Don't know why he does it. It's smelly. It stinks terribly."
John Macleod's sniffy disapproval wouldn't worry Red.
Not that John would ever say it to his face. But if he did, Red would more than likely wrinkle said face into a grin and observe laconically (as he did to me on a different occasion): "Everyone to his own taste, as the farmer said to the milkmaid when she kissed the cow."
Well, I think that's what he said, but now that I write it, I'm not so sure.
Either way, it shows you can't always be ready for Red's next remark. His observations on life do not come from reading. He is not one for books. And what he does with newspapers is hardly respectful. Which is precisely what John objects to.
He chops them up. His long winter evenings must be spent doing it. He has two enormous plastic barrels on his plot, and in them, with water added, he concocts a kind of newspaper porridge. This dubious slurry undergoes incalculable degrees of deconstruction over many moons until it is time for Red to plant his potatoes.
Then, under each sprouting tuber, he places a glob of his vintage gray sludge. To think that this spud-fodder once displayed the persiflage of columnists, the headlines of hard-pressed editors!
Red can chuckle at himself and his way of encouraging potatoes. "Gives 'em a bit of reading matter," he mutters.
"Which paper do you use, Red? The Herald?"
He knows the other plotters think he's lost it, but his potatoes do come up trumps. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
My own research suggests that Red's technique is positively normal compared with some plant-feeding notions. Our plotters are mainly conventional, sticking to everyone's favorite commercial fertilizers, or fish, bone, and blood meal. Manure is widely resorted to.
A few, however, swear by that famous organic-compost plant, comfrey, as the answer to every need. And more than one has told me not to forget to "sprinkle salt on my beetroot" (British for "beets"). They mean when I am sowing it, not when it's on the plate.
I had rather expected to encounter all kinds of idiosyncratic potions down here. But perhaps plotters keep them secret.
When I asked Jimmy Hughes how he felt about feeding plants with used coffee grounds and tea leaves (at one time a much-discussed matter in amateur gardening circles), he replied: "Tea leaves and eggshells. That's for witches," and laughed merrily. On hearing this, the Visiting Artist commented: "This means I'm a witch!!"
OLD-LORE collector Bridget Boland and her sister Maureen recorded several plant-feeding oddities in the 1970s.
There was a Scottish mother who "lavished more food" on her prize zucchini than on her family, giving it "the best minced steak."
The sisters themselves inadvertently discovered that roses adore beef fat near their roots.
I knew a gardener who never planted a tree without putting the remains of the Sunday roast under it, a chicken carcass or an old ham.
But my all-time favorite is the story, recounted in 1961 by Katherine S. White, of the English gardener who advised a friend with a woebegone wisteria to give it a "nice rice pudding." She did. It worked a treat.
As for Red's newspapers, I've found out that an old-time BBC Radio gardening expert, Fred Streeter, used to advocate newspapers under runner beans.
"Perfect lining for your bean trench," he'd say, "they hold the moisture splendidly."
*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.