Looking forward to the Twyford Village Fair today at Stanlake Park Meadow 1pm-5pm. The TATA stand there will have lots of vegetables and fruits we’ve grown, as well as plants, and information for any budding allotmenteers. Come along and see what’s been growing..
Hello, my name is Louise Povey. I am a guide in Loddon District and I have been working towards my bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE).
My Duke of Edinburgh is broken down into 4 sections, Expedition, Physical, Volunteering and Skills.
For the skills aspect of my DofE course, I decided to do gardening, in particular, growing vegetables and fruits. To achieve this, I have been using one of TATA’s (Twyford Allotment Tenants Association) starter plots on the Hurst Road Allotments in Twyford. After an initial few hours clearing and preparing the 3m by 1.5m plot, I started planting. I decided to plant carrots, potatoes, sweetcorn, peas, broccoli, artichokes, pak choi, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and courgette. I did this over several days and thanks to the TATA plots being shared, I was able to utilise some space inside the greenhouse.
After watering every day, I finally saw my plants starting to grow and they are all now growing fast and some are almost ready to pick. Some challenges have been snails and birds but this was easily rectified with netting and broken up eggshells.
I have also, with some help, installed some guttering to the greenhouse leading into the water butt for myself and other TATA members to use.
I have learnt several new skills throughout this process that I have found useful in other areas of my DofE and although I have finished the required hours for this section, I hope to be able to still use the allotment to grow more veg and eventually pick and taste what I’ve been working towards.
There can’t be many Twyfordians practising the same skills that their great-grandparents used, but you’ll find dozens of them down at the Hurst Road Allotments. Tucked in a corner between the train station and the Twyford Brook, church records show that the land was first rented for allotment use in 1887. The landowners were from the Palmers of Sonning, and in 1913, after one particular Wade-Palmer escalated the rents, Twyford Parish Council stepped in to purchase the land and keep it as allotments for the good of the community.
A century ago allotmenters tended to invest a great deal of time tending comparatively large plots. Nowadays we can choose almost any size, and lots of beginners start with plots just a few yards square. Some even put down weed-matting instead of having to weed, and use copper tape to keep the slugs away – innovations our great-grandparents would surely have loved!
Lots of staple vegetables are grown in exactly the same way as back then – however, in many cases we now grow much tastier varieties than they ever knew, or that our supermarkets have yet discovered – and if you fancy creamy European pumpkins, say, or the oystery root of salsify, or the lemony zing of Peruvian oca, they’re trivial to grow, but impossible to buy in the shops.
And as for some of the things you CAN buy in the shops – how do they cost that much? If you’ve ever grown a few courgette plants, you know they tend to grow like wildfire, sprouting endless courgettes for months, till you’re giving them away by the bagful. The joy of almost-free veg, growing almost by itself, is hard to describe. Five-year-old plum trees may provide hundreds of plums a year; you may need a bigger freezer.
And then you may notice, a few plots down, the 50-year-old tree that provides thousands of plums a year; one day yours will, too.
Because occasionally history cycles round on the allotments: for example, in the corner furthest from the train station is a “rod bed” of coppiced Hazel trees, laid out to provide poles for allotmenters’ use in fencing and plant support, which has recently begun returning to popularity.
Hurst Road is a 130-year-old Twyford community that links the old to the new, and the people to each other. And it needs the Twyford community to survive: with its location, others may wish to reuse the land for financial gain, given the modern tendency to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
But we might at least know the price of courgettes, and the value of growing them.
I had a little nut tree
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg
And a golden pear.
The King of Spain’s daughter
Came to visit me
All for the sake
Of my little nut tree.
This nursery rhyme is said to commemorate the visit of Katherine of Aragon to King Henry VII’s court in 1506.
My walnut tree does not have such an illustrious provenance, it started life as a walnut that I found on the lawn of a pub called the Walnut Tree, which as its name suggests had an ancient walnut tree growing in its garden, in Weston-super-Mare in the autumn of 2000. When I asked the land lord what he did with all the nuts on the ground he said, “Oh the squirrels take them, help yourself to as many as you like”. I brought some home to Twyford, ate some, and planted several in a large flower pot. The following spring only one germinated which I kept in the pot until I retired in 2002 and took over a very overgrown allotment where I planted it. It did not produce any nuts until it was six years old and about ten feet high when I had a crop of six nuts, since then, as it has grown, it has produced more and more each year, last year was a relatively poor year due to the wet weather in the spring, even so there was a crop of over a hundred. The tree is now sixteen years old being about 20 feet tall although I have reduced its height by pruning the leading shoots each year. The new nuts are not like those in the shops,
In the spring, before the leaves fully appear the walnut tree produces catkins, about the size of an adult’s index finger and very small insignificant flowers. The flowers are wind pollinated, the catkins releasing clouds of pollen when they are mature. What’s required for a good crop are several days of warm dry sunny weather with a gentle breeze, wet weather, like last year, prevents the pollen spreading and a poor crop results. Release of the pollen can be helped by gently tapping the branches with a cane, perhaps giving rise to the not very PC west country proverb “a women, a dog and a walnut tree the more you beat them the better they be”. The nuts grow in a case very similar to the more familiar horse chestnut conker, when the nut is mature the case splits and the nut falls to the ground to be harvested or to be eagerly collected by squirrels if one is slow off the mark. The nuts need to be air dried, preferably in the sun, to ensure that they do not go mouldy before storing ready for Christmas.
