Archive for August, 2018

Close Encounters.

Everything is suffering in this heat, especially plants. Our lawn, deliberately not mowed to help the grass conserve moisture, is showing brown patches and sinking to reveal the roots of trees in both our own and neighbouring gardens. The “wildflower island” is doing somewhat better, evening catchfly, mayweed, campions, foxgloves and hawkbit showing prettily.

Up on the allotment even determined “I-never-water-my-crops” diehards like Alan and Mrs Alan have been seen with watering cans.

Our plot is the furthest it is possible to get from the stand-pipe (though some long standing plot holders can remember a time before these taps were installed) and we have to wrestle two anaconda minded hosepipes (one pale yellow one rescued from a builder’s skip) and fiddle-faddle with in-line connectors before filling up the water butts. We can then dip in a number of watering cans and splash water onto desperate crops (especially the carrots, leeks and squashes – all in raised beds) while the butts fill up. Each of the butts has a piece of scrap wood drifting in it: a refuge for any insect (but especially bees and other pollinators that might end up “in the drink”, recognising that these often un-noticed companions need water too.

We try to do this watering at least every two days and, in truth, often end up giving everything a drink. Water butts hold enough for three heavy waterings, then it is time to pipe-up again (though, conditions being as they are, if the tap is not in-use, we fill up on any occasion we have the time to manage the task. The soil is dry, dry and dry. And our plot usually benefits from water tipped on the uphill gardens which runs down-slope to our ground. Incredible, but correct. Our ground, plied with water retaining home-made compost for the past twenty plus years soaks it up – and our plants – usually – benefit. The potato tops have keeled over so we do not bother with them. Nobody is expecting a heavy crop of spuds this year, it seems.

But animals, inevitably, are also finding it hard going. There is a mention of hedgehogs  – one of our seriously endangered species* – on the Local news programme.  No sooner have we digested the advice (leave out food, leave an untidy area in the garden where they might snooze, put out water in shallow containers) than we are resting in the cool night just after the sun has gone down, than we detect a couple of small hedgehogs, snuffling around in our back garden. They don’t seem weak, are able to climb out of the tray I have filled with water, but ignore the contents of the wormery I provide for nutrition (I know that worms are part of their diet!). My hopefully-educated guess is that these are independent explorers, perhaps the off spring of a pair I spotted earlier in the year. Their food source of slugs, beetles, worms, small frogs and minibeasts has retreated deeper into the soil, rocks, between logs – or simply expired due to the weather. I quietly wish them luck.**


Small midges that emerge from larval stages in our water butt at home attract bats each evening. But most surprising is the encounter I have one evening.

There are a number of us as the air cools down (relatively that is) to around 22 Celsius. It is about nine o’clock. We are there to water. Myself, Mr Molineux, Cool Hand Luke, Alan and The Gaffer. We have gathered for an allotment parliament (there are, after all, things in the world that only such a gathering can put right) and, having cooled down a little, I draw away to turn off the tap, before reeling in the hoses.

As I approach the stand-pipe a tall, thin fox emerges onto the path. It is walking, tongue out, along the path between Asda Dave’s plot and Jim’s.

We both pause. Look at each other. Taking stock of the situation, sizing each other up. Risk assessment on the part of the fox. It doesn’t look in great condition: fur dry and lacking in colour and shine. Ribs visible and heaving  the beast pants: it has either woken up from cover between  Asda Dave’s shed and the roadside hedge or just dodged across the road, avoiding traffic. Eyes not bright, reactions and senses not as keen as might be expected (or it would have known I was there and, simply, hidden. I am sure that, preoccupied as I was I would never have seen it.

It steps backwards, carefully. Once. Twice. Our eyes locked. Another step, then it spins and is gone. Slowly, but silently.

Now it is possible that this is a usual patrol for the fox. This time, this route; although foxes are opportunists, they also follow routines.

And none of us is – usually – on site at this time.

It is also – equally – possible – that this is a new area for the fox,; forced to explore by the period of heat, drought and, presumably, lack of food.

“Did you see that … ?” I have to ask the others, of course. Not one of them had. They were too busy, too deep in conversation. My moment of communion with wildlife had been a private affair.

