Monthly Archives: March 2011


Allotment Plot 326 sits in the great field with many other allotment plots. It is part of a social system that gave humans a right to an allotment of land. Desire for an allotment plot can be a utopian dream. Reality of working an allotment or making the allotment succeed involves much hard effort. In order to make the allotment function it needs ground preparation. With any garden there can be much labour involved, but this individually depends on the nature of the garden and how it has been designed. Some gardens need very little work, for other gardens the work is a never ending cycle. Gardens can bring pleasure to the humans that work them, but gardens can also bring sorrow, frustration and despair, (when plants are overwhelmed by conditions in the natural world). The ugliness of digging is in a sense an act of placing order on the natural world. That is not to say the natural world is one of chaos, but one that has its own order outside the human domain.

Ella Montt was standing in the studio amongst the chitting Charlotte Second Early Seed Potatoes that were spread in 30cm intervals across corrugated cardboard that simulated the Allotment Plot laid out across the floor. Ella Montt was wearing her metallic blue 4″ heeled shoes, she bent to pick up the Potatoes and gathered them in to a knitted plastic sack. A similar sack of Sante Main Crop Seed Potatoes had been planted on the previous day (29 March 2011). Each sack contained 40 Potatoes. Ella Montt removed her blue shoes and stepped in to her muddy earth trainers and then headed towards the Allotment to resume digging.

Ella Montt found the idea that an “Allotment” is classified in the UK as a Leisure Garden slightly misleading. Digging ground that was filled with bramble roots and hardening to concrete through lack of rain was not what Ella Montt would describe as “Leisure”. Thorpe’s report had endorsed this taxonomy. Digging vibrant soil that turns easily can be joyous but at that moment it was ugly work and hard labour. Perhaps Ella Montt lacked the muscle power, but it was nothing to do with her gender. The art of digging is not gender specific. Digging had been easier when the soil was more moist a few weeks ago. To lighten Ella Montt’s mood, to break the tension of the act of digging, she employed the act of spontaneous dancing, (see the video evidence). Would Thorpe approve of dancing whilst digging to instigate Leisure? A slight rain shower earlier in the day had hardly penetrated the surface. Below the surface soil it was almost rock solid. The Charlotte Potatoes were eventually planted.

Meanwhile the fruit trees were starting to unfurl tight leaf buds.

Ella Montt felt the feelings of panic setting in again, because the fence around Allotment Plot 326 is still not erected. The need for the fence was becoming more imperative. Not a need to protect the Potatoes from the hungry rabbits, but a need to protect any other plantings to follow from the hungry rabbits. The Potatoes worst enemies could be frost, drought, flooding and blight, but not rabbits. With the Potatoes planted, Ella Montt’s focus can now shift to the creation of the fence. A magpie landed on a nearby plot and steadily walked across newly planted soil, searching for, finding and then eating hidden seeds.

Bricks and Potatoes

Ella Montt was at Allotment Plot at MERL on 3 March. She had not visited this aspect of the Plot since January, because she had been occupied with other aspects elsewhere. The previous day there had been sun, but the day was bitterly cold, and the sky was grey. Ella Montt examined the state of the Allotment Plot, some of the bricks that formed the Brick Composter were out of position, chaotically fallen out of place. Last years remaining Brassicas were now stripped skeletons punctuating the Plot. The overwintered Broad Beans and Peas showed evidence of predator attack and the harshness of winter. Most of the Onions seemed to have survived. The Garlic was perhaps predictably looking the most productive of the overwintered vegetables.

It was time to remove weeds to the Composter, redefine the Plot and neaten the edges. Ella Montt collected gardening tools from the shed. Green Manure plants Phacelia that had been sown back in Autumn 2010 were left growing scattered across the Plot. A solitary Crocus was in bloom. Stinging Nettles seedlings existed within the Plot, but were transported to the Composter with the notion that they might establish themselves within its boundaries as a welcome addition in pest control. It was noted that Mint rhizomes were extending in different directions beyond their previous area. Further evidence of this activity will be carefully monitored.

The Brick Composter was already composed of 91 bricks so Ella Montt utilized a wheelbarrow to collect a further 29 bricks from an amount that sits stacked beside the shed. The additional bricks were piled to complete the Brick Composter, a total of 120 bricks, (the same number of bricks used by Carl Andre in Equivalent VIII).

