Monthly Archives: September 2018

  • The Return of the Good Life

    We’re marking British Food Fortnight from 22 September to 7 October by celebrating the Great British home-grown fruit and veg revival.

    It seems that we’ve fallen back in love with ‘The Good Life’, with not enough allotments to go around, and more of us creating our own fruit, veg and herb plots at home.

    The UK’s first own-grown food survey since the Second World War’s Dig for Victory campaign is currently under way, as home-owners and local communities are encouraged to ‘dig in’ for a healthy lifestyle and self-sustainability. More of which later, but first, a brief look at where it all began.
    Allotments go all the way back to Anglo Saxon times, from 410 to 1066. But today’s system of allotments was a response to the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, when there was no such thing as The Welfare State. Pockets of land were given to ‘the labouring poor’ so they could feed themselves. Allotments were therefore born out of necessity.

    Later, at the end of the First World War, an Act of Parliament was passed that allowed land to be made available to all. This was primarily to help the servicemen returning from the war.

    Today there is a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide allotments where there is a demand – but nowhere near enough are being provided. The National Allotment Society reckons more than 90,000 gardeners are waiting for an allotment.

    Which brings us back to the MYHarvest (Measure Your Harvest) survey. It’s being carried out by researchers at the University of Sheffield to help us get a picture of what and how much we are growing at home or in our allotments.

    It comes at a time when more of us are growing fruit, veg and herbs – and amid concern over the UK’s food sustainability. The researchers and its supporters, including the National Allotment Society, are hoping it will lead to more space being provided for grow-your-own projects.

    The survey began in 2017 and runs until the end of March 2019 – anyone who grows produce at home or in allotments can take part by sending in details of their harvest (

    According to the data so far, there is a clear leader in the veg we like to grow the most: let’s hear it for the humble spud. Potatoes are grown by the most people, while strawberries are the most productive when it comes to yield. Apples provide a bountiful harvest too, while courgettes, tomatoes and plums are also popular amongst home-growers.

    Growing your own doesn’t just save money, it’s also rewarding in other ways. It encourages a healthy diet, it’s fun and it’s great for keeping fit. Yep, it seems that people who grow their own really do know their onions!

  • September Gardening Tips

    SEPTEMBER can lull us into that dreadful false sense of security; it can still be blissfully warm and we forget that it is actually the autumn, with winter just around the corner. But the better the condition of your lawn prior to the onset of winter, the better it will cope with the extremities of the weather ahead. So there’s a lot you can be doing this month.

    REDUCING THATCH: Thatch production will be at its highest during summer, so now can be another great time to control your thatch levels. And that means scarification! Yes, it makes a mess, but not for long; the lawn will soon fill right back in with natural grass growth. And that’s the key to proactive intelligent lawn care – letting nature and natural processes do the hard work.
    Grass thatched topsoiled
    Another reason for scarifying now is that the lawn has more time to recover before the hardships of winter. As strong growth returns after the summer, the pruning effect of scarifying – slicing the shoots and stolons – will encourage superb natural thickening.

    MOSS: Now, many people make the mistake of applying moss killer before scarifying; there’s a logic to it as the scarifier can surely pull away the dead moss? Well, yes and no. This way you only kill some of the moss. Much better is to scarify first, thereby opening up the sward and allowing the subsequent application of moss killer to reach right down to the base of the pesky plants. That’s where it works at its most effective. Do it the other way round and you’ll leave behind plenty of living, green moss in the thick thatch layer.

    SQUASHED SOIL? You bet. Even if you haven’t walked on your grass all summer, the soil beneath will have become compacted as it dries out. So now is the time to sort this out in time for the autumn rains, and to make sure plenty of oxygen can reach the roots and the microbes and good bacteria below.

    Hollow tine aeration is essential – never use a garden fork as this just squashes the soil sideways and doesn’t remove those lovely little cores of earth. And those cores make great seedbed soil for patch repairs, or you can rake them into any dips you want to level out. You don’t always need to worry about filling in the holes either. You need good drainage in the months ahead for healthier soil and stronger grass, so leave them open.  It’ll be fine!
    Top Dressing
    TOP DRESSING? If you are cylinder mowing, you should apply a dressing – buy carefully; don’t just throw any old thing down. Once a year is a minimum, but you can do it more often if you wish.


    And of course, keep mowing, and keep that blade sharp. Begin raising the height gradually from the end of the month; you don’t want to be removing too much of the nutrition that’s stored in the leaf – your grass will need it in the months ahead. But if you have to pick just one big job for September, make it aeration – it will always pay dividends!

