Does “Forest Path” describe them?

IMG_4705

Great excitement at the Potwell Inn last night as I got the plot drawings out and prepared an order for the next batch of edging boards.  The timber is quite expensive and so we can only buy it in batches as funds permit.  I can get ten 6′ boards into the car, but it can be extremely hazardous driving down the steep hill into Bath, with a hundredweight of timber seesawing next to my left ear. The sawmill sales staff occasionally cheer me up with tales of poked out windscreens and totally destroyed dashboards.

So then I was wide awake at 2.00am pondering whether I’d got the measurements right, and whether the plots should be orientated North/South or East/West.  I’m sure I went through this when I drew the plans but you know how it is in the middle of the night., insomnia gardening is the pits! Then I started worrying about the expense, do we really need all that new timber? Well there are two or three good reasons for moving to beds.

IMG_3747We have a real drainage problem on our plots, and last winter we couldn’t get on it for months for fear of compacting the soil and making it worse.  That was the major reason for dividing the wettest of the plots into beds as soon as possible in the spring. I hesitate to call them “raised” beds because as we were digging them we were also levelling the soil which slopes downhill, and we wanted to introduce a degree of terracing. So what with about a ton of topsoil bought in, and more bags of composted manure than I dare put a price to, we’ve landed up with level terraced beds bordered with 22mm X 200mm gravel boards secured with long wooden pegs.

 

In order to assist drainage, the paths were dug out to about 18″ deep and a layer of gravel was poured in and covered with wood-chip, barrow loads of it, which is free on our site. The soil from the paths was used to raise the beds. I don’t much like plastic sheets or weed control mat because in my experience weeds very quickly overcome them and I wanted the maximum possible speed of drainage from the beds, besides which they never decompose and present a problem for the future.  It’s worked very well so far, and apart from regularly hand weeding out the occasional Olympic athletes of the weed world like couch grass and bindweed, the paths have been maintenance free – except for the fact that bacteria, fungi and worms just love the material and it quickly decomposes into friable compost causing them to shrink.  I love the thought that even the paths are adding to the organic material on the plots.  That’s why I think they should be described as ‘forest paths’.

So to defend the expense – reason one is drainage.  Reason two is to move towards ‘no-dig’ gardening and let the worms do the work.  I’ve yet to be persuaded that it’s wormageddon if you lift spuds with a fork, but there’s a vast difference between gently lifting a potato haulm or a parsnip with a fork, and double digging the plot from end to end. Reason three is ease of maintenance of the beds.  With a 4′ bed you can do everything you need from the path and never compact the soil. Of course you can leave gaps between rows on bare soil, but come February and they’ll be poached and compacted.

IMG_4505Anyway, the order went in this morning and it will be delivered on Friday.  I love a bit of civil engineering, and if you look under the net to the right of the path in the photo above, you’ll see that next season’s garlic is already enjoying being tucked up in bed for the winter. My job today was to top up the paths and level them again. It’ll probably amount to fifty barrow loads before we’re completely finished, but the beds look lovely and they’re dead easy to manage.

The other job was to start filling our collection of builders’ delivery bags with leaves to make leaf mould.  It’s amazing how quickly it breaks down.  Last autumn we spread 4-6″ of leaves on to two beds and there was virtually nothing left by this spring – the worms had done all the work for us and we grew some lovely spuds on one of the beds.

Ever seen a cow smile?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think these must be the happiest cows I’ve ever seen.  I took the photo in May 2010 when I walked 200 miles of the Camino between Le Puy en Velay and Cahors with my son Andrew. Purely by chance we were crossing the Aubrac hills just as the transhumance was going on.  Cattle were being walked back up to the high pastures with real ceremony and all the surounding villages were decked out for a party that seemed to go on for days.  This was “La France profonde” and we were pitching our tiny tent wherever we could because we couldn’t afford even the hostels. But these cattle had just arrived and they were so happy I swear they were smiling. We were too. The local cheese was wonderful and made a change from our terrible diet – we had no means of cooking with us and so we plumbed the depths of cold cassoulet eaten straight out of the tin. Most character forming.

They came to mind today when the (British) government released yet another report on bovine TB suggesting that lax bio-security, inadequate fencing, poor diagnostic tests and excessive movement of cattle between farms was at least as responsible for the spread of the disease as the badger which has taken most of the blame so far. The debate – if you can call it that – has become very polarized between the advocates of culling and those who put the welfare of the badgers at the forefront.

