tiny gold eyes.

Just now I watched the television news, showing images of the country blanketed in snow on this day last March. But today, it’s a very different story, warm and sunny, spring sunshine breaking through the naked branches of the trees surrounding the allotments. Its rays warm and welcome, I turned towards it’s yellow glow, closed my eyes and felt it’s warmth.

Earlier we had eaten sandwiches on Hampstead Heath, on a picnic blanket under a birch tree upon lush green grass. Unimaginable a few weeks ago, in all the dark, the cold and relentless rain. But the clouds have passed for now and spring is here.


Nancy and I left the picnic, walked over the heath to meet Allan.

The plot somehow looked like it had shrunk over winter, smaller than it seemed on my last visit. Maybe that’s because there isn’t much planting space available. Our winter crops are still there. The winter salads were failed to reach any sort of size before winter was upon them. Only now are they starting to look healthy and strong. The same could be said of the chicories, another year when they were either in too late or not given enough space. Now they are looking beautiful, still (for a while) in their winter plumage.

Nancy called from the ponds. They were alive with interlinked frogs, pushing between mounds frogspawn, hundreds tiny circular gold eyes watching our every move, to a chorus of froggy croaks.


Allan dug up an oversized radish planted last year and left. It looked more like a turnip, kept for it’s foliage as much as anything else. He sliced it very thinly with a pocket knife, it was surprisingly delicious.

The allotments were busy, lots of plot holders were there, digging, weeding, and sowing. It was an industrious place. Apart from plot 29 (us), where it was a biodynamic ‘non-doing’ sort of day. So it became a planning day, and a day to enjoy spring.

White frothing blossom on the blackthorn and plum trees, a bubblegum pink Magnolia flowering against the cloudless blue sky, birds singing for all they were worth (whilst gathering nesting materials) and the hawthorns spraying out acid green from all their spiny branches.


Howard Sooley

last leaves..


Howard Sooley

paved with gold

The streets of Kentish Town are paved with gold.


Howard Sooley

bean and gone

It was curious weather today, not excessively warm but very humid. Clammy.

Sun, then dark with thick cloud, then sun again. Blustery wind, then no wind, then wind again, all punctuated with scurrying showers.

With every gust, the chestnut trees fired conkers 60 feet to the ground, making the walk to the tool shed hazardous. IMG_9053-2

I pulled out the beans and poles, the last of the sweet peas, and mopped up the mess of tomato plants we let run riot in the centre of the plot. In their unchecked exuberance they produced very little. I hoed the ground and picked up the damp rotting leaves.


I collected some salad leaves for supper, dropping in a bag for Allan (at home with a broken leg) on the way home.



Howard Sooley

allotment tagettes


Howard Sooley

Everything’s gone green

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, not managing to get to the plot. I’ve been missing it.

I made some time today to walk up there and see how things are doing / growing and get some salad for supper. After a morning in front of a computer screen I was instantly soothed by the sea of green, the hands of the clock of time softened and began to slumber like in one of Dali’s paintings. After a couple of weeks of warmth things are finally starting to grow.


Peas and beans are making their ways up hazel poles, the salads are thick and green. I didn’t stay long. Restored, I picked some salad and walked back to my studio over the heath.


Howard Sooley

“Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

WB Yeats


Sunday morning, 6.30am, before the sun hits the plot. Just me, the hedgebirds, the waking beans and the waddling ducks (one female and her two comical followers). We are away for a week soon and I need to weed. I have always admired the feral ability of the “bad herbs” – as the French call them – to quickly establish themselves (bittercress is everywhere on the plot today, growing, flowering and expressing seed in what can seem like moments).


I have “fruit” seed to sow and a wigwam to populate. But I am also here for the feeling it brings, Yeats’s “peace” (see above) perhaps. After a lifetime, though, of sowing seed I am still almost surprised by their ability to waken, unfurl, put down root and search for sun, their powerful need to reproduce.



I sow a row of Peace Seedlings True Gold corn to go with the tiny shoots showing from Howard, Nancy and Rose’s rills. I push in a Golden Nectar bean to the base of each pole on the wigwams and add transplanted seedlings from the nursery bed. We don’t know the new seed but we are long admirers of Alan “Mushroom” Kapuler’s work.


As the sun hits the site, I immerse myself in the special place, packed as it is with apple blossom and excited birds. The light catches a fairy flight of bird cherry fluff as it blows over the site, the blackbirds serenade from the tops of trees, the first wild calendula is flowering. Early summer is set. As I water in the early morning’s work, I soak in the Innisfree-form feeling.

Good gardening everyone.

