Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The vegetable that shall not be named

Blogging has taken a back seat these past months, and I've been put to shame by everyone linked to on the right. In my defence, there's been a family crisis, and I've finally completed my book, but I do feel sad for neglecting my blog and my plot.

The garden's sadly in a bit of a state, but plans are afoot in my brain to order manure and expand the plot. I'll put it to rights!
One thing worth mentioning though. This week's veg box from Abel & Cole brought a number of delights, particularly some perfectly proportioned leeks. But, much to my dismay, there was also a brown bag filled with the 'vegetable that shall not be named' (other than at the top of this blog!).

Needless to say, i shall be exercising my right not to eat them. They won't go to waste though, I'm sure, even if i have to force feed them to my cat.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
My posts are few and far between at the moment due to me working all hours. Hopefully in the next week I can finish everything that's keeping me from normal life and get back to relaxing in the house and garden. So not much to report at la maison sans sprouts really.

The only really exciting thing is my olive. It's currently battling the elements, awaiting it's plucking - which I'd happily do if I knew what to could do with it. I really never even contemplated the fact that they needed processing for months before being ready to eat. Still you learn something new every day.

It's a pretty little thing though!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bye bye courgettes

i got around to shoring up my leeks at the weekend and clearing the massively overgown courgette plants from their way. I've had so much produce from them that it would be churlish of me to begrudge their right to existence in my plot, but their time had come. It felt good as well. Like a murderous hairdresser I snipped feverishly at their woody stalks and stuffed them into my composter.

It'll be strange not having courgettes with every meal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Get ready to crumble!

That singular time of the year, when the first cold wind of Autumn blows across your t-shirted arms, means two things: the fusty jumpers need to be taken from the the cupboard and the oven readied for casserole.

And this year, of course, I was able to use my homegrown produce to fill the pot. Unfortunately, I don't have my own herd of cows to supply the beef, but there was definitely a courgette in there, and even a chilli to add a little warmth.

Casseroles are a family tradition, and nothing betters Gran's version, made with shin of beef and kidney, and cooked in the slow cooker for an eternity. If only I had a decent butcher nearby I'd have used shin as well (apparently it loves being cooked to death), but instead I had to make do with some organic diced beef from the supermarket.

But there was no denying it was delicious. And with a pear and rhubarb crumble for desert (provided by my expert crumble-maker girlfriend), I was in heaven.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Milway the Lumberjack

Milway the Lumberjack
Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
My tomatoes have come down with a sort of blight. AlI 6 plants have succumbed, which is possibly something to do with them all being in such close proximity of each other (saw something on River Cottage about that sort of thing I think!).

But even so, I don't mind that much as it gave me the chance to don my lumberjack suit and fell all the tomato trees. In the process I removed all the fruit of course, and now pounds of yellow Golden Queen toms areripening on window sills and tables, here there and everywhere.

I am planning to make a chutney, but I want to just enjoy having armfuls, if not bucketloads, of veg for a while.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Joke veg

Joke veg
Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
I never knew tomatoes with diseases could be so much fun.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Carrots are go!

Carrots are go!
Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
It's been a while since I posted once again, mainly because of a holiday and too much time spent writing about pirates, but here I am. And now I'm loaded with pictures. The most exciting of which is of my Nantes carrots, freshly picked and modelled by the indespensible John. I couldn't believe it when I dug one up to find that it really had grown and wasn't just an optical illusion. I couldn't believe it so much that I had to dig up another two just to be sure.

Ha! Carrot Fly. You may have seen off my parsley, but the carrots have farted in your general direction!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It's a frog's life

While sitting in the tranquility of a friend's garden enjoying a barbecue, a frog decided his time was up. He leapt through the air, throwing three sheets to the wind and descended sharply onto the burning hot coals.

There was a slight fizzle, a couple of slight hops, then death. Short, sharp and, I imagine very painful. But an effective way to go nonetheless. What would draw a small frog to such a final deadly act is beyond me. Maybe the flies weren't buzzy enough. Maybe another frog had run off with his girl.

I haven't seen a frog croak it before, and I feel rather sad that he had to go in such a desperate fashion. But I guess city living in the amphibian world is just as tough as the human one.

We didn't eat him by the way.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Summer in the Palace

It's been a while since I last posted, mainly because I haven't found myself in the garden too often. Everything is growing like it should, and I guess this is the 'reaping what you sow' time of year. For very little effort, only the watering, the food just keeps coming.

I haven't had any tomatoes ripen yet - i suppose it's our relative lack of summer that's causing that - but the beans and courgettes are wonderful. I've even noticed the great tits enjoying the runner beans too. (They're cute! how could I stop them!)

Crystal Palace is as beautiful as ever with the flowers and trees providing the best hideaway from the city possible. And despite the occasionally less than fragant inhabitants of the area, it still smells of roses.

So even though the commute is hot and sticky, filled with police, and often running late, all is well at chez nil sprouts s'il vous plait!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


I've just returned from a long weekend break in the south of france. It reached 45 degrees celsius each day, was the epitomy of tranquil, and made me realise what hell i put myself through each day just in order to get to work. And then we unfortunately had to come home to rush hour, 'trains not running', London. Things have to change pretty soon.

Needless to say, despite the help of a neighbour to keep the plants watered, most things were lurching like thirsty camels. The tomatoes were especially desperate, and some had even dropped to the floor. And to top it all, the squirrel had launched a daylight raid on our bird feeder and it was demolished, lying in pieces around the garden.

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Crystal Palaciano

My courgette plants are taking over. If I ever needed a bigger plot, then it's now, for the poor leeks are being overrun. My plot currently looks like a jungle due to the huge leaves spreading out like a paddle-handed traffic cop. Oh! the joys of only having a small bit of earth.

