Wednesday 21 March 2018

Digging deep for daily dinner

THE late Liam Clancy used to sing a paean to veggie folk: "Inch by inch, row by row, going to make that garden grow/ All I need is a rake and hoe and a piece of fertile ground . . ."

A senior civil servant I know has become a committed grower of vegetables for the table. He gives most of his spare time to an allotment which he rents from a farmer and each evening, after work, he says he is surrounded by other enthusiasts, some newcomers to this country.

These latter folk are generous in sharing their bounty and he has broken bread with them between the drills. This is good news and the land owner seems happy with his tenants.

On recent car journeys through the west and south I noticed signs on the outskirts of some towns advertising allotments for rental.

Growing one's own vegetables is a commendable pursuit and there was a time in Ireland when every cottage had a potato and cabbage garden and a hen house for daily eggs and the occasional chicken dinner!

The bigger properties had walled gardens and glass-houses with fruit and vines and almost every vegetable that could thrive in our unpredictable climate.

In my memory, in de Valera's 'compulsory tillage' period, plots were marked out on the fringes of towns and householders were strongly encouraged to grow crops of potatoes, principally, by the Department of Agriculture. These were lean years and in war-torn Britain there was a 'dig-for-victory' campaign.

As a schoolboy I laboured with my father hauling seaweed up a cliff face in roped sacks, to be used as fertiliser.

Most plot holders had limited enthusiasms, however, and their crops were confined to potatoes, perhaps fringed by cabbage and carrots. Exotics didn't interest them and, anyway, seed was scarce.

For my part in this past year, after a long fallow time, I planted potatoes in an old garden wherever I could find a space for a tuber. I had got the seed from a friend, superfluous to his planting. He called them early-lates -- or was it late-earlies?

No matter, they are neatly excellent, white-skinned and delicious, although some did not thrive as well as others. I dig a stalk each day or so for dinner and am getting some self-sufficiency pleasure from such small efforts.

Irish plot persons do not face the problems of their fellow enthusiasts in New York's communal gardens who last week made the pages of the New York Times, with recorded thefts of cucumbers, peppers, chillies and tomatoes from more than 80 gardens which had been thriving on goodwill and virtually no security. Hundreds of ripe figs were looted in one garden overnight.

No garden is immune to theft and the thieves have displayed area preferences -- chillies and herbs in Harlem; peppers on the Lower East Side; tomatoes and squash in Brooklyn and Queens with cucumbers topping the all-over list.

One man put up a sign warning thieves if caught they would be attacked with poison ivy and stinging nettles. This seems to have worked. The filchers are not criminals. One gardener mused: "In the countryside people have trouble with animals breaking in. Here we have old ladies . . ."

Sunday Independent

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