Sunday, 22 May 2011

Digging, Dad and difficult times

Joe, Sam, Sam's friend Freddie and I spent today on the allotment. Given that I went for an early start, I was confident of going alone but, extraordinarily, all the boys fancied coming, so off we went, marigolds and runners in tow.
The boys organised a picnic while I got to it. I put in some more tomatoes interplanted with marigolds to increase the disease-resistance of the tomatoes. I am not a great fan of marigolds, they seem quite old fashioned to me, but while putting in 24 today, I was really hit by their wonderfully fragrant, spicy smell. You will also note from the photo that tomatoes present an excellent reuse of large tonic bottles as feeders, so in my bid to accumulate one bottle for each plant I have had to increase my consumption of G&Ts. All good.

I wasn't going to do conventional runners this year but couldn't resist some cheap Red Rum from Homebase, 98p for a pot of four or five. Red Rum always remind me of my lovely Dad who used to grow them for me every year in his fancy greenhouse and then pretend to be cross when I got a better crop from the allotment than he did at home. The truth was I was better at watering. Being a scientist, Dad liked to plant things and nurture them in laboratory conditions but as soon as they hit the garden, his enthusiasm waned. I have been thinking of him a lot lately as times have been tough at work, money draining from London's infrastructure like bathwater going down the plughole. Poor old London, most expensive place in the UK to live with some of the highest areas of deprivation and still it seems fair game to put it top of the list for cuts, every time. I would love a Dad pep talk slash trip to the pub. I particularly could have done with his classic, "Ogdens go forward." Ho hum.

Anyway back to the sod. I popped in the Red Rum in one of my better beds, just 12 not my usual 60 and then I dug out the Purple Sprouting that had been amazing but gone over now, and lord the soil that awaited me! I had put the sprouting in mid-October and since then we had the snow, hard frosts and now drought, which made it more like concrete than soil. My first attempts at breaking it up felt  like a term on the chain gang, so I deployed the old gardener's trick of keeping the hose on it to make it easier. The water worked but it all got very muddy, I looked like I was wrestling a pig, which the boys found 'sick', which means good/amusing FYI. I then dug in several bags of mushroom compost, raked for stones and put in the 65 or so sunflowers I had grown from seed, which might, if I keep them watered for the next few weeks, cope with predicted drought conditions. I went for Sunspot at the back, which should be very tall and a source of nutrition for the birds in autumn and Musicbox, which are more shrub-like and good for cutting. If all goes according to plan in a couple of months, Bob, our scarecrow will look lovely sitting among a bevy of sunshine flowers.

There was bad news on fruit, some four-legged blighters have helped themselves to my ripe strawberries so the boys helped me double-net them and, too late I fear, I finally netted my gooseberries. The lack of water is driving wildlife to brave even the longest spikes for a hit of juice.

Meanwhile Joe, in particular received loads of gushing complements from older ladies at the allotment who were thrilled for me that I was getting some help. He, of course, found this horribly embarrassing and their kindness might scupper my chances of further volunteering. Fifteen-year-old boys are complex creatures who vacillate wildly between wanting attention and loathing it. All very tricky.

I watered and sprayed the apple, pear and cherry trees, picked our first broad beans and a mountain of salad, put some sprouting leaves aside for Katie's new baby rabbits and made sure the pond was topped up as it must be welcome relief for those who are a bit parched. Talking of parched, I should be making sure I keep up my G&T intake. All in a good cause you understand. Cheers!

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