Solstice

What a difference in a year. The before and after shots are the second of the half-allotments. We took this one on in October 2017 and since then it’s been completely revamped and has given us excellent crops this season. If you look carefully you can see next year’s onions, shallots and garlic sending down their roots.

But today is the winter solstice and it has always brought out the pagan in me. It has seemed to me since I was very young that this still point – which will happen at 22.23 today when the north pole reaches its furthest tilt away from the sun and then begins to tilt back again is the true turning point of the year.  I don’t want to go into all the whys and wherefores of the Christian calendar, the Gregorian reformed calendar or, for that matter the argument as to whether Christmas or New Year is the more important. So far as i’m concerned as a gardener, this is a fundamental moment. Between the solstice and Twelfth Night comes the natural rest in the horticultural and agricultural year. Yesterday I talked a bit about Wassail, but in my old parishes we also celebrated Plough Monday when the local Young Farmers would carry an old Ransomes plough into Elberton church where I would bless the plough and the seed for the new season. As an aside I should say that the last time I tried to beg a bit of maize seed off a local farmer for the ceremony, she warned me not to touch it because it was treated with a systemic insecticide.  It certainly was, it was bright blue and looked (probably was) thoroughly dangerous and in its small way part of the reason for the destruction of the insects and bees. But there we are  – perhaps I should have nagged but they were good people whose farming practices were being deformed by the pressure to put profit before anything else.  Not many of their critics would have been happy to work the hours that they did for such small reward.

But back at the Potwell Inn we’re completely organic and today we shall be celebrating the solstice with our own roast potatoes, carrots, squashes, parsnips and brussels sprouts along with a piece of slow roasted beef and a glass of wine. Slow roasting is the most brilliant way of making the cheapest cuts taste wonderful.

This morning I was up way before dawn to finish off a sourdough loaf that had been proving all night.  Then a quick sprint to the sorting office to collect a delivery of seeds and then a couple of hours up at the allotment. The outbreathing of the earth is almost over and tonight the great inbreathing begins again. Strength light and hope to everyone who reads this.

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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