Allan Jenkins

23 may 2013

The call of the land

A light mizzle turning to insistent rain, an hour spent hand-stirring cow manure, building a second hazel teepee: another day in the spring life of our allotment. Never quite sure what to say when someone asks about biodynamics. Leave it to qualified gardening gurus such as Jane Scotter at Fern Verrow farm in Herefordshire or Bernard Jarman at BDA in Stroud. So when Howard’s daughter Nancy asks what is in the murky water we are spinning in a bucket, we tell her it’s magic cow poo – that we are working with the fairies that help us farm the plot. For kids it is often explanation enough: Nancy later enthusiastically joins in.


Biodynamics is instinctive rather than philosophical for us, a non-invasive ultra organics that has always ‘felt’ right. Preparation 500 – the cow manure prep buried in a horn over winter – is one of the building blocks of our growing: food for the soil and nourishing for us. But first, the new teepee. They are handsome, rugged, robust, the hazel poles and after changing our minds about where the ‘want to go’, they are soon standing proud on the plot.

It is a key time when the allotment starts to stand tall instead of hugging the ground. The nursery rows of beans are breaking through (we will move them to the teepee next week). The rills of salad seed are also up, showing broad-leaf mizuna, wild and salad rocket and a Wild Garden spring mix. But the big surprise is a patch of self-seeded mustardy winter leaves (red-frilled and green) that has appeared among the chicory.


Calendula, too, is scattered though and the Basque ‘tear’ peas are four or five inches tall, almost the same as the broad beans which are already flowering at half-height. There is a lot yet to sow and we are already running out of space. I love this time.

But quickly back to the biodynamics. An hour spent stirring (we tend to take 20-minute turns) and we are also energised, Nancy poses as a scarecrow and then helps spray the mix around.

The visits are becoming more urgent now as the days open up. The call of the land is louder. Soon enough we will go home laden with food but first a few precious weeks to remember how lucky we are, to remind us that what we give to the plot is as important as what we take away. It is so good to be back. Happy growing!


words – Allan Jenkins

photographs – Howard Sooley

Another warm spring day…

Another warm spring day, you wait almost a year for one then several come along all at once, bliss. It was a biodynamic fruit day, to which Allan had left some intriguing packets of seeds/beans and sweet corn before flying off to Denmark.


Nancy and Rose made furrows in the soil and practiced their newly learnt knot tying skills on twine (before rose eventually cut her finger on the blade of the pen knife..). Then buried the seed and watered them in.

They included:

Bean – ‘Gold of Bacau’

Bush snap bean – ‘Calos favorit’

Pole bean – ‘Carre de Caen’

Corn – ‘Madam Parching lavender’


The peas planted last weekend are already showing, it seems miraculous that such a hard dried seed can swell, split, germinate and push leaves up through the hard crust of the soil then reach towards the sun in such a short span of time.

The plot was brimming with the new shoots of hope. Seedlings pushing through everywhere: chard, rocket, calendula, kale and mustard, (at home seed trays are sprouting salads, sweet peas, tomatoes, and more chards).


The bareness of just a couple of weeks ago now seems unimaginable. Though I just returned from a trip to Northumberland and Yorkshire where everything was still looking very Februaryish.

The broad beans are in flower but seem particularly diminutive in stature, I’m still hoping they will go through a growth spurt, though it doesn’t seem likely.

The warm of the sun has drained the dark purples from the ‘Red Treviso’ endives that made it through the winter, now reverting to green and readying themselves to make their masts of blue starry flowers (I will make a risotto with one tonight).


Nancy and Rose explored the ponds, discovering to their excitement, that the frogs spawn had already turned into a squirming mass of of jet black tadpoles.


Howard Sooley

Spring finally sprung.

Spring, finally. Blossom-lined streets, tulips in the flower beds, green mist twisting through the twigs and branches and a genuine warmth in the air.

The weekend started with a trip to Jane at Fern Verrow at Spa Terminus who had brought us 22 hazel poles from her farm in the foothills of the Black Mountains, along with a bucket of cow manure to make a new cowpat preparation pit.


On Sunday we picnicked at the plot and spent the afternoon making a robust frame for the climbing beans from the hazel poles.

It was glorious to feel the warmth of the sun. A green woodpecker cackled from high up in the trees and painted lady butterflies danced around the path stopping to spread their wings and soak up the sun. The pond, a giant jelly of frogspawn.

The afternoon passed blissfully. We cut twiggy bits of hazel to make pea sticks and planted two lines of Basque peas.  Nancy and Rose moved a few surviving winter salad seedlings and gave each other rides in the wheelbarrow, ’til it ended in tears.

22 march 2013

Howard Sooley