A Rose by any other name!

And after much huffing and puffing I’m posting this via my phone and at the cost of heaven knows how much of my data allowance – but hey …..

The Potwell Inn does not have many overnight guests.  This may be due to the fact that our inflatable spare bed has the unfortunate habit of deflating very slowly during the night – which, combined with the lingering effects of a lock-in, sometimes leaves us sleep deprived and hungover at the same time. Our most recent guests escaped that fate by virtue of an improvised puncture patch and an early(ish) night which contributed to an early breakfast and a civilised conversation. Later, during a guided tour of the allotment, an intriguing insight into the parallel universes that we occupied.

Here’s an instance of something close. In the 1970’s I was very involved in pottery and during those years I acquired the habit, whenever I looked at a pot, of turning it over to look at the base.  It’s surprising what you can learn from the bottom of a pot – what it’s made from, who made it, whether it was hand made, machine made or cast, when it was made. I’ll even touch the base of a pot with my tongue to see how hard it was fired.

Yesterday I saw some similarly interesting behaviour in our friend who is a great enthusiast for butterflies and moths.  And so when we were taking a walk around the next-door community garden she almost ignored the impressive efforts of the volunteers but spent some time examining the leaves of an unruly patch of nettles. “Where you see a weed, I see a foodplant”, she said. I realised instantly that there are probably hordes of things that we know but don’t know and, of course, I knew that butterflies have their preferred food plants – but I hadn’t made the connection in the part of my brain where it really matters. The large and small white butterflies will lay their eggs on our cabbages, but they would also love to lay them on nasturtiums if they could be found. This is one of the foundational ideas of companion planting. Butterflies, and therefore their caterpillars, are fussy eaters.  Just like our children, they would eat their greens if you stood over them or bribed them, but they would always go for a burger if there was one available.  She also put me right on my ‘from-memory’ list of butterflies on the allotment so far this year and so I learned that my ‘small blue’ was almost certainly a holly blue. This was enough to send me back to my butterfly books where I was able to read much more. The Collins Wild Guide by Newland and Still, lists habitats and food plants separately in an index which makes it incredibly useful both for searching out species and growing the right food plants, and it’s small enough to carry in your pocket.

I’ve written before about plugging in my field botanist frame of mind (if there’s time) when we’re out for a walk, and there are plenty of other ways of framing the natural world.  You’d have to be a genius to be fluent in all of them, but simply being aware that you tend to see better if you’ve some idea of the time, the seasons, the environment, the habitat and all the other factors that determine presence or absence within the natural history of where you happen to be, can bring into focus things you’d never normally notice.  As the previous president of the Bath Natural History Society once said to me – “The idea is to walk in nature rather than just through it”.

My friend is presently hatching six elephant hawkmoth pupae which sounds greedy, but then she knows where to look. They’ll be released back into the wild as soon as they hatch. We’ve planted loads of nasturtiums a long way from our brassicas, to lure the butterflies away and make them happy at the same time. Does companion planting work, then?  Think of the plates of leftovers after a children’s party – I bet there are loads of carrot sticks left behind because most children will always eat favourites first. I don’t know of a way to educate butterflies to stop laying eggs on cabbages, but I can give them a snack they much prefer.

 

How long is a piece of string?

IMG_3866 – is the same sort of unanswerable question as “when is the date of the last frost?” And like all unanswerable questions, the only possible answer is – “it depends”. This picture shows what happened last season when we made the wrong guess. IMG_2261We were up in Snowdonia enjoying the view of the snow capped mountains and wearing every thread of warm clothing we possessed and it hardly entered our minds that the “Beast from the East” was – at that moment – doing for our runner beans. However we had anticipated that a late frost might happen and so we had a duplicate set in the greenhouse. Our neighbour, struggling not to let too much schadenfreude show, was slightly foxed by the fact that our beans seemed to regenerate within 24 hours. Yes it’s National Gardens Week and every other programme on the telly is advocating gardening as a panacaea for all the ills that beset us, but in the interests of factual accuracy I need to say that allotments can also be intensely competitive places. Generosity and animosity exist in exactly the same proportions on an allotment site as they do anywhere else within the human race. By and large, gardeners occupy a nicer than average place on the bell-curve of human wickedness but don’t count on it! Elections for site reps can involve chicanery on a parliamentary scale.

