Archive for the ‘A Site for Sore Eyes?’ Category

Tadpole Bob and the Dangers of Soot!

Taking a break from the self-imposed drudgery and none too pleasant clinging smells of painting the bedroom, I slipped up to the allotment on a wet but warm recent morning. My mother had had her open fire chimney swept and, having requested it, the sweep had bagged up the soot and left it for me. For the allotment. I can remember the time, back as a child, when my grandfather was planting chitted seedling potatoes, the larger ones he’d slice with a pocket knife – making sure there was a growing chit in each fraction, and dip the cut flesh in a tobacco tin of soot. And, every year, every single potato would sprout. Clearly there was something magical about this black stuff. I have since learned that, at the very least, once it has shed the high acidity that would literally “burn” plants, soot is a wonderful slug deterrent.

I also took the kitchen compost bucket; with potato peelings, the cardboard tube inners of toilet rolls, tea bags and six apple cores. These would be added to the growing compost heap. The soot, in a tough black plastic bag left to lose some of its acidity, sitting by the side of the shed.

Full of good intentions, I wasn’t going to be gone long. Get some fresh air, leave said items and get back to the inevitable clearing away and washing of brushes, trays and rollers. How little I enjoy decorating: this being my least favourite part.

The site is looking good. The border dispute is now entering what must be its fourth year. And, admittedly more winter digging needs doing and there are a few  more annual weeds in evidence … but all in all …

Heading back along the path I spot Tadpole Bob’s car pulling in. It’s been a while since we have spoken and he always has something interesting to say. Heading, at something resembling breakneck pace, towards the path from the opposite direction comes Stokey. He’s parked in Bob’s space and wants either to apologise, move his car – or, preferably – both. He’s moving fast … but not fast enough. And there follows some healthy banter about parking charges and prompt payment. Good natured and amusing. We stand together, pass small talk and I am asked what my allotment mission is.

“Just bringing a bag of soot,” I inform them.

Bob, normally smiling of countenance, lets his bearded face fall.

“What’s it in?” he asks. Then, not waiting for a reply goes on:

“You need to be careful! It can be dangerous, can soot. No! Really!”

(My face must have cracked into a smile that I hadn’t noticed at this point. Bob is a clever guy, especially dry sense of humour and I was, frankly, expecting a punch line. I’m not the only one. Stokey is also grinning; we both know Bob’s penchant for getting an amusing dig in.)

But, this time he’s serious, going on:

” It’s what happens when small particles are mixed together. It’s the Tribo-electric effect. Well known…” To him, maybe I’m …

Then it hits. Those sandstorms in films like Mad Max, The Mummy (the more recent ones -as opposed to those with Christopher Lee as the bandaged one) and – oh, what was that film with The Rock in, desert, camels, nubile …

Yes! Yes, yes, yes: The Scorpion King. There’s sinister lightning flickering around in the whirling, threatening clouds of approaching sand. Generated by the fast moving particles rubbing together, swapping – or stealing – electrons. The Tribo-electric effect.

I just never figured it with soot. It’s dangerous in it’s own right. Gets into your skin, blocks up the Dyson filter, invades the spaces you never put dust (soot) sheets. In fact, once when as teenagers my brother and I were sweeping the front room chimney, we were so confident in our abilities we didn’t use dust covers at all. Just a metal bucket in the fire place to catch the soot. Pick it up, take it outside, return and repeat. Unfortunately on this occasion a jackdaw nest was in the chimney and a nestling tumbled down into the grate, became instantly capable of erratic flight and blundered everywhere: settee, piano stool, curtains, mirror, clothes hanging on the back of the door. Disaster!

Stokey has also remembered something.

“Yes!” he says, “When I was driving a wagon on the open cast … dusty work that, up and down The Hole all day. Massive engines, big air filters, stuck outside the bonnet getting clogged up. We used to use the air lines to clean ’em out. Against the rules, but faster to do. On a couple of occasions I got a hit from that. Must have been that Thingy-effect then eh?”