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11th 2011, devastated and obliterated the lives of human and non human species. The water of the tsunami washed away towns, bodies, organised mechanics of the human condition, such as transport vehicles, (land or water-based), business, cultivated growth of plant life and the everyday aspect of life into non life. The shock of this realization turned into further panic due to the failing cooling systems of nuclear power plants that were affected by the power of the planet’s own vital energy system that had caused the catastrophe.

Some of the human species remained convinced that nuclear energy was essential to human ways of life on Earth, while others wished that the nuclear industry should be dismantled in favour of safer ecological systems to generate energy. Ella Montt had never liked the nuclear industry and was most concerned for those in Japan, those that had lost their lives and those that had survived, both had their lives altered in the time span of minuets or seconds as the ground shock and later as the waves swept over the land. Planet Earth is a living organism, but this can be forgotten. Everything returns to the materials of the planet from which it has animated. Atoms drift, form and flux in the atmosphere surrounding the astronomical object.

On March 17th 2011, six thousand miles away in Japan there was still a state of panic and emergency, because of the on going conditions at the nuclear power plants. (Nuclear power no thanks!) Thousands of lives were lost in the tsunami. Bodies had been washed out to sea or covered by the wreckage of the flood. The mess and mass of residue remains piled for miles along the coastline. Some of the coastline had dropped at the time of the earthquake which allowed the tsunami to then sweep further in land. The conditions of global warming v the conditions of catastrophe from nuclear energy, if the world is contaminated with radiation what good is it to anyone anyway? Energy systems can be established through other means that are more sustainable solutions and not built on fossil fuels or nuclear power.

Ella Montt mused on why humans need catastrophe in order to realize thought processes that enable change. Progress is often not a linear process. Science develops systems and systems can generate progress, but power can generate a system that is blind to the future. The future is hidden tread carefully.

The sun broke through the misty cloud haze. Ella Montt prepared to plant 15 Lady Balfour Main Crop seed Potatoes, EM adjusted the tripod and digital video camera. Eve Balfour stepped out of MERL’s library archive and walked across the garden to join Ella Montt at the Plot. EM handed EB a fork and EB started to prepare the soil. Ella Montt went to the shed to fetch a wheelbarrow and then pushed it up the path amongst the trees towards the garden’s composting area. EM shovelled some of last year’s compost in to the wheelbarrow and headed back down the wooded bank to EB. Together they carefully dug a row of eight holes and then Ella Montt placed a Potato in each earth cavity with the Potato Chits facing upwards. EB covered the Potatoes and added extra compost from the wheelbarrow making Mole Hill type mounds over each one. Ella Montt placed a seed label by each mound to mark the position. EB and EM then dug another row of seven holes and Ella Montt placed the last seven Potatoes in their respective holes. Bob Flowerdew had advised to dig holes as big as a saucepan and Ella Montt remembered this. A note was made to acquire Comfrey roots for the Plot. Comfrey is an excellent plant food for Potatoes, Tomatoes and compost. EM and EB shared Ella Montt’s thermos of plant-based tea whilst they discussed the Plot.

When EB went back to the rest in the library archive Ella Montt planted 4 x 3 sticks of dried Bamboo at each corner of the Plot in triangular formations. It was somewhat early in the year to be assembling Climbing Bean supports, but Ella Montt had decided that the Heavy Metal CDs needed to be reinstated to the Plot to try to ward of predators. Ella Montt attached the CDs with last years blue plastic string to the Bamboo supports. The Heavy Metal CDs will swing with the breeze and create a slight disturbance around the Plot that may interfere with pigeons feeding, but will not deter any slugs. Ella Montt then applied pieces of Fragile Handle With Care packaging tape that had been saved from an incoming package.

