I’m never quite sure what constitutes the first fruits of the new season because some of our favourite things like leeks and purple sprouting broccoli have been in the ground for a season already. So if you exclude all of last year’s starters, then the first crop has to be one that was sown this year and once again (it never changes) the radish comes in first because it just loves the hotbed and always obliges us in record time. These were the very first thinnings, but we were so pleased we just blew the loose dirt off, wiped off the rest on my overalls and ate them. They were delicious and remember, everyone needs to eat their peck of dirt! The asparagus is putting in a magnificent effort and will certainly come second, but it just needs a few warmer nights. Very soon we’ll be eating the first thinnings of lettuces and then – true joy – the first broad beans. The hungry gap is always much later than most people imagine – it doesn’t come in the dead of winter when there are always roots and a few hardy brassicas to be had – it’s now when you can feel the first heat of the sun on your back and the birds are singing.
Paradoxically, the social isolation policy coupled with millions of people being laid off or working from home, has allowed many people to get on with their allotments and every day sees more work being done. But there are other fascinating consequences. This morning when our grocery delivery arrived, instead of coming in a big diesel van it arrived on an electric bike – I couldn’t quite believe it – but the boss of a local bike delivery company had lost almost all his work due to shop closures so he offered to help the supermarket out.
Our own plot is a constant source of pleasure. Today we went up early, thinking there wouldn’t be much to do because yesterday we decided to do a bit of weeding and we struggled to finds any weeds! Two people working seven days a week on 250 square metres of ground can defeat even bindweed after 4 years. Actually I’m a little ashamed that it looks so clinically clean at this time of the year, but give it six weeks and it will look a lot more random. We’ve scattered no end of “good” weeds around the beds but they’re slow to germinate.
The biggest job today was to plant out the garlic that we’d started off in pots last year. We experimented by splitting the bulbs into two batches – half were planted straight into the ground and the other half into big pots filled with home made free draining compost. All winter the pots were winning – the ones in the ground were sitting in very wet soil and we were quite concerned for them. But as soon as the rain stopped the situation reversed completely and the ones in the ground started to pull ahead so convincingly that today we put the rest into the ground. The original idea was to use the potted ones to move around the plot and sit them on paths to deter pests. Pots can be a bit tricky though, and even after the wet winter we’ve just had, the pots were drying out even after a week of good weather. Garlic likes moist soil but hates the wet and hates drying out just as much. The watering regime for garlic is one of the keys to success and we’re still learning how to manage it. Pots need a lot of attention – that seems to be the learning point.
As ever we’ve put things into the wrong place and they soon tell you. I’ve already moved some lavenders into a home made bed that would kill many plants, but we saw a bunch of lavenders planted in what looked like an impossibly dry and sunny spot on the side of the canal last year, and I remember shaking my head sagely at the time – assuming that they’d be dead by the end of the season – but they just loved it there. Now we’ve got to find a new home for another sun lover – a Clematis armandii that’s on the wrong side of a hazel hurdle. The best laid plans etc ….. Last year I spent many hours planning on the computer, but we altered so many things on the ground that we’ve become a bit less picky. Rotations are important, but making a fetish of them drives you mad, I promise!
So not much time for reading today but suddenly, as I was reading Thomas Berry the thought popped into my mind that although human slavery was (theoretically) abolished many years ago, precisely the same set of attitudes lies behind intensive farming. The victim this time is the whole earth and so by extension all of us. The absolute power that science and technology have gifted us over the processes of nature is not accompanied by any sense of responsibility, or by any spiritual awareness of a debt to the earth which sustains us, out of which we have emerged over unimaginable periods of time, made from the very elements and energies of the moment of origin.
Those grubby hands in the photo are holding a miracle that – rightly considered – should bring us to our knees in gratitude.