It’s been an extraordinary Easter weekend and weather records are being broken all over the UK. Given that the Easter is a moveable feast, it’s hardly surprising that it’s warmer when it’s three weeks later than last year, but even so it’s been exceptionally hot, feeling more like June than April.
We had a binge on beetroots, sowing five small blocks of different varieties for a bit of a flavour experiment, and as I was sowing I noticed just how expensive the so-called ‘heritage’ seeds are. It manifests itself not in price, but in the feeble quantity of seed you get for your money. I’m rapidly converting to seed saving, I think. We’ve grown quite a few things from saved seed this year, and it seems to me that once you’ve ensured proper name and date labelling and storing seed properly, there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose. Obviously the big companies would just love you to spend pounds on new seed every year, and they love to hint at forbidding difficulties, but this year’s overwintering onion sets have been a sad waste of time and money and next season we’ll grow onions from seed – wider choice and a fraction of the price. Beside saving money, it seems that plants adapt to local conditions much quicker than we normally assume and so seed, soil and situation can converge to give excellent results. In our last parish there was a gardener called Tim Brommage – a retired firefighter – who had a variety of small tomatoes saved year by year since the 1940’s and quite delicious. Sadly he died in his nineties and took the seeds and the knowledge with him.
No doubt F1 hybrids and commercial varieties have their uses if you want to grow vegetables exactly like the ones in the supermarket, but it’s likely to be disappointing if you don’t follow the same intensive regime – chemicals and all. Commercial varieties have to be as tough as old boots to survive long journeys in a lorry and high yields often leads to poor flavour. Time to welcome the quirky, the knobbly and downright weird open pollinated plants – after all, allotmenters aren’t only interested in profitability, thank goodness!
Early on Sunday morning when I went up to the allotment early to water and open the greenhouse, the Abbey bells were ringing. It was a hauntingly beautiful sound and somewhere at the back of my mind the last piece of a jigsaw dropped into place and I realized that the feeling of listlessness I’d been feeling since Thurday coincided exactly with the fourth anniversary of the last Easter I’d celebrated in my parishes. I really thought I was over it, and yet the sense of bereavement had insinuated itself into the depths of my mind, so I watered and sang easter hymns to myself and that was that. The allotment is a great consolation and I’m glad not to be tearing around the countryside taking services on four hours sleep. Madame too is pleased that I’m not collapsed in a chair exhausted after days running on empty. But it’s over – sometimes I miss it so much, but there’s no looking back.
So the bank holiday Monday was supposed to be at least a bit of a break, but the Potwell Inn is so overrun with growing plants we simply had to get some of them out to make room for the newcomers. This year we bought a second set of propagator lights, and that’s been very useful but it’s given rise to several horticultural traffic jams. The chillies have done so well in the warm sunshine of our south facing windows that several of them have set their first fruits. With the second wave of plants close to being potted on, we had to move the first twelve large plants up to the greenhouse. So they all went into the lift and down to the lobby, and thence to the allotment where I carried them down a tray at a time in the wheelbarrow.
But the greenhouse was running at a steady 35C despite our best effort to cool it down, and so one of the aubergines immediately fainted with heat stress. A & E procedures were immediately adopted and the aubergine slowly recovered during the afternoon. Beyond that I spent a pleasant afternoon hoeing where it was safe, and hand weeding where it wasn’t. For the most part the couch grass is vanquished to the edges of the plot, but the bindweed never seems to give up, and it can grow a foot in an hour if it thinks I’m not watching. This is probably the busiest time of the gardening year, and it’s all too easy to let things slip. The payoff comes later.