I SUSPECT that I’m considered something of a maverick by my fellow allotment holders for the devil-may-care way that I approach vegetable gardening.
Monday last week saw me furtively planting sweetcorn seedlings for no other reason than it was the first sunny day we’d had for absolutely ages and the ‘cornlets’ would have had to be re-potted, yet again, if I’d kept them in the greenhouse (according to my gardening book, they don’t like their roots disturbing so it was a kindness really).
I’m such a rebel that I didn’t even harden them off outside. “Sink or swim” I said as I pushed the infant plants into some hastily-dug holes. Well, the sun was shining. What more could they want? In this country we have to be grateful for any chink in the clouds.
Although I’d hoped to slink off back home without being seen, my premature planting did not go unnoticed by one of the allotment association’s oldest and most experienced members, Ricardo, who came over to regard my handiwork.
“Oh,” he said, in his charming Italianate English. “You’ve got your corn in. I haven’t even planted my seeds yet.” He didn’t need to say more, I knew what he was getting at.
But, just occasionally, maverick behaviour pays off and I was forced to remind Ricardo that last year our plot had, in his own words, “the best corn on the allotments.” And I’d gone for early planting then as well.
I didn’t, however, remind him that a late frost in early May had taken half the plants to an early grave on the compost heap. The other half survived and that’s what matters.
You’d think that after 15 years of plotting I would have become older and wiser, no longer risking an entire crop on a whim, but you’d be wrong.
Most years I’m to be found urging tiny seedlings into growth spurts so that I can plant them out as early as possible.
One year, as I planted out my runner bean seedlings – a good three or four weeks before everyone else – I overheard one neighbouring plotter whisper to another, in tones that suggested a mixture of shock, awe and disbelief, “they’re putting their beans in!”
Surprisingly (and I was, perhaps, more surprised than anyone) we had the earliest ripe runner beans. In fact, in 15 years of jumping the gun I’ve only had to re-plant beans once.
I’m also particularly proud of our brassicas this year, which, despite being planted much later than the recommended time for over-wintering and succumbing to club root, have produced an enormous crop of tender-stem broccoli. We’ve got so much we’re now feeding it to the rabbit as well as ourselves.
But before you get the idea that I’m blessed with magical green fingers I should say that I’ve lost count of the failed pea seedlings, moth-eaten carrots and wizened cauliflowers, to name but a few of the crop disasters.
There is, of course, a price to pay for impetuousness. I have probably wasted more money on seeds that never grew because I planted them at the wrong time than I have ever saved by growing my own sweetcorn.
Last week I read in The Examiner that Almondbury Children’s Centre wants an experienced plotter to help with a community allotment funded by Kirklees Council and the part of me that is in denial about my impetuousness thought, impetuously, ‘I could do that’.
But, of course, I couldn’t. I still need lessons myself. In patience mainly.
What these fledgling plotters need is a Ricardo, a man of infinite patience with vegetables, who even manages to coax peaches from our Northern climate and appears to have an equally infinite supply of lettuce, chicory, raspberries, cucumbers – the list is endless – to give away to less fortunate plotters such as ourselves. (He’s even known to press the unsuspecting to a glass or two of his intoxicating home-made raspberry wine).
I do hope they find one.
PS) Yes, as anticipated, last weekend’s frost got most of my corn so I’ve resorted to sewing a second batch of seeds in the greenhouse. By the time you read this I will have been up to the allotments and sneakily removed the damning evidence of my impetuousness from the prying eyes of our neighbours. I suspect it will have been too late to hide it from the eagle-eyed Ricardo. However, I can’t promise that I won’t have exposed some other innocent seedlings to the vagaries of our spring weather.