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Visit of the State school of the allotment gardeners in Lünen

LUWhile planning a new Office for the allotment federation in Luxembourg a delegation visited the State school and the office of the allotment federation of Westphalia-Lippe on 13th and 14th January 2019.

At the occasion of the State horticultural exhibition in Lünen in 1996 a centre was created in the middle of a large park. This centre unites educational and administrative functions.

The building itself received a prize for its architecture.

It is surrounded by several educative plots, so that the allotment gardeners can also have practical courses.

LU2We had the opportunity to get detailed information on the creation of the centre and could exchange with President Wilhelm Spieß and director Werner Heidemann on the problems that occurred during this creation.

We were impressed both by this equipment and by the particularly hearty hospitality of our colleagues in Lünen.

Martin Mergen (President), Otmar Hoffmann (Vice-president), Léo Wietor (Vice-president)

Invasive and toxic plants


Most plants have varying degrees of toxicity, even those that are sometimes used in home-made remedies, pharmacology and homeopathy in infinitely small doses. It all depends on the part of the plant (root, stem, leaves, flowers, fruit/seeds) and its use (handling, ingestion, maintenance).

There are a large number of allergenic or poisonous plants, that are kept in the garden because they have beautiful flowers (jimsonweed, foxglove, spurge), because they bear decorative fruit (spindle tree) or because they are edible when cooked (parsnips).

And just because birds eat certain berries that doesn't mean that we humans can do the same: if birds swallow the whole fruit, they excrete the poisonous seeds about 20 minutes later and, therefore, consume only the sometimes non-toxic pulp (example: the yew; the seed is poisonous, but you can make jelly out of the red pulp), while children would consume the whole fruit with the seed that is poisonous for them.


Botanists and gardeners have always brought plants from elsewhere into their gardens that have acclimatised very well and like some wild plants that "invite themselves", they become "invasive". When a plant settles at the expense of a native plant, it becomes "invasive" and it is difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate it.


Sometimes plants are both poisonous AND invasive.

And then gardeners have to take precautions to avoid incidents. Identify the plant first and do not let the unknown plants grow in your beds or under small fruits.

If you discover the few common, simultaneously invasive and toxic ones described below in your garden: Do not throw them into the compost! Do not let them get seeds and sow again! Throw them away and put on gloves!

Very often their flowers are generous and their colours bright; they have original and decorative fruits; their flowers attract butterflies, bees and all kinds of insects, but also the attention of children (or even adults who think they know the plant) who may confuse them in nature or in the garden with small edible fruit. The list of intrusive/invasive plants, that are a little allergenic and of toxic plants that cause mild digestive disorders, including cramps, cardiovascular problems, coma and death, is long. In case of swallowing and if in doubt, do not hesitate to call the poison centre nearby.

Here are two wild plants that are best not used in the garden:

Solanum dulcamaraThe BITTERSWEET NIGHTSHADE 'Solanum dulcamara', also called bittersweet or liquorice of the witches. From the Solanaceae family such as potatoes and tomatoes, it is a wild hedge plant with woody stems that sometimes invites itself into your garden, clinging to the fence or to shrubs. Since the plant blooms for a very long time, we can see the whole evolution of the plant at the same time: Lots of small purple flowers, hanging grapes of oval, smooth and green berries and bright red berries when ripe, which become wrinkled at the end of the season.

As so often, the green berries are more poisonous than the ripe berries. With its multitude of berries, it is a plant that should not be allowed to reproduce in the garden.

Like the kermes berry and many berry plants, the bittersweet or red nightshade is endozoochorous: its seeds are distributed by birds after passing through their intestinal tract.

The fruits are rich in alkaloids and poisonous: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea. For a child, a few berries can cause cramps or even a coma.


Bryonia cretina ssp dioiaTHE BYRONY 'Bryonia cretina ssp dioia' - "Devil's turnip", "Snake" Perennial herbaceous plant from the pumpkin family, climbing plant, in gardens and towns, on fallow land, dioecious (female and male flowers on various plants). Its many stems, with very dark green leaves, grow up to six metres high and can hold on to very special tendrils, which initially seek hanging support by wrapping, and when they find it, the twists wind ten times in one direction and ten times in the other (an exception in nature), ensuring that the hanging power increases. Its root is a melon-sized tuber. Pretty small, greenish-white and hairy flowers precede clusters of smooth, spherical berries that are light red when ripe.

