Down at the allotment, we’re on a learning curve. Actually, it’s more of a perpendicular than a curve. One morning we arrived to find our beautiful, healthy tomato plants (all Italian varieties, lovingly tended and grown from seed at home) had been reduced to a brown mush. It was as if the wicked witch had cast a spell that ravaged the land.
We sat on our chairs, drank tea (yes, we are now proper allotment habituées) and surveyed the wreckage. Was it the temperature, which over the past week had suddenly plummeted during the night? Had we planted them wrongly? We summoned help from our neighbour, Darren (a fount of all wisdom), who shook his head. “It’s the blight. You can’t grow tomatoes on this allotment.”
Well, now we know, and those carefully designed beds – tomatoes at the back, followed by serried ranks of marigolds, rocket, basil, mixed salad leaves, Little Gem lettuces and a fringe of chives – now looks more like a cobbled patchwork than a beautiful picture. Particularly as slugs are very partial to lettuce and had laid waste that row, leaving sad little stumps.
The French and Borlotti beans are finally twining their way up the willow frames and throwing out pale mauve and pink flowers
So now it’s a question of learning what we can’t grow, rather than what we can. The plain old green courgettes are a disaster (more gourmet food for slugs) whereas the Custard White courgettes – so called because they are shaped like pale yellow patties – are a triumph.
The French and Borlotti beans are finally twining their way up the willow frames and throwing out pale mauve and pink flowers. (It’s the fourth time we’ve planted them, but perverse determination has finally paid off.) The pea pods are beginning to form and there are bunches and bunches of sweet peas to scent our homes.
So never mind that the artichokes are a disaster – however handsomely statuesque they look – because we had no idea that they are nectar for blackfly. We knew about broad beans and blackfly, but artichokes? Apparently the heads have to be shrouded in fleece as they are beginning to develop in order to discourage the enemy.
And if anybody imagines that a good soaking and rinsing will rid them of the blight and make them edible, don’t even think about it – unless you like blackfly soup.
As they say, when men make plans, the gods laugh. Mother Nature is no exception and I kind of like her even more for that. She’s a good teacher and, while we may presently be at the bottom of the class, we’re doing our homework. As Darren says, “You never stop learning, and that’s half the fun.”