I had, for my sins , forgotten that Bob has worked all his life (so far) as a mechanical and electrical engineer. That he still has all of that knowledge. And is very practical too; people on the allotment, indeed, turn to Bob when they have machinery that needs fixing; a strimmer perhaps. But his favourites are rotavators: the gearing, the gubbins, the carburettor. And that the opencast where Stokey worked was not just down the road (this is Staffordshire and we have had our share of collieries of all manner through the ages) but in Africa.

There may be a tendency, at times, to write “old boys” like Bob and Stokey off. But there is experience and knowledge gained and refined over the years. Every now and then it is brought to the surface and sparkles in the sharing.

But, unable to be serious for lengthy periods of time we slide towards joking about selling tickets in six months time so that people can see me dicing with death and static electricity as I scatter the soot and work it into the soil with a metal handled fork. And whether we could sell the electricity to the grid and make money (er, I did say we weren’t serious didn’t I*)


* This being static electricity it would not, of course,  be easily storable or transferable.







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!

Bad News First?

“Which do you want first,” we might be asked, “the good news or the bad?”

And people far more clever than me make fortunes from analysing the answer and providing deep insightful character assessments from the order in which you prefer to hear stuff.

Forgive me for thinking that I may be unusual; insofar as that, sometimes, I want the good news first and sometimes the bad.

But what if the news is both good and bad? At the same time?

As a perfect example: our lawnmower is kaput. Not my favourite way to waste time, in fairness, following a lawn mower across grass and I have shamelessly avoided it on many occasions. But the lawnmower (now gone to the great prairies in the sky perhaps) has done me great service: covering up my poor skills and apathy for over seven years. I have, every now and then, tinkered; taking off the stone-bent blade and “sharpening” with a rough file, cleaning out the crevices and plastic depressions before – thankfully – putting it away after “the last cut” of each year. Qualcast. Rotary. Electrical. I have a fond memory of a faithful, manual, cylinder mower that my grandfather had: a Qualcast Suffolk Punch. It became one of my tasks, in spare teenage-time years, to push this beast across front lawn and back. The front lawn had a unique star- shaped island bed.

It was the Plantation Owner’s Wife that noticed the problem first. Possibly because she was using the mower to shame me into getting the lawn chopped.

“It keeps stopping,” she patiently explained, “then starting again.”

I fiddled with the switching mechanism; there’s a knack to it. Seemed to have it fixed, there were no loose connections after all. But when I got to work to finish off the lawn she had started … sure enough, it kept cutting out.

So, as is standard these days (or so it seems) a quick internet search (who knew there were so many options, so many companies, so many choices)and a car ride up to Homebase. To purchase the nearest-to-similar as the ex-mower at the best price. The new Qualcast model in fact. And, surprisingly easy to put together (I even read the instructions*!)

The clippings are bagged up and go into the boot of the car (now protected by a cardboard carpet fashioned from the box from the new mower of course: waste not want not) and taken up to the compost heap on the plot. We have two sections of the bin now maturing and are adding “new” stuff to the third. I have planted some nasturtiums in the finished heaps, which still smell, quite strongly, of soot as you walk past. The pile that is, not the nasturtiums.

We have new neighbours. One of the plots along the walkway has been neglected and annual weeds (including groundsel, grass, bitter cress, nettles, docks and dandelions) have sprouted, obscuring the beds in which the previous-but-one tenant had worked so hard to develop. Unfortunately she chose to give up the plot because she had lost her driving licence, was biking to and from work and had little time left (or energy?) to keep up with things. The next tenants? We never saw them, but perhaps they had the “inspection letter” and simply realised they couldn’t manage.

But today we met the two newbies. A lady in pink, settled in a pink chair. Watching the man, in black T-shirt methodically ripping up the weeds. We introduced ourselves, hopefully gave them encouragement and handed over a dozen or so French climbing bean plants we had been wondering if we had space for.