You can’t blame the farmers for wanting to do something about this hideously expensive disease, but they’re between a rock and a hard place. The consumers, the supermarkets and the government have pursued a ruthless policy of “cheap food at any price” and now we see the results. We have an ecological crisis in which we’re losing species at an unprecedented rate.  We have a crisis of obesity caused by junk food.  We have an environmental crisis which is being stoked by our overconsumption of meat. Farmers are stuck in the middle, with pretty well everyone blaming them, rather than the rest of us who made it happen.

Badgers love maize. For us at the Potwell Inn, that means they love our sweetcorn. Every year they drop in once a day during July and August to check how ripe it is and then they calculate when we’re likely to pick it and eat the lot the night before. This season we saved half of ours by netting it, but the badgers had the rest. So that’s why I feel competent to discuss this issue at all. I’ve lived and worked in farming areas for decades and I can see the problem from both sides.  TB isn’t just ’caused’ by a bacteria. We’re surrounded by bacteria and without them life on earth would cease, but the bacteria become a problem when they invade a host that’s stressed and unable to fight them off; and cattle on many farms are really stressed. Intensive farming on the scale we’re seeing it now, produces highly stressed animals that are vulnerable to all manner of diseases including TB. Bio-security is a hopeless attempt to carry on the way we are by locking the stressed animals in sterile prisons. We get the same problem on the allotment.  Plants that are stressed by drought, heat or over/under feeding are the first ones to get attacked by diseases and predators.

One of the contributory factors in this mess is almost certainly the increase in fodder maize.  It’s a very high value food but it’s not the same as grass – especially the old kind of pasture in which ‘weeds’ add to the value rather than having to give supplements.  Badgers love fodder maize and wherever it’s grown the badger populations seem to rise. Isn’t it just posible that the link between badgers and TB isn’t a causal link at all but nothing more than an association.

So if I were a farmer I’d be screaming at the government – “Well want do you want us to do, then?!!” Culling badgers – forgive the pun – isn’t a magic bullet. Vaccination could help, and it would be cheaper and less impacting on an ancient species, but if the underlying engine driving this is government/public encouraged overproduction, then by moving towards a more sustainable regime farmers could make a contribution to ecology, environment change and the national diet all at once. But they do need to make a living.

IMG_0112So back then to Aubrac and those wonderful smiling cows. We didn’t see any rich farmers on the whole walk, but we saw a lot of farms and villages doing their best to preserve a way of life that hasn’t changed in centuries. and so it seems we can have happy cattle and wonderful cheeses, and we can have wonderful meadows too, decked in spring with every kind of orchid and alive with insects.  But if we get rid of the farmers we won’t have any of those things, and if we want them badly enough the change we shall have to embrace will be to live more simply. If we really insist on eating Big Macs and smoked ribs every day for next to nothing, then we can’t expect to have anything except a degraded environment and a legacy of debt to the land that our grandchildren will have to pay.

 

Ordinary

IMG_4052

I’d like to pay tribute to the absolute pleasures of the ordinary – in fact I think it deserves to be capitalised. The Ordinary stands for something very special. It’s our ‘daily bread’, the epiousios, the around and about us things that turn life from drudgery to joy.

Madame and I never had any money, never owned any property and, for the majority of our working lives have never done anything glamorous, well paid, or even full-time. Even the Potwell Inn is borrowed from a book!  We’ve been supported by many kind and generous people who loaned us cars and cottages so that we could have holidays we could never otherwise have afforded. There are days like today when I feel we’ve lived richer lives than we could ever dream of when we were young. I’m not sure I could explain the visceral pleasure of spooning out home-made piccalilli, or seeing the table set for breakfast with three sorts of jam and marmalade, all tasting much better than the stuff you can buy, and all costing a fraction of the price. For goodness sake, it’s even enjoyable making it!

But I need to explain the capitalisation of the word ‘Ordinary’ because in this case I want to preserve a number of meanings in one term. The first two meanings come from the Christian church. The Ordinary, normally the bishop, is the person of ultimate authority in the diocese. It carries the sense that the ‘ordinary doesn’t just happen, it has to be nurtured.

