Friday, 29 May 2009

Sex, life, death and everything in between...

Once again the parallel process of gardening, plants and our lives came clearly into focus on WTA this week...there were celebrations of births and lives and the sadness of a death.

At one end of the week we had a wonderful birthday and celebration of 70 years of life and at the other a death...hardly premature after 98 years.... but with as with all humans still loaded with mixed emotions and a sense of loss a various levels. We like our plants, are planted, germinate, grow, go to seed and eventually, in turn, return to the soil.

Carl Gustav Jung in his masterly Memories Dreams and Reflections doesn't pull any punches when he describes death as a "fearful piece of brutality". The Swiss Analytical Psychologist reckons in dying : " a human being is torn away from us, and what remains is the icy stillness of death". But the psychoanalytic mystic is also quick to point out there is another side to death which can also appear to be a joyful event. Jung says, "In the light of eternity it (death) is a wedding, a mysterium coniunctionis. The soul, as it were, attains its missing half it achieves wholeness."

Maybe that's why with the premature death or end a crop, even a after a after a long fruitful life on allotment, there's a bit of sadness for growers, because deep down, we see played out in the soil, a reflection of our own lives and the lives of those around us. And maybe that's why we love growing things year after year because the whole life and death cycle played out in the dirt brings to us a wholeness. It's no wonder working the soil keeps us grounded!

On WTA I commemorate mates, family of choice and family of origin whose souls have "attained their missing half" and found their "wholeness" in the crops I plant. Each year grow Norm 'The Vet' and Captain Ken's runner beans, Fred the Chemist's gladioli Shane the cattleman's spuds and 'Technical' Tom's parsnips. Next week "Bobbie's Leeks" will be planted out. As Jung might have said, my veg provide a myth through which I understand works for me.

I'm glad to report Johnny Bridgemiester is still in the land of the living after returning from holiday. He swung by this morning to cast his weed hating eye over WTA and have a yarn. Some tough, hand to hand combat with some weeds and grass in Sheffield yesterday had left him nicely tanned but unfortunately too battle fatigued for action on WTA. I was able to show him a fabulous row of potatoes we planted in September last year with hopes for a fabulous Christmas crop! I'd given up hope of seeing anything and had written the off as 'lost' until I saw them poke their leaves through the soil last week. We all love a resurrection story....Grow Well.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A 'forebear' of WTA celebrates his 70th!

5.55pm. Rain has 'stopped play' on Walnut Tree Allotment. Still, it's a good time to come in and salute 'Mart-The chief of Staff's' 70th Bithday today! WTA can trace it's origins and my love of garden directly to The Chief of staff who had some of his own brilliant veges patches in his time if far flung places in Western Australia including, Forrest River Mission, Mogumber, Meekatthara, Wubin, and Perth (Wembley Downs). Mart has taught me a thing or two in my time about growing vege and I'd have to say is directly responsible for fostering my love of the soil. The Great news is that Mart will be making a special guest star appearance on WTA later in the year- something I can't wait for. Have a great day and GO WELL Mart. WTA salutes you and sends all it's love.