The tomatoes, however are looking grand for being huge and all-dominant. They can take over as much as they like, if only because i know they block the neighbour's view, and she will hate me for it even more. And even my basil is coming along in leaps and bounds. Let it be known, that if my olive tree really does produce proper olives - which are currently tiny but are definitely there - then there truly will be a small corner of Crystal Palace that's forever Italy.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Flowers, birds and bombs

I woke up this morning to see a bright yellow flower beaming out at me from a courgette plant. It was beautiful, and looked like something from Hawaii, not downtown Crystal Palace. I then saw the birds as usual, tweetering happily on the sunflower seeds. Despite it drizzling, they seemed totally non-plussed. It was a joy. And then i jumped on a train and headed for work.

As much as people moan about the commute or whinge about the city being an unfriendly place, secretly everyone who lives and works here loves the place. I don't spend much time chatting to my fellow commuters, but we all see each other every day. Faces become as as much a part of the scenery as Battersea Power Station or the London Eye, which I travel past each morning and evening. We are London.

I reached Victoria easily enough, but then found all the tubes were down. The buses were rammed so I walked; hundreds of people were doing the same. Police cars were everywhere. The Arcade Fire were singing of impending doom on my mp3 player. Helicopters were in the air. Something was happening. When I eventually got to the office and saw pictures on Sky news of an explosion, it all hit home. London had been hit.

The bombs hit London. They hit people like me. All people doing exactly the same as what I do, day in day out. Even though I was lucky not to be involved, i know I'm a part of this great living breathing entity of london, and somebody's just punched it square in the face. And it hurts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Coldplay in my place

I returned home yesterday to find the air filled with Coldplay. Their mild-mannered music bounded around the hills of Crystal Palace like an echo in the Swiss Alps and, no matter what you did it was impossible to avoid it.

I noticed my courgettes and tomatoes had buckled a little under the strain - Mozart it clearly ain't – and after another round of earbashing tonight, I'm wondering if my peas might also take offence too.

So when people say Coldplay are totally inoffensive, they're wrong. Plants hate them (although it might simply have been the exceedingly hot day...).

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

No such thing as a free lunch

I think I'm thinking too much about thinking this week.

I started to wonder why, after the lunchtime dilemma of my last post, it isn't made law for all companies to have a recycling facility or scheme in place. Sure, companies can sign up to paper recycling schemes, and no doubt gain a tax break somewhere, but what about all the plastic containers and plastic bags that are used each day when people buy lunch? Why is our goverment so willing to let us get away with not recycling everyday junk?

I try my best. I collect any plastic bags that come my way, store them in my draw at work and use them over and over - despite the staff in Sainsbury's determination to give me them. (The manager once greeted my Tesco carrier bag with disdain, but his wrath was tempered when i explained that Tesco bags degrade and his don't.) But why aren't plastic bags taxed? Why aren't all sandwich companies made to use card containers like pret a manger? Some use them on 'special' lines, but come on, card must be cheaper than plastic surely?

If you're going to make bad laws, make some good ones too.

I think I'm going to stop bleeting now.

One final aside though: I'm wondering, if there's a hosepipe ban, does that affect people with allotments? or even, people like me, with veg patches? Does anyone know?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The long last unethical goodbye

I was recently introduced to Planet Organic, a supermarket just a short walk from where I work in central London, near Tottenham Crt Road. I went and bought lunch there, sat and ate it, and was suddenly struck by a calamitous carrot of conscience. (You get a lot of these alliterations when you grow vegetables.)

It's become a major part of my adult life to eat organic fruit and vegetables (local stuff of course, no asparagus from peru thanks!), and i only ever buy free-range meat. It's an obsession, and I'm sure my friends sometimes get annoyed at my preaching. But now I find myself in a desperately tricky position. When I'm at home it's always simple to act like this. But when you're at work, it's impossible to know how good the food is when you buy lunch.

So I get free-range egg sandwiches regularly (can't have them every day though - think of the smell), but anything else i buy is ultimately unorganic and unethical. I think I've become comfortable with this, and the fact that it's a damn sight cheaper. It's always been easy to say 'it's so difficult to eat ethically when you buy lunch', and excuse myself of the organic duties.

But now it's not difficult, yet I'm torn. Now I'm in the position where it's all to easy for me to buy organic and ethical lunches. I'm in the position where my whole daily life can be an organic pasture of whimsy and happiness. Leo Hickman in the Guardian manages it, but there's a part of me that's clinging onto this small bastion of bad food and living. And what a thing for me to say!

I'm frightened of stepping onto the organic gravy train. It's like putting the last piece into the puzzle, and I really do want to finish it, but my hand has gone to sleep. I'll hate myself forever if I don't take the plunge, but why does it feel like it's one made from the highest diving board?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Stag Beetle

We had a rare treat last night by witnessing the drunken flight of two Stag Beetles in our garden. Seeing such large, extremely rare and stunningly beautiful creatures flying around like they didn't know their arse from their elbows, is something I'll cherish forever.

I'll remember it equally as much as nibbling on my first sugar snap pea this morning. Where that came from, I have no idea, but it made a lovely supplement to my toast.

My plot

My plot
Originally uploaded by Al Milway
And finally, after being urged by my dear friend Asha to put up a picture of my plot, here it is. Tomatoes,peas, leek, courgettes, broccoli, cabbage and carrots,oh, and my neighbour's smelly washing that she left out on the line all night.

lupin III: Castle of Milwayostro

And the Lupin is flowering. After such a terrible fate smote my first flower head, the second and third are now going crazy, making up for the loss of their brother in barrowloads.
Hah! The Lupin killer has been foiled. Revenge is mine...

