Adventures of an allotmenteer

Part 4 – greedy potatoes

Last month I planted my earlies late. These potatoes have been triffid-like in their growth with a relentless hunger for soil.

“Earth up those potatoes” calls Julian, who ‘allots’ the plot adjacent to mine, every time he walks by. I have been trying to keep up with my potatoes but had now run out of spare earth and could not meet the demands from my greedy tubers.

Earthly demands have dominated my allotment life these past few weeks, both at the plot and also in the greenhouse, where seedlings have climbed out of their first pots and gone in search of bigger ones.

On the plot, six raised beds have been built from sawn up lengths of scaffold planks and screwed together by Handy Andy, a plasterer by trade. This left six empty wooden rectangles needing a lot of soil before anything could be planted as an accompaniment to the potatoes.

....potatoes have been triffid-like in their growth....
….potatoes have been triffid-like in their growth….

Out with the dog one morning a fork lift carrying an enormous bulk bag of soil passed by, depositing its load outside the headmaster’s house. The head was coming through his garden gate to inspect his delivery.
‘Oooh soil’ I exclaimed, feeling its fine texture and regarding it longingly ‘what sort?’

‘Top soil’ came the reply ‘from Romney Marsh’ and he gave me a telephone number. Though I am not sure all this fine topsoil can originate from Romney Marsh that is where the supplier is based.

If the potatoes were to be edible and I had hopes of growing anything else this year I had to get more earth onto the plot. I placed an order for two bulk bags. A week later, that same fork lift carried the soil, unlike the shed, directly to the plot and as the boundary fence had blown down and Handy Andy had been delayed in its resurrection, the load was placed right next to the beds to be raised. I happily imagined that after a few hours barrowing I would be looking upon beds bulging with earth. This was not the case. Though initially it looked like an enormous amount of soil, those bulk bags were quickly emptied leaving only three of the beds half full.

“Earth up those potatoes” says Julian again.

I look at the potatoes and realise that they seem to have doubled in size even while I have been filling the other beds. Raiding the smallest bed which I had just filled, I barrowed that soil over to the potatoes, leaving the potatoes as the only true raised beds, ironic as they are the shallowest, being made of pallet wood, and are now struggling to contain their contents.

I telephone for a repeat order. This could not arrive for another week and of course in that time Andy is back, finishes the fence and the next delivery has to unload off the plot doubling the barrowing effort. The weather turns for the worse and I only manage to get one of these bags emptied before torrential rain hits leaving the remaining soil to get a good soaking and become twice as heavy to shift.

The tremendous amount of rain we have had in the south east has meant not only rapidly developing potatoes but also a healthy invasion of thistles and bindweed, giving me plenty to do between soil deliveries. So much rain collects in my water butt that I am adding a second and have purchased a connector so the overflow from the first will top up the second.

Discussing this with the headmaster at his birthday drinks I enthused about my connecting plans, expecting some praise for my practically.

‘Aah’ says he with raised eyebrows ‘but have you got a rubber gromit? ‘

‘A what?’ say I ‘aah’ he says again ‘you cannot do without a gromit, you need the gromit to stop any leaks and ensure an efficient flow of water between the butts!’

I make a mental note to track down a gromit when next in Rye Hire and will remember the word by thinking of Wallace.

Having allocated all the remaining soil, heavy though it was, and worked out where to plant the other crops, donated by kind neighbours, I returned home feeling satisfied that each of these plants finally had sufficient earth in which to grow. Another storm was breaking as I reached my front door and there, tossed on the mat was a slightly soggy padded envelope, which on opening contained 10 little artichoke plants bearing a simple instruction

‘Plant in good quality soil as soon as possible ‘….

Photos: Sarah Nelson

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