Very toxic poisonous plant: Gloves are essential to handle all parts of the plant, allergenic or toxic. Skin contact can cause dermatitis; berry ingestion causes vomiting, diarrhoea, delirium and cramps, convulsions, hypothermia and coma. Children can confuse ripe bryony berries with currants; the lethal dose is about ten fruits.


An invasive and toxic plant so decorative that there is a great temptation to keep it:

phytolacca americanaThe AMERICAN RICH, 'phytolacca americana' or 'American Grape' - also called 'cayenne spinach', 'varnished grass', 'dyer'. A perennial herbaceous plant of the Phytolaccaceae family, native to North America and introduced to France in the 1990s. They are perennials that can grow three to four meters high with long, thick but hollow stems, ranging from pink to purple; their long, semi-evergreens are pale green, and their clusters of bright white or pink flowers are followed by fleshy berries of bright green, which turn bright black-violet after maturity.

It is very productive, but at the same time obtrusive, invasive and toxic: its root rotates (like the carrot) and sinks very deeply; it needs spade and pickaxe to extract the impressive trunk. It spread throughout France and uprooting campaigns had to be organised (Fontainebleau and Landes forests) because it eliminated all plants except blackberry bushes and ferns in its surroundings.

The berries are toxic and fatal to humans (vomiting, hypothermia, cyanosis), the leaves are toxic to pets, even earthworms and snails.


A poisonous shrub that must not be placed in the garden:

Ricinus communisTHE CASTOR BEAN/CASTOR OIL PLANT 'Ricinus communis' - It is a beautiful shrub of tropical origin (Africa) of the Euphorbiaceae family, cultivated in hot countries to collect the oil. Here it is often used in the middle of a massif or isolated, because of its decorative aspect with its large green or purple palm leaves; its fruit in groups of prickly, raspberry-coloured spheres contain large, light-coloured seeds, marbled brown and red, which are newly sown again by themselves.

Decorative, but oh so poisonous! The whole plant is poisonous; it contains ricin, a poison 6,000 times more poisonous than cyanide and 12,000 times more poisonous than rattlesnake poison. Castor oil is not recommended for our gardens as it is toxic to hedgehogs, it even kills cats and dogs and 3 seeds are deadly to children. If you have to pull it out, put on gloves!

Fédération Nationale des Jardins Familiaux et Collectifs (French allotment garden federation)


Numerous manual or motorised tools transport earth, leaves, seeds, pollen, arthropods and plant exudates from the place where they were used to another. Many living antagonists of crops can be disseminated by these means. Most of the time this dissemination is without consequences because of the banal character of these antagonists. However, it is prudent to apply simple cleaning or disinfection measures to the different tools to prevent the spreading of bio-aggressors.

Take advantage of the winter break to make an inventory of the maintenance work to be done on your tools and at the same time carry out the cleaning of your garden shed.

1How to proceed?
Tools should be classified according to their category. This is more convenient and so you do not get confused with maintenance products and equipment.

Hand tools
Usually they are equipped with a handle that requires special attention. Already when buying them, it is wise to prefer solid and flexible sleeves in beech or ash wood. The wearing of the sleeves often occurs at the fasteners: tighten the screws or change them. Sometimes it is enough to soak the sleeves in water for one night, so that the wood swells and thus prevents the tool from moving. A careful washing will remove dry earth. Then a light sanding with sandpaper followed by a coating with paraffin or linseed oil will protect the wood. Some tool makers opt for synthetic sleeves. If these gain in strength they, however, facilitate the formation of blisters on your hands. This material does not absorb transpiration. For the spade, the fork, and all the tools used to work the ground, the cleaning of the metal part begins with a wire brush to evacuate the dry earth, followed by an application of draining oil or white vinegar. The material will thus be protected from rust.

