Old Blighty

Kings Speech pea soup scene
The Kings Speech London fog scene

“It was a foggy, cloudy morning, and a dun-coloured veil hung over the house-tops, looking like the reflection of the mud-coloured streets beneath. My companion was in the best of spirits, and prattled away about Cremona fiddles, and the difference between a Stradivarius and an Amati. As for myself, I was silent, for the dull weather and the melancholy business upon which we were engaged, depressed my spirits.”

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

A couple of weeks ago, we sat on our terrace having a socially-distanced drink with a friend.

“Summer in England sometimes feels a little bit like living inside a Tupperware,” he said. “Days and days of muggy greyness, the air thick and still. Then all of a sudden a bit of sun peaks in, as though someone has briefly opened the Tupperware lid.”

Blight on cherry tomatoApril and May = Tupperware lid wide open all the time.
June and July = Tupperware has mostly closed.

On Saturday afternoon we discovered one blighted cherry tomato. Within 24 hours the blight was obvious on several plants. On Sunday afternoon we were forced to commit tomato-cide.

Blighted plants cannot go into the compost, they should be burned. In London, however, the 1956 Clean Air Act prevents us from burning anything except on bonfire night on 5th November. So, we bagged up about 10 tomato plants (one laden with +-30 unripe cherry tomatoes) and brought the big black bin bags home to be disposed by the council.

Thankfully our potatoes seem fine (for now) – it’s the same dangerous fungal disease that affects both tomatoes and potatoes. Once blight is found on even a leaf or a small part of a stem or fruit, the whole plant is tickets. It spreads very quickly in allotments and was first spotted about 100 plots down from us last week.

There’s something called the ‘Hutton Criteria’ which occurs when you have two or more consecutive days with temperatures not dropping below 10deg C, and at least 6 hours of 90% relative humidity – that’s pretty much been July weather through and through. You can join a nationwide group called ‘Blight Watch’ and get warnings in your area when the Hutton Criteria has been met.

Turns out Tupperware weather is not good for the allotment.

We’ve now signed up to our local ‘Blight Watch’.

The title of this blog ‘Old Blighty’ is not about tomato and potato blight. “Dear Old Blighty” was a common affectionate term for Great Britain, popularised during the First World war, by British soldiers in the trenches longing for home. It seemed to me appropriate that blight is so predominant in Old Blighty.

In other news our scarecrow has upped his game, now looking a little more like The Wizard of Oz (1939) straw man – just as brainless, but at least the magpies can no longer roost on his head. Also, we managed to grow a cauliflower – much excitement in this household. Finally, in South Africa we have monkeys and baboons, in London we have squirrels. One cheeky squirrel got into our kitchen and raided the fruit bowl (no those are not Hubby’s teeth marks). I caught him in the act, and had to make a lot of noice before he would consider dropping his loot and leaving by way of the roof terrace.

Potato famine IrelandSMALL PRINT:
P.s. Did you know that the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849 was caused by blight? “During the famine about a million people died and a million more emigrated” (source: Wikipedia). My Irish readers can comment on this – I’m sure it’s still very much in the narrative and folk-law of Irish families.
P.p.s. The Clean Air Act was enacted in response to London’s Great Smog of 1952 – remember the ‘pea soup’ scene in the film The King’s Speech (2010)?
P.p.p.s. It’s sunny and hot today and for the rest of the week I’m reliably told by BBC weather. Hopefully some of our tomato plants will be saved so that we do not have to resort to Tescos so support my addiction.
P.p.p.p.s I’m on my 3rd batch of rusks since lockdown began (another addiction that must be supported in house now) – they are tasting better with practise.
P.p.p.p.p.s. We learnt about the Hutton Criteria and Blight Watch somewhat after the fact, but apparently gardening is all about learning.

2 thoughts on “Old Blighty

  1. Hi.You have done very well setting up your allotment and coping with the different challenges along the route.I am sure your Blight Watch group will be very supportive now and in the future.X


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