Friday, 25 April 2008

The Trial

It was tough on the allotment today. First there was an argument concerning onions. During the week I'd noticed we had very large gaps between our onion rows so I suggested we plant some lettuce and radish seeds in them. Our leader totally pooh poohed this and said we were going to start proceedings by planting more onions. I flipped. No, I shouted, we are not planting more onions. We have enough onions. I'm sick to death of onions. Glaring ensued. So to cool things off I said, why don't we get some more potatoes done? You know how much you like those...And so we continued for a while on a newly dug over piece of plot, he at one end and I at the other. Silently digging ditches with our spades. I did a row, he did a row. I started a second row and then did my watering rounds of all the stuff I now have under the glass of the hotbed and the coldframe while another (much less argumentative) volunteer finished the ditch. I was just bringing over a wheelbarrow of horse manure to put in the ditch (as we all know, when planting potatoes, we dig the ditch, put in the manure, and then nestle the potatoes upright in it) when I noticed our leader was putting his potatoes in without manure. So I said, hey, wait I'll put the manure in. Our leader then straightened himself and said, Don't tell me how to plant potatoes! The manure goes in afterwards...To help things along my friend came up at that point and said, I put the manure in first, but then I put the potatoes really deeply into it, so it's all round them. So it makes no difference, our leader shouted, NO DIFFERENCE AT ALL! To placate him, I said I was sure it wouldn't make any difference...anyway we would soon find out if it did as we had made the perfect experimental trial (possibly the first of its kind in the world): two rows of pre-planting manuring versus two rows of post-planting manuring. Afterwards, over coffee, our leader admitted that I had been right about one thing: we do have enough onions. But I am still banned from planting lettuces between the rows. I'm now trying to persuade my friend to take up her bloody leeks from the far side of the allotment so I can plant some more salad there. Silly woman didn't even know you could freeze leeks. Whatever next?

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Bin Laden Caught

I really am all of a quiver this morning after yesterday's top story in the lunchtime news. And although I wouldn't normally write to you twice in a week, I felt I just had to make an exception this time. Did you hear that a man has been convicted of having a bin lid open in public? You think all my wittering about the bin mafia has been a delusion, don't you? But it's all true, I tell you. Other countries have gone about this recycling lark for years, calmly, and with no undue fuss. Here in the UK we are turning energy saving into energy slaving, living every moment in fear that we will be found out for some dire mistake. But why are we allowing ourselves to be sold into this slavery? I blame it on the war, myself. Not the second world war (which we blame for most things), but the war in Iraq. We all know we shouldn't be there and we feel a massive collective guilt in our completely unwarranted decimation of another country. We are full of unbearable guilt, This guilt must be dumped somewhere. Projection. Freud called it. Anyway, what better place to dump than in a bin. Let's suddenly get all hoity toity about saving the world, so we can blinker ourselves to the political devastation we are really causing. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm glad that so many people seem to be thinking the same way that I have thought (and acted) for the last 30 years, and, on the other, well aware, that, as soon as the war ends, this country will happily return burying itself in its own put it politely. Yes, I am perfectly OK, thanks, and I'm taking my tablets. Yesterday was a glorious day, and I spent most of it planting parsnips again. But, honestly, do you realise that the poor man mentioned about now has a criminal record which will last for the rest of his life? For leaving a lid open? And was this really an appropriate way for the BBC to celebrate 'Earth Day' on its major news broadcast? Come on all you Wheelie Peelers, give us a break!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Saving Tibet

Did my bit for the people of Tibet this week: I planted four Goji bushes in their honour on the allotment. Once again we're at the cutting age of the Green Revolution here: Goji berries are supposed to have the highest nutritional qualities of any fruit in the world, and they evidently tolerate all manner of mismanagement. I'll try not to get too political here, but just say they should fit right in on the allotment, where, this week, our leader managed to lose all the pink fir potatoes we were hoping to plant. I should say at this point that our shed is currently full of all manner of other potatoes which none of us asked to grow, but which we'll probably have to plant (His back's gone again). One of our clients has decided to take matters into her own hands and has taken over a strip of our secondary plot. Working alone one Saturday morning she got the whole lot dug over and ready for planting----previously two of our men had taken a month to do a tenth of it. It's amazing what sheer frustration and anger can empower one to do! Another fabulous breakthrough: she managed to get us a brand new cold frame through Freecycle (of which I have spoken before). My window sill is now filling up with sweetcorn and I've just set up a little plug plant mini-greenhouse filled with Brussel Sprout seeds to give to another client to grow on (this is one of the advantages of shopping with QVC; a lot of the plants come in these re-useable containers). We all know now we have to fight our leader's obsession with potatoes (especially when he loses the only ones we actually want to plant!). I've been filling the allotment as fast as I can with any seed I can get my hands on: carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes....They were all free offers in this month's gardening magazines, if you want to know. Two of the mags are offering ten whole free packets... Get out there now while stocks last! There's nothing like poor leadership to test one's survival instinct (it's worth thinking about this...).

