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Harrow in LEAF meet "The Big Allotment Challenge" Show's Rekha Mistry in a busy cafe in Rayners Lane....


Rekha at her Big Allotment Challenge plot
Rekha at her Big Allotment Challenge plot.


We met Rekha one Sunday morning in January 2015 after the third show had been broadcast by BBC2 on the Friday evening. That was the show when she had problems with falling foam but went on to win "Best in Show" for her dips of pea humus and "maru" spicy dip, and so survived the elimination process for another week at least.

Hopefully the questions we asked, are the same as the questions you would like to know about the programme and below is our summary of Rekha's replies. Unfortunately a lot of the information we really wanted was not forthcoming as Rekha was "sworn to secrecy" whilst the show was still being broadcast.


Harrow in LEAF: So how long has Rekha had an allotment in Harrow?

I am a newcomer to allotmenteering having only been allocated my plot in 2012. However I have been a gardener since arriving from Zambia at the age of 20 and have experience of family that grew or still grow their own produce in India.

HiL: We see you are a Harrow in LEAF member, do you remember joining?

Yes, I did not join in 2012 when I got my allotment but came along to the Plant Sale at your HQ on West Harrow Allotments in May 2013 and joined then. I am very keen to promote growing your own food and enjoying the eating and sharing of it with your friends and family.

HiL: How did you hear about the TV programme?

Via Harrow in LEAF's e-mail saying that the BBC and a production company were looking for participants. I applied on-line via the links provided with 2 days left to the closing date! left it to the last minute! hoping it may just get ignored! And then it all began.

HiL: What happened next, was there a selection process?

Yes the criteria were "Do you grow your own?" "Do you do any flower arranging?" "Do you cook with produce?" plus there is a 13 page application form to complete.
Shortly afterwards Rekha was asked to come in for casting and within 2 weeks of applying she was selected and describes it as a "whirlwind experience".

HiL: Can you tell us a bit about how the competition is organised, is there a budget for plants?

Each participant is given a set of instructions of what to grow, covering 6 vegetables plus backups and 6 flowers. Only things on the instructions list are allowed. The contestants then complete their "shopping list" and pass back to the TV production staff to organise supply of chosen items.

When entering the Allotment area there is a "screening" process to ensure that contestants are not taking any thing extra on to their plots especially as the growing process is totally organic.

HiL:Where does everyone stay, what is the time to cultivate? is it weekends only or your choice?

The show is made at Mapledurham House at Mapledurham, Oxfordshire near Reading. The contestants come from all over the country and when necessary can stay in a hotel locally.
Contestants are only allowed onto their plots from Friday to Monday and must put in 15-30 hours of cultivating over this long weekend. I do feel that the programme concentrated more on the showing, flower arranging and cooking rather than showing the effort they were putting in to prepare their own allotment plots.
For example, we all had to put a lot of effort into making our own 100 metre "leaky hoses" and laying them out on their plots. Eggshells and coffee were also used as deterrents to pests. It did come as a surprise to everyone how much dedication and effort was required over a 3 month period.

HiL:Congratulations on winning Best in Show last week for your Dips and Crisps, can you let us have the recipes for our website Recipes Page please?

Unfortunately I cannot as they are now owned by the BBC, who will no doubt use them in an Allotment Challenge book in due course.

HiL: So tell us the truth, did you all get on well together?

I am happy to say that we did and that we recently had a reunion that most of us were able to attend. We have all made good friends from the experience.

HiL: Would you recommend gardening and growing your own foods to others?

I am passionate that we should all regain the old traditions that our forefathers had in their homelands but sadly seem to have been lost on moving to the UK. I remember my grandfather in his garden growing fruits and vegetables and when I travel to India to visit my Mother she is still a keen grower of fresh and delicious produce. I am not a great fan of "showing" fruit and vegetables, they are to be eaten, but do believe strongly that "Food brings people together".

We thank Rekha for taking time to meet us, share coffee and breakfast, and congratulate her for taking part in the TV show and getting through to the fourth program of six. Hopefully we shall see and hear more of her at Harrow in LEAF, should she find the time from running her local BATH FLO business and school governing.

We know that she is very keen to get involved with Harrow in LEAF's activities in promoting horticulture, allotmenteering and biodiversity in Harrow as well as developing the community spirit that it all brings.


The Allotment Challenge - Series 2 is currently available on BBC I-Player - Click here to watch all 6 Episodes.

2015 Allotment Challengers
All The Big Allotment Challenge, Series 2 Contestants for 2015
Published 10th Feb. 2015   Interviewers: Sue Green/Brian Vaughan     Photos courtesy of Rekha Mistry

Be afraid! Be very afraid! There is a new bug on the block! The Allium LEAF Miner has arrived in Harrow....
allium LEAF miner
The Allium LEAF Miner attacks leeks and onions and allied plants


Unfortunately, in 2014 for the first year ever we believe, the leek crops at Cuckoo Hill have been devastated by the Allium LEAF Miner. Not to be confused with the Leek Moth.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society:
The allium LEAF miner was first detected in Britain in 2002, since when it has spread in the Midlands and has also been found in south east England. The larvae bore into the stems and bulbs of leeks, onions, chives and garlic with devastating consequences. Affected plants often develop secondary infections and rot.

At present there are no commercially available pesticides to deal with these pesky things.

The RHS recommend protective covering in March-April and October-November and to ensure you use crop rotation.

Should you know of a way to defeat them we would like to hear your advice.

If your site has also been infested with Allium LEAF Miners then please let us know via our Contact Us page.

In 2015, C Tilbury, Harrow in lEAF Rep, at Yeading Avenue reported to us that her allotment site has been attcked by the dreaded miner. So beware it is spreading fast. For more information visit the RHS - for further info on this new fiend!


Published 16 November 2014 Illustration by Mike Strudwick





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