Monday, 28 April 2008

Latvia's finest

In my day job as a journalist - as opposed to the real work of tending the allotment - I received a press release the other day about a new campaign called Dig Your Dinner, which is trying to encourage people to grow their own food. That is clearly a theme close to my heart, but what really caught my attention was a mention of the Heritage Seed Library, run by Garden Organic, which aims to protect 800 endangered species.
Among the 10 they highlighted were Mrs Fortune’s Climbing French Bean, which were donated to the Seed Library by two friends who share an allotment next to each other in Bristol. One of them used to visit an elderly lady called Doris Fortune in the early 1960s and was given some beans by her. They originated from an old retired gardener who tended the Royal Family's garden at Windsor.
I'm a sucker for detail like that. Take another of their endangered seeds, the Gravedigger Pea. They got them from a Mr Thompson, a retired farmer from Warwickshire, who got them from his neighbour Mr Beal who in turn got them from his friend, a gravedigger living at Kidlington, near Oxford. A real pea with a real story, not some dubious F1 hybrid bred solely for the convenience of the big growers.
Meanwhile the people behind all this have very kindly sent me some endangered seeds (the Seed Library is not allowed to sell them because they are not on the EU Seeds Register). They are Latvian Peas - which, I must confess, I have never heard of. Does anyone know anything about them? How to grow them, what their habit is, how they taste, that sort of thing? All information gratefully received - and I will, of course, report back myself as soon I get round to growing them.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Look, mum, I'm on the telly

Whenever I dig over the ground on the allotment I am joined by a robin who recognises that it is a good opportunity to feast on any worms that I happen to uncover. He is quite unafraid, hopping around within a few feet of me and then nipping in whenever he sees a tasty morsel wriggling around. I guess that most gardeners have similar little friends.
I am pleased to say, however, that mine is now a television star. London Tonight came down to the allotment at the weekend to film a piece about how trendy allotments are - and to give my book, One Man And His Dig, a nice plug - and as well as shooting lots of footage of me yakking away while the children slaved away behind me (exploitation is such an ugly word, I always think) they also got some good shots of the robin. There he was at the beginning of the sequence, sitting on a fence post; and there he was at the end, tucking into a lovely fat worm. Lucky chap.
I was also on Radio 4's Loose Ends on Saturday. It is hosted by Clive Anderson these days, although I was being interviewed by Arthur Smith. Anyone interested in hearing Arthur and I talk about manure, courgettes, slugs and Helen Mirren has until next Saturday (April 26) to listen to the show again via the BBC website (I am about three-quarters of the way through the programme, after the comedian Ed Aczel - who is very funny - and before Craig Brown).

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tomato madness

No two years on the allotment are the same. Some years the potato crop is terrible, but the beans are fantastic; others years you cannot move for courgettes, but scarcely manage to grow a single carrot. And then of course there are the obsessions. Last year we went completely overboard on the squash front, growing so many that our kitchen looked like the west London entry for the National Pumpkin Festival (is there such an event? If there is, we would have won it hands down). Two years ago I developed a mild lettuce obsession, which I have more or less dealt with now, although I still have the occasional flashbacks.
This year it is tomatoes. For some reason we have gone completely mad for tomatoes, filling pot after pot with young seedlings, which is all very well except for the fact that we only have enough room on the allotment to grow about half a dozen plants. I have no idea what we are going to with rest of them.
I am not even entirely sure where all these tomatoes came from. Some were freebies, given away with things like Kitchen Garden magazine; others were presents, often in the form of seed collections given to our children and then purloined by us. (That is how low we have sunk - taking the seeds from our children to grow ourselves). Some we have actually bought ourselves.
The result is that this year's tomato collection includes the following varieties: Sungold (an old favourite, a very sweet cherry tomato), Costoluto Fiorentino (an Italian ribbed number), Zucchero (no idea: I got it in a seed swap, and presume from the name it is on the sweet side), Yellow Pear (nicked from the kids: presumably it is yellow, and pear-shaped) and Red Pear (the same, only red).
As I write this, we have gone away for a few days to my parents-in-law in Wiltshire, which involved my taking the tomatoes out of the mini-greenhouse - where I was worried they might get a bit overheated if I was not there to look after them (this, of course, is a classic symptom of the obsessive - thinking that your babies cannot possibly survive without constant attention) - and putting them on trays on the kitchen table, which is nice and light but not as hot as the mini greenhouse.
They look great, but it does mean that our kitchen table is filled with 56 pots of young tomato plants, not counting the chilli plants which I also brought in. It doesn't leave a lot of room for breakfast.
I haven't yet broken it to the rest of the family, but we may have to move out for a few weeks.