Sunday, May 15, 2005

Felicity Kendal 

My dears I have been neglecting you. I am so sorry. There again, if it makes any serious difference to your quality of life if I fail to post for a while then, frankly, you should really get out more.

Anyway, what I've been meaning to tell you about for some time and have singularly failed so to do is: I have an allotment. It was a Christmas gift from the missus, or at least the promise of one was (there are a few different sites around Cambridge and she wanted me to make the choice myself). This being the case, and the ways of Cambridge allotments being a tad arcane, it was April before I'd sorted one out. I'd particularly wanted one on the same site as friend and neighbour Ed on account of how he knows what he's doing and I patently don't. As it's turned out I've ended up being his allotment neighbour as well as his neighbour neighbour. Poor boy probably thinks I'm stalking him.

Can't say I've made much progress with my plot yet, although if dandelions were a viable cash crop (rather than a deep rooted pain in the arse) then I'd be sorted. But it did come complete with a small and appropriately rickety shed (a man should have a shed) and a resident frog (Ernest). Frogs are, apparently, the allotment holder's friend because frogs eat slugs and slugs are the allotment holder's enemy. At present Ernest lives in a big old sink that's half covered by foliage but I may move his home to a sunnier spot and bury the sink in the ground to form a small pond. Apparently ponds are A Good Thing as they encourage, um, good critters who in turn eat bad critters. Nature is a wonderful thing.

The sum total of my actual work there so far, though, is not that impressive: there has been digging which has been hard, slow work due to the need to weed as I go (mainly it's a dandelion thing but also various grasses, thistles and, oh, a whole bunch of stuff that I have no clue as to what it is - cannabis, giant beanstalks and money trees for all I know) and there has been pouring chemicals onto weeds (much to the disgust of my mate Alex, among others, who is rather more militantly organic than I have a mind to be). Unfortunately, the agent orange I used hasn't even worked as well as I'd hoped - it seems to have killed some patches of stuff off pretty well and left others pretty much unscathed. This is probably due to inept application of the stuff on my part or prevailing meteorolgical conditions subsequently (i.e. it rained the night after I put the stuff on). Or some combination of the two. Most likely, seeing as there's no way I'm going to have any more than half the plot in any kind of worthwhile state any time soon, I shall just cover the worst of the weeds over with black plastic for a long spell and kill them with darkness (as opposed to trying to kill them with The Darkness which would work less well and sound awful).

So, all in all it's slow progress but it's enjoyable and it does get me out of the flat and give me fresh air and physical exercise which is no bad thing. In fact I tend to come over all a bit Fotherington-Tomas ("hullo clouds hullo sky") on occasion, though this nature-loving reverie may easily be dashed just as soon as I've attained third degree sunburn and a double hernia. In the meantime though, it is good.

Soon, I may even attempt to grow something there.

May you fare better than I.

Much fun had digging up and de-weeding, then when I finally got around to planting stuff, with the exception of a few potatos, everything died. So I went back to building websites. At least they don't tend to get eaten.

Well I'm keeping my expectations low so as to avoid disappointment. If I manage to get stuff planted in a quarter of the space this year I'll be doing well. Early advice from wiser folk than myself suggests that broad beans and leeks may be good easyish crops to have a go at. Plus I'll probably plant out a couple of the strawberry plants that I currently have in pots outside the flat. If everything dies then so be it. It's a long term thing and I expect to be learning from my many mistakes.

One approach to consider, which allotment owning friends of mine hold great faith in, is to focus on only a quarter of the plot in the first year, plant that up with your leeks and beans. Leave another quarter for a sitting and pondering area. Give another quarter to the frog for the time being. Leave the remaining quarter fallow in true organic fashion. Next year maybe split it 50/50 between veg and the frog.

That sounds like more or less the kind of thing I had in mind only I was planning on covering a lot of the ground with black plastic or something to start to get the weeds under control. And I hadn't thought of a specific sitting and pondering area which does sound like a good plan. But all these things will now have to be discussed with my new partner in allotmenting, Mr Adrian Reynolds. Hopefully with two of us on the job progress might speed up a bit. Either that or there'll be even less digging and rather more thermos flasks full of tea and endless discussions of exactly where the pond should go. Still, he's got his own fork which can only be a good thing.

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