Then there’s the sense of ‘ordinary time’ which, in the church calendar, means all the weeks that aren’t parts of special seasons like Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Although it looks as if those seasons cover the bulk of the year, they only include about half the Sundays, from memory, so ordinary time doesn’t mean ordinary in the sense of ‘not worth bothering about’, but the bits of the year that are under the control of the Ordinary. What this complex idea offers is the sense that the administration of day-to-day, moment-to-moment ordinary life commands attention and respect.

A second layer of meaning comes from Ordinary Mind Zen Buddhism and the words that follow were spoken by Dizang:

You come here and use words like ‘tranquillity,’ ‘reality,’ ‘perfection,’ or ‘constancy.’ Worthy practitioners! What is this that you call ‘tranquil’ or ‘real?’ What is it that’s ‘perfect’ or ‘constant?’… Sounds and forms assault us every moment. Do you directly face them or not? If you face them directly then your diamond-solid concept of self will melt away. How can this be? Because these sounds penetrate your ears and these forms pierce your eyes, you are overwhelmed by conditions. You are killed by delusion. There’s not enough room inside of you for all of these sounds and forms.
‘Perfection.’ ‘Constancy.’ ‘Tranquillity.’ ‘Reality.’ Who talks like this? Normal people in the village don’t talk like this. It’s just some old sages that talk this way and a few of their wicked disciples that spread it around!

The words are quoted by Andy Ferguson in a webpage called tricycle.org, and he says this :

The “sublime gate” of signlessness is not at all empty of meaning. Traditionally, taking Zen’s signless path leads first to perceiving, then seeing through, reincarnation, the “wheel of birth and death.” What is quite profound is then inextricable from what is entirely ordinary. It is passages about the “ordinary,” where the difference between sacred and mundane is forgotten, that Zen literature takes on its peculiar flavor.

So Ordinary Mind is far from ordinary. Sacred and mundane are inextricable from one another. Stamp and circumponce are not needed,  although the capitals are needed to remind us to slow down and pay attention.

A third thread is simply that ordinary is good. We’ve become so addicted to the exceptional, the sensational, the ‘out of the ordinary’, that we’ve lost the real treasure that lies everywhere at hand. I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s lovely book on weeds which perfectly expresses the wonder of the riches we disdain to pay attention to. We’ve become spiritually and emotionally stunted, blundering around the word easing our pain with synthetic and powerful experiences of which we have no ownership.

Ordinary is another way of expressing the much misunderstood  virtue of humility. As William Blake expressed it – “the world in a grain of sand”.

Auguries of Innocence

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
…….

I could as easily cite John Clare and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

So there it is. The Ordinary is a spiritual concept, expressed – in this case – by a few bottles of home made elderflower cordial that we bottled one morning, and some bread baked overnight. After a long day on the allotment, when we leave in the evening and turn back to look at it we’re filled with joy and amazement, and often overwhelmed by that sense of grace that flows from the Ordinary.

IMG_4026

Equilibrium recovered

IMG_4697OK so it’s not the prettiest sight, a very dirty hand, but I’ve come to see that sometimes the best therapy for November is getting out on the ground.  I remember one of my spiritual directors once saying to me (at about this time of year) “there’s nothing wrong with you that a bit of sunshine won’t put right” and today, after a very grey day yesterday, that’s exactly what did the trick.

Yesterday I didn’t post because we spent the day with my old friend Big Al, and his wife.  I’ve known them both for 28 years.  Al was the very first person I met when I took on my first parish. I was sent to placate him one night because the Acting Head of the school in which I’d automatically become Chair of Governors, had made a disastrously bad decision.  I think I was thrown over the wall to take the flack.  The monstrous parent I was sent to sort out had, I quickly realized, got a real case. We got along famously from that moment and we’ve shared some great adventures together. It was Al who took me to Compiegne where the armistice was signed on November 11th 1918.  We stood quietly immersed in our own thoughts in front of the railway carriage deep in the woods where the war ended.  We were delivering some furniture to a place in Belgium, and apart from having the scary experience of driving the Green Goddess, a borrowed veg lorry, around the Periferique in Paris, we managed to visit as many 1st World War cemeteries as he could fit in. In Arras I got really ill and Al looked after me, calling the doctor and dealing with Madame (basically by not telling her).  We stood at Vimy Ridge together in awe at the monstrous craters and the sheer number of dead.  He’s traced and visited every single war grave of every soldier who came from the parish and died in action.  I’m proud to call him a friend.

