Allotment gardening is so popular that long waiting lists exist throughout the country.
One of the highlights of Northumbria in Bloom judging is visiting allotments throughout the competition area.
There are several aspects to savour: The range and quality of crops grown, the camaraderie and the surprise of sheer innovation.
With these things in mind, I jumped at the invitation to visit one worked by Michael and Isobel (Mick and Belle to friends) recently.
Inside the locked gate (security is an issue on these sites), I was greeted by the clucking of chucks, residing in a roomy hen-shed and adjoining run, with access through a large potting shed.
The mixture of Light Sussex, Black Rock, Northumbrian Blue, Welsummer and my favourite Marans, were tucking in to marrows which have been so prolific this year. Obviously, no vegetable scraps are wasted on this allotment. Mick explained how the large working area with potting bench, storage space, and adjoining accommodation for his feathered friends had been constructed.
From the roof guttering which collects and directs rain-water into a storage butt, to the reinforced wire of the hen run, it is all recycled material.
As we walked the length of his allotment, he pointed out several healthy crops, some in do-it-yourself raised beds.
His outdoor tomatoes were flourishing, blueberry fruits ripening and swedes Invitation and Hellena so huge.
His tall Wellington sprouts are developing well and a crop variety not seen too often – Alnwick Moor strawberries – a reminder of the picking fields that once existed there.
Then the star attraction, a greenhouse to be proud of, with tomatoes, grape-vine and chilli peppers galore which Belle transforms into jam.
The structure was built from re-used house windows and the floor area covered in re-cycled flagstones. The heat source is the most innovative I’ve ever seen.
Mick has converted a used gas bottle into a sea-coal-fired stove that burns for three days on one filling.
Having found the instructions online, he ensured it was empty before using an angle grinder to fashion it, adding a length of water pipe for a chimney.
There is a sliding damper plate, which helps maintain a winter temperature of 15 Celsius, and collection tray for the ash. I can just see neighbouring allotment holders heading for that warmth and a good old chinwag when the temperatures plummet!
Footnote: Alnwick Garden Club starts a new session in the Town Hall on Tuesday, September 24, at 7.30pm. All are welcome.