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Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I'll Pick a Rose for my Rose

Well that’s it. January’s over and the allotment's looking like the fields of Flanders after a German aerial bombardment.

I go down most days to feed the foxes that by now, because of our misguided sense of animal welfare, refuse to eat anything but processed dog food. If I’m lucky they’re waiting for me. Either lying on the compost or else sitting on their haunches watching me from a safe distance as I dish out the rations.

They are so beautiful with their sticky up pointy ears, black muzzle and reddish colouring with splashes of white and grey. Often they’ll fix you with a stare, and I know it’s projection but it’s as if they’re thinking about me, what I’m going to do and if the food’s different this time. I greet them, they wheel round me, circling slowly, tentatively moving towards the meal and then they begin to eat. Now and again they’ll pick up a morsel and bury it on my patch or on a neighbour’s nuzzling the soil with their wet, black noses. While they’re doing that I try to photograph them but they’re used to me snapping and turn away not wanting to appear as a mug shot. Who knows who’s out there looking to bag a fox skin or two: so they refuse to pose.

The autumn planted broad beans are looking decidedly dodgy. They survived the first period of snow and frosts with much aplomb and I had convinced myself that all would be well, the cold snap having passed. However, the recent frost has cut them down to size and I might be looking at a greatly reduced crop later in the year. Red and Japanese onions planted in early October are doing better, but there are strange growths appearing on the sides of the stems which I’m convinced are gills, they having spent much of the last 4 months underwater. Everything else remains dormant although the redcurrants and red and white berry bushes are beginning to stir as is the strawberry patch.

Last year was our first on the allotment and we went at it like maniacs; planting without any rhyme or reason just so that we had something growing. We produced masses of carrots, aubergines plants (but few aubergines), parsnips, beetroot, spinach, butternut squash and celeriac. We have bottles and bottles of green tomato chutney following last year’s late planting but not enough potatoes, onions or garlic. The garden peas were fabulous but again I didn’t plant enough and the sweet corn, whilst looking very striking, did not deliver the cobs. This planting season will be much more measured; although I think I’ve already jumped the gun with my potatoes chitting away in the shed – possibly too early?

We  planted a number of fruit trees, apples and pears, along with more ornamental shrubs in what we quaintly call "the orchard". Our attempt to husband a gunnera wasn’t a success and I don’t think it has survived; unlike the rhubarb which is showing signs of life. Last year a dessert grape was a great success, its fruit much appreciated by our neighbours. I don’t know whether it will have survived this harsh winter but here’s hoping.

There’s much to look forward to and much to be done in the coming months including rebuilding the raised beds knocked about by the weather and, I suspect, the foxes. Looking over our small plot under a gun grey sky with the rain beating down, it requires an effort of the imagination to recall how green and colourful it was last summer.

That’s the promise and the hope. Along with battling the bugs and beetles,the birds and beasts a little oasis awaits us in the middle of a noisy, dirty inner London borough.

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