Cutting tools
Such as tree-trimmers, shears or secateurs. The maintenance of the blades is done with rubbing alcohol, you shoot two birds with one arrow, you get rid of the resin of the blades and the alcohol plays a role of disinfection agent). The sharpening of the blades may be necessary. To restore the edges, it will be necessary to use a file. Don't forget to grease the axels and the spring with Vaseline or consistent fat.

Motor tools
Before you start maintenance, carefully read the instructions of your lawn movers or other trimmers. Basic precaution before any intervention: unplug the power tools and remove the spark plugs for the thermal equipment. Empty the engines, empty the tanks, grease the axels and sharpen the blades. Note: an excessively damaged blade reduces the performance of the machine. The knives of the plant grinders have to be regularly sharpened.

Pots, buckets and stakes
Start with an energetic brushing to remove all soil leftovers. Then pass with a sponge soaked in bleach (bactericidal) and rinse thoroughly. The wooden stakes are quickly damaged. Remove most of the earth by scrapping with a knife and immerse them in a container filled with a mixture of water and bleach. After drying, an application with a "bouillie bordelaise" (A fungicide prepared with a copper and chalk mixture) will complete the operation. You can also use rubbing alcohol for your metal stakes. Do not forget your seed boxes, the wheelbarrow and the planks you place between the rows. The wood is an excellent refuge for insect larvae.

The sprayer does not make an exception to the rule
Never store a sprayer containing a preparation residue: the preparation quickly loses its properties and it is likely to damage the device (corrosion, clogging). After each use, rinse with clear water and use a light pressure to clean the lance. The joints dry out: lubricate them occasionally with grease or vaseline.

The watering equipment
This equipment has to be placed, so that it cannot be affected by frost (pumps, programmers, ducts, pipes). The latter will be emptied from its contents and placed at height so that it empties itself.

2Last step: The storage
Finally, and so that your efforts will not be in vain, store your tools in a dry place. The ideal is to hang them on a wall (to evacuate the humidity) the metal part at height and taking care to place the sharp parts as much as possible facing the wall.

Tips, tricks and advice

- Here is an easy trick to sharpen and to protect a tool while cleaning it. Just fill a bucket of sand and add 500 ml of vegetable oil; mix well and place it at the entrance of the storage room. Every time you enter, immerse the tool in the mixture: the sand will sharpen and polish while removing rust.

- Jean-Paul, French gardener emeritus, recommends the grindstone to sharpen the secateurs. This enables you to make a beautiful cut that will heal quickly and prevent the installation of diseases. Disinfection with rubbing alcohol is required after each use.

- White vinegar, a very effective product to remove rust is above all very ecological.

- Protect your hands: push the tip of the tools into an old tennis ball. Insert the saw blade into a garden hose cut lengthwise.

- Before using electric devices outdoors, make sure that the grass is not wet, that the connections are in good condition, that the wire is not damaged and does not drag in a puddle of water.

- Cleaning of the gardening gloves: put on the gloves and rub your hands with water and a detergent, rinse; when they are dry put them in their place.

- Get rid of rags soaked in oil and gasoline; they could catch fire; bring them with the remains of pesticides, stored in a suitable and sealed container, to the waste service.

- A simple rule to be applied in the garden is to start the work in areas that are a priori not contaminated and finishing the task in the zone that is supposedly infected.

- Remove squatters (reds, mice) from your shed with traps (available in garden centres).

- Eliminate everything that is bulky around the shelter to restore its good looks.

Winter salad

Tips from your - Eist Uebst a Geméis" gardener" (Your Fruit and Vegetable gardener)

This type of salad is often served in winter as a delicious appetiser - either alone or together with bits of bacon and egg: it's called lamb's lettuce.

Lamb's lettuce is popular and widely cultivated in England, Holland, Italy, France and Germany. By now it is also being grown in Luxembourg
This salad is grown and harvested outdoors mainly from October till the end of February. Lamb's lettuce is very cold-tolerant. It also has high vitamin C and iron content. Gourmets speak of the salad's nutty aroma, which is due to its high levels of essential oils.

An uncomplicated vegetable
Lamb's lettuce is an obliging and very straightforward vegetable. As long as you bring it out in a sunny spot, it thrives in almost every type of soil.
Also it requires little in terms of nutrients and is therefore a perfect postcultivation in late autumn to finish the garden year.