Ella Montt was in the studio, it was March 24th 2011, two days before another March in London against government spending cuts. This March was due to be as large as the Anti War March in 2003. Ella Montt hoped it would remain peaceful. What would be the point of violence breaking out between police and protestors when police are also being cut? The police should also be marching. Ella Montt was in no mood to pussyfoot around; she slipped off her 4″ heel gold dance shoes and left them standing amongst the field of chitting Potatoes on the studio floor. EM put on her muddy earth footwear, reached for her bike helmet and reflective visibility vest and then strode down the corridor. Once outside she unlocked her bike and cycled off across the campus to go to the Allotment Plot at MERL. It was almost two weeks after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and still there was an on going nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

The weather in the South East of the UK was above normal average temperatures for the time of year. A weatherman said that the 24th March in the UK was warmer than South of Spain, but there was no suggestion that the warmth was to do with any kind of radiation cloud that had drifted 6000 miles around the planet, unlike the radiation cloud that travelled across Europe from Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The Japanese have so far been able to avoid a meltdown, but the situation may not be contained for months, meanwhile radiation continues to leak and the reactor sits dangerously close to a fault line as do others dotted around the Earth’s surface. In 1986 humans had stood outside the public house on Charlotte Road in London enjoying the exceptionally warm weather whilst sheep on Welsh mountains absorbed the radiation.

Ella Montt had arrived at the Allotment Plot at MERL, collected tools from the shed and was now forking over some unseeded parts of the Plot. EM piled more soil on to the Lady Balfour Potatoes earthing them up as a preventative against frost. There had been virtually no rain all month and the weather forecast implied rain was unlikely for almost another week. The temperature felt like May or June, but in reality it was not.

The plants that had managed to survive the winter (some had not) were starting to grow again. The Garlic was looking very good. Ella Montt prepared to plant some more Peas and Broad Beans to fill in the gaps where plants had perished or been eaten. Other seeds were in the process of germinating in pots at the fixed up greenhouse at another location.

As a bumblebee flew by Ella Montt proceeded to plant more seeds. First the overwintered row of Pea Meteor was filled in again. Followed closely by rows of Pea Kelvedon Wonder, Pea Ambassador, Pea (Edible Podded) Ezetha’s Krombek Blauschokker, and Pea (Mange-tout) Oregon Sugar Pod. Then Ella Montt planted some more Broad Bean seeds to try to fill out the broken rows of overwintered Broad Bean Supersimonia and Superaquadulce. Between the two rows of Broad Beans Ella Montt planted a row of Carrots Rothild and Autumn King, then a row of Parsnip Halblange White and a row of Leek Blue Green Winter. Beyond the Garlic, close to the Brick Composter, Ella Montt planted a mixed row of Leaf Beet Rainbow Chard and Kale Halbhoher Grun Krauser. Next to the Herbs at the other end of the Plot, Ella Montt planted a mixture of Onion Ramrod, Dill, Flat Leaved Parsley, and Coriander Santos. The final planting of the day around the Plot was a mixture of Companion Planting flowering seeds, Cosmos Cosmea, Cosmos Orange Cosmea, Borage, Pot Marigold Calendula Officinalis and Nasturtium Organic Mix. Ella Montt knew that Allotment Plot at MERL is small comparatively in size to Allotment Plot 326, but was very conscious of the need for crop rotation whilst she planted. Crop rotation means that no like for like plant should be planted in the same place as the previous year, in order to minimize disease and fertility of the soil.

Whilst Ella Montt was planting she noticed the Mint rhizome had extended out of the Plot and in to the grass of the lawn. This was somewhat of a surprise and an unintentionally thought process. Perhaps on the next visit an attempt will be made to revert this rhizome back in to the boundaries of the Plot. Ella Montt was aware that Mint rhizomes were growing within the Plot, but would need to consult Deleuze and Guattari about removing plant structures that drifted outside of the Plot to see if they needed to be reinstated within the Plot.

At Allotment 326 on Tuesday 22nd, earlier in the week, Ella Montt had planted 15 Madeleine First Early Potatoes that had been chitted in the studio and then EM had carried on digging. Ella Montt had much to do at Allotment Plot 326; there was a never-ending task to try to destroy the rhizomatic growth of the brambles at the Plot. There was also a constant urgency looming over Ella Montt that if a fence was not applied to Allotment Plot 326, rabbits would eat any other vegetable that would be planted at the Plot. Luckily at the moment the rabbits were keeping the encroaching grass well trimmed. Ella Montt was not aware of rabbits existing in the garden at MERL.

