Friday, 31 October 2008


Today I transplanted my chicons. These are for endives (Witloof-type). Giuseppe Greco (Joe #1)had told me twice after he gave me the plants that I would have to transplant them at the end of this month, and it being the 31st, I thought it was about time I got round to it.

I dug them up, cut the bottom of the root off so that it was about 2-3 inches long, and trimmed off most of the foliage. Then I made holes with a dibber at the bottom of a shallow trench I'd made, and put the "potatoes" (as Joe called them) into the holes and covered them over.

I have transplanted them on to the Salvation Army allotment, even though I told them I wouldn't be using it next year. I told them I had winter veg on it that I would want to harvest, and I think these endives count as winter veg. I'm not sure whether to plant my broad beans on that plot though. I think I'd rather start them off on the Cat Allotment, even though the soil isn't clean yet. I tested it today, and some of the soil I've turned over has already become crumbly to the prod of a spade, so it won't take as much as I thought to get it ready to plant. It might look like a ploughed field, but it will be quite easy to level it off, and once it starts to dry off again, to dig out the perennial weeds.

Swiss chard

Thomas stopped to talk to me when he passed the Cat allotment. First of all, he told me off for working in the north wind, saying that I'd catch a cold - not now, but when I went home.

On the back of his bike in an orange string bag he had some white stalks with green leaves that were half as big as him. I asked him what they were, and he said they were spinach. He offered me some, and I accepted two stalks. He told me to chop them into 2-inch lengths and cook them in water, then serve them with a little salt and some garlic. He said his children liked them but his grandchildren didn't. I said that was because they were English.

I brought them home and cooked them, putting some chopped up stalks in my tomato sauce and cooking the rest as spinach. I expected them to be coarse and taste strong, but instead, the tops were just like spinach, and the stalks I had cooked with them were mild and delicate with an excellent texture. I later discovered that what I was eating was Swiss chard. Another vegetable to add to my repertoire.

Thursday, 30 October 2008


When I got down the allotment today, a huge council tractor and trailer were just leaving. When I got further up the track, I could see that it had dumped of a trailer-load of leaves, swept up from the municipal parks and streets.

I'd been menaing to go out into the country and collect leaves, but this seemed a quick way of getting a supply, even if they weren't what Lawrence D. Hills would call the best type - not oak and beech (I still remember that book almost word for word, even though I owned it almost thirty years ago).

I decided to use the compost container Dee gave me, which I'd been using up till now on the Salvation Army allotment because I hadn't wanted to bother to build a compost bin on a plot that wasn't mine. I emptied that and carried it down to no. 59, where I attempted to secure it by slipping it over one of the metal poles Joe had used to fix his windbreak in place. Then I was going to fill it up by the bucket-load, but someone had abandoned a wheelbarrow on the vacant allotment next to the pile of leaves, so I borrowed that.

Later, when Joe came down, he said leaves are even better than manure. He said he used to be a cobbler, and he mended shoes for the nuns in Wroughton. He said that one of them used to collect leaves and she grew cabbages " that!"

I didn't get much digging done, because it took me about an hour to deal with the leaves, and almost as soon as I started to dig, it began to rain.

I went back to the SA allotment to shelter in the hut, and noticed that they'd been down and done some work since I was down last. I say "work", but all they seem to have achieved is to level out the soil nearest the hut, dig the edges and pile some of the grass on the weed-pile, and make a god-awful mess of the paths. John will be furious when he sees the state they've left his path in. It used to be a velvety lawn, but now it's a sea of mud. Poor John! Poor me - no chance I'll get it now, since they've clearly decided to ignore common sense and go for another year of turning over the same plot half a dozen times without taking the weeds out.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The first frost

His wife, Anna, wasn't there today. He said she was in bed: she wasn't well - something to do with her legs. I don't blame her for taking a day off - it was freezing when I got there at 10 am - we'd had the first real frost of the winter (it has wiped out my nasturtiums), and this makes it the earliest deep frost for years (it's still only October, remember). But by mid-morning, John and I were sharing tea from his Thermos sitting in the sun outside his shed. Later, though, when it clouded over, it was very cold. It really smelt of winter.

