The Day of the Tomato Triffids

Yellow tomatoes, just as it says on the packet. And the green haze of tomato plants in the greenhouse

Year two as an allotmenteer and year one as a greenhouser, and we’re one step nearer to organic self-sufficiency in a niche area of cabbage, onion and tomato-related cuisine. The healthiness of our respective constitutions will know no bounds and I foresee a future when the cats will take the blame for any gaseous expulsions.

The greenhouse was a great hit with the cats, who loved the warmth and jungle-like qualities. I imagine it brings out all their big cat hunting instincts, that would explain them trotting into the house with assorted rodents and chasing them around the lounge for their own amusement. Bless.

With not much room available to grow our bumper tomato crop, I had a cunning plan. If I doubled the number of growbags so the roots would delve deeper, I could double the number of tomato plants. Simple. Cunning. Foolproof. Couldn’t see any problems with that at all.

Tomato planting started in earnest, I chose three varieties, red, yellow and stripey. I’d visions of gliding into the greenhouse, my floaty dress billowing behind me, straw hat nodding in the breeze, wicker basket primed and ready to be loaded with plump, ripe fruit, looking like a page in the Sarah Raven catalogue.

Instead, there was a green haze as the plants grew together, competing  for space. At times, I’d to fight my way through with a machete just to water them, I wasn’t wearing anything floaty, there was no straw hat.The cats abandoned the greenhouse all together and the tomatoes just kept on pushing, triffid-like, yellow triffids.

The picture on the seed packet, showing shiny red tomatoes bore no resemblance to the yellow plums ripening on the vines, someone in the tomato factory must have thought they’d have a jolly jape and swapped the seeds, oh how I laughed. So I had double yellow and stripey tomatoes, a lot of foliage and bulging grow-bags full of roots. Yes, definitely triffids.

Meanwhile down on the allotment, there was a serious case of over-planting of cabbage. Not that I don’t like cabbage, but you can have too much of a good thing, especially when they are all ready at once. Cabbage soup anyone? Thank goodness onions store well, we’ve more strings of them than a Francophile fancy dress shop.

So looking ahead to next year, them theme will be ‘less is more’, though in the case of cabbage, nil. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make the Sarah Raven catalogue.

Tomatoes of great stripeyness

It’s starting to look something like

Be gone, couch grass and creeping buttercup!

Two years ago and I was seriously thinking of applying for PhD funding to research the complex root system of couch grass and creeping buttercup. I considered I was well on my way to becoming a leading expert in the two, particularly in methods of extracting them from the ground intact. I could see a future of lecture tours, stop-overs in luxurious hotels in countries where couch grass and buttercups are unknown. Maybe a book, possibly a movie, certainly an interactive game with dancing roots and nodding flower heads.

My then new allotment was central to field research. When I say ‘new’, I mean new to me, it had a previous owner who must have planted the offending weeds, how else could they have proliferated? And more importantly, why? Apart from a couple of blighted potatoes and one weedy raspberry cane, the couch grass and buttercup flourished, so clearly they planned to do something with them, I just couldn’t figure out what – maybe something else for my research bid.

But as with all research, after a while, you begin to question why you’re doing it. Day after day of pulling and tugging those tenacious roots and I changed my mind about the damned things, in fact, I never wanted to see them again. Clearly, that was never going to happen, I just had to make sure there was no room for weeds by planting lots of lovely vegetables.

Ooo this allotmenteering, it’s not something that can be rushed. Two years. Two years of forking, digging, pulling and tugging those weeds. But now, it’s starting to look something like.

The start of the research – two years ago


My potatoes have tomatoes

It’s just over a year since we took over The Great Weedbed of Calverley. It was the most neglected, overgrown allotment in the village, but we took it on nevertheless. These prized pieces of land in what everyone but us calls a posh village, don’t come up very often.

You’ve heard the term ‘dead man’s wellies?’ The previous lot-holder hadn’t died, they just ran out of steam. Either that or they were creating a wildlife garden to cultivate couch grass, creeping buttercup and abstract sculptures from clods of clay. Whatever it was, the committee wasn’t impressed and the lotholder left before they were shown the shed door, throwing down a digging challenge to the person at the top of the long waiting list. That would be me, then.

My spade and fork have been working overtime and I’m on my third set of gardening gloves, but by gum, it’s now looking something like an allotment. Granted, the grand ideas for terraced raised beds and arches full of cascading flowers hasn’t come to pass this year, but as one of the Old Boys who leans over the fence dispensing wisdom laced with wry humour points out, it’s always work in progress.

