New season spuds

I had planned on a longer trip today – but events conspired to keep me away. House moving and French bank accounts, notaires and such. Luckily it was worth the trip as I have met my mystery neighbour who has diligently (and lets be frank, speedily) been turning over the soil next to my plot. His name is Sotaris (but you can call me Steve); a Greek Cypriot gentleman of wide girth and enthusiastic spadework. His wife has been an a few waiting lists (like me) so he was happy to get a plot, even if he thinks he has missed this year’s growing season.

It sounds like he is a methodical man. He wants to clear all the soil, turn it, lime it, and cover it this year. And get on with building sheds and all sorts of structures in preparation for the full growing season in 2008. It is hot work in the sun turning the soil so I admired his progress; he has dug over almost 70 feet. He didn’t stay long. He had been digging since 6am he proudly boasted. So I left him to his lunch and started up the plot for an inspection.

As I suspected: no more celeriac and no more pumpkin plants. The corn looks a bit battered, but is still extant.

I brought with me from home the little parsnip seedlings that have finally surprised me by germinating, plus the artichoke plants and a few cabbage plants that were slow to get growing but were romping away in their little pots.

You wouldn’t believe that we had three inches of rain on this garden last week. Today the plants still in pots look positively parched. I watered the little Australian seedlings, and threw buckets of water at the lilies. They are putting on good growth, and if the lily beetles don’t come back, they may even make it to the flower stage.

I planted out the few climbing beans that have been safely stored on the potting table behind the shed, and the five acanthus mollis plants that I bought from Sarah Raven’s mail order catalogue. The only real success among a poor lot of plants. The artichokes were in such a state they gave me ten more. And the replacements ones were positively moribund. I have potted them up in the absurd belief that they may revive. And I don’t even dare mention the state of the euphorbia oblongata seedlings. They were little more than pinkie finger high, floppy from being pot bound and deprived of light, and only three are even going to graduate into little pots. I stupidly thought I was buying plants. Her books are inspirational, and her ideas are fine, but her mail order is a disaster. Remind me not to be lured into spending good money on dreams again. )

I planted the climbing beans in the middle pole area. That was my main growing area last year, but I think it will be best to have two bean plots as I can spread the slug and snail risk around. Only four beans so far for eight poles. A bit poor, but we shall see if I brave planting any seeds directly into the soil.

I have planted the first row of potatoes in the bed quite close to the poles. So I decided to pull up the closest plant that risks overshadowing the early growth of the beans. And you know how it is: it’s like a treasure hunt. Just a peak you promise yourself at the soil under the plants to see how the potatoes are going, and you end up digging and digging and unearthing utter gems. The first row are Maris Pipers and of quite a chunky new potato size. I couldn’t resist having a go at the next plant in the row. Up it came and into my produce bag went the first good crop of the year. About 15 new potatoes, thin of skin and plump with last week’s watering and with some good London soil clinging to the outside.

The weeds have sprouted mightily around the new tomato and herb area. So I hauled out the hoe for its first season’s outing. Naturally I was far too rushed and almost decapitated the head of a lustily growing rocket plant (what was I thinking?), but the rest survived my enthusiastic work.

I hesitated briefly about the slug pellets – an innocuous white instead of the Danger Poison Blue ones, but there’s no getting around the fact I have Given In. I put them around the climbing beans and the flowers and would have put them around the newly planted artichokes if I hadn’t looked at my watch and stood aghast at the time. Almost 2pm. How did that happen? Sadly I had to place all the little artichokes in a huddle (a sort of cordon sanitaire) and pour a little slug pellet crystal wall around them. Wishing them luck I thought I should just have a look at the broad beans on my way home.

Bag in hand, mind on what is waiting at home; I felt around the base of one of my sturdy broad bean plants and found the long bean pods to be positively plump. Aha, new potatoes and broad beans on the same menu methinks. I pulled about 30. So much fun. This is the payoff for all that scrabbling about and weeding and digging and watering and sowing.