IMG_3736Anyway, that’s enough bubble popping for one day.  To continue on the date of the last frost, I should also say that the buds on the grape vine were also badly affected, but once again the vine regrouped and a new crop appeared within a couple of weeks.  There was no big effect on the harvest either, it seems. All these weather events took place between the last week in April and the first in May and so it was our intention this season to delay planting out the tender plants until around 5th May. All our sowing was based around that date and now the Potwell Inn is full of plants that desperately need to go out.  A couple of courgettes in the propagator seem to think they’re outside already and are traling all over the place.  Moving them without snapping them off is going to be quite a challenge.

Our morning ritual is to scan the weather charts to see what the night time temperatures will be, and we discovered this morning that we’re due a dip to as low as 2C early on Saturday morning. This is very concerning because the allotment is a bit of a frost trap and if anyone is going to catch it, it will be us. So – with all the difficulty of keeping overgrown and increasingly leggy plants indoors, we’re going to have to wait another week. All part of life’s rich tapestry then. We’ve been on the plots for coming up to three years, and we’re still trying to juggle between book knowledge and real, on the ground, experience – so we’re no closer to answering the question of the date of the last frost, just keen to avoid it by a safe margin.

Light at the end of the tunnel or just another lock?

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ASHFORD TUNNEL – MONMOUTH AND BRECON CANAL. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Let’s be honest, allotments can get on top of you however committed you are – in fact you could probably argue that (apart from having children) they’re the most fiendishly guilt-inducing activity on the planet. With most activities – let’s  say music – you practice hard, do the gig, go home and put your feet up.  But imagine a gig where the encores never end but you never quite feel as if you’ve done as well as you might. We missed seeing our allotment neighbour yesterday since we were with our family, but later when we dropped in, the moment I saw his plot – three parts dug in a day – I knew exactly what had driven him. It was sheer grinding guilt, fuelled almost certainly by a rude letter from the council. He’s got a demanding job, two young children and to cap it all he’s a perfectionist, a toxic mixture that can suck the joy out of gardening.

The allotment year goes in phases.  I’m not quite sure how to describe this one except as transitional, but I do know that the only time the allotment really is perfect is in the dead of winter when we do the seed order. From there on in it seems to go downhill until the crops start to flow in. The virtual world of aspirations collides with the realities of weather and weeds . By the end of March the ground was prepared and looking beautiful, but yesterday the first spears of rougue couch grass were upping periscopes, and the bindweed had suddenly gone crazy.  This is one of the busiest times of the allotment year with the flat, the greenhouse and the coldframes all filled with tender young plants which need a good deal of attention and which will also need to be found a home outside. As the season moves on there’s an unnanounced transition between too soon and too late and ruthless decisions will need to be made.  The unsuccessful overwintering onions – at what point do we give up and compost them?

And all the while any fine weather tempts other activities – camping, canoeing, walking. Now’s the time to be out on the “Mon and Brec” before dodging the narrow boats becomes a new kind of dangerous sport. “Passing on the right” seems to be missing from the initial training given to first-timers.

Storms are always a challenge, not least because they don’t seem to read the forecasts. We’ve had big storms that turned out to be damp squibs and in the case of ‘Hannah’, our latest visitor, it turned out to be much more destructive than predicted.  We went up on Friday morning, before it kicked off, to fix some protection to the asparagus, and at the back of my mind I was wondering if we were’t being over-cautious. On Saturday we went back to find nets blown away; someone’s shed overturned at the exposed top of the site, and a large tree blown down and straddling the road outside. On the other hand, last week’s promised heavy rain turned out to be less plentiful than predicted and only the top few inches of soil were dampened – not nearly as much as we need – although enough to encourage the potatoes and beets.

The mantra of most gardening writers is “catch crops” – and we’ve been assiduous in planting salad crops wherever we can.  We now have enough to run a small cafe, and I can see in a couple of weeks we could probably run a banquet. The hungry gap is a reality – especially since we’ve foresworn any more asparagus this season in favour of letting the bed mature. We’re very far from starving, but in two months time we’ll probably be experiencing a glut of all the usual suspects – not least courgettes! Ah yes, the ever fascinating dance with nature that can feel like doing the tango with an octopus; eight left feet and an intimidating grip.

So back to the Ashford Tunnel then and – not far beyond – another lock.  Do you know – it’s the most exciting thing in the world to paddle into a dark tunnel with only a pinprick of light at the end. I guess that’s what makes life so good. Challenge, texture, even failure.

Friend or foe on the broad beans?