* Much more detailed and useful information, advice and contacts at

**When we go away to Dorset for a break, we leave our good neighbour a note – she waters the tomatoes and pots for us – to keep the water stocked up “for the hedgehogs we have seen”. Clearly she thinks us deranged; leaving a note, when we return that says 

“Your eyes have gone! I didn’t see any hedgehogs!”


Rare As Rocking Horse Droppings (A.K.A. What’s In A Name Part I)

I am, for a change, stumped, needing a guilt-free name for our new, very keen allotment neighbours. I usually try (in my own possibly warped fashion) to establish some connection between the name and the person/personality (in order, it says somewhere in the introduction to this blog, to protect the innocent; by association then also, I guess, the guilty).

This new pair are so honest, so hard working and so humble. They have very quickly become a part of the community of souls on the downhill side of the plots. Partly because, in their willingness to keep the plot they are such regular visitors. And work with such a will: the plot was overgrown with annual weeds to the point where grasses and all manner of annual weeds were spilling their seed heads across the pathway. But within two days it had all been weeded out. By hand. The resulting mass burned over a couple of weeks. Then the establishment of raised beds: perfectly level, perfectly square. Now, I have to confess Perfection in woodwork and I are as far apart as The soil on these plots and the surface of the moon, but his work is thought out, calculated (unlike me he actually does measure twice and cut once) and has money invested in it. For example Dr Pepper donated a metal frame from a mini poly tunnel. Richard thinks it is too low, so builds a timber frame to lift it off the ground.


The carefully stacked slabs are for paths between the said raised beds. And that’s when the blog name came to me: so they became the Carpenters (Karen and Richard); harmony group of legend (not tradesmen of hammer and plane). Until that moment I had been struggling.

And, last time I saw them – we were filling our water butts and watering the needy plants in the heat wave  – he was characteristically hard at work with a smart, sharp saw, a Screw Fix pencil behind each ear (something I’ve never managed. Either my ears are too far away from my head or the pencils are too damned short).

So, newly-monickered “Richard” was telling me there had been some neighbour-chatter about them not paying rent for this year (as they haven’t been on-site for the year, have done such a great job and have little time to plant and raise crops this time around.)

“I don’t want any fuss,” he told me, “We’re happy to have a plot. Allotments, “ he says, “ are like rocking horse droppings. You can’t get ‘em for love nor money.”

“A friend of the wife, she’s got an allotment. Over in Oxford. It’s costing her eighty pounds a year. So, for what we’re paying here? No mate! I don’t want to make a fuss!”

And, anyway, in the way that will happen to the best of people, he’s been given “spare” plants: brassicas, beans, and other bits and pieces that he’s dibbed in.

It was Asda Dave, apparently, who was leading the no-rent-this-year lobby. And it is a tough one to call. In reality allotments need all the money they can rake (sorry) in; if people are happy to stump up the wedge then it’s a no-brainer. Being on the committee Asda Dave has a sore head at the moment. Hose connectors from the taps are going missing, the gates are being left unlocked and some plot holders are, he tells me, watering crops directly from the hose.

There is a currently a genuine heat wave going on: hot sun, temperatures above mid-twenties Celsius and this following the driest June on record (according to the Met. Office). What winds there are dry out the ground and plants are suffering (grass on school playing fields and roadside verges especially) But it’s grass and, as such, is necessarily tough, hardy and will spring back when rain falls again. Allotment holders are doing what they can to water their crops. But to leave the hose dribbling water into a row of, say potatoes is a step too far – and against the rules. Other people cannot get to use the hoses to fill water butts: allowed and so it is anti-social. And tempers can flare in heat waves (though not on our plot at the moment).

But, in the heat, I catch “Richard” riddling his soil to get rid of stones. Admittedly there are a lot on his plot (we have been reducing the number of stones on our own plot gradually over the years and there is a gravel quarry next door) and has a “bit of a sweat on”.

My mind clicks on to the made-in-1967 film Cool hand Luke, starring Paul Newman: the scenes of convicts chained together in road gangs. In their cases having to work constantly or receive a whipping from the sadistic warders. And I want to change the Richard for Cool Hand Luke. A film incidentally I never really understood, but the scene where Newman’s “Luke” is reckoning to eat fifty eggs in an hour for “something to do” had me fascinated for a year or so. I mean: fifty eggs!

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