  • The Atco car – a rare piece of British motoring history

    It has a 1hp Villiers 98cc 2-stroke engine, can reach speeds of 10mph and do 70 miles to the gallon.  Welcome to our homage to the humble, but quite brilliant, Atco car.

    Atco car in colour
    The Atco car is like no other car. Finished in trademark Atco green, the car’s full title is the Atco Junior Safety-First Trainer.

    There were only 200 to 250 of them ever made at Charles H Pugh’s Atco factory in Birmingham in 1939. The outbreak of war that September ended their production, as all manufacturing switched to focus on the war effort.
    Atco cars at the factory
    Remarkably, it’s thought that as many as 45 of the cars are still out there, in private collections and museums up and down the UK. There might also be some in overseas collections. You won’t see any on the roads, however – they’d never pass any of today’s regulations!

    Atco had been making lawnmowers since 1921 and by 1939 had already established a reputation for quality and reliability that was second-to-none. So why did the company suddenly decide to make a miniature automobile?

    Let’s rewind for a moment …

    Atco lawnmowers were initially in the same group as Rudge-Whitworth motorcycles. Have a guess how Atco’s salesmen travelled around the country with their lawnmowers in those days.  Yep, they’d ride a motorcycle, with the mower in the sidecar! So Atco already had connections with the automotive industry.
    Woman and child in Atco car
    The answer behind why the company started to make the Junior Safety-First Trainer lies in its name.  With more cars hitting the roads, there were more accidents. In response, the Government announced that road safety should be taught in schools. Atco thought: “Why don’t we put our engineering skills into making a training car for children to learn in?”

    The press launch of the Atco trainer was a plush affair. It took place not on a road or in a school – but, somewhat incongruously, in a carpeted room at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London!

    Nobody knows more about the Atco car than Brian Radam. Brian is the founder of the Atco Car Owners’ Club, which has over 40 members in the UK. The club is part of the British Lawnmower Museum in Southport, which Brian also set up: “To put it in perspective, there were lots of car companies and motorbike companies that made lawnmowers, but Atco was the only lawnmower company that made a car,” he said.

    Atco created a special circuit at the back of the factory, complete with a zebra crossing, road markings and junctions: “It was a sort of driving proficiency testing circuit,” said Brian, “and in fact, I have a lovely story about it.

    “We had a coach of quite elderly people come and visit the museum as part of a tour of the area. One of the ladies, when she saw the car, she became a completely different person. Her face lit up. She said: ‘I went in one of those cars when I was 6 or 7-year-old and I drove it. But when I got home and told my family I’d driven a car, they didn’t believe me. It was one of these’. I got a copy of the guide book out and showed her the photos of the circuit at the factory and she couldn’t believe it. That’s where she’d driven it.”

    So what of the Atco car itself? “It had red leatherette seating and there was a St Christopher badge on the front grille. The engine was started with a hand crank that could be used from the driver’s seat, and the pedals were like the 1930s cars, with the clutch on the left, the throttle in the middle and the brake on the right. It also had a hand brake, and simple forward, reverse and neutral gears. When you’re sitting in one, you can’t help but have a great big smile on your face!
    Atco car Villiers engine
    “What was also quite extraordinary was that it came with a 68-page hardback guide!”

    To take it on the road, the car would need a registration number. During the war, the little Trainer proved its worth for its few owners, as it used so little petrol during fuel rationing.

    It’s thought the car retailed at £35 in 1939. Today, it’s a valued collectors’ item and you can expect to pay something in the region of £10,000 for a restored one.
    Atco car and Policeman
    The British Lawnmower Museum has two fully restored Atco cars, including one originally owned by the Joseph Rowntree family. A third one is in the process of being restored. The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu also has a restored Atco car.
    Atco car interior
    The cars at the British Lawnmower Museum are among 1,000 rare lawnmowers in the collection, 200 of which are on show. Brian’s first job after leaving school was as an Atco engineer, so it’s no surprise to learn the brand is well represented: “We’ve got some of the very first Atco lawnmowers in our collection. But our oldest material goes back to 1799. We have such an amazing lawnmower history in this country and people come to the museum from all over the world to see the collection. We want to keep the heritage alive.”

    And a wonderfully nostalgic part of that heritage is the Atco car. As Brian says: “It’s a rare piece of British motoring history.”

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