My first purple pea

My first purple pea
Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
My level of excitement is currently knowing no bounds. I have a purple pea pod. And it is just divine. Look what you've got to look forward to Mum!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

pretty in purple

pretty in purple
Originally uploaded by Al Milway.
Here's one of my pretty purple podded pea flowers.

Just beautiful.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Hello Flower!

This week has all been about work. Now you could normally accuse me of being one of those 'whistle while you work' type characters (although I'm more likely to be found pretending to be a trumpet - much to the chagrin of fellow workers), but it's been heavy going these past few days, leaving me with little time to think. So when I had to rise at 6 this morning to finish an illustration, I was feeling a tad down on the world.

But then two things happened that reheated the very tired cockles of my heart. First, I casually looked out of the window and spotted not one Woodpecker, but two. And then one of them started feeding the other on our fence. It was a baby, with a bright red cap, and it was a most delightful experience. Then I saw a wren, a lady chaffinch, and even the friendly greenfinches came to say hello. (ok, so that's a lot more than one thing, but for the sake of this post, it'll do!)

And then as my heady descent into apoplexy was starting to ease, I went out to water my peas. As if seeing two woodpeckers wasn't enough, jumping out from the pea plants were my first two flowers. A gleaming white frilly thing on a sugar snap pea, and a bright reddish one on a purple podded pea plant.

If only all days started like this!

Although I then had to deal with the Crystal Palace ticket office being closed and not being able to renew my travel card. No matter how good you can be feeling about the world, British Rail will always strive to ruin it for you.

And since then I haven't made a single trumpet parp.

Monday, June 06, 2005

My very thin plot

Sunday morning was a *big* day for me as far as my veg plot goes... I've filled it up! Totally rammed. No more space left to swing a trowel!

I must admit, I dug myself a rather smallish plot in the first place and so was limited in terms of what I could grow, but for a first attempt I had to set myself some limits! And now when I look out my window I no longer see a grave, or a load of earth with potential. Now I see crops. And a large amount of cat poo humming in the early morning sun - but I think I can deal with that now.

So the final things to go in were red cabbages, broccoli and a second row of carrots, this time of the scarlet horn variety. There was something wonderful in putting my last few seedlings out to pasture, and now I can sit back a little and learn how to keep them all alive.

I forgot to mention that I was offered some brussel sprout plants last week. Aghast at my initial reaction of 'oh yes that might be nice to have in my plot', I feel that I should repent my sins. I swore to never deal with those devilish little green balls of bile, and for the feelings of my blog alone, I am truly sorry to have even contemplated the matter.

To anyone interested in the Lupin killer, it's taken a third victim in the shape of a very late about-to-flower daffodil. Rest easy in your beds at night though, for I am undertaking the employment of a nightwatchman in the form of milo the cat. If anyone can catch a bug, it's that little curly haired monkey!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Murder in the flowerbed

I awoke to find my blossoming lupin had been savagely beheaded this morning. I was absolutely heartbroken. Some cruel beast had nibbled right through the thick stalk, leaving not so much as a thread between the plant and the flower head.

And this wasn't the first time such an act of wanton destruction had taken place in the last week. Just before the weekend I found our one-and-only foxglove - that had just opened its flowers - scythed down and lying on the floor. It's now splinted upright by some tightly wrapped brown paper, but how long that will last is anyone's guess.

The only thing I do know is that both crime scenes bore the marks of the same murderer. Something so foul and hideous that it even left a small poo on the lupin right next to the wound.

I will find that beast. And it will pay for its crimes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The lettuces

The lettuces

The bottom of Mum and Dad's garden.

The sweet peas

The sweet peas

I don't know how mum got them so tall?!

Garden envy

Garden envy

The shock of my parents' newly painted, bright lilac bathroom did nothing
to diminish the enormous wave of envy that hit me when I saw their garden
and allotment at the weekend. I hadn't been home for a good few months,
and to see the seeds I'd sent them as massive, flowering tomato plants
made me exceptionally jealous. Especially when I compared them to my own, very same plants that are (although doing well) still no more than a foot tall.

Then there was the lettuce plants, the courgettes, the cabbages, the sweet
peas, the marigolds. They were all about a good month ahead of mine, and
despite Mum's protestations about it being the greenhouse that's made all
the difference, I'm certain there's more to it.

However, although I'm envious, I'm also really in awe of what they've
achieved. It looks fabulous, and I thought it would be nice to photograph
bits of it for here.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Stinking Sweaty Summer

Along with the sun comes sticky, sweaty trains, and the chore that is lugging watering cans umpteen times into my garden to water everything. Last night things didn't look too bad actually, although for the first time in two years, our olive tree was desperate for a drink and was all saggy. It looked much better this morning though, so that lifted my spirits. There have been loads of ants in and around it, and I was a little worried that they'd been munching on its roots. I guess I'll find out soon enough though - hopefully they didn't take too kindly to their impromptu swimming lessons last night!

Oh, and I saw a lovely Pied Wagtail dancing around on Clapham Junction platform this morning. He obviously was from the sub-species Pied Wagtailus Trainspotterus. Very common in London apparently.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The courgettes have sprouted!