Little Dave wandered over to give us the latest news on the boundary dispute. Apparently – and, sadly, as predicted in this blog – the final settlement is not quite so final. The “independent” surveyor has been, apparently and made his pronouncement. The parish council are just waiting for the house owner to “sign a document”.

Meanwhile, the house owner himself appears. Calls me over. He has half a wagon load of graded top soil he needs to get rid of. Does anybody here want it?

“Free?” I ask.

“Now,” says he, Irish accent and eyes twinkling, “when did I ever charge you for anything?”

So I take delivery. The tyre on the wheelbarrow is flat; I keep forgetting to bring the foot pump up, but the soil is dark, stone free and, especially as it is dry, very light. I dump a couple of barrow loads on Little Dave’s plot. He will use it to grow some carrots, he thinks, though maybe not this year. We have adopted the practice of sowing carrot seed in raised containers: an old galvanised dust-bin (from before the huge-in-comparison plastic Eurobins came into our lives) and three plastic tubs (one pink, one purple). We did this in order to avoid the dreaded carrot fly: legend has it that they cannot fly above twenty centimetres from the earth, so fly around tall things. So far it has been successful. We sow thickly and thin out the seedlings.

Good idea Batman. We find an old water butt and part fill it with this dark treasure. We just need to find some carrot seed now …

DSC_0184Actually on the plot, the turnips are through, thrusting eager seed leaf pairs upwards in – typically of me – a row that is none too straight. No sign of the parsnips I sowed at the same time though. The first row of peas we planted is a failure, plenty of weeds growing tall between the sticks, but only five or so pea vines. However, the second row is doing much better and the third row emerging. I water these two rows and set about taking up the sticks from the failed row to use on the third.  I leave some, those with pea plants nearby and pop some more seeds into the row, excavating rows with the trowel as I go. There is a voice in the back of my head whispering quietly, insistently that this is too late to plant peas; that they need water and the coming months are the driest months of the year. Now I’m not sure if that voice is telling the truth (or where it got the information), but there’s a second voice saying that there are plenty of pea seeds left, that they might as well go into the ground (because there is enough space) as not.

Between the raised beds are six egg plants in pots that our plot neighbour had offered: he’d planted too many and they’d all germinated. My plan is to put some into pots in the already crowded with tomatoes greenhouse at home and put the rest into the ground on the plot. (I believe they need greenhouse shelter and warmth to thrive … but let’s see what happens.

While I am weeding out a patch of ground I notice little hints of red in the raised beds and – sure enough – our first strawberries are ready and waiting. Picking them will have to wait because I suddenly realise it’s late and I need some sleep.

Summer is here, late sunsets and strawberries.



 *Most likely because there were four sentences and diagrams to help.

“We’ve Got The Dog …”


“Hey, what are you doing this morning?” the voice, familiar, disturbs me. I’m feeling satisfied. After all, I’ve just finished planting the main crop potatoes on one of the few warm, dry days this Easter. Not counting the late autumn digging, just getting them into the ground has taken four half days. Starting with the historically named Arran Victory potatoes (bought on a whim), Desiree and, finally King Edwards.

The voice belongs to Dave. Always helpful Dave, ready with advice, spare plants and offers of the massive cabbages he grows so well.  It’s quite normal to pop over to chat with someone on our allotments (on every allotment in the country I would hazard a guess) so, having promised myself I’ll just turn over soil for one more row – scooping the annual weeds into the resulting trench as I go – I pause.

“Last of the potatoes,” I inform him.

He nods. He always spade-digs the ground he uses for potatoes, then rotovates the rest. He has been scanning the neighbouring plots. He inclines his head to indicate the Pepper King’s ground, across the access path from our plot.

“He hasn’t done much has he?” he asks. In a way that isn’t really asking. “’n I haven’t seen much of him either. Think he’d be up here. I hear he’s now taken on the other half. Is that right?”

