Rhubarb rhubarb ….

OK so blogging can be so much rhubarb if you’re not careful, but this is the real deal – a gift from our neighbour who, unlike us, didn’t move his huge plant last autumn. We’ll return the compliment next year because he was busy splitting his today as it’s got so big.  It’s had a good life, sitting next to a leaky water tank and has grown so much it could feed a small army.  I think it’s probably Timperly Early – such a rich colour. If you squint hard enough at the photo through our kitchen window you’ll see it’s raining, so no surprise there, but we managed to get a few dry hours in on the allotment – enough to check the grease-bands on the apples and sow the hotbed with carrots, lettuce, radish, beetroot, spring onions and spinach. We were also going to install some carefully prepared traps for the flea beetles that have been busy on the broad beans.  This was an idea off the internet – of putting tree grease on white backgrounds and pinning the little strips to the ground.  The designer was insistent that the sheets needed to be white to attract the beetles, but sadly the grease we had in the shed was black, which rather defeated the whole idea. The storm winds have played havoc with one of the patches of broad beans but – as always – they’ve just tillered anyway and so there are four stems where there was just one before.  Clever things happen in nature and it’s often worth waiting for a week or two before uprooting plants that seem to have gone wrong. The leeks that looked almost dead a month ago are now looking perfectly healthy again.  Luckily the almost continuous rain had prevented us from digging them up.

Back in my study all the chillies are busy germinating, and the kitchen propagator is on its second load.  All systems go then – we just need these endless Atlantic storms to ease off. I finished off the afternoon trucking six or seven loads of wood chip down to build up the paths while Madame cleared the last but one bed. The soil is wet but with all the organic matter we’ve added it’s perfectly manageable.  The paths which separate the beds are dug 18″ deep to act as drains to the beds, and they simply eat the woodchip. Goodness knows where it all goes, but I seem to be constantly topping them up. They’re exactly the width of my wellies, so if the level between the boards drops my feet get stuck in the ruts.  I suppose I could have made them wider but that would have cost us growing space.

IMG-20200222-WA0000On the reading front, I’ve been busy juggling a number of books, finishing off Adam Nicholson’s “The Seabird’s cry” – quite brilliant. I’ve also been dipping into Richard Mabey’s “A brush with nature” which is scarily prescient when it comes to the present crisis; re-reading Gary Sneider’s “The practice of the wild” and finally Simon Fairlie’s “Meat – a benign extravagance” recommended by George Monbiot when it was first published and which is a forensic takedown of some of the ‘written in stone’ arguments advanced both by the vegan and the food industry lobbies.  You couldn’t call it an easy read – it’s very densely argued, but it makes the case for greatly reducing our overall meat production while still farming in the traditional and small scale way.  If you’re opposed to any consumption of animals on ethical grounds you probably won’t change your mind after reading this book, but if you’re like me – struggling to make sense of the propaganda war of opposing numbers – then it’s well worth the effort.

On an entirely different chain of thought, our recent walk in the Malverns provoked me to read a number of reports on the management of the habitats there, and I was intrigued by repeated references to NVC (National Vegetation Classification) communities. This has become the standard way of describing botanical communities and I found it fascinating because – and this is just a thought – I could use the data to look for specific plants that I’m trying to find. If you know what you’re looking for and you’ve got a good idea what sort of habitat and area you’re most likely to find it in, the process of looking for especially interesting plants becomes much less of a lottery – more of a pilgrimage. This is one of the great perils of being self-taught in any field and especially with botany.  The pronunciation of plant names becomes a fear filled exercise of avoiding humiliation. Best to own up and ask I usually find.  But also knowledge comes to you serendipitously rather than in a structured way, and so I often say to myself – I wish I’d known that years ago. On the other hand I do think it’s a great privilege never to have lost my excitement at the commonest of things.  I remember once saying to someone on a field trip that I struggled with identifying grasses – “Oh” she said rather dismissively – “Grasses are easy!” – not for me they weren’t, but I was so incensed I spent the next months laboriously learning as many as I could. Suddenly, knowing my lemmas from my awns became an occasion for genuine joy.  Whoopie – I thought – more friends!

As you see from the inset, Greta Thunberg is coming to Bristol on Friday to support the school climate emergency strikes.  It’s actually half term week so no lives will be ruined by taking an hour off revision!

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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