SECONDBORN says she’s tired of hearing me moan about the weather; snail and slug infestations on our allotment and the fact that absolutely NOTHING is growing well, except for the weeds.
At this time of year we are usually filling carrier bags with courgettes to drop off at neighbours’ houses and find ourselves knee deep in lettuces. Our freezer fills up with enough soft fruit to keep us going until the autumn.
So far this summer all our allotment has managed to produce is a few watery, slug-riddled strawberries, some bolted onions and a handful of rain-damaged raspberries. We have one decent swede ready to pick and a few promising runner bean plants and that’s about it.
I have been laughing bitterly over the notion that an allotment is a cash-saver and a great thing to have in times of austerity. All those who finally made it to the top of an allotment waiting list must be wondering why they bothered. Over the past couple of months I have wasted packet after packet of seeds and sacks of compost. Fruitless hours, quite literally, have been spent digging and weeding. Few seeds have even bothered to germinate and when they do the slugs and snails simply move in for a snack.
I’ve grown some seedlings at home on a balcony 15 feet above ground level. The slugs have even managed to find their way onto it by climbing up the wall. The seedlings that survived were battered into submission by the stair-rods falling from the sky.
For the last 14 summers we have been organic allotmenters. Slugs and snails have never been enough of an issue to make us resort to chemical warfare.
But no more.
Last week I found myself scattering slug pellets – and enjoying every minute of it – around what’s left of tattered courgette plants, stunted French beans and lacy spinach seedlings.
I discovered that one of our neighbouring plotters, Ricardo, was doing the exact same thing.
“This is the first year I’ve ever had to do this,” he said, pointing to a row of decimated lettuce.
Even this week’s more seasonal weather has failed to improve matters.
Emboldened by a few rays of sun, I planted out my broccoli seedlings. When I visited them two days later it was difficult to even see where they had been. I returned home to have a good old rant to anyone who would listen.
Secondborn feels that the allotment is becoming something of an obsession and I am allowing Seasonal Bitterness Disorder to overwhelm me.
“But you don’t understand,” I wail, “I wait all winter for the chance to grow a few courgettes and now it’s not going to happen.” Next summer seems a long way off and, anyway, there’s no guarantee it will be any better than this one.
Of course, my woes are pitiful compared to the disaster that has struck many British farmers, who, in some cases, have seen an up to 85% reduction in their crops.
Businesses will be ruined and livelihoods lost. They have reason to be bitter.
And yet, because we are part of a global economy we will not go hungry through one bad harvest.
It was not always thus. I’ve just finished reading a book about the latter years of Elizabeth I’s reign, when there were three bad harvests in a row and the English countryside experienced winter chills in mid-summer.
In those days peasants starved to death and the nation’s coffers were raided to buy meagre grain supplies from abroad. Life must have been dingy, dirty and dire for those who lived off the land and had no money.
Fortunately – and I have said this often – we don’t have to live off the proceeds of our allotment or by now we’d be looking at our cats with hungry eyes. The rabbit would have been long gone, as would the tropical fish.
But it still pains me to have to pay Mr Tesco hard-earned cash for lettuce, beans, spinach and courgettes that, by rights, we should have been cropping from our own little plot.
Which is why I went out at the weekend and bought some late potatoes and Swiss chard and turnip seeds.
No-one can say I’m not an optimist or that I give up easily. But that’s obsession for you!