It’s always local

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?



Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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