I harvested the very last strawberry today and it was delicious. We also pulled a few of the beetroots that are ready now and we continued picking the runner beans and French beans that we only planted as a gamble against the frost. It was a gamble that’s paid off and although the tomatoes and the more temperature sensitive crops are beginning to show their age and vulnerability, we’ll still get a few more treats before we turn to the winter veg in earnest. But on the plus side, the garlic and shallots have all burst into leaf since I planted them and today we went up to the allotment in pouring rain to check that the cold-frame lights were still in place and (inevitably) to have a good look around. The only problem that Storm Callum seems to have caused was to displace part of the Enviromesh cover on the alliums, guarding against allium leaf miner.
Wind, frost, drought, floods and pests are all very real problems for allotmenteers wherever we may be, and yet they can only be guarded against and sorted out locally. King Canute (or should it have been Knut?)demonstrated that nature pays no heed to royal decrees just as weather pays no heed to weather forecasts or bees to warning signs about spraying. We’re all too often demanding of the so-called authorities that ‘something should be done’ when the only possible hope of remedy lies within our own hands.
All of which is a bit of a long way of explaining why we spent Saturday afternoon at a selection meeting of candidates for next May’s local elections. The problems that beset us in our own city may well be the result of national political decisions, but they’ve often been bad decisions because they failed to take the local dimension into account. Here in Bath we have homelessness, a real drugs problem especially involving ‘county lines’ suppliers who are not afraid to use atrocious violence because they now how thinly spread the police have become. The student population has grown without any regard to the effect on local h
ousing, and consequently house prices have risen as buy-to-let landlords have moved in and converted family homes into HMO’s – bedsits. Tourism has risen to an unsustainable level and through traffic has driven up air pollution levels above legal limits. These challenges can only be met by effective local government because, just like the allotment, the challenges are always local and so the more effective local government becomes the more progress will be made in building affordable homes and solving some of the problems that flow from overcrowding, homelessness and poverty. So let’s get in there and make a difference!
Wouldn’t it be great if life was all sunny evenings and abundant crops? but that’s not the way things are in real life. Today’s solitary strawberry – so unexpectedly delicious – was taken from a bed that we planted a year ago and then we decided it should be moved. So we’ve taken dozens of runners from the plants and during the winter the bed will be dug up and composted and the ground used for other crops. Sometimes you have to do a bit of purposeful vandalism. Hopefully there will time this winter to install the rest of the raised beds which have proved to be an absolute blessing. As today demonstrated, rain or shine we can access the plants without treading on the soil, however the new beds will need some fairly serious civil engineering and that needs dry weather if we’re not to do more harm than good.
Meanwhile our compost neeeds turning to give it a bit of a boost before it goes to sleep for the cold months. I use sheep wire fashioned into two cylinders about a metre diameter, one slightly larger than the other. Then we line the space between the two with cardboard that we pick up from wherever we can. Bike shops often have huge boxes that they throw away, and the cardboard keeps the interior warm, and dark for worms. It lasts for a surprisingly long time and when it finally breaks down it just goes into the next bin. We drive a stake down through the middle to create a ventilation hole and that’s it. There are all sorts of refinements out there, but nature will take its coure whatever you do. Sometimes I chuck in some wood ash and all our greenwaste goes in with cardboard from the house. Sometimes we add “human activator”, after all, we each produce litres of the stuff every day and it’s a great source of immediately available plant food with no transportation costs. We smash up the larger bits of plant material with a spade before they go in and every year we produce a couple of cubic metres of free compost. What’s not to like?