I've had "guest star " on the allotment this weekend - Aussie mate, Jeremiah Bullfrog who has been busy tending his own plot in Rickmansworth, Herts and charming various stall holders at the Chelsea flower show this week. The Bullfrog is a proof reader extraordinaire - some would even say a proof reading savant. His agricultural science connections make also make him somewhat of a font of knowledge when it comes to growing one's own.
Bullfrog's love of the language extends to even proof reading commercial packaging including the planting directions on an Unwin's packet second early 'Smile' potatoes I had lying around the kitchen (as is his want). The Bullfrog's jaundiced eye managed to pick up a few anomalies in Unwin's use of the language and was left a little confused over the difference between chitting and sprouting.
On leaving today Jeremiah Bullfrog presented the Hearing scientist and me with a fabulous copy of The quintessential garden, or, Pondering the giant spinach by Jocelyn Wild a superb and humorous look at some of the more eccentric sides of English gardening. A speedy return to the hedgerows of WTA, Bullfrog. You will be missed!
As of this afternoon my first lot of Sweetcorn (Incredible F1) seedlings have gone 'non dig bed alongside courgettes . The six brussel sprouts seedling (Eclipse F1) nurtured with great care over the last few months and now nicely adavanced have also been placed in WTA soil.
This year outdoor cucumbers (Marketmore) are having there first run on the allotment. The first six healthy plants grown from seed are now in and hopefully settling in with the added rain. I never thought growing cucumbers outside in the UK was a realistic option, and maybe it isn' t this far North
A now for some 'worrying' news.... The five butternut pumpkins/squash I planted out a few few weeks ago look like they are struggling and may not make it. Right now I can only think that the compost/cow manure hey were planted in was not rotted down well and enough and subsequently too rich. The good news I kept a few in reserve and will locate them on a part of WTA should the unspeakable happens and I loose everything. Keep a few reserves on the cold frame 'bench' has been part of the plan this year and hopefully pays off. The 'reserve stock' make good pressies if they are not needed or good replacements for mates elsewhere whose plants may have hit hard times and not made it..
The rest of the week beckons and with another four days off its time to hit the weeds in the top bed. Grow Well...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Good fruit trees make great allotment neighbours!

Not much action of WTA today. The rain has been intermittently heavy. This morning there was a chance to set up a few metal arches which, with netting, will protect calabrese seedlings ready for planting out. The courgette seedlings planted yesterday seem to be settling in well and the first planting parsnips are looking fabulous thanks to the protective fleece put over them earlier in the year. The weeds are beginning to look a little ominous right now but a few hours work next week and the return of Johnny Bridgemeister to these shores next week will soon have the problem solved...for a while.

WTA is incredibly fortunate to have some gorgeous apple trees that overhang its boarders. The generous owner of these trees lets me pick virtually as much fruit as I want in the season in exchange for being able to pick some vege when she needs it - a 'win-win' agreement for both of us. Evidently thousands of tons of fruit produced on back yard trees is wasted/left to rot each year in the UK - an anomaly needing to be addressed or in fact capitalised on by those looking for inexpensive and extremely healthy food.

You may have noticed that I have added Old Sleningford Farm to my link list. The website and the farm itself are definitely worth a visit. The folks at Old Sleningford are inspirational in what they have done and what they do in terms of educating others about horticulture and being at the cutting edge .

The Hearing scientist and I found this place thanks to Mariner Tim after we were looking for cider making course to go on last September. We ended up making a trip up to the farm, in picturesque Yorkshire and arrived to find one of the most arguably innovative community projects in out for further posts on WTA wine and cider making. Have a great week and keep growing!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

'Growing your own' isn't always easy...there will be losses!

More wonderful rain today. In between showers I managed to get out and plant out some cauliflower seedlings that seem to have been on the go for months and months. At that time, I planted two varieties - All Year Round and Snowball. In my haste I forgot to label them so there the patch is going to be a bit of mix match.The first lot I planted were an unqualified disaster with only 2/3 survivors out of about 20 I planted. Perhaps it was too cold for them at the time or some allotment rodent predators attacked them. Allotment gardening isn't always easy....there will be losses - in that regard allotments are a significant metaphor for life itself....
The potatoes (first and second earlies) are looking good and were earthed up today after I planted out a dozen courgettes (Defender F1 and Soleil ) into a non dig-bed I created last year. The courgettes produced on WTA last year were incredible and became a staple part of the diet for a few months. Courgette grilled on a barbecue are unbeatable as part of summer dinner or lunch.
The hearing scientist has been barred from any gardening activity for the next few weeks after a minor operation to remove a mole from her leg on Thursday. A "Catastrophe" she says . Still, never one to let anything stop her, she has begun bottling the seriously good home made wine which has finished fermenting. Earlier the HS found a picture of some veg I produced on the allotment last year and we picked for the family Christmas dinner 2008. I'm determined to have a vege self sufficient yule this year.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Elementary penguin singing hari krishna...

