Allotment Tales

Would you believe it! A use for the Mare’s Tail!

Joan Pisanek has been reading her gardening magazines and spotted something that may be of interest to those of you with the dreaded Mare’s Tail.
It is apparently used in vineyards where they cut the tops off, place them in water and then use that water to spray on the vines, as it’s full of silica it creates a waxy coat and protects the fruit from mildew. Maybe not too many vines in Craigentinny but it might be worth trying on plums or gooseberries for example. Good luck to those of you who want to give it a go.


For those of you who would rather just get rid of it.
Horse or Mares Tail, Equisetum Arvense is public enemy number one. It looks like it belongs in Jurassic Park and, unchecked, spreads like wildfire.

In spring, brown green shoots appear with small cones at the tips that produce spores. It grows away from creeping thin brown roots that you can hardly see as they are soil coloured. Digging out these roots is not feasible – they go down into the soil for up to 1.5 metres – yes, 5 feet.

Later the ‘leaves’ or tails appear. These will die off as autumn turns to winter and the roots sit there waiting for spring. The leaves have a waxy coat, which makes the plant highly resistant to weedkillers.

Crushing the leaves to break up the coating helps weedkiller to penetrate and become absorbed but in large areas it is not so easy to crush all the leaves . However, glyphosate weed killer will have an effect and eventually kill the plant. You will probably need 5 or more applications. Knock it back, it re-grows and you repeat.

I don’t think you can clear this in less than one season.

Ammonium Sulphamate seems to be a far more effective weed killer. It can kill it in one application but may well need two. It used to be available as Amicide but now you need to look for a brushwood killer that incorporates it like Rootout or Deep Root. Just check the packet for ammonium sulphamate.

I’d recommend NOT digging where there is horsetail until it is dead for sure. Otherwise it just starts springing up from the root cuttings. Drying or drowning the roots prior to composting is a must.

Apparently Horestail is the correct name for the weed growing on land whereas Marestail is correctly applied to the weed growing in water.

Here is an organic control method, which may be effective.

Without resorting to chemicals you can control/irradicate horse tail by digging/forking through the soil when it is in the right condition: ie not too wet and sticky!

Once you have removed as much as possible, any that shoots is easily dealt with. Before it reaches 3 ins/7cm high, hoe off an inch below the surface.

Eventually the food supply in the root is exhausted. Let it get bigger than stated and food begins to be stored in the roots again, and round and round you go ad infinitum.

Never touch Horsetail with a mechanical cultivator. If you do you will understand why it has been around for 60 million years.


Kibosh kills Mare’s Tail it costs £27.20 per litre and is available from

Allotment Tales

University Research Student’s Report of her first visit to Craigentinny

On a blustery and fresh morning I met John McKinlay to be shown around the Craigentinny allotments site, as research for an article I was writing for a university assignment. The article was about healthy living and, having parents who are keen allotment holders, I had already seen the benefits first hand of having your own plot of land to nurture and grow your own fruit and vegetables on.

John kindly showed me around the site, telling me all about the history of the site, about its up-keep and the challenges of keeping an allotment site in good condition and everyone adhering to the site rules. As we walked down the path we saw a fox having a look around the plots, and despite the fact that no-one else was actually on the site when I was there, I could still tell that there is a strong sense of community and goodwill amongst the Craigentinny plot holders.

When we arrived back at John’s plot, he told me all about crop rotations and his most successful and favourite crops. Then it was time for me to get my fingers somewhat dirty, as I sowed Broad Bean seeds into small pots, about 15 in total. After we transferred these into a cleverly built area where they would be protected from the elements, it was time to mix up some compost and seaweed from Portobello beach, to help along the Asparagus plants. John explained to me the wonders of compost and how to make it good, healthy and nutritious for the plants. Whilst John and I blended the seaweed with the compost we could smell the salt from the sea, we then shovelled it onto the raised Asparagus bed and spread it out to cover the whole area.

I asked John about how many hours he puts in to his allotment and he said it needed at least seven hours a week in summer. The dedication he and his wife really shows through when the plot is looking at its best, something which has been recognised by the Edinburgh In Bloom competition after they won first prize in the Allotment Plot category in 2009.

I am sure that all their hard work is worth it when they can pick delicious fresh raspberries and eat them straight away or turn them into scrumptious jam. I wanted to know about the health benefits of having an allotment, other than eating fresh fruit and vegetables which are 100% organic. It soon dawned on me that the effort and work which is put into keeping an allotment in a state where it can produce crops all year, must also keep the plot holder fit. Those seven hours a week of digging, shovelling, wheeling, carrying and planting is more exercise than the Government recommends the average person has, and I for one think that that this can only be a good thing.

John and I had a nibble of some Pak Choi which I had never tasted before; I was pleasantly surprised by its earthy, fresh and oriental taste. John was kind enough to pack a bag full of vegetables for me to take home – a few Potatoes, some Pak Choi, and a little Chard were all used to make myself some healthy and delicious suppers.

Thanks to John for showing me around the site and letting me help him with some of the jobs on his plot, it was really useful for my article and also very enjoyable.