Two Giuseppes and a Giovanni

I am slowly working out who is who on the allotment. Joe #1's real name is Giuseppe Greco, and Joe #2's real name is Giuseppe Olivieri. John's (82) name is Giovanni. I think.

Frank (369/370) told me this when he passed the Salvation Army allotment on his way home. His real name is apparently Francesco Mackenzie. He says he's got Scottish ancestry. He had me believing him, but I think his name is really Vincenzi, not Mackenzie.

Compost bin

Today, Big John and I built my compost bin - or should I say, John did, with me looking on and giving instructions.

There were only three fencing panels left, so it is a single compost bin. First, John sawed off about a quarter of the fencing panels so that what remained were only 3 ft high, and easily portable, as I had to carry them back down to no. 59. He'd brought some posts so that I didn't have to use the long posts I've got which I want to save for mending the shed.

When he'd built the bin, Joe #2 came along (that's his bike you can see in the background) and asked when I was getting the sheep.

We're going to continue the back of the bin along to form a windbreak. Eventually. But for now, I'm well content, because I've marked out my territory. Now no-one can say they didn't know someone was using that patch and chuck their rubbish on it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The end of the Salvation Army allotment?

I forwarded this email to the Allotment Officer, and she said she liked it, but having read it over, it seems very angry. Mind you, I've got every right to be angry. I told the Allotment Officer that if I was offered my half of the SA allotment in my name, I would accept it, because then I would know it was mine and that I wouldn't stand to be kicked off at the whim of the Salvation Army. But I was no longer prepared to "subsidise" them by working on it and keeping it up together, so that they could keep the plot because it was being cultivated, whereas if they have the whole plot to contend with, they don't stand an earthly of keeping it up together and will lose it at the end of next season. Also, if I had half, I stood a good chance of getting the other half when they realised they were only fooling themselves that it would come together.

She replied that they hadn't paid their rent on it yet this year, so if they didn't, she would happily sign it over to me.

So I'm wondering if the Salvation Army is really having second thoughts as to whether it's worth their while bothering next year. Mind you, I'm not holding out any hopes that they will come to their senses and hand it over to me. That would be too much to hope for!

Oh dear, the Salvation Army!

At the same time as I got the email from the Allotment Officer, I had one from the Salvation Army, too. They were asking me whether I wanted to keep working on the bottom half of their allotment next year.

I was in a pretty bad mood at the time. I'd tried to phone the Allotment Officer and she wasn't there. I'd tried to phone the Neighbourhood Warden to complain about the Family-from-hell, but I got answered by some silly girl who put me back to the switchboard, which left me hanging on for three minutes, which cost me £2 on my mobile. When I phoned back to complain and to ask for the direct line, another girl got uppity with me. So I was all ready to take it out on someone. This is the email I sent back to the Salvation Army:

Dear Xxx,

Don't take this personally, but I'll be very blunt - who are you trying to kid that you will do any better next year on even a quarter of the allotment? The Salvation Army has had that plot for goodness knows how many years, and according to John, whose house backs on to it, and who has seen them come and go, it has always been the same - you get a few people up there for a few months, then it goes back to the state it was in at the end of this summer. When I lived in Davis House, I had a number of blokes coming to "help" me - none of them stayed for long. Even now, the weeds are coming back because none of your lot has ever bothered to dig the roots out, even though I dug that part over three times and they've dug it at least three more. During the last part of this summer, i.e. the harvest period, they only came down there once in six weeks. You can't run an allotment on that basis. You need to work hard on it for several hours at least one day a week (I would say two), and that's a bare minimum. Plus you need to have them properly supervised, because none of them have got a clue. If you can't promise that commitment, you should hand it over to someone who can. I had to watch a perfectly good piece of land that I had lovingly cultivated go completely to waste this year, and did not have enough land myself to grow sufficient food for myself.

