Friday, 18 December 2020

Fixing the Allotment Water pipes and Tanks


Rain, rain and more rain and all water tanks are full to the brim and the land is sodden, but we still must fix some water leaks and take out two tanks and a standpipe.

‘I suppose I have to sit around all day while you work on the pipes?’ asks Lottie as I put her on her lead and fasten on her winter coat.

‘No, you’re off out with Annie today.’ I reply and a look of relief passes over her face. Even the squirrels will be tucked up today so there is little to cheer up Lottie at the allotments.

Having just had the big water bill we cannot afford to waste water and today’s task is to disconnect a standpipe and the one tank left that is being moved onto rainwater collection duty.

The big blue water 28mm pipes run all throughout the sites and are protected from forks and spades by being inside scaffold poles and where possible being under or abutting the main paths. The challenged is that that although there are stop taps on each tank someone forgot to put stop taps in the main runs. The result is today’s challenge, putting end caps on the main runs whilst not disturbing the pipe labyrinth underground.

I could switch off the main inlet stop tap in the street which will go down like a lead balloon with the Farm, café, and nursery who are all supplied via the same source. So how can I cut into the main run without switching off the water to all or having water flooding everywhere?

Enter ‘freezer pipe man’.

This is a collar you tie around the pipe and with straps to seal at each end, You then have an aerosol spray which you spray into the collar. You wait a minute and hey presto, the pipe is iced up under the collar and water is effectively frozen and stopped from flowing. You then can cut the pipe, making sure it is downstream and what residue water is in the pipe pours out and you can fix a new stop tap and end cap. Once done you close the tap and remove the collar. Slowly the ice melts and flows to the tap. You can test the tap is not leaking and then open it to test the end cap,

Well that’s the instructions and theory and now for the live show.

The standpipe appears easy as it has ample room to accommodate the collar the stoop tap and the endcap. However, digging down I can’t make sense of pipework and when everything is attached it decuides to weep at the new joints. A few choice words and a further tightening of the joints and its done and the pipe is secured vertically. Some would suggest it would be better to take pipework off run altogether, but no way am iI lifting the path to discover something that may not be pretty but works today.

The next is the end tank. I turn around and don’t see any little helpers.

I could cap it simply at the tank and leave the pipework in place but we are not aware of the underground run, the tank has already been moved in the past and as it is the end of the run it would be wiser to cap it off at the next tank back, and leave the pipework underground but empty. The challenge is there is not a lot of pipework exposed around the last tank to fit the freezer collar and work. Looking at the main run virtually all of it is buried and has a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.

I opt for the simple route to disconnect the tank and cap of after the stop tap. A new support pole is hammered in and the pie is attached.

Job done. We now have to wait till Spring to move the two tanks which have been isolated. We need to let them be emptied naturally them move them to their new home and the final part of our water saving project.

Currently all the rainwater off our huge pavilion roof foes down three drainpipes and into the sewers. This has to now be collected, stored and used to offset mains water usage and lower our bills. It is not a simple task of installing three water butts as the downpipes are at the back of the pavilion and not where folk need them. The water if stored there would simply not get used. So we must reroute the guttering around the pavilion to the side where we can install two big water butts, a reclaimed 300 ltr water tank and the two tanks we have just decommissioned off the mains. This should give us around 2,000 litres of rainwater storage which will be next to the main path and should obviate the need to use some of the mains water.

However, this like most things on the plots looks easy, sounds easy but is far from easy but that is for another day in the New Year, when hopefully a team will help make it happen.

The sky is dark again and the rain is falling steadily down. Time to go home.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Allocating Plots to New Members


Renting out six half starter plots over two days is an experience and enables you to look at the site through a different pair of eyes.

You arrive at 1030 for the first appointment. Papers at the ready but no one turns up. 1050 you try and contact them to see if there is a problem and you get through to someone who sounded not well and who says they already have said they could not come. You look again at the paperwork and after a quick exchange of texts with the Secretary realise you have been a plonker. They had already told you about the illness, but you had mixed it up with the other names on the schedule.

It’s a long time till the next appointment at 1230!

‘Let’s go and get a cup of tea at the café’ I say to Lottie. She rises from her snooze and starts to trot behind me and looking decidedly bored.