I’m wondering exactly what’s going on at this point. Seems to me that Dr Pepper has done a lot more with his ground than his predecessor, who was famous across the site for simply using a massive orange veteran rotavator for ploughing crops right back in: potatoes, swedes, onions, wallflowers. And, when I was on the committee, the plot he had last year was exactly that: a plot; at least as big as ours. So “the other half” is not a half as such, but another – whole plot. And … has he taken it on?

How would I know? I haven’t seen the guy since last October and I’m not on the committee. Unlike Dave. Who doesn’t seem to know.

“And, whatsernames. Him here,” nodding to the plot next to ours, “Have you seen him? I haven’t. What’s he up to?”

“And the next one, not been about. Makes you wonder why they have an allotment don’t it?”

Well, I’m thinking, I’m not on the committee – haven’t been for at least three years, but, only two months ago the committee had a chance, surely, not to renew the rental agreement for these three – alleged – renegades. If they were so remiss, so lack in their duties. There should have been plot inspection letters going out. Shouldn’t there? Somebody who is actually on the committee, er, somebody like … er … Dave himself?

I only think these things. But, at the beginning of getting something off his chest, Dave seems unable to stop himself now.

I miss the next part of his moaning because I am distracted. Four or five crows are vocally and physically assaulting a magpie which is – almost certainly, deliberately – straying into “their” territory: provocative: the still-leafless ash and sycamore trees on the edge of the land where the cemetery borders the quarry. There are a couple of bulky nests in the tree tops, though I’m not sure what, if anything, has claimed them this year. And, having started, my mind goes back over the couple of days we’ve had since I was last here.

Some seriously wet weather, but as Thursday dawned bright and reasonably sunny we decided to head out, use our national Trust membership and see Dudmaston Hall, somewhere near Bridgnorth. The sat-nav took us on an interesting, winding route, avoiding Wolverhampton (perhaps a more logical route). But we got there before the gates opened, so found a satellite car park (The Old Sawmill) and, rather than sit around and kill time in a lazy way, walked the Three Pools Walk. Across a field, into some woods and through shade and sun-warmed glades spent the good part of an hour circuiting the said three pools. Good exercise, spontaneous and quiet exploration. The woods are clearly parkland planted, the pools one-time decoy ponds for sport. But thirsty at the end of the stroll, so headed for the promised tea rooms at Dudmaston. But the car park, part flooded, was full, so we re-routed to the Rock Houses at Kinver. Got there remarkably quickly: part of my history en route. Enville Hall where, not counting the £50 Renault 4 that lasted six weeks, I bought my first car. It was an 850 cc Mini. The lady had won it in an annual RNLI raffle, but had been banned from driving (for speeding for the umpteenth time in her own Frog-eyed Sprite) the month before she took delivery of her prize. And I needed a car to get to my first full time job on the outskirts of Lichfield! The Lord moves in mysterious ways – sometimes in a Mini, it seems.


A lot of recent work has seen the Rock Houses into the twenty first century, more houses open and furnished, the gardens taken in hand and a tea room; praise be. I ate a filling cheese sandwich and drank copious amounts of tea. While sitting at a table on the upper level, above the winding path/steps that climb up to the Tea Room I hear a lady talking on a mobile ‘phone. It’s not like I’m eavesdropping in some sinister way. She isn’t keeping it quiet, she doesn’t seem to mind that that half of three counties can probably hear her. And a thought occurs to me. Our telephone conversations are very public these days, the privacy of the once ubiquitous red public call boxes seems a long, long way off; a different universe almost. People weren’t supposed to know who you were talking to, never mind what you are saying. Before social media, before mobile phones. I’m still not terribly comfortable talking to people when I cannot see their faces. But this woman is not, apparently, in the least bit bothered.