The soil on the piece of land I have now is not nearly as good as that on the Salvation Army allotment, but I am digging it over ready to put into full production next year. I will not have the time or energy to cultivate both plots. If you ask me, it is your lot who should be starting from scratch, not me, as they are men and seem to be good at digging if nothing else. However, I have no expectations of my moral right to that plot being recognised, so I am going to leave it all to you. But I think that unless you come up with a better plan than you had this year (and don't make me laugh by talking about giving each resident his own raised bed - fix the shed before you think about wasting energy building raised beds), you will find that you are unable to keep even a quarter of it properly cultivated, and will thus be in danger of losing the plot by the end of the next season by which time I will be fully committed to my own plot. I have some vegetables on yours at the moment, which I want to harvest through the winter, but come the spring, I'm going to have to leave you to it. So, if I were you I should start thinking about organising a chain gang now, because that's the only way you're going to get that lazy lot working on it.

As I said, nothing personal, but I might as well be honest, even if undiplomatic. I wish you the best of luck - you're going to need it.

Regards Vieve

PS Thanks for letting me keep it up together for you up till now!

A theft, contd.

The same evening, I emailed our Allotment Officer to tell her what had happened. On Monday, I tried to phone her as well, but she wasn't there, so I left a forceful voicemail message for her. About an hour later, I got an email back from her saying she'd asked the contractors to put up fencing between the Family-from-hell's house and mine and my neighbours' allotments. This would be the high, green metal fencing that they've used to fence round most of the allotment, so will be plenty high enough to deter these scavenging scroungers.

I told both the Joes and Franco about it. Both the Joes called the FFH 'bastards', and Joe #2 (no. 58) told me they'd pinched his tomato stakes on two occasions, and he'd come close to "putting a fork through their neck" when he'd remonstrated with them. He said he knew it was wrong but it would have been worth it. You'd never guess to look at him - he's as mild-mannered as they come. But a lot of these Italians served in the war, and would think nothing of stabbing a man. Franco pretended to be more laissez-faire, more philosophical. Perhaps because he's got so much rubbish on his allotments he wouldn't notice if any of it went missing.

A theft

I had a theft from my allotment (no.59) last Friday night. Two of my fencing panels were taken from beside my shed. I strongly suspect that they were taken by the Family-from-hell, whose garden backs on to my allotment. They left two empty beer bottles as a calling-card, and I when I arrived on my allotment, I could see the smouldering remains of a bonfire on their garden. A day or two earlier I'd seen them light a bonfire, and the day before my fencing panels were taken, I saw a young man building a bonfire, on which he had piled, amongst other things, a plastic-covered easy chair.

I was half-expecting it, just not this soon. I thought at least they'd wait until nearer bonfire night, by which time John and I would have used the wood to make my compost bin. But no - what started out as six panels rescued from the pile outside the bungalow is now down to three. I dragged them all the way back to the Salvation Army allotment and hid them behind the shed, where I think they'll be safe, unless some maniac from the hostel takes it into his head to come and build a bonfire. I also cleared the shed of every bit of wood that I wanted to keep, which took me about an hour of walking up and down between the two, time which I had planned to spend digging.

Thursday, 23 October 2008


A few of the scenes of autumn on the allotment. Marrows, plenty of marrows, on shed roofs, on the ground, everywhere. Grape must dumped on the plot ready to be dug in.
My nasturtiums, which didn't do much all summer, have now gone mad and are trailing all over the place.
At the same time, there have been lots of signs of a second spring, not least of which is my dandelions bursting into bloom. My strawberries are still in flower, and some primulas are flowering again, like these here a few weeks back and the cowslips in my garden at home.


The Family-from-hell over the fence from the Cat allotment have taken to burning their rubbish in the garden, presumably because they keep forgetting to put the bins out and get up too late on dustbin day to rectify the matter. I am worried they will climb over the broken-down fence and start nicking wood from the allotment, so here is photographic evidence of the wood Big John's going to make my compost bin out of!

