Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Harvest at Earwig Corner

It is that time of year again when I harvest the fruits of my labour at my allotment at Earwig Corner, Lewes.
Harvest at the alloment comes rather later than in much of mainstream agriculture. 

In fact, the two have little in common. Farmers are often producing very large quantities of food using a great deal of expensive science and equipment to feed the world; I am producing a very small amount of food using hardly any science or technology to feed myself.

Still, it gives me pleasure.

I have tending my allotment – which at five rods is half the size of a usual plot – for six years now. It has been a labour of love, but tough going nonetheless.
When I started in the 2007/8 season, the plot  was in a shocking state. 

It was hugely overgrown and had large quantities of discarded corrugated iron and rotten carpet on it. 

Although I grew crops the first year, it was almost two years before I had removed all the rubbish and got the entire site into cultivation.

As the years have passed I have become beset by more and more personal problems. 

Somehow, keeping my allotment has been a battle not just with the soil and the elements but also with the forces of chaos. 

Somehow, against all odds, I have always managed to keep it going. A miracle.

The images illustrating this blog show how much the allotment has changed in six years.
This year, bolstered by a wonderful weekend helper, I have tried to do it better than in the previous five seasons. 

Rather than stringing crops across the plot willy nilly, I constructed a couple of square beds and we collected large quantities of manure and dug it in. 

Then I planted onions, potatoes, garlic and beans in tight rows – my version of intensification of agriculture!

I tried then to weed and water the crops as much as possible, but, in practice, with my great burden of unpaid legal work, this has only happened once a fortnight. 

Weatherwise too, it has been another tricky year. It was a very cold and wet spring, followed by a hot and, at times, windy summer. 

So, the crops have been variously drowned, scorched or broken by the elements. It must be hard being a vegetable! 

I have also not been up in the evenings much because of my transport situation. Still, it has not been all bad.  
My shed, the roof of which I had to completely rebuild last year after it blew off in a gale, has survived (despite a break-in early in the season), and even looks good after we gave it a couple of coats of red protective paint. 
And I have had a smallish but high-quality crop. 

I have harvested one of my two beds so far and have a big bag of potatoes and a couple of large bowls of lovely onions and garlic bulbs.

I spent the other night cleaning up the onions and garlic in the kitchen sink. 

I almost instantly regretted it. What I’d thought would take me half an hour maximum filled at least five times that time and made a hell of a mess of my kitchen sink. At the end, though, I was left with some beautiful produce (displayed with various pandas). 

It made it all worthwhile.
Relations with my allotment neighbours have been excellent. 

The Two Daves – who have large and beautifully kept plots either side of mine – have been really friendly and helpful. 

They are full of useful advice and have both given me stuff to put in, which is extremely kind of them. 

A newcomer, Chris, is also a really good guy. He and one of the Daves helped me fit a big  f***-off lock to my shed and reinforce the door after a break-in, in which I lost my treasured antique tools.

Chris is like the allotment holders’ allotment holder. I often stop to have a chat with him, stroke his dog Stitch and marvel at the wonders he is doing on his plot. 

A coach driver by trade, he is making a bit of a second career out of his allotment. He says he has set up an allotment website, The Allotment Shed, and has had a TV crew round at Earwig Corner to interview him about it. Inspirational!

My first ever allotment was in Hackney in the early-to-mid 1990s. 

I had quite a large plot on the allotments between Stamford Hill and the River Lea. I loved it. That summer I grew delicious cherry tomatoes with the sound of rowing in the distance. They were happy times.
One of the biggest issues faced by many allotment holders is loneliness. Very few seem to manage to keep their allotments as couples. 

If there are issues with their relationship, they come out when digging, planting and weeding. 

So, they either give up the plot (or get kicked off because it turns into a jungle) or one or other partner ends up doing it on their own. 

I have always enjoyed the sunsets in the summer evenings at Earwig Corner but I could not help but feel sad and lonesome being there on my ownsome. 

It is more fun with a helper who can make lunch, do some weeding or just sit around, reading a magazine or chatting with her.
I have wanted to write poetry at my allotment but, somehow, I never seem to manage it. 

Usually, there is too much weeding or watering to do to allow for any creativity. 

I always put aside a few minutes to enjoy the wonderful view of the Ouse Valley which is poetry of a sort.
I sometimes try to read. My new policy of reading whatever books come my way had led to another unlikely choice. 

I missed my train coming back from a Rocket FM meeting in Lewes and hung out in the Platform Three waiting room at Lewes Station which has a charity bookcase. 

All the books in it were extraordinarily unappealing – the very worst of the 1970s romantic fiction – except one: a 1955 book club edition of a travel book called The Secret of Cremona by Edith Templeton. 
I had never previously heard of Mrs Templeton. It seems she was a 1950s novelist who turned her hand to travel writing. 

She had an easy writing style but almost nothing to say. I have read around 250 pages on her musings on various Italian towns, their art and architecture. 

Nothing much happened throughout. I learnt a great deal about Horace and Virgil and about religious paintings, but it is amazing I am still reading it with another 40 pages of no-action waffle to go. 

I could tell that even in the duller than dishwater 1950s the book club member who’d bought it for four and six (plus sixpence for postage and packing) had given up on page 224. 

Who was Edith Templeton? It seems she died in 2006 at age of around 90. 

Much as she claimed in the book to be English, she was born in Prague in 1916. She was educated at the French Lycee at Prague and married an Englishman in 1938. 

But she left England in 1956 with her second husband, a doctor, to live in India.  

She has certainly discovered the secret cure to insomnia, from which I have suffering on and off for a couple of years.

Nothing makes me sleep like her prose. Over the past week, I have dropped off on trains, coaches and in various people's living rooms.

Even during the week at lunchtime, I go to a cafe and read a couple of pages of The Secret of Cremona to catch 40 winks! 

I have never encountered a more soporific book!

I was very nervous about returning to writing this blog.

* It was really hard - and took weeks - for me to start writing again.

But I am really enjoying it.

My last, sad blog has received some very generous comments and emails.

I was very touched when the guys at the Daily Star read it and said they liked it.

And it seems a lot of people on the Emerald Isle have read it also.

I received a lovely missive from the late Linda Duff's sister, Imelda, who wrote: "I just wanted to thank you most sincerely for the beautiful posting about Linda. You captured her spirit so well. Much appreciated and she would have loved it!"

Dublin showbiz journalist Ken Sweeney emailed: "Loved your Linda Duff stories. I attended Linda's funeral last week. I brought a friend and we were the only journalists, newspaper or media people present. There were no celebrities or pop stars - just about 80 family and close friends. Neil Tennant [Pet Shops Boys] sent flowers. One of the most touching things her brother Dennis said at the service was that Linda spent her last days teaching creative writing to local kids in Dublin."

The great thing about blogging is that, while you self-censor, no one is censoring you or editing your work. It also gives me the chance to use some of the many images I take.

So, finally, here is one of my dad and mum beside The Thames near Oxford.

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