Friday, 20 June 2008


There are certain days in the allotment calendar which are always greeted with excitement in the Low household, heralding as they do a new stage in the growing season. The day you sow the first seeds of the year, the day you harvest the first crops (and yes, the broad beans were very tasty, thank you, tender and sweet and not unduly overpopulated with blackfly, thanks to a judicious application of washing-up liquid a few weeks earlier. Even if they weren't the tastiest broad beans in west London, they were certainly the cleanest) and, marginally less popular but no less important for all that, the day you start your winter digging.
There is another day of significance which allotment folk often overlook, however: the day that your neighbours first start trying to foist their surplus crops on to you. It is an incredibly important day in the vegetable year, because it signifies the moment when things start to get out of hand, that hard-to-define but easy-to-recognise instant when your plot changes from a desolate mudpatch that looks as if it wouldn't feed a dormouse on a diet let alone a hungry family of four, to a lush and fecund vegetable production facility where you will be struggling to eat everything that comes out of the ground.
It was our plot neighbour John who got the ball rolling. There I was cutting some lettuce, picking some spring onions, generally minding my own business when John came up, machete in hand (all jobs on John's plot get done with the machete, a universal wonder-tool which is used for weeding, harvesting, cultivating, planting and, on occasion, eating) and announced that he had some spare garlic, and would I like some? He had half a dozen heads in his hand which looked pretty good to me, and as our own garlic wasn't ready yet I gave it the requisite hesitation and said yes, thanks very much. This was obviously taken to be a sign of weakness, because John instantly produced another fistful, and said I should have that too. Heaven knows how long he would have gone on shoving garlic into my hands if I hadn't stopped him and said, "That's plenty, thanks."
What I failed to occur to me in the midst of my garlic panic was that we had a glut of our own to deal with. A couple of months ago we sowed some carrots and spring onions together, but the carrots failed to germinate which means that we now had a mildly embarrassing surplus of spring onions. All I have to do now is catch John when his guard is down - preferably without his machete.

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