Frank and Anna

Saw Frank and Anna today just as I got there. They were putting their tools away and going home with their rotovator (they'd just rotovated in their manure). Anna commented on the wind and the cold. She said it got into her hands - she's got arthritis. Then she pulled up her skirt and showed me the scar on her left knee where she's had her knee joint replaced. She walks with a bad limp. But despite all this, she digs better than most men, and she's down there every day with Frank working for hours. I saw her later pushing the rotovator home. When I offered to help her, she said, "You're very kind, but my husband..." and she indicated to Frank who was catching up behind.

I don't know why she has got her scarf in her mouth in this picture - perhaps it's to keep her face warm.

They asked me my name the other day, and when I told them it, Frank said, "Via? Via, eh? Via means road in Italian!" So now that's who I am. He always says "Hello, Via," when he sees me - which is nice.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A wooden dilemma

I said Big John had offered to build me a compost bin, and to look at whether my shed is worth saving, but I think the best use for that wood would be for fencing, to keep the family-from-hell from climbing over the broken-down old fence and stealing the Italians' tomato stakes for their bonfires and barbecues. I told John this, and he said "Why don't I ask the council to mend the fence?" But I have asked our wonderful Allotment Officer, and nothing has been done, and I dread to think what will happen if the fence isn't fixed now that there are so few people down the allotment at any one time.

No. 7

This is the [English] man on Plot 7. I saw him planting onions and didn't have the energy to ask his permission to photograph him, though that would have been better. His plot is immaculate, and you can see, and he had a proper orange plastic dibber and was putting the onion sets in along lines of green plastic-covered wire.

Leeks and fennel - staple winter stem vegetables

The past few visits have been devoted to digging. I dig three rows on the new allotment, then if I've got any energy left, do some work on the SA allotment. Today I noticed the Salvation Army allotment was looking quite neglected in places because I had been spending all the lovely autumn weather we've had recently (apart from yesterday, when it poured) on the Cat allotment. So I put a bit of work into it, clearing around my few leeks to allow them a space to breathe. Big John gave me those leeks earlier in the summer, when mine had all died of rust. These - there must be about nine or ten - look fine, but are still only small.

I ate some of my fennel in a stir-fry tonight, together with some of my cabbage. I photographed Cathy's (No. 40) fennel, to show you what good Italian fennel should look like. Mine are much smaller, but are coming on. They smell wonderful when cut.

I also cleared my edges around the sprouts, as the grass had made inroads on the plot. It was all very backbreaking - I can only do so much - but it looks better now, and tomorrow I'll have to return to my digging.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The last of the summer apples and blackberries

And then home, after picking a handful of water-engorged blackberries to colour the stewed windfall apples given to me by my friend Sylvie.

Rafelli (No. 361)

Here is a happy man with his dung and his marrow, Mr Betti (?) on Plot no. 361.

Big John's raised beds

Big John has gone to town on his raised beds. But these are real raised beds, not your usual little sandpits. There are five of them, massively built from huge planks, lined with black polythene and filled with good topsoil (as I said, costing him £125).

Still not sure I approve of raised beds, but if anyone can prove to me that they work, it's John.

Joe, Italian lettuce and Italian hoes

Joe (86 and 87) finally showed me the difference between the various Italian lettuces. Most of them are forms of chicory (cicoria, or as Joe pronounces it, cicora). So, what I thought was scariole is cicora rossa, with the equivalent blond variety. Scariole - (or was it Catalogna?) - has dentated leaves, and is similar to Witloof-type chicory in appearance above ground. But the latter is dug up in late October, the root (what Joe calls the "potato") shortened, then re-planted in trenches so that it can be blanched.

I told him I'd found the specimens he'd given me too bitter, and he said you can cook them, so maybe I'll try that. But I suspect they are all an acquired taste, like Brussels Sprouts.

I told him that what I needed was an Italian hoe, but you didn't seem to be able to buy them in England. He went into his shed and came out with this specimen, that he said I could have. He said he'd made it himself from a spade "like we did in the War".

Sue (No. 81)

This is Sue and her children. When I arrived at the allotments the other day, Sue had just arrived too. She has very little time to spend down there on account of being a busy mum, but she helped me move some pieces of wood on to my allotment. The wood was some old fencing that had been taken down by the council workmen who were building a new fence around the bungalows adjacent to our allotments by the south gate. They had chopped the old fence into bite-sized portions ideal to make a compost bin out of, so I nabbed a few of them with Sue's help.

