 24 inches last year. They can grow up to 30 inches. What I will be doing this year is digging a trench 2ft wide by 10 foot long and 18 inches deep and filling with rotted manure, shredded paper and rotted compost. As for watering, you can never give them enough water so feel free to water as much as you like.


So these are just some of the types of veg I grow. I wont be growing much this year as I’m moving from veg to dahlias but if you have any questions you would like to ask or want to know anything then please feel free to send a email or come pop in and ask, have a chat and I’ll try and help you as much as I can.


I hope you all have a good growing season.