Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Angelina's back!

Anglelina's back, and when I went past last night she was in histrionics about the marrows. "He hasn't been watering them!" she said. "He has!" I insisted. "I have the photo to prove it!" I doubt if she understood the last bit. Should I print her off a copy to prove it and get him out of the dog house?

(Angelina is one of three Italian women who won't allow me to photograph her, sadly. But I shall keep trying).


This is Domenico, Joe's son. He comes down almost daily in this dry weather to carry water from the trough on my allotment to the barrels on Joe's.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The communal allotment, Plot 45

Another case of watch this space, because I think this is going to change a lot and very rapidly.

Simon's given up!!!

As I was passing on my way to steal some wood from the Salvation Army allotment to light my bonfire, I asked Big John what had happened to Simon (Plots 68 & 69). I haven't seen him for ages and his plots are completely neglected. Now Simon really would win a competition for neatest English allotment, so I was beginning to think he must have had an accident with a chainsaw or something (God forbid: he's a tree surgeon). John said he had given up and wasn't coming back. I was aghast. It's not as if he has far to come - his house backs on to his plot. I know his wife had another baby recently, and has gone back to work, so I suppose he must just be too busy. But I'd never have expected Simon of all people to give up his allotment. I am shocked.

Carmela, Plot 336

This is Carmela. She is related to someone on the right hand side as you walk from my allotment to the top gate - Joe, I think she said (but which one?). She has three sons and two daughters (or was it the other way round?). One of her sons, Mario, runs the Fabbio Restaurant in Regent Circus. She says he uses her courgettes in the restaurant.
She comes from Filadelfia, like Tomaso, and is going there for three weeks on holiday next week. She says she no longer has any family there, but she has a house and friends, and her friends take her to the beach every day. I said, wasn't it too hot at this time of year, and she said, no, it's high up so it's cool and breezy.

The Shed, Chapter 83

I wrote to my oldest friend, Steve, mentioning the shed, and he wrote back to say "I would love to help you with your shed. I have the tools and have plenty of experience putting them up and making repairs. Perhaps I could arrange to come down sometime over summer to give you a hand."
I wrote back telling him I was about to offer my hand in marriage to the man who mended my shed for me (except that this would probably put them off); I also offered to pay to put him up in a B & B for the duration of operations. But alas, he texted me back to say "I think that the best time for me to work on your shed would be in September. It would be easier for me with the school holidays over and the weather is still good then. It will be cooler too."
Is he getting cold feet? I hope not. I might battle on alone - men have offered to mend my shed before and fallen by the wayside, and although I've made a start, it is far from watertight. I can't do anything with the bottom end of my allotment until the shed issue is sorted out - no chicken huts, no grape trellises, just brambles (but the blackberries are already ripening and they are stonkers after all the sun we've been having). Watch this space.

Derek, Plots 41 & 42

This is Derek. I think his plots (41 & 41) are strong contenders for the prize of best kept English allotment. Earlier this year he had some splendid asparagus (see behind him in photo).


This is Gwillym, one of Taffy's sons. He reminds me of my brother David who, from an early age was capable of many practical feats: I saw Gwillym laying out the flower beds on the communal plot with a piece of string, some posts and a hammer on his own one evening. Taffy's kids take a full part in looking after the chickens and working on the allotment: I often see one cycling by with the allotment key dangling round his neck on his way to feeding the chickens. This is how childhood should be spent, out in the open air doing things, learning about food and nature and how to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. This is the sort of childhood I and my brothers and sisters had (perhaps it's the Welsh background - my father was born not far from where Taffy comes from).

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Taffy, Plots 24 & 25

This is Mark Rothwell, aka Taffy, the allotment rep for the bottom half of Pickards Field. Since starting on his plots last year, he and his family have brought a huge amount of enthusiasm and innovation to the site. I think it was they who introduced the first chickens to the allotments (he has three in the ark in the picture), and their surveillance has transformed the bottom end from the no-go area it once was to a thriving community. Now, with the Allotment Officer's consent, they have started a communal plot (Plot 45), on which they have started to install flowers, a seating area and a barbeque area. The idea is for people to sit around and have a beer and a chat after work is done. Taffy's our very dedicated allotment rep, and because of him I've just decided to carry on as rep for my end, having thrown in the towel a few months ago.

Ted and Jan Smith, Plot 44

This is Ted and Jan Smith on Plot 44. They have had their plot less than a year and have it all under cultivation. They had a plot down the bottom but it got burnt out, so they asked to be moved to this one further up.
I remarked on how well they'd done, saying that I was still clearing mine. "But there's two of you," I said. "One and a half," said Ted, and I thought he was making a joke at his wife's expense. But he said he was the "half" because he had a bad chest, and Jan did all the digging. She had dug out all the couch grass when they got the plot, coming down through the winter to do so. They live quite a way away too, which is why they've brought their lunch. "It's all right on a day like this," said Ted, "but not so nice in the middle of winter, when it's freezing cold and you're huddling in the shed for warmth. The cold affects my chest and I find it hard to breathe." He used to be a bricklayer.