With Armistice Day on Sunday  (it’s all been on my mind this week),  I had a curious experience in Bath a couple of days ago as I walked past the Post Office into Green Street. I turned the corner and I suddenly felt the presence of children there- but not there – if that’s not too strange. They seemed to be sad, fearful, suffering souls asking me to help them or perhaps just to remember them. It was such a powerful experience I had to struggle to deal with it. But it’s bearing down on me to say that just remembering alone isn’t enough if it doesn’t change our behaviour. Why are we celebrating the dead of 100 years ago when we’re still manufacturing and selling weapons that we know are being used to kill and maim civilians and above all children? Are the employment statistics so important that they’re worth killing children for?  That’s why it was a grey day yesterday.

IMG_4698So I’ve said it and it feels good. Madame is very sensitive to my melancholic states and she knows what’s good for me.  Yesterday I coped by cooking for Al and Helen.  I made the very last fresh tomato soup of the year as the rotting remains of the tomatoes damaged by the recent frost went on to the compost heap. It was a recipe from the Leith Vegetable Bible, and we were really delighted with it. Making veg stock is such a good way of using up the inevitable scraps from cooking. I think I rate this new addition to the library – two recipes and two successes.

This morning, with a bit of prompting from Senior Management we went up and spent the day at the allotment once I’d made some bread, labelled all the blackcurrant cordial, whizzed up the chilli sauce and labelled the blackcurrant jam.  I’m very adept at displacement activity.  Interestingly, this years is so much more flavourful than the last year’s batch we just finished – at least according to my breakfast slice of toast, spread with samples of both.  The chilli sauce is so fragrant I could eat it by the spoonful.  Say what you will, home produced food tastes just so much better.

So now we’ve planted all the alliums – 5 sorts of garlic, 2 of shallots, onion sets, and prepped the spring bed for leeks.  We’ve planted broad beans ( Aquadulce Claudia) and overwintering peas (Douce Provence) and last of all, as it was getting dark, I grease -banded all the trees.  What a filthy job! It took 3 washes of surgical spirit to break down the sticky coating on my hands.  But the allotment looks great and I felt a whole lot better. It’s a good reason for prescribing gardening as a treatment for modern life. Cheap, drug free and free exercise as well. Oh and the root veg are doing so well.

When “just too much” is a moral problem

So today turned out to be something of a day of reckoning in the Potwell Inn pantry, largely on account of the large batch of ragu I cooked yesterday.  It had to be frozen in individual batches today, but our little freezer was stuffed to capacity – not least with 12lbs blackcurrants that went in there when we were too busy to do anything with them. Fridges and freezers can very easily become the slow -food equivalent of the dustbin if you’re not ruthless, and I’m not nearly ruthless enough.

But that brought around another challenge; what should we do with the defrosting blackberries?  Easy-peasy we thought, we’ll make some cordial and some jam.  The elderflower cordial we made in the summer is beginning to run low and in any case the flavour diminishes the longer it’s in a bottle. Already it’s a shadow of the glorious scent of early summer that it possessed when we made it. So what better than blackcurrant cordial for the winter, all that vitamin C to fight off colds.  But then that left six pounds to make jam with, and when I counted our empty jam jars there were just six and I needed at least twice that. The easy thing to do would be to go and buy some more, but I knew there were quite a number of full jars of jams and chutneys being stored in the garage, some of them quite old. Cue head torch and a stumble around in the chaos of a garage repurposed as a dump for yet more things we don’t quite know what to do with since we moved here 3 years ago.  I found 20 jars of various substances some without labels, some with the contents shrunk by 25% and some whose once pristine lids were spotted with rust. Initially, when I got them up 3 flights of stairs to the flat I opened each one and tasted it.  Some were flat-out gone, in some the sugar had granulated out leaving crunchy bits and all of them were, like the elderflower cordial, diminished in flavour. In the end I spooned all the contents into the bin and shoved them into the dishwasher to be cleaned and sterilized. Sadly one of the more recent casualties was some 2016 marmalade which we’ve run out of altogether so we can’t make any more until the Seville oranges come in January.  The most venerable was a jar of 2009 jam that was still edible but devoid of any identifying taste. It was supposed to be gooseberry.

