Podding along

I seem to have a new profession – shelling peas. Such a greedy activity; eat one pod one. Today was eventful in that I harvested my major crop of peas. And they have all been shelled, blanched and bagged and put in the freezer to eat over the next few weeks.  It took ages crawling among the messy peas; their tendrils reaching beyond their allotted rows, and weeds growing like mad in between. Reminder for next year; plant them further apart and plant more. We had some last night with mint and they were divine. Almost too sweet.

One other discovery I made, apart from the difficulty of planting the rows too close together, is that the reason you blanch the peas in boiling water for a minute is not just to lock in the sweetness. It’s to kill the little grubs. Every twenty or so peas there would be one with some little white grubs, cross and crawly at being disturbed. I’m sure everyone who has gobbled peas raw has had a few of them; but as my family would say – it’s only protein.

As I didn’t plant the peas in the black weed-proof fabric, it has been a haven for bindweed and other meaty weeds too. And I have neglected their care. Too easy to snap off a pea on your way past to worthier tasks than to get down on your hands and knees and creep between the rows to tidy up. But today I knew I had to get up as many of the crop as possible as I would be away for almost two weeks. So it was don the kneelers, drag the bucket and work down the rows. And I must say it is so much fun – you go up a row, diligently plucking peas, and believe you have cropped the lot. Then your hand brushes a plant and you find yourself touching a batch of yet more plump peas. Perhaps I really should plant the purple ones next year for easy detection.

The day was a sociable one. Sotaris was there. He has dismantled the shed (evidence of huge rubbish heap on the plot – galvanized iron, wood, window frames, all in a jumble) and built the foundations for a new one. Luckily its dimensions are modest. To the relief of all our neighbours. He had rather built up a grand picture of a shed, a lawn, deck chairs and a barbeque. That all may still happen, but at least the new shed will not encroach on our Vietnamese neighbours. Sotaris does tend to talk to me when I am more than fifty feet away tying in tomatoes or sorting out the artichoke seedlings, and I have to strain to hear what he is asking. But apart from that he is friendly. If full of advice. 

Mick came up to see my progress. I suspect he is a bit miffed that Sotaris (the new old kid on the block) is around, and like an old rooster in the hen house, he is determined to elicit loyalty from his little hens. Actually I think I am his only hen. The rest of the allotment seems to get on well without him; but he does have great conversations with his neighbour Mick, and the committee members. And I have valued his advice over the past two years.

Rino was his tanned and busy self. For a man who starts work each day at 3am he is always very cheerful around lunchtime. He fades soon afterwards. But not before telling me that his pea crop was a disaster and the slugs got to his potatoes. My pea crop would have been a disaster too if I didn’t keep topping up with root trainer-grown replacements all through the month of March and occasional ring-ins from Homebase.

Alas I didn’t have time to chat with Oswaldo. He hailed me just as I was dashing to the car. Sad that I didn’t have time to tarry – I needed to get to the paint shop in Camden before it shut – but I did want to tell him that the mint he gave me was a success. Anyone can grow mint I know; but it is so lush and bushy next to the rhubarb leaves. And once the rhubarb has gone over around now, it does leave a rather forlorn gap among the potatoes. So let it romp away I say. At least it is easy to pull out.

The main task of the day before the great 2007 pea harvest was to cut the grass. Strimming duty. My little petrol motor was put to good use as I did not only my paths (about an hour’s work) but Rino’s and the derelict plot on the way to the car park as well. An Italian friend of Rino’s has taken over the plot that really is a blight on the landscape between Mick’s manicured lawn and my own almost neat one. But Rino did warn me that the Italian gentleman isn’t a very robust man, and probably will wait for winter before he starts. Waist high weeds and lots of bindweed. I could see that nobody was going to cut it. Inertia being the order of the day when it comes to other people’s plots. That and grumbling. So I decided to wade in and start.

Actually I just think of it as making up for my shocking neglect of paths last year. Mine, I recall, were in a similar state until we hired a huge industrial strimmer and spent a day beating back the weeds. So lots of accumulated brownie points for a few hours work. No blisters, but an aching back.

Other delights (once I stopped sneezing after disturbing and distributing all that grass seed and pollen) was to tie in the roses that are growing by the shed. These are my ones that came from the roof terrace in Primrose Hill. Madame Alfred Carrière. Chosen after much perusal and agonising from the David Austin Rose catalogue a few years back. (I’m perusing again for the new garden in France.) They are putting on plenty of growth, and may even produce flowers once the verticals reach the roof and start to become horizontals. No sign of any lilies yet. I seem to recall they are August croppers (when we are away) but at least there are no lily beetles on them right now. Four pots of tall growth, I just have to hope the rain keeps up in the next two weeks or they will get parched. Similar wishes for the artichoke seedlings and Australian plants. I have asked Sotaris to take a look at them while I’m away (he volunteered) but I just don’t know if he will.

The first tomato of the year has appeared on one of the cordons. A small cherry tomato of the yellowish blush. I’m afraid I didn’t take it home to proudly show off and mark up as a milestone in the allotment gardening calendar. I just stuck it in my mouth and chomped down with a swift chew. Delicious.

The lemon verbena shrub doesn’t seem to loathe its new position. It is putting on enough bushy growth to enable me to pluck a bunch of leaves each time I shut up the door for the last time each day. They dry in no time, and go straight into their tea infusion bags at home.

I was actually a bit reluctant to leave. I had tidied the interior of the shed (rain squall just after the pea picking) and the crops are all at that interesting and fruitful stage. It could be neater. There could be less weeds on the path. But it isn’t at all bad. And as I also harvested my body weight in Charlottes and red Duke of York potatoes you could call it a success.