Seed cleaning sorted!

I’ve just found a project for the winter!

I’ve been spending hours cleaning seeds from our Szechuan pepper tree (you want the pink husks and not the gritty seeds).  I searched online and came across a home-made seed cleaner which I eventually traced back to the UK-based Real Seed company.

Basically, it uses your vacuum cleaner to create an air current which separates the seeds from the chaff. The design is open source which allows you to make one for yourself but have to credit them. You can watch it working on YouTube.

The dangers, and health benefits, of gardening

gardener using a small forkDr Muiris Houston [writing in the Irish Times recently]: You can pick up serious injuries and ailments from horticultural activity, but some risk assessment will mean you enjoy only the advantages.

I’ve always thought of gardening as a relaxing pastime. It certainly became a bigger part of my life – as it did for many of us – during lockdown. I’ve never thought of it as anything other than a fairly harmless hobby until I came across a recent piece in the Conversation by Anglia Ruskin University emergency medicine specialist, Dr Stephen Hughes.


Botley Meadow site access

IMPORTANT – due to a spate of break-ins and other damage on site we have changed the padlock code for Botley Meadow.  The new code was sent to all members on the WhatsApp and email lists but if you are on neither and need access to the site don’t hesitate to get in touch with Nick on 07740 460173 to get the new code

Plans for a wildflower patch

Gus writes:

We should be thinking about the challenges to the natural environment and whether we could respond to these in our own small way. There is concern about the decline of insects and especially pollinating bees.

This is what we (Gus and family, together with Jude) hope to address with the proposed wildflower patch next to the car park by the shop. The plan is to grow a small hedge of trees at one end and tall perennials elsewhere in that small space.

We chose the hedge trees and perennials with a blossoming sequence from March to October, thus providing food for early and late pollinators, especially solitary bees which are early arrivers and key pollinators. The trees we chose for the hedge include goat willow, cherry plum, hawthorn, field maple, wild cherry, alder buckthorn, crab apple, dogwood and guelder rose. We chose tall perennials because shorter plants couldn’t compete with the existing plants (grass, horsetail, etc.). It will take about 3-5 years to become really established.

I know flooding is a risk but most of our trees and perennials actually survive the floods (comfrey, teasel, goldenrod, oregano, ragwort, hogweed, iris and lavender). The new apple trees that we planted in the orchard in 2020 have also survived. But long dry periods like last summer combined with flooding are a real issue when deciding what to plant.

Gus is on plots 64A and 65A TPM

Ideas for forest gardening

Tobias writes: I wanted to share an idea with all of you:

I have been thinking about whether there is a case to research and discuss the following topic:

Preparing our allotment site for climate change

In 10 years’ time the open, sun and wind-exposed plot will most likely not work as well if at all. It will require too much water to keep going, and many types of vegetables will need some shade, some cooling and protection from strong winds.

An introduction of the right, small canopy trees and shrubs, in the right places might be able to:

  • soften the sun’s impact,
  • regulate temperature
  • keep in moisture
  • contribute nutrients
  • support biodiversity
  • protect from extreme weather events

This canopy and shrub layer would need up to 10 years to establish so now would be a good time to get it started. It would require expert advice and design.  Here is a video to support my thinking

I am not suggesting creating a huge forest garden, but these techniques might become mandatory for us to be able to grow crops in the future.

Do you think this is a worthwhile initiative? Please feel free to share with me any comments.

You can find some interesting examples of UK forest gardens here.

Thank you,


Twenty Pound Meadow

On plot 34B and 35B

Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

In light of the recent WhatsApp group debate about whether to add coffee grounds to your compost I’m reproducing an article from that might be useful

A Common-Sense Guide to Using Coffee Grounds in the Garden

Coffee shops often give coffee grounds away free to gardeners, as they’re a waste product they would normally have to pay to dispose of. For coffee-loving gardeners like me, this freely available resource sounds like a real boon. But some gardeners suggest that using coffee grounds could be ineffective or, worse, harmful to plants.

I decided to sort the facts from the hype and find out just how beneficial – or otherwise – coffee grounds are in the garden.

Using Coffee Grounds as Mulch

Mulching is incredibly beneficial but it’s notoriously difficult to come by compost, straw or other organic matter in large enough quantities at a low enough price. Using free coffee grounds seems like the perfect solution, but some gardeners have found that using coffee grounds directly on the soil has had a disastrous effect on plants. However, this seems to be linked to using thick blankets of it to mulch around plants and over seeds.

