This month our skills exchange gardener decides to plant potatoes and onions
The first thing Lucy-May wanted to do when we got to the allotment was to check and see if the spuds had started growing. She wanted to water them and while she was doing that I started on the onions.
The Chief of Staff (the missus) visited the allotment to inspect and when she saw the potato ridges she asked was I digging a foundation for a house. That was an unsubtle reference to my occupation before the bust. I still think they are good ridges and hell, I’ll be able to grow monster carrots in that ground next year.
I was on the phone to my friend Oracle during the week and he said I was time enough with the spuds. “It’s time enough to have them in by Good Friday”, he said and I said, “But Good Friday is very late this year”, and he said, “It’s calculated by the moon so you go by Good Friday. Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox; this particular ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (a newmoon to you and me); and the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21. Resulting in that Easter can never occur before March 22 or later than April 25″. I said, “Oh right, ok, I see, yeah”. And we tried to work out why was Good Friday calculated by the moon and all the other dates are fixed, Christmas for example. I heard somewhere that the calculation of Easter caused a bit of a rift between the Roman and the Celtic Church so beloved of modern day free-range Nuns.
But between the two of us we couldn’t get to the bottom of it so we reverted to a topic we were more comfortable with (not necessarily more knowledgeable about) – Shingles. Someone we know has them. That opened up a whole new can of worms. He said if they go round your body and meet, you’re a dead man. You can get the cure for it though. He didn’t know what it was but the cure for chicken pox is a slob of butter mixed with the quacks blood and you rub it on head to toe in unbroken strokes and it definitely works. Don’t look at me. Of course we then had to talk about the economy and I realised I was possibly earning three times as much money in London twenty years ago than I am now. And I do not exaggerate. Go figure. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. That didn’t help the mood. That was all by-the-way, we eventually got back to the potatoes.
Oracle told me you have to watch out for frost on the potatoes even this late in the year. He said the sun hitting the leaves when there is frost on them is the problem that’s why Farmer Brown and his wife made a hay rope and lit it and with her on one end and him on the other stretching it over the tops of the stalks they ran up and down the ridges trying to burn the frost off before the sun came up. That must have conjured some fireside stories. Will o’ the Wisp and Jack o’ Lantern and Peep ‘O’ day boys on the Rampage, and all sorts, and possibly burned more potatoes than the frost ever could. Or, he said you could spray them down with a hose if it was just light frost. I think I’d go for the spraying. And then he told me he had a small Irish potatoe with a blue line through it. A marble effect. Like stilton I thought. Had no idea what it’s called. Good for salads. He’s going to generate seed potatoes from it this year and give me a few. That’ll be interesting. I eventually got off the phone.
Prepping the ground for the onions meant digging as deep as possible with the fork. This heavy turning should diminish as we work the plot. Then I walked all over it flattening it down. Then I raked it level, taking off the big stones and leaving a fine soil level surface. I divided this patch into smaller sections to ensure I could access it all for weeding. I deepened the pathways to double as drains. Some touching up again with the rake and I had a smooth patch ready for sowing. I used the handle of the rake to give me a straight line and pressed it in to make a light channel. Then I just sprinkled a light line of seeds along the channel. These will be thinned later leaving 3-4 inch spacings. These seeds were planted 1cm deep, two inches apart, in rows 30cm apart like it said on the pack. All that fine detail is on the pack.
Nearing the end of my patch, I thought I would have too many seeds and the idea of discarding them unsettled me. Such a waste. The seed of life. This reminded me of that parable of the sower who scatters seeds and some falls on waste ground. I also thought, round here you gotta be careful how you discard them – you know, a handful of onion seeds recklessly discarded on your neighbours rhubarb patch wouldn’t be good for relations.
Lucy-May wanted to play football and was wondering why all watering cans were green. Then the COS rang and said dinner was ready, and then I talked to a neighbour who bemoaned the loss of bacon factories; button factories; bakeries; Cork Trustees Saving Bank; how seed potatoes come from Scotland and how you can’t make a fool of a Macroom man. Did you know that Dermot Desmond and Michael O’ Leary have roots out that direction? The last thing I did before throwing in the trowel was break new ground and prep it for the carrots. Same drill as for the onions
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