P1080750Absolutely no certainty about this 2mm critter on our broad beans, but we discovered there were quite a large number of them when Madame added another tier of twine to support the beans during Storm Hannah which is forecast to pass by tonight. I decided to take it home to photograph and while I was setting up the macro lens and focusing, a flea beetle jumped on to my hand. We’d already seen their work elsewhere on the allotment, cutting neat scallops in the leaves; so neat, in fact, that you might imagine scalloped leaves were part of the design.  So bug-hunting is beginning in earnest and this one is a puzzle since I have a great deal to be modest about in the entymology department.  Is it a cluster of eggs? we wondered. Now I really need that dissecting microscope! If you look closely at the east, northeast side of the photo you’ll see a stumpy brown protuberence and so the next guess was that it’s the hatching of the pupal stage of …… something. We’ve scoured the horticultural pest books and searched the internet too,  but nothing quite fitted.  We hazarded a guess at a big hatch of ladybird eggs, encouraged by the recent warm weather. There were also a number of ants on the plants, and ants have a remarkable relationship with blackfly (bean aphids) so best case scenario is that when the population of aphids explodes fairly soon there will be hordes of ravenous ladybird larvae waiting to take advantage of them. However when I attempted to dissect it with a scalpel and my 15X magnifier I could just about make out a number of apparently empty, hollow chambers.  I finished up not being convinced that it wasn’t some sort of multi-celled seed head.  So  I’ll just wait to see if there are any proper naturalists out there who’ll put me right – just for interest’s sake – we won’t be drenching the plants with neonicotinoids. Ever.

But whilst on the subject of insects I caught the trailer for the BBC Radio 4 programme “More or Less’  and so I dutifully tuned in only to listen to Tim Harford presenting a very poor counter-argument to the recent metastudy that identified a dramatic fall in insect populations and diversity. In essence he was arguing that bcause the metastudy only drew on research from a limited number of largely industrialised western countries, it was somehow rendered unreliable. How they must have cheered at Monsanto and Bayer! It sounded very like the arguments used by the tobacco companies when they were found out – “more research needed”, bigger studies etc etc – anything to delay.

I wondered whether to protest to the BBC but they’re so far gone in their bizarre interpretation of “balance’ it’s a waste of time even trying.  So here are some ideas Mr Harford might like to mull over. Firstly you can’t do proper surveys of the decline in insect populations in – say – the Amazon rain forest because we haven’t even identified most of them and therefore we can make no valid statements about their decline. BUT going back to the toacco argument, if research in the UK or America showed the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer in those countries, it would be a perfectly reasonable asumption that it would also affect smokers in Africa, India and China when (as they are now encouraged to do) they took up smoking on an heroic scale.

Further (I’m only just warming up) the countries where research has been properly conducted are precisely the ones where the suspected cause of the decline, that’s to say industrial intensive farming, is most heavily practised. It would be suicidally unethical to promote industrial farming in pristine areas “just to see” if the current research is correct. How much blessed evidence do we need? Mercifully, in the light of my piece yesterday, the desperation of the agrichemical industry is becoming ever more obvious. The roots of the industry are deeply implicated in the manufacture of chemical weapons during the cold war and when that ended they needed to find something equally unethical to do.

I was only thinking yesterday of a conversation I had in 1971 with a cleaner who worked at the Art School. When I initially wrote that sentence I said “elderly cleaner” but I realized he was probably the same age as I am now. He’d begun life as a farmhand and it must have been early summer because our converation centred on hay. He had recently been watching the haymaking on a nearby farm where he had worked as a boy and he said ” when I was young we took twice as much hay off that field and it was better quality too”.  It made a deep impression on me.  I was then in my twenties and he was in his early seventies.  His boyhood would have coincided with the First World War and the very beginning of intensive farming, as a generation of young farmhands went to war – many never returning. So much for progress. Our agricultural policy has been distorted by a century of inappropriate subsidies and indusrial lobbying, and I can’t remember the last time I heard a cuckoo. The two halves of that sentence are causally linked Mr Harford!

Is the tide finally turning?

IMG_4357The environmental movement didn’t start last week – I just thought it was worth mentioning it because Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” was published in 1962, that’s 57 years ago, and ever since then, we’ve been pushing back at the problem with very little apparent success. Was it Thomas Kuhn that wrote that science advances as scientists die? He wasn’t being harsh, but simply pointing out that vested interests rarely go away because a better explanation has been found. Billions of pounds/dollars have been spent on defending the indefensible as the evidence of environmental damage has mounted up year by year and decade by decade.