Potato Field

A potato is a tuber. Deleuze and Guattari define tubers as rhizomes. The Potato, Solanum Tuberosum, (as opposed to the Sweet Potato) is part of the Nightshades family. The potato as a plant has a long history. It originates from Peru. Humans discovered the potato and begun to cultivate it at least 7,000 years ago. The Spanish Conquistadors were the first Europeans to come in contact with the potato in the 1530s after searching for gold and fighting the Inca’s in the Andes. (Ella Montt muses, invasion and conquest of a country is that not illegal? And the Inca’s would not even have had fictional or actual weapons of mass destruction!). The potato was brought to Europe by humans in 1570 (approximately). Spanish sailors on ships who ate potatoes did not suffer from scurvy. The nutritional content of this tuber is very high, unlike the plant leaves which are poisonous. Many humans in Europe, at first distrusted the plant, because they were unaware of the sickness the foliage could induce and also because the tubers were not attractive to the visual senses. The potato is said to have washed up on the shores of Ireland after a Spanish ship was wrecked. Gradually the plant became more accepted, and the human became very dependent on the tuber as a source of nutrition. More humans could be fed by growing potatoes than through other forms of agriculture. Potato blight, which is a type of fungus, destroyed crops between 1845-1852 in Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, and other parts of Northern Europe. The potato blight caused famine, death through malnutrition and emigration to escape these conditions. The blight eventually dissipated and the potato crops became healthy again.

The Sweet Potato tuber grows on a vine and the foliage (Ella Montt has read), is also edible.  Sweet Potato is botanically known as Ipomoea Batatas and is related to the Morning Glory family. Some sweet potatoes can also be poisonous, but not the Batatas. Sweet Potatoes stem from the Southern regions of the New World, (continent of America). Columbus is said to have brought the Sweet Potato to the northern part of the New World, the Potato arrived almost one hundred years later. The Sweet Potato should not be confused with the tuber known as the Yam, Dioscorea Batatas, which is another type of vine altogether. The Yam is sweeter, has skin that resembles bark and can grow to almost two meters in length. Europe still has a very small Sweet Potato production, however production and consumption is prolific in many other parts of the world. The plant is not frost tolerant, it can be grown as a perennial under the right conditions, or failing that as an annual.

Ella Montt had tried to grow Sweet Potatoes on Allotment Plot at MERL in 2010, but the methodology that was used was faulty. On 9th February 2011, Ella Montt once again started her quest to grow a Sweet Potato. She assembled two Sweet Potatoes and water in clear glass jars and placed them in the studio with available light and heat. Sweet Potatoes can grow slips (white shoots) in this way that can then be used to grow the plant.

By the 18th February, one of the Sweet Potatoes had demised, but the other remained constant, yet without slips. The collapsed Sweet Potato had turned soft. It was removed and retured to the compost.

On the 22nd February a quantity of  Potato Madeleine were placed on the table to chit next to the Sweet Potato. The Sweet Potato had started to produce a plume around the end submerged in water, but as yet no slips.

Two days later, on the 24th February, a larger quantity of Potato Charlotte were also placed on the table to chit. Bother Madeleine and Charlotte are early cropping potatoes. Early potatoes can be harvested in June, which avoids blight that could come later in the growing season. When the potatoes are placed in the light to chit they start to grow green shoots which promotes their growth. It is not essential to chit Main Crop potatoes, because they take longer to develop and will be dug up later in the growing season. Bob Flowerdew advises that you can plant all varieties of potatoes out as soon as the weeds start to grow, (Go Organic, 2002, p92), Ella Montt will be aiming to plant out both the Early and Main Crop potatoes in mid March, but it will depend on when the ground is ready at the Allotment Plots.

By the March 8th, the Early potatoes in the studio were sprouting small green chits. Ella Montt added a new Sweet Potato propped in a jar of water to the potato field in the hope of growing slips. The first surviving Sweet Potato continued to grow a plume in the water, but as yet no visible slips. Bob Flowerdew advises in grow your own, eat your own, (2008, p165) that Sweet Potatoes can be grown as a vertical vine. According to Bob, there is no need for the haulm (stalk or stem) to grow rooted across the soil, because it dissipates the energy of the plant. Ella Montt has observed different accounts on growing Sweet Potatoes, and knows that they can grow to cover a wide ground area. If the slips are formed and Sweet Potato plants are able to be grown, Ella Montt will experiment with both methods of cultivation.

Ella Montt removed the quantity of Potato Charlotte to a large sheet of corrugated cardboard that was spread across the studio floor. Each potato was placed approximately 30cms away from each potato as if the potatoes were planted in the position to grow on the potato field.

Ella Montt left the studio and went to dig at Allotment 326. The ground was in much need of prepartion for the future event of potato planting.