We had put them at the bottom of the Salvation Army allotment ready for me to transport them at my leisure down to the Cat allotment. But when I went back after the weekend, John came out of his house and told me how he had only just stopped someone carting them away in their 4 x 4. John and Joan had moved them further up the SA allotment so that it was clear they were mine.

Later, John helped me move one of them down to the Cat allotment. I was too knackered to move any more, having dug my regulation three rows of concrete soil, but John said, "Leave it to me. Joan and I will move them after you've gone home." I was aghast - they are both in their eighties and Joan must weigh all of six stone. But they did it, and lived to tell the tale.

The next day, when Big John was filling his raised beds with topsoil that he had bought for £125, I admired his carpentry and said jokingly, "When you've finished that, you can come and build my compost bin for me!" He said, "Okay then!" I think I blew it though when I asked him to cast an eye over my shed too!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Rejoice for the Salvation Army is back!

I was somewhat upset yesterday when I finally finished interviewing all and sundry to find that the Salvation Army had arrived mob-handed and were working on their half of my plot - or should I rephrase that, their plot. That is to say, there were two members of staff, one ex-resident, and two residents. Of the two residents, one was a new face, and the other had done some work before on several occasions, but hadn't been up for at least six weeks.

I admired their harvest, which was spread out on the grass - one tiny potato and one microscopic cucumber - and asked to borrow a spade. They seemed to have brought a number of spades with them, so I imagine they have bought some. They were clearing the area not covered by the blue tarpaulin that so infuriates me. The had taken some of the weeds out, but I doubt very much if they've cleaned it in the space of two or three hours, so no doubt the couch will re-emerge.

I had a few words with them, and they made the excuse that as staff they were only free to come at certain times, so if the weather was bad... (none of the residents work, so what's their excuse? After all, it's a free country - they can go down there when they like). But when the staff member started talking about making raised beds so that each resident could have their own little plot, I just walked away. It's no good getting upset about it: concentrate on the Cat allotment, and shed no tears over a criminal waste of good land.

Phil (Plots 339 & 340)

This is Phil. He was born in 1941. He has two plots, one of which he has just cleared. He was rotovating his first plot when I saw him, and we had a long conversation about rotovators. He was a fitter during his working life, so machines are close to his heart. He loves his allotment, and prefers working on it and a nice cup of tea to going out at night. He was just about to make a cup of tea in his shed when I left him.

About his rotovator, he said it was made in India, but seemed to be a close copy of a Honda. It cost around £300, but was not as good as a Merry Tiller, which is an American make and costs around £700. He said his best rotovator was a JAP, which had been manufactured over 40 years ago, and was very heavy, but very efficient. He finally wore it out though. He'd had problems with the current one because the belt slipped, but he got another kind of belt, with better friction, and now it didn't slip and overheat like it used to (he used to be able to smell it burning!). He said the place to buy rotovators was Shrewsbury (?) because they had no allotments there - the council has got rid of them all. I said I thought councils were obliged to provide allotments, but I will have to check this out.

He told me about some allotments he saw in Germany, when he was visiting his son, who is in the forces. They had proper metalled roads instead of tracks, concrete paths, and a veritable bunglow for a shed, with sleeping accommodation, a kitchen and everything, so that people could go down and spend the weekend there (as in a Russian dacha, I suppose). They even had kids' play areas.

Vito (Plot 338)

This is Vito. I can't remember how long he said he'd had his plot, but he said he gave it up for a year recently, then took it up again after a period of ill health, when the doctor advised him that it would be good for him.

Shau Ting (Plot 335)

This is Shau Ting. She has had this plot for six years. She grows some unusual vegetables on it, including Chinese leaves and watercress. She wanted me to know that she was proud of the fact that it was organic.