But this week I’ve suddenly felt a bit more optimistic. When Kuhn wrote about ‘paradigm shifts’ it always seemed that they mostly involved obscure corners of particle physics where there was no immediate impact on the way we do things round here. This week it’s been astonishing to see the public response to the Extinction Rebellion protests in London.  On TV and on the radio – or wireless as we ancients prefer – there have been an increasing number of programmes explaining new approaches to the crisis that’s engulfing us. What’s different is that ‘common sense’ seems to be changing in the incredibly swift manner of a paradigm shift. Everwhere I looked last week there were pieces on do-dig and no-till systems. A short walk to any bookshop will demonstrate the level of interest in ecology and climate change. The Microsoft TV advertisement extolling yet another technological solution to the moral and ethical problem of intensive farming seems suddenly out of date, and although the prophets of Baal with their endless expensive technologies are dancing vainly around the altar of progress the fire never comes. [That image comes from a very funny Old Testament story] After decades of fruitless handwringing, our young people have siezed the initiative and it feels good.

Something has shifted under the surface and the belief that change is possible is gaining traction. Alleluia!

Some housekeeping

IMG_5073I’m always on the lookout for simple ways of making this blog a bit more interactive without compromising its security, and so for the past 24 hours I’ve been beating my head against a wall of techie talk and failing to get a contact form to work. If, by any chance you used the form to contact me during any of its iterations since yesterday evening, then I’m sorry but your message is out there in limbo.

I’m aware that some readers have made comments or asked questions that aren’t specifically connected to a posting – which means they go directly to the spam filter. Given that (if I catch them in time) many of these comments have been very nice it’s a shame that I’m not able to respond, and it probably feels a bit churlish if you’ve taken the trouble to write. I can’t see any way of getting back except through public comments on the blog – which may not always be appropriate. If I just put my private email address up I’ll drown in spam – see the dilemma?

So I’ll keep trying to set up something that’s both interactive and secure for all of us, and the only way I can do that is to master a language that’s so obscure it makes the Athenasian Creed look simple. It seems that the blogosphere is a bit like the wild west – there are a lot of hucksters and snake oil sales reps out there. In answer to one of the anonymous questions, no I can’t give much help on technical issues because my usual way of dealing with them is to keep going round in circles uttering threats and curses until I finally (and accidentally) press the right button – at which point I slam down the lid and get on with the writing. Meanwhile I’ve removed the offending form so I can get on with what I really enjoy.

Just add flowers

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Even a concrete blockhouse constructed in brutalist neo-Georgian can benefit from a few window boxes and the Potwell Inn fits that description pretty well.  This line of thought was prompted when we dropped off at a country pub yesterday, after a bruising encounter with the till at a garden centre.  It happened that we’d just spent (as always) more than we intended on filling our window boxes for the summer.  They always look as lovely from the inside as they do from the road, and it’s our little gift to the neighbours, so window boxes join the other protected budgets like books, art materials and the campervan. Oh and wine too, I suppose.

However, the pub was clearly in trouble since their hanging baskets were pretty much dead and there was an advert on the door appealing for bar staff, a chef, in fact anyone prepared to throw themselves under the oncoming train of HMRC and all the other creditors.  Best bitter – flat; crisps – not available (“we had a busy weekend”). Negotiations with an agency chef were being conducted in the empty bar but we were far too polite actually to crane our necks in order to listen in.  Sad, isn’t it, to see a fellow licensee going under even when your own pub is virtual?  We could have planted up their window boxes in an hour and the place would have looked like a going concern.

IMG_5298Back at the Potwell Inn we too have deceased window boxes, hence the trip to the garden centre, and the generally decrepit look outside the Gulag. Dead daffodils don’t have the same attraction as their younger selves. Inside, on the other hand, is a different matter.  It looks like the morning after a student party but the mess comprises hundreds of plants in different stages of development, and unsteady piles of garden reference books – far too many of both.  The kitchen is all but unuseable except for picking the supply of basil and brewing tea. IMG_5299The simplest meal involves a tremendous amount of moving  – gravel trays, root trainers and any receptacle that can be pressed into service cover the table and much of the floor.  This period is always a great boon to the freezer which needs emptying in the next couple of months ready to store fresh produce. Truth to tell however, there’s only so much chard, broccoli and frozen borlotti beans a person can cheerfully consume – even in a good cause – and I found myself looking lustfully at a ready meal in the supermarket today.

