Black gold: Farmer Tom with cow muck and cricket jumper.

Every gardener needs a top supplier of rotten muck

The magic of manure. Farmer Tom has been and gone. He left behind three sacks of muck. Black cow manure, well rotted, a good year old. Each bag so heavy I could hardly lift it.

His name is Tom Jones, from close to the Welsh borders – and that makes me strangely happy. He came recommended by Jane Scotter from Fern Verrow, not too far from his farm in Kinnersley. Tom is also a talented cook. He used to work at a pub in Kentish Town in London, near me and Howard, before returning to his family’s Herefordshire home to concentrate on farming. He has cows and sheep, maybe pigs, and sells his meat to some of the country’s smartest restaurants. And if you are lucky – if you are a friend of a friend – he might stick a few sacks of rotting muck in the front of his van while making the long journey to make his big city drops.

Our allotment neighbours use mostly Thompson’s heavy horse manure from an annual delivery, topped up with sacks from ponies closer by, but Jane steered us towards cow muck for growing vegetables and we are a little in awe of her (have a look at to see why).

We used to hire a flatback truck for a day and fill it from a farm north of Birmingham (forking it off wasn’t fun), but now our soil work is mostly done. We just add a few of Tom’s sacks in late winter or early spring, a handful of ‘500’ sprays through the summer and an occasional sploshing with a comfrey or nettle ‘tea’.

We don’t much like our soil too rich, preferring some structure to chocolate-cake crumb. We are in London so there are always shards of old glass and pottery that work their way up. But a few sacks from Farmer Tom forked in and left to work its wormy magic never goes amiss come springtime.