Monday, 15 July 2013
The Fields of Athenry
I'm suffering: my own fault. Last weekend I stripped off and during the hottest part of the day dug over my allotment. For the next week my extremely red and sore shoulders mimicked roasted lamb joints without the rosemary. Today, well covered up, I pulled up my peas and dug over, planting out my courgettes (well that's what they look like but I don't remember sowing them) and my squashes. I've artistically set a load of tomato plants in between them along with some bergamot.
The allotment's looking very pretty. Which is not really what it should be like. It should be productive, efficient and manly. Loads of onions all in a row, cabbages and beans, potatoes and spinach, lettuce and carrots: well drilled and ready for inspection. I'm afraid my allotment looks nothing like that.
My allotment is split into two. It has two personalities. By my shed (recently repainted), I have my herb bed. Masses of wild rocket, thyme and wall flowers, with a walnut and woad fighting it out for space. Then there's the potting area, where I spend hours transplanting this, seeding that surrounded by fig trees, hazel and a medler, along with masses of potted flowers and the gorgeous scent of clambering sweet peas.
The row of hazels, cobs, medlers and apple trees mark the boundary between the fun and business parts of my allotment. A large raised bed is home to two extremely productive gooseberry bushes, rows of strawberry plants, a necterine, pear and another cox's apple tree. At the end stands an aged blackcurrant bush - now hanging heavy with brilliant black/blue beads. It is surrounded by autumn raspberries slowly unwinding in the summer heat. Tomato plants, along with broccoli in pots, ready to be transplanted, fill the rest of the bed.
Next, across the perfectly manicured grass path. The peas, shelter a couple of squash and the tomatoes at various stages of development, some fruiting, others beginning to get their bearing fill the bed. The asparagus, is long over. Now, its feather like tendrils reach skywards and their tiny flowers attract a million bees. These will hang around until late autumn, getting brittle and worn but essential if we're to have a harvest of succulent spears next May. The rhubarb is also past its best, but this year it is giving a second performance, so strewed rhubarb and ginger with vanilla custard is again on the menu.
More peas, supported by the remains of the broad beans, await their demise to be replaced by another batch of tomatoes, shuffling impatiently in the cold frame, now outgrown their pots. Surrounding the cold frame, more broccoli - did I tell you I love the purple sprouting variety, more toms and pak choi.
Nearly there, the largest bed is given over to 2nd and late potatoes. Such a contrast from last year, when the whole lot rotted in the ground. This year, I have a wonderful crop, edged by a forest of blue borage humming with the sound of a hundred bees. The lovage and angelica, grand guardians of the last raised bed oversee my removal of the pea plants supplanted by squash, courgettes, tomatoes and bergamot.
The Earlies, grown in bags close to the compost heap are ready, and the eating and cooking apples are too much for the trees. Even after the June drop I will have a bumper harvest.
Which leaves the sweet corn, some more peas, and a tub of tomatoes.
Is it a wonder that I spend most of the summer watering can in hand, spade and trowel at my elbow blessing the day I got my allotment?