Who’s been eating all the leaves ?

The need to get outside is great at the moment, whatever the weather. I find myself getting increasingly claustrophobic over the 12 days of Christmas.

With a freshening wind on our backs and the occasional splash of sun on our faces, Nancy and I set off over Hampstead heath towards the plot. The usually dried up stream beds of the heath were rushing with crystal clear water and the paths knee deep with mud. The allotments told a similar story, that of completely sodden ground, squelching out jets water from every foot step.

We didn’t do much whilst we were there. Our intention was just to visit and say hello.

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Howard Sooley

The night before Christmas

Earlier today I walked with Rose over the heath for a final look at the plot before Christmas, hoping to take some Christmassy images to post here.
“Not much Christmassy here” said Rose.
It was mild and trying hard not to rain. It was dark, even at midday.
Anyway, Rose was right.
The plot felt like a battle lost, victory to the frost, slugs and pigeons. But now, with the winter solstice bridged and the new year just around the corner there seems room for optimism. The prospect of a new season and a new start.
A 2013 planting calendar purchased and a ‘three kings’ preparation arrived in the post from the biodynamic association.
We collected a few leaves for supper, a bunch of beet root to accompany our Christmas dinner and pushed a handful of uprooted onion sets back into the soil.
At home Polly and Nancy were hard at work in the kitchen, knee deep in ivy and festive greenery.




Happy Christmas


Howard Sooley


It is dark outside and it’s raining. I think it’s the same over much of the country. I am sitting at a desk in my studio staring out in to the greyness, waiting for the rain to subside so I can walk up to the allotment. Outside on the window sill is a bright red geranium (pelagonium) protected from the worst of the frost by an absence of double glazing.


The only other colour to be seen in the encompassing gloom is the red of a hybrid tea rose shrouded in billowing clouds from next doors gas boiler. I thank them both for brightening up the day.



Howard Sooley

‘…catch the pigeon’

It was late on Sunday afternoon when I finally managed to get away to the allotment. It was 3.45pm and the light was starting to fail. It would be dark by 4.15pm. I wasn’t prepared for the crime scene I found in the sombre gloom of our plot. Total decimation. Nothing had escaped untouched, not even the mizuna. Wood pigeons again.Quite why the mizuna should be left untouched until now, then suddenly and systematically razed to the ground I do not know. Perhaps ‘first frosted’ mizuna is a great delicacy in pigeon world and they had been saving both the mizuna and themselves for this gastronomic winter treat.

skeletal chard

All that remained were thick ribs of muzuna, chard, chicory, sorrel and kale leaves, discarded like so many fish bones, stripped bare. It would seem our only option is to net as much of the plot as we can. The prospect of imprisoning them in a netting cell ‘for their own safety’ leaves me feeling uneasy and claustrophobic. It seems against the spirit of what we are trying to do. I wonder if there are other ways to deter the pigeons ? I cant imagine they are afraid of shiny things hanging from string. They are some of the most brazen, plumpest  and well fed pigeons you will ever see. If you walk to towards them, they’ll nonchalantly keep grazing until they can see the whites of your reddening eyes. Then slowly, reluctantly, in bellows of down force, with all the commotion of fully ladened Sikorsky helicopter they take off, and lift into the air, making for the nearest suitably sized branch.

This week, I suppose, we will reluctantly buy more netting. Making note to secure it well above the tops of the plants. On Mary’s neighbouring plot, her securely netted Brussels sprouts have been dropped on from the air by leaden pigeons pushing the net right down to the sprout tops, which have been subsequently stripped.

I left the plot in the glowing dark feeling sympathetically gloomy, with not a leaf for supper.

Any ideas on pigeon protection or deterrance most welcome.


Howard Sooley

Frozen veg.

A cold snap has embraced us for the last couple of days. We postponed a trip to the plot on Saturday, hoping for warmer weather on Sunday, but no such luck. If anything, it was colder. I spent Sunday morning walking on Hampstead Heath in a wintery wonderland with Polly and the girls, the temperature struggled to get much above 1ºc. Last week’s muddy paths had become a craggy lunar landscape as hard as granite. I knew whatever the temperature on the heath, our plot is always a few degrees colder, and so it was when we arrived just after lunch. A frost pocket lined with glittering crystals of ice. It was an exercise in cryogenics, the breath of life frozen stiff, petrified in a coat of ice.


Tiny seedlings of winter cress held in suspended animation. Even the mizuna had been stopped in it’s tracks, as brittle as plate glass. On the neighbouring plot, Geoffrey’s dahlias had collapsed and turned black with one swish of an icy wand. The same hand that scythed down his banana plants (they must have seen it coming).

In this frozen freeze frame moment nothing moved, except a pair of flittering red breasted robins, perhaps hoping we’d disturb the frozen soil or, more preferably, produce a handful of peanuts from a pocket.

We had planned to hoe the soil, apply the liquid comfrey fertilizer and generally spread some love on our forlorn post-November plot, but jumpin’ jack frost had put paid to our noble aspirations. We collected a few semi-frozen salad leaves and a couple of beautiful wine-speckled ‘Castel Franco’ chicories (later served in salad with sweet balsamic vinegar and roasted hazelnuts) and headed home.


Howard Sooley