August/September 2021: Conflict of interests

I have learned over time to manage my expectations in certain scenarios and this allotment game was one of them. I said yes to my friend’s offer of a share of this plot primarily for a legitimate reason to get out of the house during the pandemic lockdown. I was not thinking I was going to become self-sufficient in food, I was not sure I would grow anything much in fact. So, whenever I started to see signs of real results on my little square of earth, it was a really pleasant surprise.

I’d planted pak choi, purple sprouting broccoli, red and green cabbages and sprouts but had lost all of them. After the pak choi bolted and the cabbages, and broccoli had all been massacred by snails, I added some butternut squash plants to my area. Only because that’s about all that was left in the garden centre at the end of May. I planted them under the mini polytunnel that I had purchased and once again crossed my fingers and pretended not to expect anything.

By the end of July, I was starting to see a lot of action under there. There were lots and lots of flowers and the excitement began to bubble up. Then it was time for the month’s lesson. At first, my flowers never developed into anything so I did a bit of reading. There are male and female flowers on a squash vine. Often the male flowers appear much sooner than the female ones, so there is nothing to fertilise. The male flower is a beautiful yellow bloom and the female flower has a fruit which needs to be pollinated. It’s often necessary to do this manually if they don’t do it themselves.

My very first fruit must have been disturbed by something because I arrived at the plot to see it lying on the ground. Eventually, I started to see little squash-shaped fruit gaining size.

On no, Oh no …

I planted three plants and by the end of August had nine squash on the go. Around the same time, I had a nice surprise. Earlier on I had thrown some netting over my remaining plants as I had become aware of the attention of the birds. I’d been under the false impression that it was just the slimy duo of slugs and snails that were causing the demise of my crops. However, now to my dismay, I realised what havoc pigeons were causing as well. I love birds and I had so enjoyed the company of robins and blackbirds who hung around waiting for me to unearth worms while weeding, but I had not realised what the pigeons were up to.

Anyway, under my netting, I suddenly came across some cucumbers. I have to confess that I had forgotten all about them. I’d committed the cardinal sin of not labelling what I’d planted. When the leaves were coming up. I’d thought they were more squash but I was getting quite a lit of bumpy dark green cucumbers.

I harvested three huge ones and had about seven or eight little ones left on the vine.

I finally pulled up my carrots and oh boy, this was a mixed experience. On the one hand, I grew carrots! On the other, they were so flipping fugly that I couldn’t help but feel a certain way about them. The lesson – I read that carrots like fine, free-draining soil. I discovered that you shouldn’t plant carrots on stony ground. Our allotment is on some pretty naff land. It’s very chalky here near the cliffs and we seem to be perched on top of an old builders’ yard. Sifting through this gives you a harvest of old bricks, clay drainage pipes, rusty old nails and broken glass. My poor carrots didn’t stand a chance. I did a bit of riddling and might throw some lettuce in here before the summer ends. Well, you live and you learn. Next year…

As August rolled on I was in parts excited and in parts a little worried. Travel restrictions were now being relaxed considerably and vaccinated folk were allowed to travel abroad with some precautions. We decided to take our first trip out of the UK since the you-know-what. This was always going to be a problem from the point of view of the allotment. As we had been restricted for so long we wanted a good long trip and the plan was to be away for a month. Right at this crucial time. I take a pragmatic approach though – I harvested what was ready and asked my allotment partner to water when they could and to take anything that was ripe and wouldn’t last until we came back.

In the middle of September when we set off I was waiting (and hoping on) the following.

  • About half a dozen butternut squash
  • About six cucumbers
  • Some spindly cabbages that were hanging on under the netting
  • 4 leeks
  • A couple of kale plants that one of my allotment neighbours gave to me
  • Some broccoli

It just remained to see what was left when we returned from Spain.

Published by Elaine Batiste

I'm a teacher, a lifelong learner, a traveller, a maker, an adventurer and a 'want to do more' kind of gal.

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