Fresh air, sunshine and exercise will be needed more than ever In light of the coronavirus pandemic – so Whetstone Stray will remain open for as long as plotholders can get to it. However, if restrictions like those in mainland Europe are introduced we may very soon not be allowed to go out for anything ‘non-essential’ (though of course we all know that food-growing is essential) so please make the most of the chance to enjoy your plot while you can. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. In the meantime, if you are coming to Whetstone please;
- Wash your hands before and after your visit. Be aware of what you will have to touch – eg the gate lock, tools, door handles, pots.
- Keep your distance from other plotholders – at least two metres
- Please remember that there is no running water on site until all danger of frost has passed, and, even then, there is never hot running water in the Trading Hut.
- Please follow advice around social distancing and handwashing. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
While we hope that all Whetstone Stray open air activities will take place as usual, all decisions will be guided by government advice so please keep an eye out for email updates.
This is a great Whetstone Stray tradition, at which plotholders bring plants they have grown and buy new ones at very reasonable prices and money raised goes to the community plot. In the past most of the growing has been done by Les and Brigid and the community plot group but this will not be possible this year– so when you are sowing seeds please sow a few extra pots to donate to the sale. It usually takes place on the second or third weekend in May, if the coronavirus prevents the sale from going ahead you will, of course, be informed as soon as possible.
Good to Grow Day
Formerly known as The Big Dig, this event has changed its name and is no longer on a set day nationally. Whetstone Stray’s will be on Friday 24 April, when the community plot group are present, but anyone who wants to take part will be very welcome. Of course, this event may be postponed because of the virus.
Sadly, there have been several posts on our FaceBook page recently about vandalism, especially smashing greenhouse windows on Field 3, and shed break-ins on Holden Road field. These seem to happen during the week and may have ceased over half-term. This, and the fact that expensive tools ( please don’t ever leave them in sheds!) have not been stolen seems to point to bored kids rather than professional thieves. A very diplomatic email has been sent to the local school asking them to remind pupils they must not go on Whetstone plots. I think they are actually told not to go on the site at all, but with two public footpaths that’s hard to enforce. Please be assured that the committee is as worried and frustrated as everyone else about this, and the theft of fruit and vegetables, at harvest time. There is a real limit to what we can do without spending thousands of pounds on high fencing and locked gates – which is generally not effective if the experience of other allotments is anything to go by. (If you are working from home over the next weeks, google Vandalism on Allotments and you can disappear down a rabbit hole for hours.) Any helpful, practical ideas that don’t cost thousands of pounds, or involve someone watching hours of video footage, and might actually be effective, would be warmly welcomed by the committee at email@example.com Please don’t ever leave valuable tools, especially power tools, in sheds and greenhouses – our current visitors may not be interested in them but others certainly will be.
As leaseholders at Whetstone Stray, we are all expected to take responsibility to help maintain our beautiful site by doing a few hours of communal work every year. There are lots of ways to help even if you can’t always come to work parties.
- Come to a work party – help cut back, tidy up, reinforce boundaries, clear rubbish and meet other plotholders over lunch.
- Cut back the hedging along the lane
- Mow communal grass
- Sever stems of ivy that is growing up trees (don’t pull it all down – let it die back to allow wildlife time to relocate)
- Pick up rubbish and remove dumped objects
- Help provide lunch for work parties and cakes for other events
- Help in the Trading Hut shop on some Sundays from 1-2pm between April and September.
- Unload deliveries to the Trading Hut
- Help with the rubbish collection twice a year
- Volunteer to help at the Annual Show in September
- Come to the Big Dig and Seedy Sunday
- Donate and buy plants at the annual Plant Sale in May
Oral History Project
Last year, through Whetstone Stray’s link with Capital Growth field 1 plotholder Maria, and former plotholder, Judy, were interviewed for ‘Growing Culture’, an oral history project about community gardens and allotments. Whetstone Stray is featured in the booklet with information and pictures of the site, and both Maria and Judy are featured on a page about the oral histories. You can download the booklet here https://www.capitalgrowth.org/growing_culture/ and their interviews can also be heard in full on sustainweb.org.
Jellied Eel online magazine has some nice quotes from our own Les Moore about the benefits of food growing for both young and old. For more information refer to Cultivating Connections And Ageing Better.
Seasonal Growing Tips
If you have had a few weeks (or even months) away from your plot, now is the time to get back to it, to avoid being left behind by the rush of Spring growth – your last chance to dig out brambles and other invasive weeds before they start to grow again rampantly. Make sure that your beds are ready, and mulched with compost and/or manure. If you sowed winter green manure now may be the time to dig it in. Look out for wildlife when digging look out for slow worms and hedgehogs – they are gardeners’ friends and they may be hibernating in compost bins or under weed control matting. This is a wonderful time of year for bird watching at Whetstone.
March is the big month for sowing seeds, if you are lucky enough to have some indoor space with good light. Tomatoes, peppers and chillies benefit from being started off indoors as they need a long growing season. The advantage of seed sowing is that you have a far wider ranger of plants available to you and it’s cheaper, of course. If you don’t have anywhere to raise seedlings, don’t despair, you can buy plants when they appear in the shops in May, online or, best of all, at the Whetstone Stray Plant Sale.
Seed potatoes should be ‘chitting’ now – sitting in egg boxes in sunlight with one eye pointing upwards to develop into a shoot before planting.
Pruning of apples and pears should be done by the end of March, but stone fruits (plums, cherries, apricots etc ), should wait until the Spring or Summer, to avoid possible viruses.
Strawberry plants and asparagus crowns can be planted now.
Plant peas and broad beans can be sown in the ground but warm up the soil first under a cloche or a piece of plastic. Starting them off in a pot makes them less attractive to mice.
Rhubarb, almond and ginger crumble
Rhubarb is one of the easiest crops to grow if you have full sun and can sort out drainage, and it comes back bigger and better year after year. Herb sweet cicely, is also very easy to grow – as well as adding a lovely aromatic edge to a dish, the aniseedy leaves make tart fruits seem sweeter, which means you can use less sugar. Recipe by by Hugh Fernley-Whiittingstall.
For the topping:
- 200g plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 140g caster sugar
- 2–4 tsp ground ginger, to taste
- 250g flaked almonds
- 200g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
For the base:
- 750g rhubarb, trimmed
- 3 tbsp sweet cicely leaves, finely chopped, or 3 tbsp caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. For the topping, put the flour, salt, sugar and ginger together into a food processor and blitz briefly to combine. Add the flaked almonds and process just enough to break them up but not turn them to dust. Add the butter and process until well mixed.
The crumble should be in fudgy clods rather than in fine crumbs. Getting this right may take a little tweaking as the almonds can vary considerably. If the mix is too dry, add a little more butter; if it’s in one or two lumps, add a little flour.
For the base, cut the rhubarb into 5cm lengths, spread evenly in a baking dish and sprinkle with the sweet cicely or sugar. Scatter the clods of crumble mix evenly over the fruit, letting them sit where they fall rather than pressing them down. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden with a few darker brown patches. Serve with cream or fresh custard.