My courgettes have sprouted - and they're the most wonderful seedlings ever. No lily livered piddly cress offerings here, oh no! two enormous soft green leaves sprouting out like they want to be beanstalks. I'm really pleased that I decided to grow them as they've made me very happy.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Milo strikes a pose

Milo strikes a pose

Nothing to do with my garden, although he does sit and look at it most of
the day. This is milo in all his beautful Devon Rex glory. Thanks John for
taking such a lovely picture of my boy!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Evil Squirrel

Evil Squirrel
Originally uploaded by Shiny Katie.
So much for squirrel-proof feeders! Thanks to my ever present birdwatcher Katie for this one!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Our friendly woodpecker

Our friendly woodpecker

As promised, here's the woodpecker! And our (not very) squirrel-proof bird

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Let me at 'im!

When is a soggy, mouldy ball of fatty bread not something you leave well alone for the rats? When you find one fully buried in your vegetable plot, that's when.

Whichever little monkey of a squirrel thought that it would leave me a special treat in among my leeks had better watch out - I'm a dab hand at throwing very hard stones, and I have it on great authority that we will soon be getting a very powerful waterpistol. Then it'll be sorry.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Finally, a chance to write!

It was a weekend-and-a-half for gardening. I've become determined to write more posts and take more photos, but the time always seems to fly away from me, especially when i'm on press week when I have no time at all to blog. I'll get there in the end though. Either way, this weekend proved momentous in many ways.

Katie proved her destructive worth once more in clearing even more border and cutting back the debris that engulfs our garden from the savage wasteland next door. I planted out the carrots (nice and comfortable under a little tent-like covering). I also stuck in a few Ambrosia peas that had grown nicely, although they were still quite small. Unfortunately my space is limited in the greenhouse, so I had to give them the push out into the real world. However, the plot is gradually filling up and I'm getting quite excited by it.

From the safety of my greenhouse, my French beans were savaged by some mysterious predator, but i rescued them and they're now sprouting new leaves to replace the chewed ones. I got a little distressed at the time, but I'm calming down now.

My chillis are looking a bit sorry for themselves. They look a bit sad and some of the first leaves are drooping and falling off. I don't know if I put them out in the greenhouse too soon, or whether I over watered them, but hopefully some will keep going. I really would be distraught if I had no chillis at all this year.

And then there's the new birdfeeder, a tall, sculptural thing that looks mighty impressive. We have our upstairs neighbour to thank for this, and we've already had the woodpecker return and enjoy the peanuts.

But anyway must dash once more, and plan all the other things I still have to write about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Fame at last!

It's official! my garden's famous. Well, ok, a small part of it (a branch to be exact) and one of its swiftly moving residents. Ok I'll come clean, Katie was testing some expensive cameras for the Independent by taking photos of birds in our garden - and they published one of her photos in the article (in last Sunday's review supplement). It was one my proudest moments. Equal to that of almost winning the school football cup when I was 9ish (we lost four-three after giving away a penalty and an own goal! Gah!!). One day my veg plot will be famous too. Come on Katie! Do an article about how to photograph vegetables. You know you want to.

Other exciting events of the weekend included being donated lemon balm seedlings from Asha to help ward off the weak-bladdered cats fom our borders. There was also the monumental occasion of planting out my purple peas which had reached the lofty heights of a few inches. They've only had rain since I planted them out, so I hope it will be doing them some good. And my red basil is sprouting. Rainbow borders are go!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Potting up

The weekend proved fruitful in many ways, particularly in the fact that the sun shone so beautifully. And despite sacrificing my saturday to the god of posh dress shopping on Oxford Street (I wasn't much use to Katie, but she needed something for the Baftas [she got to stand within feet of Eddie Izzard and David Tennant, so she was very happy upon her return!]), come Sunday I'd cut great swathes into my potting-up backlog and even got all my leeks into the plot. It felt brilliant to finally put something in there and leave it to the elements. I've planted them a lot closer together (about 6 inches) than it suggests on the packets and in books, but i only want baby leeks, so I hope it works out.

Literally everything I originally planted is now in my plastic greenhouse - from the 20 or so chilli plants to the 20 or so tomato plants. What am I going to do with them all? I'm not sure why i planted so many, but i'll do something with them I guess. I don't have a lot of peas and bean seedlings in comparison, but I do have a few differring varieties, so it should be enough. And i can always grow more soon to get staggered crops. Ooh, the things you think about as a gardener.

And I saw my first butterfly of the year. Just wonderful...

Friday, April 15, 2005

No need to water!

I managed to wander out into the garden this morning to water the contents of my greenhouse, only to find that everything was perfectly fine and I needn't have bothered. Everything was happily sprouting and flourishing with the water it had. I guess I should have been happy, but it felt like a bit of a let-down, and I promptly turned round and walked back inside again.

I've decided though that tomorrow is D-Day for the leeks. Their time for comfortable living has passed, and they're required to set out on their own paths in life. This will be a very exciting moment, as they will be the first things to go out in my plot. They will look tiny among the mass of dirt, but they'll be giants in my mind.

And did anyone happen to see the McLibel programme on BBC4 last night, as Helen Steel had a wonderful allotment, and was pulling out a brilliantly huge turnip. Fabulous TV too!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A new arrival!

And then there was a chaffinch! And a pair at that! The new arrivals are so desperate to be loved, but the other birds are giving them a really hard time. Let's hope they sort out their differences soon.

I managed to find some peat-free growbags. It would appear that they're out of stock now, however. Thanks Asha for the nod to Wyevale though. It's about time everywhere started selling them and got rid of the use of peat altogether. Once again it'll take our government to do something to stop it, so I won't hold my breath. And I'll also get off my high horse, too.