At 1230 a knock on the door and a man pokes his head inside.

‘I’ve come for my wife who can’t make it today.’

Is it me, did I just not read the list, or are all the applicants falling ill today? I greet him and we start to chat through allotment life, plots and their planting aspirations. It’s great to hear a new starter’s enthusiasm and focus on the end harvest and not so much on the work to get there.

I show him the first plot and he certainly is smitten. It’s like watching those house move programmes on TV but this is a ‘Move to the Plot’. They start to see beans there, a couple of rows of spuds over there, spinach down there and are already sitting in a chair at the back of the plot having a cuppa.

Everything is fine but he stops, turns and says, ‘I just need to take some pictures to send to the wife.’

The thought of showing him 6 plots and having them virtually inspected by his wife sends me looking at my watch. Just as I resign myself to a long process, all confirmed by photos over the internet.

He returns, ‘OK we’ll have it, and it was the one she wanted.’

‘How did she know which plots were on offer?’ I ask.

‘Our neighbour showed them her and turns out the next door plot is hers.’

‘Oh, great,’ I reply, wondering if all today’s appointments know what they want too and have friends in the next plot?  

At 1430 the last one of the day turns up and has a certain presence about him. He claims not to speak much English but had no problem understanding what I said and interjected with some thoughtful questions.

We went to look at the plots and he went straight to the plot I had just rented and when I showed him the other half of the plot he asked, ‘Can I have the full plot?’

‘No and that other half has just been taken.’ I replied.

‘My friend told me this one was available as a full plot?’

I replied, ‘Sorry only half plots and as I said it has been taken.’

His face showed some disappointment and when we reach the other plots on offer his mood remained subdued. I bet his friend has not shown him these ones. However, he finally decides, and  number two is done, and we move to day two. You cannot rush these people; they have to be happy both with the plot and its aspect and of course the work they will have to put into it to make it theirs.

The first plot is rented in no time and to a nice chap who seemed to know what he wanted and again it was a full plot!

Number four was a challenge. They obviously had friends but not ones on other plots and it was clear this was not only their first allotment but also going to be the first time they had picked up a trowel, fork spade or grown from seed. I have the perfect plot for you I thought as we walked towards it.

This plot is in perfect condition and the previous owner has moved up to a full plot that is only two plots away.

Everyone looks around at the other plots when they arrive, and you can read their thoughts. Plot envy is often in their eyes as they look at the full-sized plots. They clearly aspire to have a full plot and I’ve never heard anyone say that they would rather have a half plot.

It seems to take an age for them to decide but when you don’t know what you want, it often does.

Having agreed to take the plot we walk back and I realise just how little they do know about growing. They will soon learn and appear very positive. You can just imagine what will be under their Christmas tree this year all neatly wrapped up with ‘to him’ and ‘to her’ tags. Yes, they will be buying each other spades, forks and trowels this Christmas. It will be hard to disguise a spade and a fork but they will certainly be different from the usual.

The last person was so eager they turned up 30 minutes early and while I was still closing down the detail with the previous couple.

When we started, I said, ‘we only have two plots left.’

‘Can’t I have this one?’ he said pointing to the nearest one.

‘No that’s one has been split into two plots and has gone earlier today.’

‘My friend said it was available and it was near him.’ he replied with a pleading look that made even my whippet, Lottie look away embarrassed.

Having to settle for second choice can be hard for many and having to choose between two also ran plots is hard. He looked at one, then the other, then back to the first, then back to the other. Then he took photos of both. Then back to look inside the shed.

‘It’s my dinner time and is he going to make up his mind?’ says Lottie now thoroughly bored.

‘It’s a big decision,’ I reply.

‘He’s taking the second one,’ says Lottie.

‘No way, he’ll have the other,’ I reply. ‘The shed will clinch the deal.’

Finally, a decision was made. Lottie was right and a smug ‘told you’ expression covered her face and she acquired a spring in her step as we returned to the pavilion.

I can tell as soon as a full plot was available his name will be in the hat. He even told me which plots needed attention and which he would like!  

As Lottie and I walk home I think about what some plots look like to a newcomer and how we will have to sort some out next year when the plot inspections resume. It’s a shame when you have such a huge waiting list such as ours (300% over subscribed) we can’t do more than split some plots.

