The Big Divide: Early vs. Late

The Plot So Far

Mama mia! June is upon us! I swear it's early this year.

The beginning of June is a moment of truth for plot-holders down here on the allotments. By now, just about everything should be planted and growing.

Look at Joe's plot and you'd think (apart from his peas, which appear rather late to me) he'd somehow had an extra six months to grow his vegetables, particularly his cabbages. How does he do it?

As for me, on my first plot: Am I behind? Yes, I am. Am I panicking? I'll take the Fifth Amendment. (Being British, am I allowed to?) But the truth is, I still haven't sown my beets, runner beans, the yellow French beans that Red (my neighbor) gave me, my turnips, or my parsnips.

I'm relying on the packet info, though, which says I still have some time. My sweet peas are ready to plant, but there's still no weed-free trench for them.

There is no wider difference of philosophy between individuals than the question of "early'' or "late.'' This goes beyond vegetable-growing, of course. But on the allotments it is the Big Divide.

Take Red. Until the last week in May, he had planted nothing but potatoes, buried very deep. When I mentioned to Joe that Red was just putting in his onions and carrots, you should have seen his expression of incredulity.

"That man!" Joe spluttered. But Red believes he knows best. When he was a kid in Canada 70-odd years ago, they always sowed and planted in his family market garden three weeks after all the neighboring farms, and they harvested at the same time.

Red could be right. There is a good old Scottish expression, much reiterated on the allotments: "Ne'er cast a cloot till May is oot." It translates into something like: Don't take your clothes off until the end of May. Horticulturally (rather than sartorially) speaking, it means: Watch it - you can still get a killing frost up to June 1. If your potatoes are sprouting too high too soon, or you sowed your runner beans too early, a sudden freeze can cut them down in a night. I noticed during the last week in May that Monty's spuds were already shrub height. But she did have them protected with an elaborate tent just in case.

Actually, as Red pointed out again this morning (such things cannot be repeated too often among gardeners): "We haven't had a real winter" this year. It's true. Maybe it's El Nio making its mark here in Scotland.

Whatever the reason, we've only had a couple of frosts to speak of. It has been quite unusually mild. I can't recall the rhododendrons ever being so totally overwhelmed by flowers. They look appalling, actually, like giant floriferous hats. And the hawthorns have been avalanched with blossoms - but it is a native and looks wonderful.

My own potatoes were never in danger of frost, they were in so late. I was beginning to despair of getting a weeded space ready for them. But Monty told me firmly one day: "Plant them tomorrow! You really must, even if there are still weeds." (It was then that I secretly nicknamed her The Field Marshall.) So, much against the grain, I obeyed. We'll see how they do.

Next year I'll do better. I told Tommy I was mainly planning for next year.

"I must remember that," he said. "That's a good line."

* A biweekly series about an allotment garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

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