“We’ve got the dog,” she is, if not shouting, then merely decibels below it, “so we walked to Kinver.” She makes it seem natural. Dog, Kinver, Kinver, dog. I smile, imagining the feelings at the other end of her conversation, stunned silence obviously. She snaps the phone shut and – thirty seconds or so later she is pulled into view in view by an energetic Staffordshire bull terrier, still fighting the lead to put the ‘phone away. I smile again.

Leaving the outdoor table we walked out over the trails that spread out from Kinver Edge, enjoying the light, the yellow blooming gorse, the sense of freedom and safe adventure.

“… only four of us on the committee doing anything. He’s not doin’ the plot inspections. He was supposed to be helping that other one, (never good on names, our Dave), When he was replacing the taps. Where was he? I dunno. I ended up helping to put one of the posts in you know. The secretary does a bit. Every now and then. And the chairman, well, a bit.”

I’m maybe reading too much into this, feeling a bit flattered. Is he trying to get around to asking me to go back onto the committee? Expecting me to volunteer? Either way it’ll not happen. Dave and I were committee members when the combination of people, that every-now-and-then-synchronicity worked for a while. A committee that successfully promoted the allotment in wider circles: annual open days, the local gardens day charity event, articles published on social media and the NLGSA magazine, trips to Gardener’s World Live, the Malvern Show and a regular calendar of events (Pumpkins and Fire Pits, Christmas Wine tasting, Barbecues, Afternoon Teas), setting up the World War One Memorial Garden and raised beds for disabled inclusion and a waterless toilet to enable school visits and – last but not least – raising eight thousand pounds from grant applications. But people are people and petty jealousies, personalities and lack of clear leadership caused distrust and disagreement. I didn’t like it – and resigned. As did three other like-minded individuals.

This current committee, however, seems to be disappearing up its own exhaust pipe. Very inward looking, unable to coordinate efforts, responding inconsistently to plotholders and then only in a reactionary style. Poor communication, little or no forward thinking. All in all; a sad shame.

So, while I am disappointed that Dave is not particularly happy with the committee, I have to wonder what said committee is actually doing about it. Why isn’t the chairman sorting it out? Making sure plot inspections get carried out? Making committee members accountable. Why wasn’t the treasurer mentioned in the list of active people? Why doesn’t Dave voice these worries – obviously getting him down – at committee meetings where his comments might make a difference? Or why is he staying on a committee that he believes is ineffective?

More importantly, why is Dave asking me? What am I supposed to do about it?

“These potatoes,” I interrupt enthusiastically, “so glad you asked about ‘em. We got ‘em from the Shropshire Potato day at Harper Adams. Good day out.” I look at all the rows of potatoes behind me. I smile.

“Looks like we got a bit carried away,” I admit, “a few impulse buys I suppose. We didn’t realise we’d got so many until it was time to plant them.” Particularly the King Edwards, bought by weight; and most of them are the size of pigeon eggs. Hopefully, with all of the organic matter in the soil, they’ll produce a decent crop.


I go on to tell Dave some more about the day (potato history, origins in Peru, new varieties, why Victory potatoes are so named) he listens politely, but I can see he’s not really interested.

As he nods, excuses himself and walks away (still muttering), perhaps he understands how I was feeling. Somehow I doubt it.

Nature Red …


While I was busy playing Tarzan-with-a-camera last week our neighbour, Mr Plumber, popped over. He has managed to snag a whole garden full of pallets … and I do mean monster pallets, so long they only just fit into the rear of his white van!

We arrange a day to get some of them up to the allotment, the remainder he’ll use on his wood burner or for “projects”. We discuss the benefits of skip diving, but he’s one ahead; he has an arrangement with a local company and gets the choice of all manner of stuff they would otherwise skip: wooden boards, plaster board, soil pipe, timber …

His take away service helps him and saves the company the money they would have to pay to have it skipped. A win-win situation. And he is generous enough to include us now in the distribution of the swaggage.