Sitting in an
English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don't come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.

( I am the Walrus. Lennon and McCartney)

Rain plays a central part in the Psyche of the average Englishwomen and man. The mythical status of precipitation looms large in gardening, popular cultural, anyconversation you have in a pub and of ourse allotment holders! Ilove it! And this week we've had plenty of it! My brocolli (Belstar F1), cauliflower (all year round) and leek (real) seedlings have been lapping the moisture up. Thank the heavens for one of the greatest and increasingly scarce resources on the earth - water!

Mariner Tim aka Sailor Tim was been enquiring about his 'memorial onion bed' yesterday via email from some super yacht, on which he works, off the coast of St Tropez. I was pleased to report the onion sets he and I had planted last year are developing wonderfully and benefiting from the rain (one must get weather into any conversation one has).

Saturday lookslike being a washout here ( a good timeto rest the 'idiot stick injury') .As ever there are plenty of things to do on the WTA - espcially weeding and earthing up potatoes...the plants are quickening!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

'Idiot Stick' Injuries

My blistered thumbs are still smarting. This morning, my fellow horticulturalist, 'the hearing scientist' was adamant my gardening stigmata should be covered by plasters to prevent further infection. On Monday, a bloke I know saw my allotment wounds an immediately recognised the said blisters as "idiot stick" injuries - the blisters you get from doing good, old fashioned manual work with metal tools attached to wooden pole. It felt really silly when after explaining how I got my blisters, to one of my students, he looked up at me and asked 'Why didn't you wear gloves?' They really are 'Idiot stick' blisters!

Top mate, all-round top fella and an official 'Friend of Walnut Tree Allotment', Johhny Bridgemeister is sunning himself and drinking brandy on an island somewhere, unavailable to help out on WTA right now. Johnny has a pathological hatred of nettles, especially those popping up in allotment beds. Give him a sharp metal impliment, and this polymath will lay waste, with seething vitriol, to all manner of weeds, and nettles. Having 'gardening mates' like Johnny is pure gold. I just hope the big man is getting his strength up for when he returns - he may be needed on a bed weeding misssion!

My butternut pumpkins planted in one of the 'test' non dig beds are looking strong. I'm a big fan seaweed solution when it comes to watering in seedlings. The 'black stuff' is popular with Aussie gardeners who buy it in 1 Litre containers (the biggest commerically avaliable containers I've seen here are about 200ml). Watering with seaweed solution seems to dramatically reduce seedling transplant shock the liquid is also superb stuff for reviving plants that have been stresssed for some reason or other.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Walnut tree allotment awakens

Mid-March and Walnut Tree Allotment has well and truly sprung back into life. My hands carry the blisters of four hours of "strimming" using an industrial strength strimmer with blade to cut back grass, nettles and cow parsley which had grown ominously tall since the official end of winter.

Carrots (Parmex and Flystat) sowed several weeks ago (I can't remember the exact date) have germinated and are now beginning to bush out. The Salsify seeds have also germinated but don't have the spectacular bushy appearance of their neighbours.

I'm still breathing a sigh of relief after finally planting the last of my seed potatoes - some three and a half dozen in all (Swift, Smile, Sante, Maris Piper and Desiree). The window sills in the spare bedroom where overflowing with chitting potatoes before Easter and I was beginning to be overwhelmed by the prospect of having to get them all in the ground. With a bit of grunt work however, the blighters were buried and I look set to have enough spuds to feed the entire village (and a few others down the road) later in the year! The Jerusalem Artichokes planted in the depths of winter are beginning to sprout through the ground and past a thick mulch of straw and cower manure placed on them a month or so ago.

The Onion patch (my onion sets planted last September/October with the help of 'Sailor Tim') is looking fabulous after a thorough weeding. Finally, the first of my pumpkin seedlings (Crown Prince) are now also nestling in the ground surrounded by the thick straw of my new "non-dig" bed...talking of which it's time for, after a couple of hectic days chasing the self sufficiency dream.