I thought I could tell you a little bit about why I got my allotment…
I was in a stressful job and we were trying to start a family. After my first IVF treatment I needed to do an activity completely separate from work, I needed to be outdoors and forget about what we were going through so I got my allotment plot. In October 2009, after 6 IVF treatments I was 8 months pregnant at my allotment and crying that I couldn’t lift my potato crop because my bump was in the way!
A further child on, the love of my allotment led to a complete career change and going to college to get my RHS level 2 qualification. My allotment is a mess and unruly but it is central to my family and is enjoyed by us all now.
In April 2016 an allotment plot was planted with osiers (willow) to recreate a bed to allow first-hand experience to be gained of a once thriving village industry. The three species triandra, viminalis and hybrid red will provide willow suitable for such applications as basketwork and willow sculptures.
I’m on my third allotment, here at Hurst Road; and it’s turned out to be the friendliest.
I’ve been on plot 18 for over 6 years. As is usual, I took over a plot which had lacked enthusiastic attention for some time. That’s not to say that it is now perfect. Far from it, but, I am making a difference. I’ve ripped up the buddleia, nettles and brambles which were in the way, knocked down the rotting shed made of pallets, stripped the turf and double dug the plot, and erected and repaired a shed. I created a raised bed from paving slabs for asparagus, planted 20 plus fruit bushes and a cherry tree, made two compost bins, and the turf I removed formed two compost heaps. And I weeded, and weeded and weeded. I made a fence at the rear of the plot and following the advice in a book I was reading at the time, made it rabbit proof by burying it lower than 12”; not being aware that the rabbits had all departed with the onset of myxomatosis. And that’s just plot 18A. In a wild moment I took on 18B. There was more weeding, but, also the challenge of apple and plum trees.
Some challenges we aspire to and others are forced upon us. Like the deer who provide us with our latest challenge. I became aware of the deer eating my crops in
2015 and it’s only got worse this year. I decided that netting or caging crops on each bed was effective but inefficient. So I set about fencing the plot. At the front I now have a one metre high fence with mesh infill and a decent gate; and have continued it, at intervals, between the fruit cages along one side of the plot. They take the form of a wooden frame with wire mesh infill allowing the panels to be moved. I thought I was protecting my plot from Muntjacs until someone put a hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear the news that they were in fact Roe deer, and could easily jump two metres. I decided that it didn’t matter and that I enjoyed building fences. Still they cannot get at my gooseberries and don’t seem to like rhubarb. There is always a silver lining if you care to look.
We now have TATA to support us on the allotment. With their help we hope to persuade Twyford Parish Council to help us exclude the deer and others from the plot. Suggestions include growing thorny bushes and brambles to cordon off the plot behind the Hazel copse and along the road embankment, and at the front of the plot. Like growing our crops this will not be a short term project.
We moved to Twyford in May 2008 from Woodley where we had lived for 33 years. We had had allotments in Woodley for 25 years and really enjoyed allotmenteering. One of the reasons for choosing our present house in Twyford was that the Hurst Road allotment site was a few minutes walk away. Unfortunately for us there was a waiting list for plots, but we put our names down within weeks of moving in.
About a year later we were notified that a plot was available. It was in a rather neglected state, but undeterred we put some weed killer on the knee high grass, nettles docks etc. and waited. During that Autumn/Winter we dug and removed weed roots systematically, aiming at 1metre per day. We were given friendly advice and encouragement by our allotment neighbour Anthony S who had a beautifully cultivated plot next to us. By the following Spring we had a workable plot on which we planned raised beds, and a fruit cage.
By sheer chance on visiting the TRHA shed one Sunday we spotted a notice on their board advertising a polytunnel for £25! We rang the lady concerned and within an hour had agreed to buy it.
That polytunnel was the best gardening buy we have ever made. It was ancient, with a few bits missing, but it had its original polythene cover which was usable. We got permission from the then Parish Clerk, John March, to erect it on our new plot.
It has proved to be the most useful and productive growing space and was full of produce from the first Summer. It has survived gales, snow and all kinds of weather and apart from a new cover 2 years ago is still going strong!
Wendy and Ian S