Last night we watched the moon rise and set behind the hedge on the campsite. Today is a brief period of calm between two blown-out hurricanes, and tonight Nigel barrels in. Does anyone else think Nigel is a bit of let down for the name of a hurricane? Anyway, at the end of last week’s storm Lee gave us 85K gusts without causing us any problems, and Nigel is forecast as a bit of a damp squib down here in the extreme southwest.
I’m a traditionalist when it comes to marking the seasons. I don’t buy the tidiness of the meteorological seasons and much prefer the solstice and equinox schema. These seasons relate to the inbreathing and outbreathing, the sleep and the oestrus of the earth. What’s the problem with that? So we sat on the beach today and soaked up the sun from which we’re slowly withdrawing for a while – because the earth needs rest as much as we do. It seems to me that part of the problem with our rolling ecological disaster is that our culture wants to press the override button on the seasons -in fact on all of the natural constraints that keep us and the environment sane and healthy.
Back on Monday with a pile of autumn work to do on the allotment – mulching, composting and prepping beds for the Spring.
Winter always does this; luring us into dreams of long warm days before slamming the door shut with icy fingers. The clue was in the wind all along. As it moved around from southwest, the rainy quarter, a finger of high pressure on the map brought first the sunshine – but before we could rejoice, it carried on cycling through northwest, north and northeast until finally today it blew hard and freezing cold from due east. We dressed up like deep sea divers and waddled down to Portscatho to get some supplies; but once we were back at the van we got itchy feet and put on our boots and down jackets and walked the track down alongside the Percuil river and after mooching about for a bit near the boatyard we retraced our steps. We once paddled up the river on a rising tide in the kayak, but mistimed the tide and forgot a fierce onshore wind; paddling back all but spent. At one point it started to hammer down with rain and we laid in the boat and laughed ourselves silly; much to the consternation of our guide who clearly thought we were a pair of geriatric escapees.
Percuil – especially at this time of the year – is preternaturally quiet. The boats are all laid up for the winter and the summer sailors have gone. As we walked along the river we stopped frequently just to immerse ourselves in the silence. The deep sided valley sheltered us from the wind and even the rigging on the few boats left at anchor in the water was listless. All I could hope for was the song of a curlew, but we were denied that thrill until later in the walk when we were almost home. We did, however see a little egret feeding in the low tide shallows on the far side. We are the only campers on the site at the moment. Two others left this morning which was just as well because the cold weather and the fact that the days are still shorter than the nights has meant we’ve hammered the leisure batteries without which there’s no light or heat. So as the last van pulled out, we ran the engine for an hour to pump some juice back in.
But there was a surprise as we walk the last hundred yards to the boatyard because the blackthorn bushes there have started to blossom. Today there were only a handful of flowers but in a couple of weeks the abundant thorns will look as if they are covered in snow. For me they’re the real sign of winter’s ending and – as I’ve argued before – it’s more likely to coincide with the equinox than the first day of March. The couple of gallons of sloe gin we make; (for overseas readers it might help to know that sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn; tiny, hard and bitter as gall) – so the couple of gallons of sloe gin we make in the autumn have been steeping for almost exactly six months. The sloes go into the freezer for a week or so and are steeped in a mixture of gin and sugar. The skins break and the clear liquid becomes the richest purple. Initially the sloe gin is undrinkable and bitter. But after six months – like today, for instance, you can have a first taste. Fortunately for us – because we’re enjoying a period of abstinence at the moment – sloe gin goes on getting better and better for the next three or four years, So I suggest we invent a totally spurious tradition which, for the sake of making it sound truly authentic, we could call “Wettings”, and all get jolly and hammered at the equinox and share our plans for the summer. The person who brags the most gets thrown into the pond and has to say cuckoo instead of hello until the autumn equinox – for which I haven’t thought of a suitable ritual yet.
So it’s been a quiet but lovely day under grey skies and true to recent form I idly picked a stalk of grass that caught my eye on a stone gatepost and it turned out yet again to be a difficult one that hasn’t been seen hereabouts for maybe thirty years. So I dutifully took the diagnostic photos, filled in the record and paused for an hour before I pressed send – wondering if I really did want to make a fool of myself again.
So here are some more pictures I took today and one a couple of years ago to show the glory of full-on blackthorn flowering. The other two are the male and female flowers from a row of Corsican Pines above Percuil harbour. They certainly know how to strut their stuff!
Here are some photos of the allotment as it is today. It hasn’t aways been like this This blog began as a private journal that I kept for three years after I retired. Sadly – or gladly – the software I was using (Day One) and which I loved, upgraded automatically one night and suddenly the various bits of my computer setup would no longer talk to one another and, after fruitlessly complaining, and receiving a rather lofty and patronising response – “you should buy a better computer” – I dipped out and moved to WordPress. Good move!
Anyway, what that means is that I can refer back to the previous three years of the allotment and today I made what may be an interesting discovery. It started after a conversation with Madame about whether our broad beans really are early this year. I won’t go into a blow by blow commentary except to say that in spite of some very different weather over the past three seasons it seems that the earliest date of cropping hasn’t changed all that much. I wonder if the real impact of the weather has been to affect the quality and quantity of the crop. In the second year of the allotment – with more ‘normal’ weather we had a great crop. Last year the first pickings of the overwintered Aquadulce Claudia broad beans came at roughly the same time but were very poor. This year we’ve had an easier time but I’m sure we won’t beat our previous date of first picking and we’ll have a much better crop.
We allotmenteers tend to use earliness as a measure of success, but I reckon we’d do better to measure the crop. One of the big concerns about climate change is that the varieties we grow will not cope with changed climatic conditions, and maybe the symptoms won’t be failure to grow at all, but greatly reduced crops.
So we’ve had a lovely week, the water troughs have been turned on, and everything seems to be growing merrily but one experiment seems to have reached a conclusion. The carrot on the left was part of an experiment to test two types of compost, a new carrot variety, and to see if the carrot roots would penetrate a soil pan. Just to take the last test first, it’s clear that this carrot at least has fattened up in the layer of compost but hasn’t penetrated the soil pan at all. I guess the root just wasn’t strong enough – so point taken (unintentional pun) – and this isn’t a refutation of the no-dig method at all, but it doesn’t work miracles. The soil structure will still need easing and improving before ‘no-dig’ will work properly, and yes I’m well aware of the dangers of confirmation bias!
But there was a piece of extra good news and that was that we cut the first four spears of asparagus today. It’s a bed that’s only had one season but the first spears have been emerging for a couple of weeks. We’ve been agonising about whether to cut any spears this year, but today I thought “it’s right at the beginning of the season, why not take a few spears?” So I did, I cut just four and presented them to Madame at supper time. So – honest truth – the very first spear to emerge wasn’t terribly good, but ranked by age they got better and better. Oh my goodness that was a great moment. The chillies and peppers have all been moved from the propagators to the south facing windows in the kitchen.. Tomorrow we’ll sow the tomatoes and cucumbers.
One further thought. Is the light in the spring and autumn actually brighter than the light in high summer? The sun is moving away from its closest proximity, but it has a very special quality at this time of the year. For me the effect is almost emotional, I can smell and taste the change of season and it’s lovely.