And thanks Clare for making me comfortable with my bodging tendencies. I agree that it suits allotments and gardening well. Katie's currently pushing me to stick up my detailed plans for making a drinking straw and freezer bag germinator for seed trays. So maybe I'll do that. Plans for a self-bodged germinator anyone? It really does work! I have two Purple Podded Pea Seedlings to prove it!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Bodging in the garden

Despite the winds battering my poorly defended greenhouse, it’s held firm, and is doing a grand job. The lettuces are moving at a cracking pace – the sooner I can give up buying lettuce the better. The leeks are also happy in their own little pots, ready to go out when the frosts have past. The yellow tomatoes are really growing well now too.

I’m also excited about finding a root on one of my Blauhilde French bean seeds. I get so impatient that I have to poke around in the dirt and have a look. I did build a tiny little see-through plastic greenhouse to put on top of them though, and it seems to have done the job of raising the temperature brilliantly. The things you can do with straws and freezer bags…

And the final bit of excitement has to be the ground fleece that my parents sent me. Apparently it will warm up the earth, and then I can raise it as the seeds start to germinate. My hope is that it will deter the cats from using my plot as a litter tray, but I won’t hold my breath.

So the week is already quite exciting, but I ‘m still struggling to find a place to buy peat –free growbags. Does anyone know where I can buy them from? I’m coming round to thinking that I may just make my own out of bin bags and organic compost, but once again, it will be one of my bodge (is that spelt right - who'd think that I was a sub eh?) jobs.

I’m a bit too proficient at bodge jobs for my own good.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Ever seen a starving squirrel?

As if squirrels really did need help in being fed, I've just come across this website devoted to squirrel feeders.

I wonder how many they sell?

Transformers, seedlings in disguise

I haven't described the things I've got currently growing, so here goes. I have a fascination for chilli plants - partly due to an exceedingly successful crop last year, so I've got both Jalapeno and Cayenne varieties on the go. The cayennes dried brilliantly in 2004, and I'm still living off them. So here's hoping!

Then there's a couple of tomato varieties. I have Riesentraube - apparently this has an unusual sharp flavour, and is affectionately known as 'goat's tit' in Hungary. It's also mostly used for making wine. Why I'm growing this tomato is beyond me, as they'll probably be horrid, but with the words unusual and wine in the description, I couldn't stop myself. (Maybe I should attempt tomato wine instead of the usual homebrew this year?) Then there's the yellow variety, Golden Queen. Once again, it's an oddity, and something you don't see in the shops. Hence my wanting to grow it.

Then there's the two varieties of Leek: Varna and Early Market. These are already growing strong and will soon go out in my plastic greenhouse to harden off a bit. I wanted to grow these small, as leeks are so lovely when they're babies.

And last but not least, umpteen varieties of lettuce, which are already growing beautifully outside in my green house. I've got heritage varieties on the go from my seed club, White Seeded Samara, Bronze Arrow, and a couple off others. But they're all looking dandy already.

So that's all there is currently, and here they are in before and after style.

It was here I learnt that cats aren't the best helpers when it comes to gardening. Not only do they hate you writing your blog, they also find it difficult to allow you to sow seeds.

The Woodpecker

We haven't seen him for the last week or so - although we do hear his rumblings in distant trees from time to time - but I've finally got round to taking my pics off the camera. So here he is! Mr Woodpecker, in all his unfocused, very far off glory. And I've finally done my links too, so I almost feel like a proper gardening blogger. If anybody is reading, thankyou for your previous comments. It's nice to know others are out there fighting the corner for vegetable plots and shrubberies too.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Local Cat Operatic Society

Well it seems like we've had our spring, bypassed summer and have arrived at Autumn once more. It's cold, drizzly and horrid. And to make matters worse, our local cat operatic society has started practising in our garden in the early hours of the morning. Judging by the indentations in my vegetable plot I'd quite confidently say they were doing so on my finely raked, well fertilised soil, too. If they're not pooing in it, they're performing Carmina Burana on it. Animals just have no respect. Even my little cat sat upright at the howls, responding to his primal instinct to join the chorus line.

I think I may have to convert my plot to a walled garden. With watchtowers and searchlights. And tripwires.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Gung-ho gardening, yoga-style

It was a perfect Easter weekend. The sun was out, our umpteen varieties of lettuce were potted up and put out in the little plastic greenhouse, the plot was turned over once more, and I built a bird table. It was a very laid back, relaxing effort, and then we bought some secateurs and Katie went crazy.

The effect that a very sharp and dangerous implement had on Katie and her gardening mood was amazing. I'd seen her destructive and brutal side before, and it usually results in cuts and bruises to her hands where the knife has slipped while chopping veg. But this time she proved unbelievably effective: bushes vanished in a flurry of quick snipping; the ivy that's strangling a plum-like fruit tree was given a very nice short back and sides; and I got to say don't twist the blades when you cut, hearing my Dad's voice in my head all the while.

Quite where Katie learnt the art of full-scale gardening war is beyond me. Possibly it formed in those moments of tranquility she has while standing on her head at yoga. But effective she was, and a tremendous job she did too. The garden is starting to look like it's well maintained and something to be proud of. And her only war wound was a small scratch on the end of her nose.

A perfect weekend indeed.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

That pesky varmint!

I love squirrels. We brought them here in nice little boats, and gave them the run of our country. It's not their fault they're singlehandedly responsible for our diminishing population of red squirrels. I've always thought a lot of them. But now one has just bitten my bird feeder to pieces, i think i may have to take up arms.

