Here was I thinking it was going to be a quiet week, nothing more exacting than some serious gardening, when a call from the parents-in-law proposing a visit shatters my illusions. I’ve never been known for rigour when it comes to housework but this time of the year is the summom of slatternliness – with long light days and jobs piling up outside I’m hardly aware of the steady homely degradation that is inevitable with a family of muck monsters. ( I mean it, not one tidy gene between us.) Oh dear, nothing for it than to change the hoover bag, roll up the sleeves and get on with some serious spring cleaning.
On the upside my in-laws are great folk. Jaqueline is a marvellous cook who happily shares her family recipies and always arrives with the car stuffed with delights. Luckily she’d been clearing out the freezer before they came and so we were treated to chicken in sauterne with the last of the autumns cêpes (they are avid and inveterate wild mushroom gatherers) and a redcurrent clafoutis, oh yes !
While us girls cooked and caught up the boys finished installing the electricity in the old farmhouse and the terrace and we celebrated in fine french fashion with a long weekend of munching and toasting – some mooching, a little light gardening, a couple of late night card sessions – all nicely parenthesised with more munching and toasting. By Sunday I needed to get back to work – sticking two fingers up to the rain that wanted to stop play – I slipped out after breakfast to the bad weather refuge that is my polytunnel.
Here’s the rub, when the sun is out it gets so hot it becomes a veritable sweat lodge after just a couple of hours daylight and having fobbed off last weeks main tunnel job – the strawing down of the tomatoes – onto Harriet ( heh heh heh, the apprentices lot,) it had been several sunny days since my last visit. Oh bloody crikey.
Tomatoes are perhaps the most time consuming and most rewarding of all home grown crops. Nothing can beat the taste, the voluptuous quality of a sun warmed and ripened tomato. And I’ve been wanting to grow them to glut for just about always. This finally became possible with the purchase of a second hand tunnel frame which we set up last spring. Too late to start from seed I rushed out and purchased about forty plants, planted them, watered and sang halleleuiah for about five minutes. Then the misery began.
After closing the door on a healthy looking plantation every evening, the following morning would greet me with a random couple of limp, yellowed and extremely dead plants, for days I scratched my head and cried, helpless as the plantation was slowly decimated – I could find no clues, no bugs, no sign of blight – and it wasn’t just the tomatoes – half a dozen beautiful aubergine plants lasted two days, five out of six lettuces didn’t make it through their first night – The dream of a tunnel had become a bloody nightmare and I didn’t know how to wake up.
Like most mysteries the denouement was a bit of a let down – putting on my pathologists hat and embarking upon the disection of a dead specimen I found a small orange worm hidden in the hollowed out base of the plant stem that the internet rapidly informed me was a wireworm. And like most recently reclaimed pastureland my potager was chokkablock bustin’ at the seams with the evil little bastads – larvae of the click beetle and especially fond of the nightshade family with a bit of lettuce on the side, this is one voracious little sucker and oh dear….the only organic method of eradication is the potato trap and the long haul.
I put potato halves at the base of every plant and for weeks inspected them twice daily – extracting and killing hundreds of the malificent blighters.Tentatively replacing all the dead plants, one eye scouring the land for that little flash of orange, the season continued and I’m happy to report that I managed to bottle over 40 litres of tomato sauce and ratatouille. Extra jars have been recuperated since then and I’m keen to beat the record this year.
And what of this year ?Well I’m still finding the odd wireworm, but only lost two plants so far and despite regular inspection of the potatoes have only caught about a dozen all month, things are looking hopeful. So now begins the pinching out and stringing up, which was Sunday mornings three and a half hour task. And it is a task not a chore – peaceful and restorative, the rain pattering on the plastic, the green tomato leaf smell…
I think it was Oscar Wilde who had an ashtray made that he placed in his guest bathroom. Around the rim was written, ‘ Visitors are like fish, after four days they start to stink.’
I wouldn’t like to suggest that my in-laws are in need of a wash, they’re rather clean folk, and it’s great to see visitors, especially those you love – but lets be honest here, we live in the middle of nowhere because we like peace so no matter how much fun it’s been it’s always pretty good when they go !