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Pace Quickens

Hardly know where to start this week, so much has happened. This being the Easter hols, I went up to the allotment on my own last week as well as on Friday and planted out an entire salad section, and, dare I say it, peas. You'll remember we've been banned by our leader from growing these, as he things they harbour all manner of dangerous diseases. But I couldn't held myself, especially as I'd found some T&M RHS winners which are supposed to be highly disease resistant. Well, I have to be honest, what really got me going in this direction was seeing Monty Don doing it on Gardeners' World (Doing what? Planting peas, of course. Oh but that man...what I wouldn't do with him behind the potting shed...). I got so carried away, I even went back this week and planted some more, using some discarded metal edging stuff I'd found to make some lovely meandering shapes. Should look very pretty as I can plant the marigolds in the 'loops' of the turns. I had to play it very nicey nicey with our leader on Friday, and even planted out some potatoes for him, as well as politely offering him his coffee instead of half throwing it at him as I usually do (Problem with Authority Figures? What me?). Meanwhile at home I'm busily deadheading all my daffs as well as watching the wealth of plants coming up on my window sill. I now have an abundance of courgettes and some squashes which should be ready to put out in the hot beds in May. I've also started on a sweetcorn variety that promises to perform even in the wettest summers (which is more than I can promise, even with the HRT). In the midst of all this, H and I went collecting again for our charity, this time outside a rather nice upmarket garden centre instead of Tescos, and next day managed to celebrate our wedding anniversary by having a scrummy fish lunch at the Loch Fyne restaurant, after which we went to see a Swedish film called 'You, the Living'. The latter was absolutely hilarious, thought completely incomprehensible. A bit like life really. I wonder how long I can keep up this hectic pace...For those of you wishing to learn about the history of the potato, there is a new website to help you. It's What a read... And you can enter a competition to win an eglu too!

Monday, 7 April 2008

Pass the Parsnips

I'm sure you're all sick to death by now hearing about either i) how cold it is every Friday, or ii) how ill I am, so this week you'll be pleased to know Friday was warmish, and that, apart from having not slept due to over-excitement, I was fit and well. Why the insomnia? Well, I was planning to plant parsnip seeds, and this is always a big occasion. Parsnips are very difficult to grow because they do not germinate easily, so it is necessary to get the planting ceremony absolutely right. It was therefore important that I arrived at the allotment not only with the tea things but also with parsnip, turnip, and radish seeds, a ruler, a magic formula called Spray-and-Grow available only from QVC, and a set of Mayan ritual planting sticks, a Christmas present from H (well, he does try poor thing). And I was wearing a new dark blue Waxed Jacket brought from the Daily Telegraph no less! I was soon flat out on the ground marking out my half inch planting rows on my perfectly prepared plot containing no weeds and not a single stone, whilst my seeds soaked for exactly half an hour in the S-and-G. I then attempted to plant exactly three parsnip seeds every six inches apart. I put a mixture of radish and turnip seeds between the parsnips. (You do this because it takes so long for parsnips to come up that you can plant something else while you're's called catch cropping, I think). It was very delicate work I can tell you, not helped by the fact that parsnip seeds are like teensy flying saucers that seem to stick to anything other than soil, and the little black blips that are turnip seeds fly and drop everywhere whence they immediately become invisible. Paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to the gales (gails?) of laughter coming from behind me (although there was one very nasty moment, I have to admit, when I wondered whether I was suffering from an unidentified Wardrobe Malfunction), I covered the whole thing over and performed a brief dance to the Mayan Frog God of Rain and Fertility before placing my sticks at either end of the rows. The next day it snowed, and we've had sharp frosts every night, so I doubt very much if anything has survived. This, in the UK, is what we call Spring. At least I got the second and the third in the Grand National which has mollified my broken a heart a little...On reflection, I beginning to feel even more strongly that a betting blog may be more up my street that an organic gardening one...Back at home things are even more busy than usual as last week I received 54 tiny marigold 'plugs' from QVC that were in urgent need of potting on. This operation required a complete make-over for the entire house as I only have one suitable worktop of potting on (the top of the washing machine) and one window sill which was already covered with the red carnations I'm growing for one of the clients. You may be interested to know that there is absolutely no reason at all to grow carnations on an allotment, but that marigolds make a fantastic natural pest barrier. I can guarantee you will not be attacked by a single carrot fly if you are surrounded by marigolds! Anyway, the carnations have stayed put, and the marigolds are in three inch pots inside a smart zip-up plastic covering, commonly used to pack bedding. I think this should make a really effective, temporary 'cold frame' which is what the seedlings need. Oh, yeah and I've also made two hanging plastic planters into which I've put a hardy variety of strongly scented pansy, and the first known downward pointing (but still fragrant!) sweet pea. These are now dangling somewhat precariously from a curtain rail in the spare room. You can get all this stuff from Thompson and Morgan, by the way.