This is a constant problem for most of us in this situation.We wouldn’t be gardeners at all if we didn’t want to eat the things we grow, but the fruit grows generously every year and it’s all too easy to try to use every bit of it up. Freezers and jam making cost money and in truth it would be much better to give the surplus away to someone who can use it. The same kind of argument goes for many of the other things we grow, it all comes in at once and we go into surplus in a matter of a few days.  This is all the more reason for researching the heritage varieties in favour of the F1 hybrids.  What’s the point of having a huge crop all at once when what you need is to have it spread out so you can eat fresh every day for a few weeks.  Today our thriftiness began to feel more like selfishness; twenty pots of jam and chutney that could have fed someone else if we hadn’t instinctively hoarded them again a rainy day that never came. Who’d have thought that making a batch of ragu could expose a moral dilemma?

P1080645

Where the allotment and the kitchen join together

 

Here’s an idea stolen shamelessly from the Harvest Meal at the Lost Gardens of Heligan.  My only spin is to add a slice of goats cheese. Oatmeal biscuit with a slice of goat’s cheese and on that some ordinary beetroot mashed with black pepper and salt and a teaspoon of horseradish sauce. Then some diced super sweet beetroot on top. It looks even better if you use yellow beets, but we used what we’ve grown.

At last, the seaweed.

IMG_4681I think it was Samuel (Dr) Johnson who once said that every project bears within itself the possibility of failure.  If you wait until all possible objections have been met then you’ll never do whatever it is that’s in your mind. So piling a load of seaweed on to the asparagus bed could be construed as a bit risky were it not for the fact that we’ve seen it done at the Lost Gardens of Heligan without any obvious ill effects. Their bed, mind you, are about fifty times bigger than ours.

Today, having cut back this season’s growth and carefully hand weeded, I opened the very large sack of seaweed we brought back from North Wales and cautiously spread the first forkful on the bed. The smell was pretty awesome (to steal a phrase from WordPress) and there was a lively crew of sandhoppers and flies wondering how they’d managed to travel 220 miles from the beach they regarded as home; but it’s on now and I’m experiencing a strange feeling of satisfaction.  Whether the promised benefits of trace elements and soil conditioning along with a little salt and sand actually make a difference we shall see in six months time.  On the allotment the balance has now tilted in favour of next season. Over half has been cleared, manured and covered, and the depressing signs of wilting and decayed leaves have been consigned to the compost where a quite wonderful number of brandling have been busy breeding all summer.

Madame meanwhile was planting up the spring window boxes for the flat, and clearing out the greenhouse of pots and growbags.  The spent remains of the bags and pots have all gone back on to the beds, more as soil conditioner than food.  Two mysteries were also resolved during the morning. The reason that one of the water butts was never refilling from the greenhouse roof turned out to be no more complicated than the fact that I’d turned off the wrong tap; and the second mystery – why was there a section of the tomatoes that always needed watering in spite of the soaker hose , turned out to be no more complicated than a kink in the pipe. I solved both problems with one poorly aimed jab of the fork, when the water sprayed into my face.

Quiet day at the Inn

IMG_4281So why is this blog called the Potwell Inn? I feel the question hovering, unspoken, in the air. Part of the answer is that (for me) it’s the equivalent of a keyboard shortcut that takes me immediately to where I need to be in order to write. The two words are analogous to a complex in psychological terms and so when I say ‘I’ve got a complex’ I mean it in the wholly positive sense that it’s the ‘madeleine’ that gets me going. John Masefield apparently liked to write with a box of rotting apples under his chair.  Stanley Spencer had an even more unpleasant olefactory shortcut it seems. For me it’s just those two words. Of course there’s nothing more obscure than someone else’s obsession and I realize that some potential readers turn away in bafflement.  A pub that doesn’t exist is a blog too far! But a good pub embodies all of the qualities I most treasure. It’s a place of welcome, of meeting, an escape.  It’s never judgemental, it sells good beer and good food. Any topic of conversation is permitted and it might even lead to a memorable evening from time to time. In my working life I spent ten years teaching in a prison and two old style mental institutions; ten years as a community worker on an outer fringe estate, and thirty years as a parish priest. All 50 years of experience taught me that the qualities needed to do that kind of work were exactly the same as those needed to run a good pub. Add to that the fact that HG Wells’ novel “The History of Mr Polly” has the Potwell Inn as a place of liberation and self-discovery and that seals the deal for me. I hope it might for you as well.