I might make myself a squirrel fur hat and hang the tail of each kill from its back, like Davy Crockett. Or I may just take the less barbarian approach and start feeding it. I can't believe that some clever person has come up with the idea of a squirrel feeder - something that's apparently just a dried sweetcorn hanging on a rope. The theory is great: feed a squirrel 'squirrel food' and it'll leave 'bird food' alone. If it works, them i'll be a happy man. But for some reason, all i think it will do is provide it with yet more food and make it even fatter at the expense of all my lovely blue tits.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rainbow planting

It really feels like spring is here today. The sun forced me to remove my cardy on the train for the first time in months, and that was a very exciting experience. Also of great excitement is the fact that I have a few rows of tomato seedlings bursting out into the world. No longer does my future hold only lettuce and leeks! It must have been the warmer weather sneaking into my kitchen that’s done the job. Now all I need is my chilli seedlings to poke out their heads and say hello, and my early crops will be on their way.

This year I decided to plant proper tomatoes, instead of small hanging basket varieties and cherry toms. I’ve even snuck in an old yellow variety. I find that I can’t stop myself growing odd things. There seems to be much more pleasure in growing unusual coloured and shaped species, and the fact that I never see these vegetables in supermarkets makes it even more exciting. The yellow toms certainly seem sturdy little seedlings, so I can’t wait to see the fully grown plants. And soon I'll be growing my purple-podded peas as well, but I’ll wait a short while before sowing those.

I’m going to keep my eyes out for other unusual coloured crops. Who knows, maybe I can have the first rainbow coloured vegetable plot?!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Spuddle (spUdl) vb. The act of gentle gardening

I went out and had my first ever ‘spuddle’ at the weekend. It involved a bit of fork prodding, a little light trowel work, and even a few bits of weeding, but it was definitely a spuddle.

This word – or to give its proper definition, verb – is something my family have used for eons to describe the lazy act of general attendance to your garden’s needs. But it seems to meet the sarcastic tone of derision within my home. I’m sure that my cat would snigger, if he could, at my use of the word. It’s not a real word! It’s a silly yokel term that you silly Herefordians might use because you can’t read to know the real term!

The fact that it doesn’t have a dictionary entry does little to help my cause, but what better word is there for describing casual garden maintenance? Like pulling up a dandelion from the lawn, for example. Ok, so you could simply say ‘I’m doing the gardening’, but that’s just so general it could mean chopping down a tree, or even more athletic and strenuous acts like digging a veg plot. And spuddling could never involve anything strenuous.

So I’m sticking to spuddling for the time being. And I know that if I carry on using it, then before long Katie will too. Then we could go out and have a spuddle together – how lovely that would be!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Cock a leeky!

The news of the fortnight is that my seeds have erupted. Well, a few of them have, and – apart from two stray leek seedlings – they’re all various lettuces. In the other seeds’ defence, the week following their planting was the coldest and snowiest week of recent years. So no wonder they wanted to stay where they were.

It was clear that yesterday’s blazing sunshine (the sun always shines in Crystal Palace, by the way, even in the recent blizzards) brought out the leeks, so there is a hope that more will pop up to greet me soon. But it would seem that the leeks are just itching to get out into my veg plot. All the other seeds I planted will eventually live in pots – not a bad life, I agree, but just not as exciting. And I’m sure the leeks have seen that the frost (finally some frost!) has had a chance to work at the soil and make it nice and comfy for them.

Who’d have thought leeks were the early formers in life? They must be the females of the vegetable world!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The woodpecker has landed

I woke to see a woodpecker on our bird feeder this morning. It really shocked me. The weather has been continually snowy and, judging by the number of bird varieties flocking to our feeders, it's been a hard time for my avian friends.

It just shows how much difference a week can make in the bird world. Word (or chirpy gossip) really has got round. No longer do I only have a robin and blue/great tit community. There was a greenfinch, a nuthatch, starlings, long-tailed tits (what i originally thought were wagtails) and blackbirds. It really is a lovely sight to behold.

Apparently now that I've started feeding them though, I'm not allowed to stop (so says the peanut packet). Something akin to chain letters and the fear of death, or simply that the birds will come to depend on me for food. I won't stop feeding them though. I've bought seeds (got blue and grey tits), moved on to peanuts and suet in a coconut (got all the rest). Even if i have to start buying frozen mice for the golden eagles that will ultimately descend on my patch I'll keep buying the food. I imagine it's something like drug addiction only with bird species: start with coffee, and before you know it you're buying heroin in the dirty bogs of the Prince George, just to get the bigger, better feeling.

Roll on albatross. I'll have mackerel waiting for you.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Flatpacked seed storage

For one reason or another, I've been deluged with seeds this year. As always when I have too much stuff, I try and offload it onto my parents. And, like good parents they've happily agreed. Yes I'm a bad person, but when you have no cupboards, someone has to look after your old Transformer toys. And no, I will never get rid of my Optimus Prime!

So I've had the joyous task of finding a way to send seeds through the post. And what was the answer? An origami seed packet! I've dabbled in origami before - you could say, in equivalent terms to Karate, that I've reached my yellow belt. I'm quite adept at dealing with super-complicated, half-described, not-very-well-illustrated diagrams. But of course, the plan for this little seed packet came from my seed club's catalogue, which was borrowing it from a Swedish seed club. BORROWING ORIGAMI INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE LAND OF IKEA??!! What was this little British seed club thinking? For eight manoeuvres there was a massive offering of two diagrams?!

Even so, I muddled through and managed to make one after about five attempts. I even got quite proficient in the task, and I can now knock one up in a matter of seconds. So Mum and Dad will be getting lots of little seed packets sent to them soon. And I might even make the envelope to put them in.

Lots of origami seed packets.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The wellies have arrived!

Much to the complete disbelief of many colleagues at work, their contributions to my birthday fund were wisely spent on a pair of wellies. But why wellies? one asked. Because I've been digging a vegetable plot, I replied. Why are you digging a vegetable plot? he asked. Because I quite like gardening, I replied. You have a garden? he asked. Yes I have a garden, I replied. You live in Crystal Palace and have a garden? he asked. Yes, there are such things in Crystal Palace, I replied.