Tomatoes with curling leaves

Following on from the last post, here are my Tigerella tomatoes looking a bit sorry for themselves. Joe told me I put too much Bordeaux Mixture on them. I don't know whether the leaves are curling because of that, or whether it's the start of the dreaded blight.

Spraying my potatoes

Today I sprayed my maincrop potatoes with Bordeaux Mixture against potato blight. So far, there's been little sign of it, but this is the time it strikes. Ted Smith (Plot 44) was telling me today that for blight to thrive it requires the Smith factor: a certain degree of humidity and a certain temperature. So far this year it hasn't had that combination. It has been incredibly dry for the last month at least, and what rain there has been seems to have passed Swindon by altogether. But that could all change overnight.

The Sainsbury Sisters, Plot 50

These two women took over plot 50 last year (I think) and have done marvellously. I don't know their names, but I think of them as the Sainsbury Sisters because one of them arrives in a Sainsbury's uniform. I don't even know if they're sisters - they don't look it. They are of the "Good Life"* class of gardener, who usually come in with great ambitions, dig a few yards, put a sheet of plastic down and that's that; only this time, they stuck with it.
*That's what the old man on Plot 88 calls them - he's seen them come and go in his time (he lives in a house backing on to his plot).
(Later: they are sisters. The one on the left is Christina (Tina for short); the other is Anita).


This is one of the raspberry plants given me by Shirley. They survived a winter with their feet in the water because it was so wet and I'd planted them right on the edge of the allotment where there is a dip and the clay is very close to the surface. Now they are prey to the bindweed that takes advantage of Joe's fence to lurk and grab. The raspberries themselves are coming off at rate of about one a day, but this is the first year, and I think they may be meant to fruit in the autumn anyway. I'm always surprised when I eat one though how much flavour and the essence of raspberry you can get from just one fruit. I'm hoping there'll be enough for jam next year.

Marjoram or oregano?

This massive marjoram plant got out of hand when it flowered under my strawberry netting and threatened to burst out. Now the strawberries are finished, I've uncovered it so that the bees can enjoy it.
I don't know whether it's marjoram or oregano, or whether in fact they are the same thing.

Joe's straw hat

A lot of the Italian men have lovely straw hats which they wear in hot weather. This is Joe's.

Veronica, Plot 361

This is Rafelli's wife, Veronica, tying her tomatoes.


This is one of my gherkin plants, and my one and only gherkin. I have five or six plants, which I bought at Dauntsey car boot sale, all with tiny tiny gherkins on them, which I hope to pickle when they are big enough. But I don't know what you can do with just one gherkin.
Later. I gave Joe my first gherkin. He told me you can eat them raw in salads. Later still. I tried it. They are horrid.


This is Deanna. I don't know what number her plot is because none of the plots in her row has a number. It is close to the gate at the bottom end of the site. She lives in the house by the gate, so she hasn't got far to walk, and she cultivated a lot of her plot with a mini-rotovator which worked on electricity, with a long extension lead running from her house.
I think she started last year, and she has done quite well for her first year. She seems to know what she's doing, but the eye-opener talking to her was her knowledge of food and cookery. I gave her some cabbage plants earlier on this year, and she wants to make sauerkraut out of them. This involves steeping the cabbage in a crock with salt and pressing a lid down as the cabbagey mixture sinks. She has also pickled her courgettes.
I was curious about her name and she said her grandmother came over from America, and that she has got numerous relations on the east coast of America. She wants to go there next year to visit them.

Angelina's on holiday

Angelina has gone on holiday for a few weeks to Italy. She went in November last year, but this year she had to go in the summer. Her son has been keeping her plot watered for her through the dry spell and using some of the veg, but her marrows have gone mad, and she has got dozens of them, and all the plants have grown together, so that if you try to pick the marrows your hands will get scratched on the prickles (marrow leaves can be nasty and prickly).

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Shed

I took Greg down the allotment to see if I could persuade him to help me mend the shed. He took one look at it and laughed, and like all the other men so far who I've asked, said I'd be better off buying a new one. I intend to prove them all wrong, and shall damn well fix it myself.

Cucumber and Marigolds

I had my first cucumber this week. I have grown Burpless Tasty Green this year, a huge improvement on last year's bog standard ridge, and on shop bought cucumbers for that matter.

They grow to a good size and are very sweet, with thin skins.

The Marigolds are an Afro-French F1 Hybrid from Suttons called F1 Hybrid Super Double Mix. I grew them to ward off greenfly, etc., but all they seem to be doing (apart from looking ornamental) is crowding out the tomatoes.