We spend a long day taking a couple of loads up to the site, which he has never visited before. Duly impressed by the size of the whole site he is also – as people usually are – taken by the size of the plots. Some of the pallets we leave whole and some we disassemble: the eventual plan will be to use at least some of them to edge to middle of the three plots.

Work, if it can be called such, is steady, and accompanied by cups of tea, a tomato soup and Cheddar cheese lunch and a lot of chatter. Given that it is January the weather is comfortably warm (being busy helps, needless to say). Researchers are telling us that 2016 was the warmest on record; a little surprising as summer actually didn’t feel so hot, but I guess the average temperature during the other seasons was higher.

Residents and neighbours, compost techniques, the universality of pallets (real life Lego bricks in that they are easy to work with, physically manageable and truly versatile), tales of ski-ing holidays, the fact that a farm nearby is home to lions and tigers from Chipperfield’s Circus). And, apparently have been there for some time! This raises a whole range of moral questions about the role of performing animals, animal rights and animal welfare of course, but also about such animals living in such close (and secret) proximity to … well, to me!



Needless to say the hardest, heaviest part of our task is carrying the huge pallets and assorted timbers from the van all the way to our plot. Naturally they seem to get heavier and more awkward to shift as we move them. No pain, no gain eh?

But when we are done for the day I am satisfied that we have enough to get the job done – and it is all, now, exactly where it needs to be.

I spend the latter part of the warm afternoon on the plot taking the nails from the timbers with a “gorilla bar*” and claw hammer. I lay out the pieces and, it seems there are enough to edge the plot without actually dismantling any other pallets (which’ll leave some available for compost bins repairs and the construction, I hope, of a separate bin for storing useful items: wood, hoops, the hose, the wheelbarrow), maybe even some for the shed itself. The sun is heading quickly for the horizon and, at this time of year it gets chilly very quickly when the sun goes down, so I head for home.

Unfortunately, as I leave I realise the pile looks something like a bonfire heap and it is my fervent hope that nobody nips across the open space where the fence is still missing and sets fire to it.


Things have been going on back at home: the disputed nest in the top of the silver birch, claimed and counter claimed by two pairs of magpies and a crow couple has been occupied by the larger birds, much to the frustration of the magpies who, even as I sit down to type are harassing the crows and kicking up a helluva fuss in the way that only magpies can manage. For a moment I feel for the magpies – it’ll be a whole lot harder to find a new site and build a nest to the same spec as this one – but then remember the way they terrorise smaller nesting birds. This is a taste of their own medicine then! Nature red in tooth and claw in front of my very eyes.


 *Is that the genuine name for this thing or did I imagine it?

Image result for gorilla bar image

Heap-Turning; Worm-Wrangling


Every year on our allotment we have, inevitably, some successes, some surprises and a few failures. The way I figure it: it’s just important to keep going and grin if you have more of the first two than the last.

In that vein our brassicas are not so productive this year, the caulis being used as mash have rushed out of shape. The cabbages, meanwhile are bulking up. But the experimental Brokali (sic.) failed.

Runner beans, deliberately planted late so that we can harvest after our summer holidays (the Scillies and Dumfries and Galloway) are now being picked, eaten, freezered and/or given away.

Thornless blackberries are packed but still unripe. Apples (Bramley Seedling, James Grieve, Orange Pippins and a supermarket give-away tree) are loaded and ripening, as are the dessert pears. Still looking for a Bartlett.

Courgettes are big leaved and providing green and yellow loofahs daily and in the beds next to them, the pumpkins are now changing colour.


We have planted rows of late lettuce, beetroot where we lifted the onion crop (now strung up in the garage).

Today we dug over the remainder of the ground that the onions had taken up, removing the pernicious weeds and dumping the rest on the compost heap. This heap is now as full as it needs to be. So we have to empty the bay next door, turn this pile over and begin again.