Needless to say, he was and very much still is, a moron. But I don't care, because I'm now the proud owner of these beauties

And I'd wear them to work if they weren't covered in mud, simply because I love them so!

Friday, February 18, 2005

Cat trail

In a moment of great awareness this morning, I realised that, just like the way sheep cut thin trails across hillsides, cats have cut a thin path across our garden. As shown in the illustration, just to the right of the yellow dashes you'll see a dark line running from top to bottom.

Cats must have been walking that route since the Iron Age to cut such a furrow. I wonder if Tony Robinson would be interested?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tits, 'tails and 'peckers

Despite my efforts, it seems the only birds that like my seeds are a pair of great tits. This was reaffirmed by my eloquent and ever concise girlfriend who gets to watch them from her workdesk. 'There's a pair of great tits on your nuts,' she wrote in typically witty fashion this morning.

I'm not disheartened by this though. We've heard a woodpecker drilling on a tree at the end of my garden, we've seen pied wagtails flitting about happy as larry, and as I've said before, there's a lovely pair of robins that keeps us company. There are many species out there doing ok. The only problem is that I want to provide them with food.

My bird family should be ship shape and podgy with fat, just like my cat, but it feels like I'm trying to cook the sunday dinner from hell: each child likes only one, differing vegetable; there's a vegan coming over to dine; and one of your friends has a starch intolerence so you can't cook roast potatoes.

But still, maybe with a bit of planning next year I'll be able to satisfy all the little birds in the garden. However, I do have a nagging suspicion that they'll just love any seeds I might plant in my veg plot.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Spade heaven

Birthdays come but once a year, but gardening-linked birthday presents in droves.

There once was a time when i'd receive all manner of music-related products for my birthday, even down to the cards - who knows where mum managed to find all those images depicting a sorrowful cello and a vase of flowers. Then it was art. I'd get pencils and pads galore, and of course, cards depicting palettes and easels.

Then I reached the grand old age of 27 and I was immediately deluged with gardening-related products. I heartily welcomed this new era into my life, and even found myself pointing to objects on the gardening birthday cards: "Oh look, yes that's my spade, and even my trowel - what a lovely card!"

But this was a GOOD year for presents. A new spade that doesn't weigh a tonne; leather gloves that smell just like garden gloves ought to, and the best is yet to arrive; a pair of dashing wellies to really woo the girls in the nearby allotments.

And then there's the seed present: membership to an organic seed company that promotes unusual and ancient seed cultivation! In one fell birthday swoop, I've got the means and goods to make a fully stocked vegetable patch.

My life really is complete.

My delicious gloves!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

I look good in floral gardening gloves

Coming into gardening as a newbie allows me little in the way of comfort. The pain which brews neatly between the shoulder blades and arrives fully three days after digging; the wearing of flowery ladies' gardening gloves as I haven't any man-sized ones; the trenchfoot effect that's started to eat into my trainers as i have no wellies. After all, you can't be expected to buy everything at the start.

And yet after a weekend of digging, I'm able to look back at what I've acheived and feel exceedingly happy. I've dug in two thirds of the manure over two thirds of my plot. No mean feat as I found a turgid thick layer of clay resting neatly below the topsoil. While doing this I made friends with a robin, who typically, like all robins, sat on my fork handle. I even fed him a worm (which he guzzled up like a fat starving Texas boy who hadn't seen food for years). I'm sure David Attenborough would complain at me interfering with the balance of nature in this way, but the little blighter doesn't seem at all impressed with the bird food I put out for him. So it only seems fair to give him something to munch, even if it is wriggling and alive.

I even managed to startle a neighbour who lives in the flat below us. I bet my builder's bum beaming bright was the last thing she wanted to see as she woke, although it was about 11.30 when she peered out of her window half asleep. That'll teach her for being a moany old fart.

But the best thing that happened was the finding of a 1943, 2 Franc coin. I can't find out much about it, although the inscription says a lot about the state of the country in that year. Travail, Famille, Patrie (bury your money, bury it in your back garden! quick!). Even though it wasn't a Roman pot, it certainly made me ask how it got here. And that's the point of digging I think, to ask questions and wonder about things different to your everyday life.

It's not every day that I get to ponder over whether that bit of dirt's too clumpy, or whether that little robin chewed the worm enough (did he choke later and leave a whole family of chicks? Oh I couldn't bear it!?!). I might not be Tom Good just yet, but I'm a little bit further away from the nine-to-five existence.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A surprise at the door

Whenever I return home it’s always with the sense of expectation that something exciting might have happened. Have we been burgled? Is there a parcel full of goodies waiting for me? Has my cat left me a present on the carpet? This feeling quadruples when I really find something.

And so it must have been for my girlfriend when she arrived home to find three bags of shit blocking our front door. Not just any shit, but wonderful life-giving mucky shit. I’m sure she must have been thrilled to squeeze past it to enter the house. At least it was in bags and not just sitting there steaming on a piece of tarpauling. Actually, the thought of arriving home to find a pile of crap on Tom Paulin quite appeals.

But I digress. My weekend is now set. Saturday morning I get to shovel shit again. I vaguely remember, in my squeamish childhood years, pushing some manure around on my parents’ vegetable plot. I didn’t have the guts to really dig it in, and i paid dearly for it: the radishes they let me grow struggled to reach a centimetre in height. And then I don’t think I even ate those as I didn’t like radishes in the first place. Radishes? Oh so exotic for a nine-year-old’s taste.