One good thing is we have reduced our list a tiny fraction, put some on the first rung to allotmenting othering and I happily collected all the dues electronically.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Site Management Isn’t Easy


When a plot becomes vacant it can be for a variety of reasons. They may be leaving the area, not physically capable of maintaining it anymore, be suffering a long-term illness, no longer interested, no longer have the time, or sadly died. Invariably, it Is often not a decision of the moment and so the signs may have gradually been visible with an absence from the plot and gradual deterioration in its cultivation. Very rarely is a vacant plot in tip top condition so the person taking it over often must face a reality check on seeing the plot.

All new starters on our to move to a full plot as they become available. This process gives them a chance to become familiar with the site, cultivation and the amount of work and time needed to work a plot. Because the starter plots have been worked, giving these to the new starters is not a big problem as they aren’t faced with overgrown plots and the sheds are relatively tidy.

Having waited some years for the plot the new member’s reaction is often one of ‘plot envy’ as they look at the half plot on offer and then across to other full plots which may be in better locations and are simply bigger.

‘How long do I have to wait for a full-size plot?’ is invariably the question asked. You can almost see the visible disappointment on their face.

The answer is again about waiting, ‘work the plot for a season and pass any plot inspection and you will be eligible to move to a full plot when one comes available.’

‘What is a plot inspection, and will there be a queue for full plots?’ they respond.

‘Each plot is advertised as it becomes available. An existing plot holder may wish to move to it and those on half plots may wish to move up. Some folk like their half plots, and some want to downsize to half plots, some just don’t like the plot on offer. We can’t predict the availability of plots nor the interest. However, upgrades from half to a full plot is the priority.’

‘I see and plot inspections?’ comes the reply along with a puzzled expression. This take time to explain the process and the standards expected.

The management committee are now starting to review each plot as they become vacant and question what needs to be done before it is relet and whether it should be split or remain either a half or full plot. It is a fine balancing act deciding which plots is suitable to be split, how many half plots to full plots there should be and how they should be split. When we do split a full plot it is not always in good shape and it also often involves the two half plots having to share a shed.

Full plots are often a challenge when they become vacant Some say the society should clear all plots and sheds etc before re letting them. This is a laudable approach but often when you turn around those who advocate it are often not to be seen. So you have to balance tiding it up and getting rid of rubbish, with reletting it and helping the new person get it straight. Some say all new relets should be converted to raised beds and model plots but I would strongly err on the plot holder having a choice on how they cultivate and what they cultivate and raised beds are only one options and not for all

Clearing plots can be a challenge. One plot holder recently left us with some 200 empty wine bottles bagged up and hidden behind their shed. You may think that’s easy to move but it isn’t. Others leave shelves of potions and chemicals which have been on the shelves long before ‘used before’ dates were even introduced. Anything worth salvaging has long gone and the threat of withholding their key deposit has little impact as it is insignificant compared to the effort of removing often years of accumulated rubbish.

I recently visited a site where 50% of the plots were vacant and some 50% of these were six feet deep in brambles and overgrowth. There may have been a shed at the back of the plot, but you would need a machete and head to foot protective clothing to find it. I would rather do a bush tucker trail on ‘Iam a Celeb.’ Why this has been allowed to get this bad is another issue but the only way that could be tackled is probably with a JCB digger and a few skips.

The issue of trees is interesting, and we have implemented a tenancy rule stating that all new plantings must be of dwarf root stock, but what about existing trees? When someone leaves you can hardly ask them to take their tree with them. There are slow growing trees and there are others such as fig trees that appear to explode to the sky each year and shade all around them.

Some sheds and erections are a living tribute to bad DIY and must be taken down before they fall down. It would be good to be able to erect a standard shed on every plot or as plots change, but this is not always practicable and could have a somewhat erratic spending pattern as it is almost impossible to second guess which plots are coming vacant next.

Today we have one full size plot and half a dozen half size plots being advertised and let. It always happens around rent collection. We try to get those who are struggling to downsize but it’s as if you have offended them and there is no way they will downsize.

Site management isn’t an easy job and living in a world of compromise and gradual change often isn’t appreciated by the new member, but it is one many challenges many sites have to juggle every day.