Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The root of the problem

Listening to: Villiers Terrace (Echo and the Bunnymen)
In the oven: Orkney Broonies
Watching: The Simpsons (the one where Bart gets a credit card)

I like veg gardening. Actually, that's a downright lie. I bloody love it. It makes me happy. It takes me away from my everyday worries and into what, even after all this time, still seems a magical world where a tiny speck of seed can grow into something good to eat.

I had an allotment in Shrewsbury for a while and it was a wonderful oasis of calm and an escape route from what was, at times, a fraught existence.

I have cleared and planted two allotments before now, so I wasn't perturbed when I arrived on the croft in mid-July to find the "veg garden" totally overgrown. It has been at least 10 years since anyone did any gardening here.

We hacked away at the nettles and various other weeds to get everything to ground level, leaving only my gardening nemesis - couch (pronounced cooch) grass. For those fortunate never to have come across is couch is a total bastard. It looks like ordinary rough grass, but puts out a long network of roots that will eventually choke anything you actually want to grow in the soil.

The root system looks like so much filthy spaghetti, or the back of my brother-in-law's "home entertainment" system.

It took me two days to dig out the first 8ftx8ft bed, lifting each turf, shaking the soil off and picking the roots out before carting it off to the No. 2 compost heap where all the nasties that will take a couple of years to kill off go. Then it was a case of going over the bed with a fine tooth comb or, in this case, my fingers to get any stray bits out as I've known a half-inch piece of root spread over a lettuce patch in a matter of days.

I hate it, so I have felt forced to 'go nuclear' and call in some chemical help. I sprayed the rest of the patch with Round-up, which the manufacturers insist only kills the plant, does not stay in the soil and presents no hazard to pets or children. Didn't mention anything about pig farmers.

I felt guilty, of course. I'd love to be organic and maybe I gave up too easily. A friend had Japanese knotweed in his garden in Ironbridge and was perfectly entitled to call in the B52s (bombers, not quirky 80s/90s band), making my efforts seem a bit lame.

But the grass died down and digging the second 8x8 bed today took about three hours with 10-year-old chicken manure dug in. I was a happy boy. I just wish it was spring.


The Birdwatcher said...

Mrs BW does all the gardening around our place. She would be drooling at the thought of hacking away at nettles. Its great to watch her at work. Very relaxing.

Do you get spring in Orkney?

I, like the view said...

the garden in Posenhall (for that was where I lived in Shroppie) was FULL of that bl**dy stuff

nightmare, it was, an absolute nightmare and I - very stupidly - didn't use Round-up or anything sensible to sort it out. . .

I'm sure you've made the right decision and come spring the chemical will have long gone from the soil and you can enjoy your seeds sprouting


do you get the Northern Lights in Orkney?

Reg Pither said...

Hey, I've just thought - you'll be able to grow couch potatoes!

Malc said...


Yes, it's pencilled in for April 26, about 3.20.


Yes, we do, but getting to see them is another matter what with the thick bank of cloud that generally hovers above from September-March.

Having said that, it's a brightish start to the morning and I'll keep my fingers crossed that we get some clear nights in November.



*drum roll* *cymbal*

Get your beer trousers on for second two weeks in December.

I, like the view said...

I love that: "yes, we do"

see, you're a native already! (unless you were orginally from there. . . and have returned)

fiwa said...

I love to garden. I'm a bit lazy though, so I get mixed results with what I try to grow from seed. Like say, the one and only lettuce that came up out of two packets of seed!

Malc said...


My great grandfather moved from Orkney to Walsall in 1879, so I have a connection, but I'm not exactly a local. Can't understand what anyone says for a start.


That's a spectacular rate of failure. Congratulations!