Not much happening at the Inn today, but the sun shone and drove away the frost and we siezed the opportunity to catch up with some household jobs. If I’m feeling particularly melancholic there’s nothing more therapeutic than making stock, filling the flat with the aroma of meals as yet uncooked. Making stock is like planting seeds, it insists that there will be another day. The other running project is to eat more veg, and so an hour in the bookshop sorting through endless possibles, I eventually invested £30 in the Leith Vegetable Bible. No breathless exuberance, no claims of everlasting life and best of all no photographs – like all the best cookery books. So the overcrowded space on my side of the bed now has four of the best vegetarian cookery books with barely a photograph between them. Apart from the Leith book, there are Nigel Slater’s veg book “Tender”, Jane Grigson’s magnificent “Vegetables” which has the best and most comprehensive research, and finally Rose Elliot of course.  There are many others in the bookshelves, but those are my personal favourites.

The asparagus bed is refusing to bow to winter, but tomorrow I’m going to cut all the fronds back so I can spread the seaweed we gatered in North Wales.  It was pretty ripe when we loaded it into the car, and we had to tie the sack tight to stop the copious wildlife escaping – so God knows what it’s like now.  Tomorrow will tell.

 

The fox puts in an appearance

IMG_4670

But more of the fox later, the number one priority on the allotment today was to clear away all the crops that had been damaged by the weekend frost. Incidentally it was strangely comforting to receive news that American allotmenteers were experiencing their first frost too – I like a bit of solidarity!

IMG_4666As we all know, the merest sniff of a frost is enough to make a cucumber sick, but our late and speculative crops of runner beans and French beans were also hit, along with the last few green tomatoes.  It a shame, not least because this last few days has seen the coldest October weather since 1997 – this time the gamble didn’t pay off quite as well.  But think; we’re still eating the last of the fresh tomatoes and we’ve rescued enough of the frost intolerant things to make a big batch of piccallili and even some green tomato chutney.  So today we cleared the remains away ready to hoe the weeds off and apply a thick layer of winter mulch to the ground that we’re not replanting immediately. The asparagus is slow to turn yellow so we’re leaving it a day or two more before we cut the fronds back, weed the whole area and apply the seaweed  straight from the big sack we brought back from North Wales. It was a struggle getting it into the car because it weighed about 100lbs, but we tied the sack tight to prevent any maggots(!) escaping, and there was no smell to speak of notwithstanding the gloomy predictions of our friends.  All the while the sun shone, but as it dropped towards the horizon a real chill set in. There were a surprising number of allotmenteers about this afternoon and so some lively sharing went on as we compared surpluses.  That’s one of the best thing about the allotments – the community – it has its ups and downs but basically it’s rooted in sharing not in grabbing what you can.

Then, just as we were packing up, the fox appeared.  We’ve seen him often before but never quite so close. Even he was joining in the last minute hunt for food.  We’ll all soon be looking for something to eat during the winter months and I don’t begrudge him a share of the surplus at all. It was a young dog fox in fine fettle with no sign of mange and of a good weight I’d think. We looked at each other for a while and he allowed me to get out my phone and take a couple of pictures while he regarded me warily. It was a very joyful moment.

Later we brought the produce back to the flat and cooked some of it.  We’re thrilled with our carrots, parsnips and turnips, the first we’ve grown successfully in some years. The only downside of coming back to the city is the noise of the traffic.  It’s incessant, noisy and pollutes the atmosphere so that, for asthmatics like me, November can be a tricky month.

IMG_4669

 

Bit of a rough night!

IMG_4659

We were certainly kept awake last night – the wind was blowing a hoolie from the North East and there were frequent wintry showers of hail and sleet hammering on the roof – and I spent a lot of time enjoying the fact that I was lying in bed and not out there on a ferry somewhere in those big seas.

Lots of time for reflection then, not least because we know that the temperature on the allotment has dropped low enough to finish off the beans, the tomatoes and the last cucumber.  Such chillies as are left will have to be ripened indoors now. I always find the autumn a sombre time anyway, and when the allotment is cleared it always seems like a sad place.

However, we talked about it as the sun rose outside and we realized we’ve got more in the ground and growing than ever before at this time of year. Brassicas from Cima di Rapa (turnip tops with attitude) to Brussels Sprouts, carrots, parsnips, swedes, Swiss Chard, Spinach, garlic (5 varieties) and shallots.  Onion sets are good to go, Broad Beans and overwintering peas are about to be sown.  The cupboards and the freezer are full and the wine is about to be bottled. The good times are just around the corner!