So my vegetable odyssey is truly under way. Seeds rest on the shelf ready for planting; the muck will soon be spread; spring is threatening to be in the air. I haven’t felt this excited about a lot of hard work in a long, long time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I do love you fridge, honest

Due to a slight miscalculation as to how much we eat, or how much we need to keep cool, our kitchen is the proud owner of a fridge the size of Fort Knox. It was certainly a treat to get rid of the old banger when it finally died on us – I’d forgotten that milk had the capability to stay fresh longer than a day. There’s also the convenience of now being able to cool beers while keeping the butter close at hand. It’s funny how you forget such simple pleasures.

And yet most of the time the fridge is like the Ark prior to the Flood. It really will take a mammoth task to fill it. Maybe we’ve made an investment for our children (if and when they might happen). Currently, all it keeps refrigerated is eggs, cheese, butter, milk, beer and catfood. All of which normally reside in the door anyway – a door that is, incidentally, hung the wrong way due to a careless wall obstructing its edge.

So in many respects our fridge is living a life unfulfilled, and it’s a good lesson in how not to buy things over the internet: be sensible, go and see it in a shop first. Maybe we were buying on an empty stomach, with our eyes bigger than our belly. But I’m quite excited about the prospect of summer: the prospect of having a freshly chilled store of my own veg and produce. I know the fridge is there for me, and it will be for a long time to come. I just hope it knows I’m there for it too. I do love you fridge, honest, no matter how much I leave you out in the cold.

Ooh aay Tony!

Continuing my theme of digging, I feel I ought to come straight out and own up to my Time Team fascination. Again, it’s one more step on my quest for middle age – although the day I leave the TV on to catch Songs of Praise is the day I actively ballot for legalising euthanasia. However, little known to my girlfriend, the real reason I took part in digging the garden was to find remnants of some ancient Beaker tribe, or maybe a shard of Amphora.

As you can probably guess, I didn’t find one bit. Funnily enough, what I did find was the chargrilled remains of a bed. Springs, screws, nails – even an enormous steel bar rested in my vegetable-plot-to-be. Of course, I duly noted each find in meticulous detail and mocked up the site into a 3D diagram. (I did look into hiring the GeoPhys folk to do further research, but apparently the cost would outweigh the benefits. I also only had three hours to do the digging before my arms fell off.)

So I know from surveying the finds and placing them in context, that someone once burnt a bed in my garden. They probably chopped it up, placed some scrumpled newspaper underneath and set it on fire. I could repeat that last sentence in my country accent, if you like, just to make it sound more authentic. But why exactly did someone burn a bed?

I like to think the bed-burner had trouble sleeping and couldn’t take it anymore. Because one thing I know is that he (it must have been a he as a girl wouldn’t have taken part in such a stupidly thoughtless task in such a stupid place) really couldn’t have picked a worse place to leave the bits of an old bed. And I know my carrots are bound to grow all bendy due to the task of avoiding nails. Thankyou Mr Bed Burner.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The grave in my garden

One of my dreams in life has always been to dig a hole, and instead of stopping at any reasonable depth, just keep going. This dream was possibly inspired by the notion of digging for digging’s sake – a reckless pursuit where you get very little back from what you put in. (Or where you take an awful lot out, and put yourself in.) Much like alchemy, but with mud. And my planned answer to any probing questions as to why I am digging so deep being simply ‘I can't hear you, it's a long way down’. Thankfully, I was able to stop myself while digging a vegetable plot, and there is now what currently resembles the grave of a very tall person, freshly interned, just outside my window.

Never has a pile of mud filled me with such hope for the future. Nor has it provided cats with such a wonderful toilet either. But they’ll learn. They won’t be expecting the electric fencing and barbed wire defences that will surround my carrots. Nor the delicately primed burglar alarm wired up to one of my closhes. And if a snail so much as slimes nearby, the mantraps will get it.

Well, that could have been the case. But me being Mr Lilly-livered Organic, means there will be no such things. The power of mind alone will be all I have to fight these difficulties. Maybe I can challenge the snails to a game of chess: I win, the garden’s mine. Perhaps I can bribe the cats with some purple sprouting and promote a neighbourhood watch scheme among them: you look after the plot, the plot will look after you.

Whatever happens, this is all a long way off just yet. From the grave that confronts me each morning as I open the curtains, I know something good will come – even if it is just partially nibbled lettuces.

My view each morning.

Where there’s muck there’s veg

As far as rites of passage go, it must rank up there with my first kiss or being given my first razor. I’d even go as far as saying that it’s more life changing than reaching the age of 18, or getting my driving licence. Yes, as a slow-life craving 26-year-old, I eventually gave in to buying manure.

Now, I’ve bought lots of crap before – just ask my long-suffering girlfriend who has to share a joint account with me – but I’ve never been able to grow veg with it. I’ve been able to keep it in piles, definitely, but there was never the option to spread it out in the garden – at least not without the threat of a visit from the local council. But now my horizons are truly open.

Not only was I able to order the stuff over the Net – a truly liberating experience that hid me from any embarrassing situations involved with talking about manure– but at the same time I could order marigold seeds and give no-one the chance to question my sexuality. And before anyone questions the purchase of marigold seeds, I should add that they’re apparently very good, along with sweet peas, for bringing insects to my garden. Bumblebee heaven awaits me (I promise to build a bee box, I promise…), as does a beautiful crop of peas.

So I’m now a real gardener, of a sort. The plot is set, the dirt has been dished and the muck has been ordered. And I now await the moment when reality strikes, when a kind delivery man hands over three bags of manure. And I finally ask myself, do I really have to touch it?