There’s a TV programme at present on BBC Four chronicling the origins of rock and roll in the US. On the first programme last week among the many gems there was Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers singing Why do Teenagers Fall in Love – it was pure magic. I’ve heard it a million times over the years and it still gets to me. I saw them live at the London Palladium many, many, many years ago – I said last week that I was ancient. Unfortunately Frankie Lyman didn't have a good life. He was only thirteen when Teenagers was recorded in 1956, and sadly died of a heroin overdose aged 25.
Why I mention it is that the song featured on Strictly on Saturday night, and the band murdered it. I remember back at the start of rock and roll the cry went up that the singers couldn’t sing and the musicians couldn’t play. Well, the Strictly band I’m sure is full of highly trained musicians, the crème de la crème in the UK– but when it comes to playing roll and roll they haven’t a clue – sixty years on and they couldn’t get anywhere near to the original - it just clunked along and missed the whole doo wop essence of the song, how anyone could dance to it was beyond me. Unfortunately the “celebrity” with this unenviable task, Katie Piper, couldn’t dance anyway, so the combination of the two, a plodding band and an inability to dance, means she is no longer.
Now I’ve got that of my chest, I’ll move on to the follow up from last week.
Having cleared the plot in the autumn by skimming off all the foliage above the soil, what to do next.
If it’s a new plot which has been left and is out of condition, I always recommend digging. I always use a spade to dig, never a fork which I find isn't up to the job. I dig across the plot i.e. 4-5 metres on a 5 Rod plot each row. For the first row I take the soil dug to either the front of the first row or behind the last row of where you're going to dig. I then turn the soil in the next row forward into the space left in the first row. Each row I dig about 15” wide and a spades depth – I find that if I stab the spade for each individual dig into the soil the rough area I want to take out it makes life easier. I think the golden rule is just turn the soil over, don’t try to break it down and don’t dwell on it. The only exception is to remove as many perennial weeds as possible. Luckily, in my many years of gardening I’ve only come across thistles, bindweed, and dock – all of which are easily recognisable and can be pulled out to a varying degree when you turn the soil over. Again, I try to take out as much of the weed as possible, but don’t chase it or break the roots into smaller pieces if you can help it. Also, don’t try to break the soil up you’ve turned over – turn it over, take as much perennial weed out as possible, and move on. I see people when digging a plot trying to thrash each dig to death – a complete waste of time.
The soil in Eastbourne is generally alluvial and fairly light, so digging isn’t too much of an onerous task. As a result I find it takes roughly about 45 minutes to an hour to turn over a metre length of soil. Therefore, for a 25 metre length of a 5 rod plot, it takes me about 18-25 hours to dig it completely. Obviously this can be spread over many weeks but it’s best to get it finished before spring. Whatever amount of plot you’re digging over, take the soil from when you dug the first row and place it into the last row.
If you feel digging the whole plot is too much, only dig a portion of the plot. Some advice recommends covering the rest with black polythene or cardboard and securing down. Weeds as a general rule don’t germinate any later than about now. Unless you're going to leave any of the plot unused for longer than 6 months, I wouldn't cover. We used to, for a number of years, spend six months in Australia – leaving at the beginning of October and returning at the end of March. We had an allotment then in the east of London, in Cable Street. We cleared the plot of any weeds before we went and when we returned less than ten weeds had shown themselves in the six months we were away. This year, with the warm October there might be a few more but don’t worry too much about covering the soil.
What I then do next on any new plot is to dig it again. This time it’s a lot easier but gives it that extra chance to break down and get some air into the soil. I then rotovate, or till, the area I’ve dug over. I never rotovate a new uncared for plot before digging – it's too difficult and only gets down 3-4 inches at best. So dig first and then rotovate.
After that initial digging I never ever dig the plot again – I only rotovate each year after that.
If you don’t have a rotovater see if you can borrow one or buy one. I have a Mantis Tiller which I highly recommend – they can be bought second hand on ebay – I wouldn’t be without one.
Incidentally, the photo has nothing to do with cultivating the plot, or indeed Frankie Lyman. I just liked the contrast on my plot of the brightly coloured dahlias with the autumnal colours of the Rhus behind.
That’s enough for now. I’ll continue with other options later.