Elizabeth (Plots 327 & 328)

This is Elizabeth. She is Italian. She wouldn't let me photograph her, so I had to content myself with photographing her one and a half plots (the top half of her second plot was taken by an English man, who clearly was doing nothing with it, but she said she doesn't want it). She said that plot 327 was taken on by her father-in-law in the late fifties (I think), and when he died (30 years ago?), his wife kept it on, then passed it on to their son (her husband). He wanted to keep it because it reminded him of happy times with his father, but now Elizabeth is the one that does most of the work. She says, if he wants to be reminded of his father, he should come down here and do some work!

When I saw her, she was clearing the potato patch to plant onions and garlic. She pointed out that there were lots of weed seeds from annual weeds like speedwell. She said, if you let them flourish, they'll kill even big plants like cos lettuce and chicory, because they contain salt. Also, if you rotovate instead of digging, this leaves the seeds on the surface and they come back very quickly, whereas if you rough-dig a plot, the seeds are buried so deep they can't come back for a long time.

She was pleased when I told her that the plots either side of hers might soon be let out. They have been cleared recently by the tractor, but before that, they were very overgrown (I know because I was considering having one of them). She said the weeds from those plots had been a problem, as had the pigeons from the trees in the hedge. She wished one of the trees could be pruned, as it cast a shadow half way down her allotment at times. She also corroborated what the [looney] man said about these plots being wet - she told me a story about some English men on a nearby allotment who had dug trenches for their potatoes which were filling with water as they dug. "It's not Africa," she said. "We're not growing rice!"

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tomaso (Nos. 220 & 341)

This is Tomaso. He is 85 years old and runs two allotments, 220 and 341, though at one point he had six! He was born in 1923 and comes from Cadanzaro, Calabria (he said he came from Philadelphia, but I shall have to check that out*). I found it quite hard, by the way, to understand what he was saying, so I must make excuses in advance for the accuracy of what I write.

His family were farmers, but starting at 16 he worked as a turner, making bombs, etc. He went into the army in 1942 aged 19, and served under Mussolini. He was a machine gunner, operating a 25 mm anti-aircraft gun.

When Italy fell, he deserted and made his way (from Avalino or Padua? - the front line anyway) back to Calabria. It took him 25 days, during which he was in constant danger and had no food. He had jumped over the fence of the army camp because if he had stayed, the Germans would either have shot him or taken him back to Germany. He said he had destroyed his papers and passport, so they could not prove who he was. When he met soldier on the way, they would ask "Mussolini or Vittorio?" If you said Mussolini, you were taken off to Germany. If you said Vittorio (the king) you were left to pass in peace. During the nights there was constant bombardment from the air.

However, when he did get home, it was only to re-enlist on the allied side. This time he was a sapper, building roads and bridges. He said he worked his way through Salerno, Naples, Averso, Monte Cassino, Bari, Ancona and Falemara.

After the war was over, he was in the army a further 18 months working in a supplies depot (postilieri), where he issued everything from clothes to food. He worked from 7 in the morning to 11 at night, then went out and enjoyed himself. He was demobbed on 25th July 1946.

He went back home and worked in agriculture for ten years, during which time he married and had two boys (he later had a daughter). But the pay was no good, so in 1956 he came to England to work. Here, he worked on a farm in Garford, near Abingdon, for four years. He did everything from the milking to repairing tracks. He was given a big house, but until his family joined him five months later, he had to do his own cooking and housework after a day's work.

He says he got fed up with wearing wellingtons: anyway, he found work in the railway factory in Swindon, and from then on worked in industry. He got his first allotment on Pickard's Field the same year - 1960.

He did two stints for the railways, first cleaning and stripping coaches, then painting them for 6 months, then as a boilerman shovelling coal on the steam trains. Each stint lasted about 2 1/2 years.

After that, he worked at Cheney Manor, and was at Plessey for 25 years. His wife died several years ago, and he buried her in Italy. His children don't have allotments or garden, but he supplies them with vegetables.
(*He comes from Filadelfia in Calabria).

More greenstuff - but what is it?

