“Please Tell Me …”

“Please … tell me those are not earlies?”

There’s a small hint of desperation in The Pepper Grower’s query.

I am up at the allotment, with my to-do list:

* pick strawberries,

* pick red currants,

*see how the potatoes are doing (dig up one root to check; if they are good dig up another (we’ll take them to Scotland*), if not just bring the one root back and leave the rest to grow (while we are in Scotland).

The truth is that the potatoes, nestling in the shallow basket which formerly held a flower arrangement, actually are earlies. Arran Pilot to be exact. The soil drops away from them easily enough, being dry and friable.

Pepper Grower, who has made a tremendous effort since taking on what was the Captain’s plot two years ago, has been growing potatoes in black plastic bags. He works, he tells me in the subsequent conversation, as a web-site developer. He uses the internet regularly. He had watched a YouTube video – “a guy up north” – who explained how to grow wonderful show potatoes. This is the principle he has followed. But the results are not what he expected. And it has cost him a significant amount of money.

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In allotment terms I am not in the least bit competitive. Unlike some. Our potato crop, grown in the fashion I am sure my grandfather would have approved of, is the result of many years husbanding the soil, watching the weather, earthing up, the bagged up “potato fertiliser” sold at the site shop … ah and a slice and a half of luck. Not competitive, but pleased with this year’s spuds as they emerge. Alan, down the path is a relentlessly good tater man: and has been pestering me. He is competitive and wants, desperately to find out how big our potatoes are, how many to a root …

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Thankfully, he’s not here when I dig that first root up. I can tell him anything.

But they are not bad: smallest hen’s egg sized, most the size of a lady’s fist but some larger still. Fourteen on one root, thirteen on the other. Beautifully smooth, thin skins. Enough to get us going up in Dumfries and Galloway at any rate.

I love that idea of watching how-to videos on modern technology. It is, after all the way I am attempting to learn bonsai, and it is the modern equivalent of listening to the “old boys” in the village pub, reading about it in a book or magazine, picking up tips from Gardener’s World or the Beechgrove Garden on TV or something from Gardener’s Question Time.

There are, roughly, a hundred gardeners on the site, I explain to Pepper Grower, philosophically. Every one of us knows the best way to grow potatoes, make the best compost, the strongest, tastiest wines. He just needs to find his own method, taking on any advice (even if he chooses to ignore it). There’ll be trial and error, failure and success. It’s a process is growing and you have to grow into it. Its only now, when I’m typing this little episode up, that that line occurs to me.

Meanwhile I remind him of how much he has managed since he first came on-site. He has completely changed the plot around, built his own shed, raised a greenhouse and a neat little poly tunnel and made beds and wood-chip paths. Unlike the Captain, he does not grow produce without weeding and, so far he has never rotovated a crop into the ground because he cannot be bothered to find it (amongst the weeds) or harvest it.

I give him the opportunity to take some of our strawberries and red currants while we are away. He offers to water anything that may need it over the next week. This is the kind of cooperation I love. A major plus point of our neighbouring plot holders, bless ‘em.

Looking around the plot I know there are going to be issues with weeds when we get back; the paths will probably need strimming again. But the peas are looking good, the late-planted runner beans have time to fill out. The pumpkins and courgettes, having a hard time getting established, will either have run away or pegged it while we are, hopefully enjoying “secret Scotland”.

But up against the fence the thornless blackberries are this season’s surprise crop: absolutely loaded!

* We are about to head up past Hadrian’s Wall, cross the border to spend a week in Dumfries and Galloway with our two grown-up, moved-out daughters and their partners.

 

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