Archive for 2010

When small is REALLY beautiful

small cauliflowerSmall is hardly beautiful in the vegetable world, but this year it’s the best I’m going to get… so I’m bloody thrilled.

In the midst of the July heatwave, I was convinced my cauliflowers were going to die or produce mini-heads. To my own utter astonishment, they’re now starting to head. Er, not lavishly. But still.

So my habitual pessimism has served me poorly this year. Despite everything the weather has thrown at my vegetables, and despite a distinct want of effort on my part, I’ve had no outright crop failures (unless you count a row of carrots so small they looked like those mini toothbrushes you get on long-haul flights).

Here’s to cauliflower cheese tonight!

Posted on 22nd August 2010
Under: Brassicas | 8 Comments »

Marrows: better late than never

marrowsInteresting to be in full courgette/marrow glut in mid August. Normally cucurbits are beginning to wind down round about now.

My allotment, I’m ashamed to admit, has gone a bit weed-tastic in the last few weeks. I’ve not gone much; went away for a while, then was busy trying to run myself back to some kind of fitness.

Plus I’ve had dental problems.

Dear God, but dentistry’s pricey. Could have bought a small family home in Rochdale for what I’ve spent so far on root canal work. And there’s more to come. After a decade of relative calm, every tooth in my head has spontaneously decided to crack, rot, combust or spit the dummy in one way or another.

So there’s been pain, whingeing, allotment neglect and endless, unbounded expense. Back to normal service in the autumn, I guess.

Posted on 15th August 2010
Under: Cucurbits | 11 Comments »

What does global warming look like? Er, this

Orienpet lilies

The last flowers of these lilies – an oriental/trumpet cross – always presage the end of summer for me. The final blooms usually drop off at the end of August; they’re early this year because of the extraordinary weather.

And wow, what a year it’s been. Can’t remember a summer like it since ’76. I’ve moaned continually on this blog about the lack of water, but this is kindergarten stuff compared with the nightmare they’re enduring in Russia. My Muscovite in-laws are choking on smog, smoke and 40ºC. People are dying from it.

If this is the future – ie if this is what global warming looks like – we’re all in for a very bumpy and painful ride. Hold on to your hats.

Posted on 10th August 2010
Under: Flowers, Summer | 4 Comments »

Cats: How to keep their shit out of your garden

I’m taking a break from my own tedium today (you can only whinge so much for so long without getting bored yourself).

Instead of me moaning on, here’s an extended anti-cat whinge (or anti-cat-shit whinge, to be precise) from the redoubtable writer and broadcaster Emma Cooper, compere and creator of the Alternative Kitchen Garden. It’s a lot more interesting that anything I could write today… and you may even learn something.

Take it away, Emma:

“Cats. Small ones are cute. Larger ones can be when they want to be. They have claws though, so I’m not entirely sure why people encourage them to sit on their laps and think they make good pets. Personally I find them completely unlovable for one reason – they crap in my garden.

They don’t crap in the out-of-reach places where I wouldn’t notice the smell. They crap in the middle of the bloody beds. Why? Personally I like a little more privacy for my personal moments, but apparently dead centre in a nicely planted bed is best for crapping if you’re a cat. Never mind that you’ve had to trample over an entire army of seedlings to get there (and it will be the second army of seeds sown, since the first will have been wiped out by the inevitable slug invasion of early spring).

And once they’ve done it, they make these laughable attempts to cover it over – which do nothing to cover the crap, or mask the smell (why should it? They need the smell to find their toilet again tomorrow) but only serves to disturb more of the benighted plants.

Commercial cat deterrents work on one of two principles – scaring cats away with loud (ultrasonic) noises or persuading them to crap elsewhere by making the area in question smell worse than cat crap. The citrus-smelling stuff doesn’t smell too bad, although it does pong, but you can buy packets of crap from bigger cats (on the basis that moggies are shit scared of tigers) – which surely just misses the point? I mean, weeing around the edge of your plot is supposed to deter foxes, but who wants a garden that smells of stinky wee?

There is another problem with these deterrents – they don’t get rid of the cats. They move the cats on. When the batteries run out, or the smell wears off, they will be back. In the meantime they will still be crapping in your garden, but in areas outside the reach of the deterrents that they’d previously left in peace.