I was walking home today when I passed Angelo and Angelina deep in discussion about some greenery Angelo was waving about. It turned out his brother had been asked to buy some chicory seeds (in Italy?) and had bought what ended up as this green vegetable. Neither of them knew what it could be. Angelina gave me a bundle to grow, though I'm not sure I want to fill my allotment with more bitter Italian greens. It tasted hot rather than bitter, so I would guess it's a member of the radish family.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Bitter, bitter, bitter - wormwood and gall!

Maybe that's an exaggeration, but I did find Joe's green vegetables very bitter, even though I doused them in French dressing, which usually makes anything palatable.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Steve (No. 1)

This is Steve. Steve is Mr Raised Beds. He says he hasn't much time to spend on his allotment, which is where raised beds come in because they save time. He says the advantage of them is that you can just concentrate on weeding the beds, and strim the rest (you can do that anyhow). He says they drain better too. Mebbe.

Joe (Nos. 86 & 87)

This is Joe.

Winter vegetables - English and Italian

When I got to the allotment today, Joe (56/58) was planting garlic and Joe (86/87) was planting red onions.

When I passed latter Joe, he told me I should be earthing up the fennel plants he gave me, or they would bolt.

I asked him again which of the winter lettuce he'd given me were which, because by now I was completely confused, and he pointed them out patiently and gave me their names. I turns out I've got them all wrong.

Anyway, it explained why the "lettuce" I tried the other day was bitter - it's name is cicora, i.e. chicory. The red one is cicora rossa. He says they develop hearts like lettuce. There is another chicory which I have, which he says you must dig up and transplant deep at the end of this month, because it has a big root (I guess this must be the chicory they make coffee with).

Later on, he brought me two lettuces in a bag and said, "Try them, see which one you like." One - the frizzy one - is scariola - the other, I think, is cicora.

In contrast, I had the first of my winter greens yesterday - a couple of miniscule cauliflowers and the first sprouts.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Link to Allotments UK

Allotments UK - Allotments Forum, blogs, articles, TV channel, Maps …

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's dung

It has suddenly become very wintry. Today, it started raining, and they promised torrential rain for tomorrow. It is very cold and windy. Everyone has been busily digging over their plots ahead of the winter weather, with some bringing in rotovators. Heaps of dung have today begun to spring up on the allotment. The Adver couple on the next allotment to me have had a pile delivered, and I covet it. I am downwind of it, and it smells very strongly of the farmyard.

Now, the last of the summer plants are coming up - the Italians are taking down their tomato plants and rooting up their marrows. These were the marrows on Anna and Frank's allotment.

The Hedges Family (No. 388)

On my way home, I saw this family working an allotment at the very far end of the site. They said they originally had three allotments, 388, 389 and 390, but they gave 389 and 390 up because they were too much work. Although I could see three generations of the family at work, I was told there used to be more of them, because the kids all came down as well.

She (Mrs Hedges?) said that the trouble had been that the allotments all around them had been derelict until recently, when they were mown, and they used to spend a lot of time simply controlling the weeds on either side.

They'd had their shed broken into two weeks ago, another reason to be glad the grass all round them had been mown - it was high enough for kids to hide in, and rumour has it that the local delinquents had cut a hole in the Council's new fence and were regularly coming in and out of the site. The Allotment Officer is aware of it though, and when I saw her, said she was planning to do something about it.

The Hedges' allotment was down to raised beds, which for once looked as if they were more than merely ornamental. They had some splendid loganberry (?) bushes on their plot, that were still producing.

A division of the spoil

Meanwhile, the Allotment Officer has been and divided some of the mown ones into smaller plots ready to rent out. But instead of dividing them lengthways, she's done it widthways, making two very thin strips out of one normal sized allotment. I think there'll be ructions when people start arguing as to where theirs ends and their neighbour's begins. So I was bloody lucky to get no. 59 when I did - a week or so later, and I'd have had to settle for a mere furrow.

(I must find out how wide medieval strips were and if the size has been inherited directly into allotments. I guess when the Allotment Act came in, it was all chains and furlongs).

On the New tonight, it said that in Cheltenham, they were getting 2-3 applications for plots per day now, whereas before it had been 2-3 per week.