The reason for this could be that coffee beans contain caffeine, which is said to suppress the growth of other plants to reduce competition for space, nutrients, water and sunlight. How much caffeine remains in used coffee grounds is debatable, and some plants will be more sensitive to caffeine than others. It would be sensible to avoid spreading coffee grounds around seeds or seedlings as they may inhibit germination and growth.

There is a more obvious reason why using coffee grounds alone for mulching could be detrimental. Like clay soil, coffee grounds consist of very fine particles that are prone to locking together. This turns them into a barrier that will resist water penetration and eventually result in plants dying of thirst.

The solution is to mix coffee grounds with other organic matter such as compost or leaf mould before using it as a mulch. Alternatively, rake your coffee grounds into the top layer of soil so that they can’t clump together. Variable particle sizes is key to good soil structure.

Coffee grounds are often said to be acidic, but this can vary a lot, from very acidic to slightly alkaline, so don’t expect them to acidify higher pH soils.

Using Coffee Grounds as Fertiliser

Many of us will have dumped the cold remains of a forgotten coffee in a plant pot at some point, and then perhaps wondered if it was the wrong thing to do! But it turns out that coffee grounds contain a good amount of the essential nutrient nitrogen as well as some potassium and phosphorus, plus other micronutrients. The quantity and proportions of these nutrients varies, but coffee grounds can be used as a slow-release fertiliser.

To use coffee grounds as a fertiliser sprinkle them thinly onto your soil or add them to your compost heap. Despite their colour, for the purposes of composting they’re a ‘green’, or nitrogen-rich organic material. Make sure to balance them with enough ‘browns’ – carbon-rich materials such as dried leaves, woody prunings or newspaper. Your compost heap’s tiny munchers and gnawers will process and mix them effectively, so using coffee grounds in this way is widely accepted to be safe and beneficial.

Many vermicomposters say that their worms love coffee grounds, so small quantities could also regularly be added to a worm bin if you have one. Paper coffee filters can go in too.

Coffee Grounds as a Natural Pesticide

An oft-repeated nugget of advice is to spread used coffee grounds around plants that are vulnerable to slug damage. There are two theories why: either the texture of the grounds is abrasive, and soft-bodied slugs prefer not to cross them, or the caffeine is harmful to slugs so they tend to avoid it.

However, in an experiment slugs took just seconds to decide to cross a barrier of coffee grounds! The same researcher also sought to find out if coffee grounds would repel ants, with similar results – ants may not particularly like coffee grounds, but they won’t scarper out of your garden to get away from them.

Twenty Pound Meadow Community Picnic

You are most cordially invited to join
The Twenty Pound Meadow Community Picnic on 5th September 2021 from 12.30pm onwards

Sunday 5th is the first rent audit day ~ so pay your dues and party on! Which is when you can meet up with other plot holders who garden on each of our sites: Twenty Pound Meadow and Botley Meadow.

How the picnic will work:

  • You bring your own picnic, drinks, rug etc with some to share
  • You bring any veggies we can cook and share on the community BBQ
  • Then enjoy the live music
  • Have yours and your child’s face painted
  • Bring and take to and from the seed and plant swap stall
  • Learn about what you could help with on the site, how to garden organically and about the 2021 bumble bee survey of our site
  • And have fun including taking part in the games and quizzes we will have laid on!

Many thanks to Anne James and Tim Kiggell for organising this and all the others who have helped!

Meadowsweet – Queen of the Meadow

Check out Ally’s latest post on Meadowsweet and its various uses:

I love Her graceful presence by Riverbank and Meadow. Her creamy-white heads bowing in the breeze, often adorned with the buzz, buzz, buzzing of Bees, a sure sign of summer. Dear Meadowsweet, also known as Meadwort and Bridewort. She is part of the rose family and flowers from June-August. This old medicinal herb stands tall between 80 – 200cm and has dark green leaves, like those of large rose petals. Her flowering heads have a lovely sweet smell and taste …

Read more here

The Organic Working Group (OWG)

Introducing a new initiative for Twenty Pound Meadow West Oxford Allotments:  The Organic Working Group (OWG)

At the last AGM a proposal to ban the use of Glyphosate at our allotment sites was passed.  Use of Glyphosate is now against allotment rules and publicity about this rule change will be sent to all members in due course.

But what about the broader issues of caring for and sharing responsibility for the soil, the bio diversity and the set up of Twenty Pound Meadow allotments? What about all the other chemicals we still use…especially those that might do damage to bio diversity, damage the soil, wash into other allotments during flooding and potentially create tensions between allotment neighbours?  What about managing and improving our soils organically over time, finding ways to enhance and support insects and helpful ‘weeds’?  In short, what about creating a positive community of hobby growers going 100% organic?