Armed only with vague memories of what my grandad did in his garden, advice from my savvy in-laws, library books and You Tube, I set about sowing and planting. Looking at my plan, my mate Bev was scandalised to see I’d written ‘stuff’ on one of the beds, though I was more explicit with other beds, which were destined to grow ‘veg stuff’ and ‘fruit stuff’. Hey, my Myers Briggs profile says I do big picture….

Now, a year later, the old weeds are gone, they have been replaced with new ones, but they aren’t as prolific or tenacious. And in their place is so much veg stuff and fruit stuff I don’t think we’ll ever need to buy food again. At least neither broad beans nor potatoes, we can feed a small country with the harvest.

The learning curve has been as steep as the path down to the lot, but for what it’s worth, here are five key learning points for me this year, there were 100 times that many, but blog etiquette requires me to keep it brief.

  1. There are lots of creepy-crawlies, rats, mice and the odd badger sharing the lot with me. It’s not necessary to shriek every time I see one.
  2. The al fresco toilet comes with its own fierce genus of nettles which particularly like bottoms. It’s not necessary to shriek every time I’m stung
  3. Things grow very big, even though seedlings are very small, so they do need to be spaced some distance apart to allow room for weeding, picking, poking myself in the eye with the support canes. It’s not necessary to swear every time this happens.
  4. Weeds grow when you’re not watching. Swearing at them will only make them grow faster.
  5. Potatoes have fruit which look like green tomatoes, they are not edible, in fact they are poisonous. It is not necessary to swear when they drop off the plant onto your foot, they will haunt you in your dreams.

The sowing has started

So sew sow

Spring might not be in the air, but we’re getting a faint whiff of something waking up as the snowdrops push their way through the mulch and the green shoots of growth show in the rows of seed trays hogging every spare windowsill and light trap in the house.

The potatoes are chitting in the conservatory, which I now know is the technical term for making them sprout before you plant them. Blimey, with all the left-over sprouting potatoes we’ve had in the larder over the years I’m already a Master Chitter. And who knew there were so many different types of potatoes? Earlies, second earlies, main crop, but you plant them all at the same time, how do they know when to grow? Do they agree among themselves, as part of a subterranean pact? What if I just mix them up, will they lose their identify? It’s a horticultural mystery, to me anyway, and one that will be solved after a lot of digging.

In my enthusiasm to start my first year as a proper allotment holder, I may have been a little over-zealous with seed sowing, Nothing really happens in the winter, though one of my books proudly boasts that if you plan your planting, you can pick a cabbage every day of the year. Personally I don’t think my constitution could take that kind of pummeling and the ozone layer may never recover from the extra emissions. So the three different varieties of broad bean that were wizened up old beans last week are now thick, healthy shoots.  If they carry on at this rate we’re going to have bean surprise salad next month. The surprise will be that there’s nothing but beans.

The cats have shown absolutely no curiosity at all at the trays of dirt around the house, which is a great relief to all concerned, though they are enthusiastic diggers in the garden, were their little presents lie just under the surface, they look so proud of it too. Thank goodness they’ll be nowhere near the allotment.

They are interested in my other sewing, though, and can’t resist playing on the tissue paper patterns. Just so long as it keeps them from doing something that rhymes in my chitting.

Let’s Get Digging!©

All your exercise requirements
All your exercise requirements

Having qualified as a Leader in Running Fitness, I’m extending my personal brand to provide not just an exciting new all-over workout but also nutrition for all my running friends, in what is set to become the new keep-fit craze.

StripeyAnne Let’s Get Digging!© is a tailored package designed for you, with new and different exercises to do in the great outdoors using a variety of specialist equipment (provided). What’s more, if you take advantage of the summer-autumn programme, along with a prestigious certificate, you’ll get your own bag of potatoes to either eat or use for weight-lifting, along with all the courgettes you can ever manage in your entire lifetime. They’re like that, courgettes.

Runners start with a warm-up jog from the nearby Exercise Studio, equipped with all modern facilities, which you’d expect from our house. Then gentle stretching using, let’s say garden forks, spades and hoes, and it’s down to Dynamic Weeding, the latest in all-over exercise that tunes the muscles you didn’t know you had. This is followed by Compost Binning, a clever little routine that involves stretching and turning and, if you’re a man, weeing in the compost bin.

As the programme progresses, you’ll love on to Kneel Plant, using smaller items of equipment to help with dexterity of hand movements and strengthening the knees. We finish with Harvest Hoe!, a return to the exercises used in Dynamic Weeding, getting down into the soil and lifting potatoes or picking courgettes. A must for any training programme.

Apply now, places are limited!

This new venture is not entirely unconnected to our recent acquisition of allotment which has been cultivating  couch grass and the pernicious goose grass known sniggeringly as ‘sticky willy’ along with buttercups and ox eye daisy which isn’t really a weed, it’s just in the wrong place.