Once that little piece of ground is dug over I begin; uncover the “finished” compost, it has been covered with black plastic, a couple of pallets and various other odds ‘n’ sods, then start to lift out the “brown gold” with a fork. I have to move a damson branch from the Pepper Grower’s plot first, but it bends back without any damage.

The material on this heap, having been, essentially neglected for six months or so looks really good – and is filled with brandling worms. I pick out about fifty of these and put them aside in what was an ice cream tub: they will go into the wormery we have outside the back door at home.

As successive wheelbarrows are emptied on the plot a robin approaches, mindful of the small black and white kitten that has been hanging around since June. We sit on the Overseer’s Throne, sip tea and watch enormous bumble bees hanging from diminutive speedwell flowers: the contrast in size is alarming but it must be worth the insect’s while as they are ignoring teasels and hedgerow buddleia elsewhere.


Eventually this compost will be turned into the ground, hopefully during autumn digging, replacing some of the elements that this season’s growth has “eaten up”, but also – and equally importantly – keeping the minibeasts and micro-critter levels high so that plant roots can access the nutrients as the ystart to grow – way ahead in the futures of next spring.


Thief! Thief!

“Our” plots lie at the corner of the allotment site. Down-slope. An advantage we smilingly say, because when those on the slope above us water their land the water runs downhill – and we get the benefit. We need that bonus though, because we are as far away from the stand pipe as it is possible to get. Our part of the world is bounded by two hedges; the one along the Wolverhampton Road and the second between us and a detached house. There is a lap board fence beyond this hedge, the installation of which severely damaged the hedge. However, over the years e have either repaired the hedge or replaced it.

As you walk along the path to our plots, usually carrying a bag of horse muck, baskets or the kitchen waste in buckets the view is obscured in summer. By the branches of a Bramley cooking apple tree and a mixture of drooping, fruit heavy damsons (or are they plums?) from the opposite plot. And the mighty Tarzan-sized leaves of rhubarb (which a new plot holder recently mistook for gunnera!) which project out of massed roots on our own plot. So you don’t see the strawberry plants packed into the raised bed until you have ducked under (difficult with a wheelbarrow) the trees and heaved aside the rhubarb.


Yesterday as I did this I disturbed a pair of thieves. Sitting, hidden, on the sides of the raised bed they were carried away. Helping themselves to the strawberries we have spent time, organic chemicals and energy on … so that we can stuff ourselves with that juicy taste of warm sun (as if …) and summer. We didn’t go to all that trouble for …

All of this rage is passing through me …

I haven’t broken pace, but I have started to lower the box I am carrying that has the means in it of making fire. For today is Friday: burning day. And we have come to get rid of the brash from trimming the insides of the hedge, which have been left to dry for a week or so.

At about the same time as I see them, the robbers notice me. They are fast. With that characteristic noise they leap up, startled but moving already.

… and are gone. Because, goddammit wood pigeons can fly!

Leaving me shaking my fist (still holding a box of matches) in frustration.

Image result for wood pigeons

Our fault. Of course. We have been lax. Should have put that netting over the crops a lot sooner.

Wood pigeons are a big problem on the allotments here: taking the tops out of pea plants, pecking at cabbage plants, breaking the soft branches of currant bushes that can’t – quite – support their weight and attacking the strawberries. Often, after they have departed the evidence damns them: part-pecked fruit on the paths.

But we seem to have human thieves here too; other plot holders are talking of losing vast quantities of fruit or having protective netting removed and produce disappearing.

This is nothing less than disgraceful, shameful behaviour … and may, perhaps, even worse, be an “inside job”.

The committee are making big, off-the-record noises about the security cameras they have had since autumn, apparently. But nobody is actually sure, because accounts vary, whether they have actually set these up yet.

Meanwhile we get our heads down, install the anti-marauder netting, burn the clippings, water the squashes and retire to sit, sipping wine by the fire pit.

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Picking the strawbs can wait until tomorrow.


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