Minding my Peas and Cucumbers, by Kay Sexton

You might recall that one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read one of my unread books every month this year, and to decide whether each one keeps its place on the shelf, or needs to be turned loose to find a new owner. In January I read The Gardener’s Year by Karel Čapek. February’s book was Minding my Peas and Cucumbers, by Kay Sexton – quirky tales of allotment life, it says on the cover. According to my notes it has been on the shelf, unread, since 2011.

You can tell by the little pink markers in the photo that there were plenty of pages I wanted to refer back to. I like to read uninterrupted, and make my notes later on. My first set of sticky notes were plastic, and when they (inevitably) got grubby and lost their stick, I had to throw them away. Now I have paper ones, which I can write on, if I want to, and which can be recycled when they can no longer be reused.

Anyway… the book.

For most of the book, Kay Sexton doesn’t have an allotment of her own. Living in London, she finds that allotments are rarer than hen’s teeth, and that you can live out your whole life on a waiting list. But Kay is enterprising, and offers out her services as a plot-sitter, taking care of people’s veggies when they’re on holiday, or working people’s allotments for longer periods of time when – for whatever reason – they need to take a break. It allows her to get her hands grubby, and grow her own grub, but means there’s no point investing in perennial crops or water butts, when she could be moving on at any moment. In the end, she gets onto the committee at an allotment site, and is given an unkempt plot to work back into shape, but she doesn’t have an official tenancy, so she calls it Not My Plot. Most of the ‘action’ takes place there.

Kay is an avid allotmenteer, but she’s also honest about the fact having an allotment is not for the faint of heart:

Books and TV programmes never mention the deep gloom that will overcome you from time to time when you contemplate the weeds, pests and crops failures associated with your allotment, or the daydreams you will have about giving it up and spending the weekend on the sofa with a box set of DVDs and no reason to go out and dig or weed in the rain.

She recommends covering a new allotment in containers, to get you growing quickly and overcome the initial “all work and no reward” phase.

She then goes on to the importance of crop rotation, which includes mention of the crop ‘Mafia’ families, which is certainly not an explanatory approach I have seen before…. 😉

Minding my Peas and Cucumbers, by Kay Sexton

The book is liberally festooned with recipes to make the most of what you grow, including this one for ‘Sunshine Carrots’, which is designed to sweeten up old carrots and make them taste like baby carrots again!

And she has a low-maintenance way of dealing with gluts…

for the disorganised and faint-hearted I recommend the purchase of a black compost bin, into which you can tip your roughly chopped glut vegetables under cover of darkness. It seems like a waste and feels like a crime, but it is better than having to navigate past carrier bags of runner beans and boxes of wilting salad every time you enter the kitchen.

But there’s also advice on how you might rehome a glut, to (for example) local hospices, food partnerships, the Salvation Army, local schools and starving students.

Kay isn’t convinced that growing your own on an allotment saves you money, but she has a good list of “love ’em and leave ’em” plants that will survive your absences if you’re one of the allotmenteers who still insists on having a summer holiday (right in the middle of the growing season – how could you??? 😉 ). And there’s useful instructions for things such as forcing Champagne rhubarb indoors.

All of this comes alongside a cast of sundry allotment characters and their comings and goings, including skulduggery and high drama, which means you get an entertaining book that’s easy to read and yet will keep you popping back to look at all the useful information.

And so Minding my Peas and Cucumbers is safely returned to live on the shelf. Have you read it?