Having said that, I think we’ve found a solution. Chicken manure pellets smell really strongly, and their smell deters cats from shitting in your garden. You can spread them liberally all around, re-apply as necessary, and the only side effect is that next year your courgettes will be enormous. No more crapping, no more trampled seedlings, no more dug up plants.

Of course, your garden will still smell of shit….”

I think we can safely file that one under ‘rants’, Emma, and I hope everyone chips in with their solutions for dealing with cat shit in the garden or down the allotment…

PS Anyone got a pic of a cat shitting which I can use to illustrate this piece?

Posted on 5th August 2010
Under: Rants | 12 Comments »

Smallest onions in the world

small onionsI cunningly shot these to look bigger than they are. Then I remembered my blog’s mission: ruthless honesty.

So here’s the truth: they’re bloody tiny. Some are barely bigger than the sets I planted back in March. For scale, the wires on the rack are about 4cm apart.

Oddly, though (especially odd given my usual gloomy outlook on these things), I’m strangely nonchalant about this. In fact, it barely registers on my give-a-fuck-o-meter.

Because I have genuinely given up on this season, psychologically speaking.

Posted on 31st July 2010
Under: Alliums | 15 Comments »


Well, it is if you live within the M25. Exceptionally dry.

I spent 80 minutes watering my allotment tonight. Barely reached the roots of anything. Like trying to heat St Paul’s cathedral with a cigarette lighter.

I have no further news.

Posted on 27th July 2010
Under: Rants, Summer | 8 Comments »

Peas be with you, cos I’ve got bugger all

peas in podI stumbled on this photo from last year and breathed a heavy sigh.

I did get a harvest of peas last week, but only enough to feed two concentration camp internees. Or perhaps one anorexic… on a diet.

Mind, I don’t feel so bad about the peas as I do about, say, the lousy onions. Peas are always a bugger to grow well, even in ‘good’ seasons. You’ve got the disgusting pea moth, whatever you do. And in my area, pigeons target pea plants with single-minded ruthlessness.

As I’m fond of saying (this year, at any rate): there’s always next year.

Posted on 20th July 2010
Under: Peas and beans | 14 Comments »

Beetroot. And, er, that’s about it

beetrootLadies and gentlemen, you may be looking at my most successful crop in 2010.

Yes, these humble beetroots are about the only things I’ve grown that I can be proud of this year. And I’m not that proud, frankly.

It’s all OK, though, because I’ve rationalised everything. It’s just a one-off lousy year. Shit happens. Next year, I’ll be drowning in veg again.

Everything’s going to be just fine.


Posted on 18th July 2010
Under: Roots | 8 Comments »

Parsnips: A love affair

Well it’s a funny old year when your best crop is parsnips. For me, this is a first.

Parsnips are always OK – you know, forgettably acceptable. I have germination issues most years, but that’s about the limit of the grief parsnips give. They grow, to a pretty standard size, and I eat them with barely a moment’s thought or gratitude.

All that’s changed in 2010, as the rest of my vegetable plot dies around me. Gone is my blithe indifference, replaced by quivering gratitude for the parsnips’ ploddy, undemanding, stolid performance.

They are the new love of my gardening life.

Posted on 13th July 2010
Under: Roots, Summer | 9 Comments »

Postcard from the edge

Drooping fuschiasYou know what? I feel like giving up.

Didn’t think I’d ever type that, but there it is. I’m like these poor fuschias, wilting and drooping in this sizzling heat.

Even with an hour or more’s watering every evening, I’m barely keeping the allotment alive. Some things – the brassicas, for one – are doomed now, whatever I do: the cauliflowers are already producing those crinkly inner leaves that presage the formation of a useless, tiny, button-headed floret.

It’s all deeply disheartening, and it’s ruining what should – for any average, normal Brit – be a thrilling time: proper summers are rare as rocking horse shit hereabouts.

Instead of lolling about soaking up the rays, though, I’m busting my arse carrying cans of water. And when I’m not actually doing it, I’m dreading it.

So I can see a time in the near future, if this carries on, when I’ll be saying: “Enough already. Fuck it. Que sera, sera.”

I’ll essentially be writing off the plot for 2010. But then, since the asparagus I’ve not harvested so much as a rat’s arse anyway. So what have I lost?

Posted on 9th July 2010
Under: Rants, Summer | 25 Comments »