THESE are nervous times in the village. One false move now could result in disaster and humiliation again this summer.
Despite the current cold weather, things are hotting up in our neck of the woods as the annual cut-throat race to grow the best vegetables gets underway.
The fact that people have chosen to leave the hustle-bustle of the town or city and live in a peaceful rural village does not stop them from being fiercely competitive – especially when it comes to the garden.
Wealthy East Anglian landowners sitting on thousands of acres of prime arable farmland could not have devoted any more time than us to choose what to plant.
March weekends have been spent pouring over horticultural catalogues and the Sunday supplements to decide whether to grow the versatile Tromboncino courgettes or the British-bred Defenders with their resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, in our tiny windswept vegetable plot. Our main, nay only, criterion is: Will they beat Sally’s?
We manage to hold our own in the cottage garden stakes with a respectable showing of colourful blooms, but when it comes to legumes, neighbour Sally is the undisputed Queen of the Vegetables.
Not content with being a financial hotshot for an American bank, she gets up at 5am every day to feed and muck out her horse.
At weekends, when she is not fixing the dry stone walls or walking the dog, she is to be found traipsing the country lanes around Bolster Moor picking up litter.
The garbage is left by thoughtful drivers who park up to have lunch and enjoy the beautiful unspoilt views before flinging their food wrappings and drinks cans out of the window and driving off. The lane near our house has got so bad that we have renamed it Boddington’s Hill.
Last year Sally’s list of successful vegetables from her 1,000ft-high exposed, stony plot of land on the edge of the moor read like a stock list from a Provencal greengrocer – courgettes, pumpkins, garlic, beans, peas, carrots, rhubarb, potatoes and tomatoes to name but a few (indoors for the tomatoes, not even Sally could manage these outdoors). She even had the temerity to grow sweetcorn – talk about overachieving!
I’m pleased to report that the resulting pasty duo of tiny specimens was hard and tasteless.
Despite her obviously infuriating traits, it is hard to dislike Sally. But that doesn’t stop us from being desperate to beat her on the vegetable front.
I don’t think I could stand another summer of her generosity as she trundles barrow loads of bountiful produce over to share with us.
We are trying to avoid last year’s embarrassment of having to feed the curly kale to the horses and excitedly digging up our carrots only to find they had been secretly replaced by the garden fairies with stunted and blackened gnarly lumps.
We’ve decided there’s no point pussy-footing around, so this year we are taking a radical approach. Firstly, we are abandoning seeds and have splashed out on some top quality plugs to give us a head start.
Secondly, we will be adding celeriac and pak choi to our repertoire for the first time. Neither of these is in Sally’s catalogue for the season so she won’t be able to beat us with hers.
I think it’s going to be a bumper year. I can picture myself heading over to her house with groaning baskets full of surplus exotic vegetables this summer ... watch this space!