Chris (Nos. 61 & 63)

I embarrassed poor Chris by asking if I could photograph him today as I was walking home. He has two allotments, nos. 61 and 63, which is separated by one which is overgrown, and apparently has been for three years. Today Chris asked me why the Council hadn't mown this one when they mowed all the other derelict ones, and all I could say was, they had a list, and I guess it wasn't on the list because someone is renting it.

Someone told me that this allotment is a cause of great frustration and annoyance to Chris, who keeps his two very much up together, and must be troubled by weed seeds and slugs from the one in between. Someone else told me that some people, whose gardens back on to the allotments, rent the allotment it backs on to so that they won't be troubled by gardeners.

I find it hard to see how this one can have slipped through the net for three years, but it's not the only one that was left derelict when the tractor came. Some people have got a lot to answer for.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Italian lettuce

I tried one of my Italian lettuces last night. I didn't like it. It's rather tough, and a bit bitter. I had it with French dressing, but even that didn't make it terribly palatable.

I have a whole row of these to get rid of. Perhaps I can interest my Italian class?


I also discovered from that wretched catalogue that what I thought was a globe artichoke is probably a cardoon. The picture I took of one on an Italian allotment in the summer looks identical to the illustration of a cardoon in the Chase catalogue, where it says: "Cardoon is a close relative of the Globe Artichoke with spinier leaves and a non-edible lavender flower head to cut and dry. The stalks are tender and delicious when stripped and cooked." So. There you are. No artichokes next summer after all.

Chase Organics

I did get this seed catalogue through today, though. It's from Chase Organics. I used to get all my seeds, etc. from Chase, back in the late 70s/early 80s when I had my first allotment down by the Unigate Dairy on the Wootton Bassett Road. That was when I worked in Swindon Pulse, and discovered all things that came to be known as "green".

Since then I find that Chase has become very commercial, probably out of necessity, and sells all sorts of rubbish, like Hinged Welly Keepers (for you to hang your wellies on when you come in, only £9.95), and traditional trugs for only £49.95. Who buys this stuff? It's easy to guess. Not the likes of me, that's for sure.

The cover of the catalogue looks as if they've had the same (amateur) artist since the late 70s. Does anyone wear dungarees any more?

When I opened it, I turned straight to the page on Weed Control, having a slight problem with weeds on the Cat Allotment. Only one page out of 108 was devoted to it, and there I was offered a flame gun for £185.95. Nothing I could spray on, of course, even though Lawrence D. Hills, the original organic gardener recommended some substance in the 1970s. No doubt that's fallen foul of health & safety or else ever more fanatical organic gardeners. Ah, well, I could always control my weeds with a root barrier (£16.25), a lawn edge (£13.85 for 10 metres - I'd need about ten), a weed wand (for targeted spot weeding, £26.75 - requires gas canisters), and the ubiquitous black polythene (£99.95 for a 90 metre roll, which is what I would probably need). I refuse to use polythene on the grounds that it doesn't kill weeds, it merely suppresses them, and they spring up the instant you take it off, and it is hideous).

Apart from a few fancy little instruments that would be neither use nor ornament on my couch-riddled plot, that's it. If you want to be organic, you have to suffer. Dig, dig, and dig until your back breaks!

Digging in C minor

Have just got back from the allotment after spending two hours digging, not my new allotment as I should, but the Salvation Army allotment. I should really let it revert to what it was before I took it on, and concentrate on my own, but it's hard to neglect it deliberately. Even more foolhardy, I'm digging a yard-wide strip the other side of the strawberries and putting boards upright in the soil to mark of "my" bit from theirs, and to draw a line between their slug-riddled, weed-infested half and "mine". Would that it were mine! They could even take that half off me should they so please. Donna told me all along, get your own allotment, but it's hard to put any commitment into a plot that's covered in perennial weeds and is rock hard and has clay less than 6" below the surface, when the plot you've been working on for two seasons has black soil that digs like cutting cake.

So I was feeling too despondent on my way home to take any photos, not that there was anybody there hardly. It was sunny and very, very windy, and now I shall have to try and get the knots out of my hair.