Meanwhile back at the ranch

Yesterday while I was adding some kitchen waste – tea leaves, peelings and discarded leaves – nothing cooked – to the compost heap.  I pulled off the layer of cardboard on top, and there was a scurrying of little feet followed by a dirty great rat that leapt upwards and away in one athletic bound. I don’t know which of us was more scared. It’s almost impossible to eradicate them entirely but the danger of leptospirosis is very real and so strong measures have been taken to discourage them. Vegetarians please look away now, although I doub’t anyone would eat a rat except from dire necessity!

IMG_5303So today at the allotment I extracted the first victim from a trap with a tinge of sadness mitigated by the knowledge that this one at least wouldn’t be peeing on our lettuces. Elsewhere, with the help of a decent amount of rain, the potatoes have roared ahead. It is a true conundrum, the way that however hard we water, a couple of hours of rain brings on the allotment far better.  What is the magic ingredient in rainwater that trumps the expensively processed stuff that comes out of the tap? Or is it precisely the expensive chlorine enriched processing that holds tapwater back from giving our plants what they really need?  Yesterday I planted some companionable nasturiums amongst the apples. They’d been languishing in a half tray in the cold frame but had never thrived. I transplanted them with no great hope of success but the alternative was to throw them away.  This afternoon we took another look and an unbelievable transformation had taken place. In fact everything in the fruit cage looked as if it had been given a dose of steroids during the night.  The strawberries had drawn up to their full height and were seeming to invite me to ‘step outside’ if I even mentioned the possibility of straw to hold their fruit above the ground. The nasturtiums had picked up so much I wondered whether we’d be spending the rest of the summer getting them under control.  Plants have this way of talking to us – if only we’d listen. Perhaps that’s all that ‘green fingers’ amounts to, the capacity to listen to what they’re saying.

And so the summer window boxes are all planted up.  The logistical problems of taking the spent ones down two floors to the garage and carrying the new ones up the same way are a tiny bit intimidating when your knees are shot, but the rewards are immense. When those trailing plants get underway they can go right down the wall and past the lintels of our downstairs neighbour’s windows too. All good, then.

 

Moving day for chillies

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.

Welcome back, old friend

IMG_5274The oven, having been pretty much out of action for a month has been repaired and this was the first sourdough loaf I’ve been able to bake during that time. Judging by the amount of spring and the look of the crust, it hasn’t been heating properly for ages and consequently the steam function wasn’t working either. Terry, the repair man, hadn’t tackled one like this before but with a combination of laptop, owners manual and persistence he dismantled the door and replaced the broken part. And so the household routine and the proving/kneading regime harmonised once more so that with very little effort the loaf was started early yesterday morning and the loaf came out of the oven around mid-morning today in time for us to go up to the allotment until 5.00pm.

This is an absolute mongrel of a recipe involving rye flour, bread flour and soft cake flour along with a little sea salt, a tiny bit of olive oil and a starter that I made years ago and just keeps going. After experimenting for years this, finally, is a loaf that Madame really likes and so we don’t waste any and it’s never around long enough to go stale. Coincidentally it also makes the best panzanella ever during the summer when we have plenty of basil and tomatoes.

This principal, of growing and cooking things we really like seems to me to be one of the best justifications for the Potwell Inn kitchen. Bearing in mind that I was five when post-war rationing finally ended, I simply didn’t have any exposure to any imported vegetables and fruits.  I was 21 before I tasted garlic and so my life in food has been one revelation after another. Our children take food diversity for granted and their generation (two of them are chefs) has evolved ever more baroque affectations to tickle the palate.  But for me Escoffier was always right – “Faites Simple” should be a battle cry against ornamentation, and so I’ve always preferred the simplest ways of preparing the best quality ingredients, and if we can grow them ourselves that’s even better. Fortunately I’m a cook not a chef and so the Potwell Inn kitchen has an exclusive clientele of two most of the time and occasional guests now and then.  And if anyone turns up their nose because there isn’t a cold smoked quail’s egg balanced on top of three game chips and trio of sausages, they don’t get asked back!

So with bread under the belt, as it were, we were off to the allotment where the pea netting was put up, the potatoes were ridged up and a good deal of potting up and transplanting was done. It’s been an exceptionally dry year so far and although we’ve had a couple of soakings, I was surprised when I was planting out young lettuces at just how dry the soil is.  It’s lovely that we can enjoy the warm sunshine but it’s odd to be needing to water quite as much as we do.

Meanwhile the coldframes and greenhouse are full of young plants looking for a permanent space to grow in and the asparagus is throwing up more and more fronds. We shan’t take any more this year but feed it up and mollycoddle the bed in the hope of even greater rewards next season.