Planting may be done in rows or as single plants over an area. However, we recommend row sowing, as it is easier to care for. The plants should always be kept free of weeds.
When laying out the plants, make sure that there is 10 to 15 cm of space between the rows, so that the lettuce can develop optimally. When sowing, we recommend making a small furrow with a stick in the ground about 1 centimetre deep, then spreading the seeds evenly in the furrow. After sowing, gently press against the soil with a board, as the seeds need to have good soil contact.

Plant care
Lamb's lettuce seeds take about three to four weeks to germinate. During this period, make sure that the young seedlings do not dry out. Due to heavier dews in autumn, the plants normally have enough water available. Despite this, you should carefully check humidity around the plants. If you want to be on the safe side, install an evaporation protection such as a meshed ground cover or perforated foil. But again, checking the plants regularly is important. If the plants get too wet, there is a risk of fungal diseases. Fertilisation is usually not necessary for this crop.

We take care to avoid harvesting when frost is present, because doing so makes lamb's lettuce soggy very quickly. By using ground protection, you can still harvest in light frost.
To stop lamb's lettuce unnecessarily converting nitrate into nitrite, it is advisable to harvest it only in the evening, so that it can make use of the full sun during the day.
Cut the lettuce plants just above the root with a knife, so that the leaves still hold together.

The "Eist Uebst a Geméis" gardeners wish you a good and tasty harvest!

Andreas Löbke

Start into 2019

Dear allotment gardeners
Malou Weirich
“It is amazing what you can do, if you just have the courage to try”.

You may be wondering why I am writing this sentence at the beginning of this article at the start of this new year.

The national federations and the Office, i.e. the whole allotment movement, are facing great challenges, both internally and externally, in order to properly shape the future. The considerations have already started to respond to our new environment. Courage and farsightedness are necessary.

Internally, we must increasingly become a service organisation for our members. Our magazines should be modernised, wherever necessary. Not only information from our associations, but also examples of good practice from home and abroad, as well as subjects as for example ecological gardening, permaculture, climate change, water protection etc. should be dealt with. A reactive homepage, a good facebook site and the use of other social media will further carry our suggestions inward and outward. An optimal networking with other allotment organisations and the conclusion of strategic partnerships will support our efforts and help us to make us more visible.

Additionally, we have to train our associations and members and give them the necessary assistance in their garden and in the associative life: specialist gardening advice, seminars concerning the application for financial support, club management, accounting, conflict solutions etc. These are just a few examples of our commitment towards the individual allotment gardeners and associations.

Also externally, in a new environment, we have to position ourselves differently.

Today, the new forms of urban gardening are enormously praised by people and politicians and the allotments, part of this urban gardening, are often forgotten. Our many years of experience and our continuous contribution in the social and environmental areas are not sufficiently perceived. Other “green organisations” often try vocally and without any consideration to push us aside.

Furthermore, there is on one hand a lack of land to create more plots in urban areas, while on the other hand we find vacancies in rural areas.

In order to counteract this tendency we have to be better perceived. People, other organisations and authorities need to understand what we stand for, today and tomorrow. We have to underline our advantages, our services to society, our experience and know-how. We have to work out a vision for our movement, a vision that will enable us to make the movement, wherever necessary, more efficient, to promote and protect it. A pioneering spirit is needed.

The members have to understand what we do; they have to be taken on board. This vision, this common goal, must then unite the members and motivate them to work together with their boards for the development and the taking into consideration of our concerns.

We need progress: we have to innovate and to find solutions to the new challenges.

On the one hand, we have to reduce the plot size to shorten the waiting lists, to take into account the problem of lack of time of the working people and their lack of horticultural knowledge. On the other hand, we have to carry out projects on empty plots, involve partners and work out with the authorities, wherever necessary, an allotment development scheme and find solutions acceptable for all …….

In these reflexions and actions we can/must consider the statement of Bill BRADLEY: “Ambition is the way to success, perseverance is the necessary instrument”.

I wish you good health for 2019 as well as courage, ambition, pioneering spirit, optimism and perseverance, in order to consolidate and develop our movement.

Secretary General of the International Office du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux  

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