My allotment yesterday

This is how the allotment is looking at the moment. I have at last started digging the bit at the top by the tank, much to the delight of all my neighbours. It's quite easy to dig at the moment, because the soil is so dry it just falls off the weed roots. I've transplanted a lot of French bean plants there, and Tomaso gave me some broccoli, which I've put there too (under the hoops). I'm not sure what kind of broccoli it is. He gave me some Calabrese last year, which was wonderful, but I'm not sure if this is the same. The leaves are long and narrow, like an Italian vegetable called (in my seed catalogue) Nero di Toscana Precoce.

Greg's vine support

My brother Greg came round yesterday to build a vine support for me outside my back door. He did it in the time it took me to make him a salad. The packet of vine eyes I bought from Wickes which I thought contained 10, contained only 9, and on closer examination, the packet said "approx. 10"!
The grapevine has already curled one of its tendrils around the wire.

Joe and tomatoes

Joe told me off for putting too much Bordeaux Mixture on my tomatoes. I told him I'd measured it carefully according to the instructions, but he said I might kill the tomatoes. I see what he means - it might stop their leaves breathing.
I asked him whether he'd sprayed his tomatoes yet, and he said yes, twice. I hadn't seen any of the telltale blue on them, and he explained that he had started using some ghastly chemical beginning with Di-. My other neighbours are using it too - they nearly gassed me with it a couple of days ago. Mind you, the leaves of my tomatoes are looking very curled. But I need to look into this Di- stuff before I use it.

Friday, 16 July 2010


The tomatoes in my mini-greenhouse are like triffids. These are them after I chopped off their heads. There are two Gardener's Delight, and two Tigerella. Both are very bushy. They are planted in two enormous tubs containing the contents of two grow-bags. In the front are some pepper plants. These never come to much on the allotment, so I thought I'd try them here, but they are not doing much better (perhaps because they are being bullied by the tomatoes).


Angelo gave me a grape vine he'd grown from a pip. I decided to plant it outside my back door. There was some wooden trellis there when I moved in that had supported a clematis, but every year the clematis got mildew and the flowers were few and died. I decided to use the trellis for the vine, so I dug up the clematis and put in the grapevine instead. I had some Morning Glory plants, too, and I planted one next to it. But the grapevine didn't like that kind of support, and what was worse, it was attacked by some kind of leaf miner that seemed to emanate from the trellis. So I have taken the trellis down, and taken it down the allotment to use as firewood, and I have asked Greg to come and see me and bring a heavy-duty drill so that I can put up some wires to support the grapevine. He is coming tomorrow. Meanwhile the grapevine and the Morning Glory are clinging to each other for support.

Someone down the allotments has got a grapevine, and has a full-sized wire support. I am envious. One day I might have my own down there, though I think it might be too cold down there: it is warmer outside my back door. Dom says they have a grapevine in their greenhouse at home. And of course Joe makes his own wine from grapes brought on a lorry from Italy every year.

Blackcurrant jam

Today I made some blackcurrant jam. It took me an hour (at least) last night and two hours (at least) this morning to top and tail a pound and a half of blackcurrants. I put these with a pound and a half of sugar and steeped them overnight/over the afternoon. Then I added three-quarters of a pint of water and brought it all to the boil in my new preserving pan. I then added a further pound of sugar (warmed in the oven), and boiled it until it reached setting point (220 degrees). The jam is gorgeous, though not as gorgeous as my strawberry jam, which tastes ineffable (I'm not sure what that means, but it appears in hymns when talking about God, so it seems about right).

I got the blackcurrants off Hazel's allotment, and this is the sad part. Hazel (plots 54 and 55) is so ill she can no longer do her garden, and her husband is looking after it for her. But he's not obsessed like she is, and it is going downhill. Joe (plots 56 and 58) offered to do some hoeing and watering for her, though he's got his work cut out on his own two plots, and is also looking after Angelo's plot while he's on holiday in Italy. Yesterday, when I arrived, Domenico (Joe's son) was there, and he asked me, in his slightly goofy way how to pick blackcurrants. He said Hazel's husband had told Joe to help himself, as they were going to waste. Well, I got a bucket and followed him over to Hazel's plot. He lost interest a bit when I told him you have to top and tail them if you want to stew them or anything, and after a phone call he left me to it. But not before I'd noticed her raspberry canes and gooseberry bushes, the latter laden with ripe fruit. I said to Dom, do you think she'd mind if I took some of those too? He said he didn't think she would, so I got enough raspberries for a snackette at supper time, and enough gorgeous ripe gooseberries to make a gooseberry crumble for my brother, Greg, who's coming up tomorrow (I am trying to persuade him to help me mend the shed). So I returned home in seventh heaven, while poor Hazel is probably heartbroken that she can't make any jam this year. I felt guilty about picking from her fruit bushes after Dom was gone, but I guess she intended the stuff to go to a good home, and I can't imagine Domenico doing anything much with the blackcurrants. (He didn't even know what elderberries were - he thought they were poisonous. Unless he's confusing them with ivy berries, in which case, I told him you could make an excellent wine out of them).