By Frances Allan

Allotment Tales Allotment Update

Fruit Glorious Fruit- read John and Monica’s article from the FEDAGA Newsletter

Fruit! Glorious Fruit!

Of all the crops I grow on my plot, by far, the ones that give me the best return in terms of cost, time and harvest are the soft fruits. So if you don’t grow them just now or are taking over a new plot and wondering what to plant, here are my Fab 4 which will provide you with delicious fresh fruit throughout the growing season. They share some common traits; they provide an abundant harvest; are not particularly prone to pests or diseases, and they require a minimum of maintenance and pruning – I estimate 7 hours a year. Each requires similar ground preparation i.e. fork the ground over thoroughly, remove all traces of perennial weeds, apply a couple of handfuls of bone meal  per square meter and add some well rotted manure. Be generous, the plants will be there for years and years. After the preparation I promise you, your hardest work will be picking the fruit!

Rhubarb: April – June.

 Although technically a vegetable, as we eat the stalk and not the fruit, I include it as most regard it as fruit and mainly we eat it as a dessert. 

Leave the plant for the first year to allow the root to develop. In the second year you can crop stalks from early April until the end of June. Thereafter, leave so the plant will build up its strength for the next year. When the leaves die down mulch them with your own compost or manure. I grow an early and late variety, to extend the season, but I don’t know what they are called as I inherited them from the previous plot holder 15 years ago! Timperly Early and Victoria are two well known varieties. Well before the rhubarb is finished you will be cropping gooseberries, the second of my Fab 4.

Gooseberries: June – July.

The bush will not produce much in the first year. In the following February  apply a mulch of your own compost and a good couple of handfuls of Sulphate of Potash. By June you will have a good crop of berries. To thin out the crop take some of the unripe berries for pies and jams. This allows the remaining fruit to fully develop and ripen, green varieties will develop a slightly yellow colour and be yielding to the touch.

Gooseberries are the only one of my Fab 4 which requires a bit of pruning but don’t let that put you off as the plant is tough and won’t pass away if you make a mistake. From planting allow a leg – a central stem of about 6 to 9 inches – to develop. From that aim for a cupped hand shape with 4/5 up stretched fingers. After fruiting, reduce the side shoots to 5 leaves- this is where next year’s fruit will form. Keep the fingers to a reasonable length by snipping the tips. That’s all you need to do-as easy as that! I grow Careless, a traditional variety and Pax , a red one which is nearly thornless for easy picking. By late June you will be picking your first strawberries.

Strawberries:Late June – July.

These fruits are the easiest to grow and arguably the best. Nothing like sinking your teeth into a luscious ripe strawberry freshly picked on a warm June morning!  They crop June into July and even in the first year you will get a reasonable crop. Use mats or a mulch of straw to keep the berries off the ground. In an established bed you need to pick them every 2/3 days even if there is no sun. If there is sun get ready for an avalanche of fruit. After fruiting cut the leaves back to within an inch of the crown and give them a sprinkling of Sulphate of Potash. I grow Marchmello from Marshalls. Don’t over order as the young plants send out so many runners they will double in the first year. Next are the autumn fruiting raspberries.

Raspberries: Mid August- Mid October.

Although there is a slight gap between the strawberries and raspberries you can take advantage of the rock bottom prices in the shops due to summer glut. Autumn fruiting raspberries are called Primocane as they fruit on the canes that have grown that year. There is no need to tie in, provide supports or netting. The birds seem to have enough food elsewhere and leave my berries alone. To be frank the raspberries crop so abundantly the birds are welcome to a taste! In the winter you cut the canes right down to the ground and in February mulch them with compost or manure and some Sulphate of Potash- then watch them shoot away. Too much growth will result in too many small berries. I restrict the new shoots to 4/5 when the young canes are about a foot long. I grow Autumn Bliss, a traditional variety with a truly gorgeous flavor and Joan J a more modern variety, very good flavor with some of the biggest berries I have every seen. The raspberries send out roots everywhere so you will be very popular with other plot holders as you can supply them with near endless root cuttings!

So there you go, the Fab 4 will give you a stream of delicious healthy fresh fruit from April to October. Adding a late cropping apple tree will take you into November. Freezing your summer surplus will take you into the New Year. Just as the early rhubarb bulbs appear, heralding next year’s abundance of Fruit! Glorious Fruit!

Note: As summer ends and clear spots develop on your plot now is the perfect time to do the preparation for any of the Fab 4. If you can lay your hands on the plants they all benefit from autumn planting. If you can’t source the plants, do the work, sow green manure and just dig it in prior to spring planting.

John and Monica McKinlay, Craigentinny Allotments.


Allotment Tales

Craigentinny Allotments in the 1970’s

John c.1974
John c.1974

Plotholders John & Val Maule share their memories of Craigentinny Allotments in what we hope will be the first of several ‘Allotment Tales’.

I first acquired an allotment at Craigentinny in 1972, whilst renting a flat in Leith. There was not a waiting list then, and there were several vacant plots when I toured the site to select mine. I was asked how many plots I would like since most of the gardeners had more than one! I chose a plot by the golf course fence on the area currently occupied by part of the communal garden.

Interestingly, the layout of the site was then somewhat different to the present arrangement