I have therefore proposed to initiate an organic working group for plot holders on the Twenty Pound Meadow (TPM) site. The aim of this group is to get to know other TPM veg growers who aspire to use zero chemicals on their plot, to share knowledge and discuss organic solutions to challenges occurring both in our individual plots, and to find ways to improve plant and animal diversity.  The group could also contribute ideas and proposals to decisions concerning all these issues regarding the allotment site in general and for future changes to allotment rules.

Everyone would be is welcome to join the group, even (or especially) if you are still using chemicals on your plot. Please join if you are interested in an organic approach to food growing and are open to learning and sharing. This is just a starting point to get those interested together, we could then decide as a collective what we wish to focus on.

Our initial session will be facilitated by Tobias.

To sign up or just to check it out, please email Tobias at  Subject ‘OWG’, and you will be sent the invite.  Once I have expressions of interest, I’ll propose a time and date for meeting, most likely somewhere on our site.

Thank you,


Allotments AGM – Thursday 13 May 2021

The AGM took place last night over Zoom and was well-attended by members from both sites.

  • The committee was re-elected for another year – with Nick Jackson as Association Secretary and Cathy Stewart as Association Treasurer.  Please see the Committee pages for further details
  • The meeting agreed with the Committee’s proposal for the Association to become an incorporated Cooperative organisation – more details to follow
  • The meeting also agreed a proposal to ban the storage and use of Glyphosate-based herbicides on both of our sites.  Members have one month to dispose of any of these that they might have and application of these is forbidden – the rules will be updated to reflect this decision

Invitation (went out 5 May): Just a reminder that the AGM takes place over Zoom next Thursday (13 May).  The agenda and paperwork can be found here. The meeting will start at 7:30pm so please try and connect a few minutes early where you will enter the waiting room.  We will let you into the meeting as soon as we can. You should have received the Zoom invite in an email today (5 May).  If you haven’t please email the Secretary.

If you would like to join the Committee there is a form to complete at the bottom of the agenda.

Carry on Composting & Wild Garlic and Nettle Fritters

Check out Ally’s latest post on composting and a recipe for Wild Garlic and Nettle Fritters:

What could be better on a much needed rainy afternoon than foraging for Ramsons (wild garlic) and nettles to make tasty spring-green fritters! Having just harvested four wheelbarrow loads of compost from my compost bin my heart is brimming over in appreciation and awe for the cycles of life and the alchemical processes that happen in darkness.

I wanted to find out more about the magicians who do their work in the darkness, recycling our food-waste, wilted plants, flowers and greens from the plot mixed with a little cardboard, to become the nutrients for the seeds and shoots to come…

Read more here.

Dealing with flooded allotments

It is that time of year again – with a number of weather systems moving in from the Atlantic, both allotment sites have begun to flood – the ground is now saturated and likely to remain so for much of this winter.

The National Allotment Society have produced a leaflet dealing with flooding on allotments – it can be found under the Resources for Members section here.

We also found this document from Cornell University which offers some guidance on dealing with flooded vegetable fields.

There is also this website providing advice on recovering from a flooded allotment. It suggests that fruit and vegetables that are eaten raw should be avoided for at least 6 months. This will give the plant enough time to recover and for any contaminants to break down naturally. Root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips, and edible fruit from trees above the flood water should be safe to eat in just a few weeks, but make sure you boil any root vegetables thoroughly before consumption

Please do take care when moving around the sites as it can be difficult to know where the edges of paths are and there are of course the usual trip hazards and upward facing pointy objects (canes etc.) that need to be avoided.

Earth’s Green Milk – a Tonic for Spring

Read some of Ally’s latest blog on Earth’s Green Milk – a Tonic for Spring:

“The days are growing longer and brighter as the Fire in the Sky waxes and the days are still cold. Taking care of our health and well-being is essential, particularly in these times, and we are fortunate to be surrounded by places of beauty to walk, forage and to give our appreciation to.

Earth’s green milk is the old name for the humble stinging nettle; an earthy, generous creature if ever there was one.  It’s leaves, new shoots and seeds are edible and the tough stems can be dried and woven into cloth or made into cordage.  Nettle is anti-inflammatory packed with vitamins A, B & C, iron, potassium and chromium”.

Ally Plot 77

You can read the full article here.