Leaving Llŷn. Mark V watering device – DOA

2018-02-06 16.13.36There are several ways of driving back from Llŷn but we’ve settled on the shortest by distance, the longest by time and the one that surpasses any other route for sheer beauty. Naturally the sensible way would be to drive across to the M5 and plough down the motorways, concentrating grimly on not being trapped in a long line of lorries attempting to overtake one another with a 0.1mph speed advantage. Not being sensible but loving mountains, the scenic route takes us through Snowdonia past Cadair Idris, through the Cambrian Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, finally entering Bath via the last remnants of the Cotswold Hills. Somehow the drive through the landscape effects a similar transition in the mind.  Leaving and arriving need time if they’re not to jolt.

IMG_5059The weather last week was pretty stormy and in consequence we hunkered down to writing and drawing, sharing a table in companiable silence for hours at a time and punctuating our days with trips to the local Spar shop (8 miles away!) and further afield to visit galleries. We had a lovely time, but at the back of our minds we knew we’d left a load of very young plants in the heated propagators with only my Heath Robinson watering device to keep them going  Outside on the allotment we were concerned about the broad beans in the high winds and all the seedlings in the greenhouse.

IMG_5063The Mark V watering device proved a complete failure.  Every modification I had introduced had increased the level of complexity and the possibility of failure.  What never even crossed my mind was that the string with the key tied to the end as a counterweight to keep the corks from turning turtle – bear with me here –  would dry out and stick to the side of the repurposed kitchen waste bucket thereby suspending the business end of the apparatus in mid air over the reservoir. Happily the young plants were entirely indifferent to my care-plan and got on with getting bigger anyway. If there’s a lesson in that I’m determined to ignore it!

IMG_5056The allotment turned out to be in great heart – not only had all the seeds in the hotbed germinated, but the broad beans had survived the winds that had been so strong as to lift the (toughened) glass panels from the top of the coldframes and throw them several feet away. The beans are very securely netted and supported with string, so that must have saved them. Far from being damaged, a couple of the plants have come into flower which, we were inclined to think, wasn’t a great idea. The meteorologists might call this early spring but it’s not too late for a dose of severe cold.  The hotbed is mooching along at a constant 15C: not as hot as I expected but plenty hot enough to germinate spring onions, radishes, lettuce and beetroot. It would have fed my pride if it had shot up to 65C, but then we’d have needed to wait so long for it to cool down we’d have lost all the early advantage.

IMG_5057As if to underscore the resilience of nature and the indomitable will of young plants to survive, the Sweet Cicily that survived my clumsy attempts to germinate them plus repeated slug attacks last spring, is beginning to romp away in its inauspicious corner next to the water butts. Eight seeds – one plant.

On the aparagus bed the first couple of spears of Mondeo are peeping through, needing to be covered with fleece once more I think, and back at the Potwell Inn the potatoes are chitting very well.  I took a tip from Alys Fowler in the paper and I’ve sprayed them a couple of times with very dilute seaweed solution.  It probably stimulates the growing shoots, but possible keeps the tubers moist as well so they don’t shrivel up too much.

 

 

Hotbed update

IMG_4965I should have mentioned in the previous posting that the hotbed has now stabilised at just under 20C  and so we’re going to start sowing direct into the upper layer of soil tomorrow.  The plan is to sow early salad vegetables, so lettuce, radish, spring onions and beetroot should come in very early. Really exciting stuff!

And finally –

 

 

14th April 2016
Some work to do then

So finally, two years and ten months after we signed the agreement on this first plot, we finished laying out the beds and paths on the two plots combined (one each). What with changes in design and the inevitable mission creep along with learning from unforeseen problems it’s been a long haul, but one we’ve enjoyed enormously.

The last two beds and the hotbed along with their associated paths took most of the day but it’s finally cleared and composted and, assuming the no-dig regime continues to deliver, that’s it for us with digging. Tomorrow is the big push on finishing the compost bins and, if possible, starting to move the compost and its huge population of worms into new luxury quarters.

But not everything goes to plan, and the hotbed has unnaccountably stalled. There could be a number of reasons for this – for instance a lack of oxygen, or too low a proportion of carbon in the mix. Just in case oxygen was the problem I drilled a series of air inlets around the bed, and rodded through the manure to try to get some air in, but if it doesn’t heat up I’m going to have to remove the soil layer and mix some more carbon rich material into the manure. Just for luck I watered it with a liquid seaweed mixture to add some micronutrients to the brew.

Madame, meanwhile, was building supports around the broad beans and sowing French marigolds and nasturtiums which we use in quantity along with calendula for companion planting. This afternoon in full sun it was easy to believe that spring has actually arrived, but bear in mind that the ‘beast from the east’ came much later last year and we lost most of our runner beans to frost at the beginning of May.  There’s a real balancing act between sowing early and having space and weather to get the young plants safely into the ground.  If you get it wrong you land up nursing loads of suffering plants while you wait for the weather to improve.

Anyway, this recycling collection appeared on the pavement outside our block today and I was greatly amused to speculate on which of the tenants in our house lives entirely on pizzas. I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for someone obviously suffering from beri beri.

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I said to Madame – “you’re quiet”

IMG_4964And she replied – “Well if you’d stop cursing for a minute maybe I could speak to you”. Honestly it really showed that she had never attempted to build a two tier greenhouse staging from a set of photocopied instructions (poorly) translated from the Martian. Thirty six bolts – painstakingly inserted and tightened  – had to be removed because I had got part number 1463 upside down, twice. In my defense I would say that I was taught to do these sorts of jobs by my beloved grandfather who would curse large and beautiful buildings into existence on the basis of 70 years of experience and so – much as it pains me – I thought a bit of cursing might help. My knees were hurting and my back ached and I just wanted to share the suffering a bit because I’m generous.

It had not been a great day anyway. First thing we drove over to B&Q to buy the 8′ X 6′ polycarbonate sheeting to cover the hotbed. I had not properly thought through the logistics of getting it into the back of our very small car and so we had to drive home crouched in the brace position and relying on the wing mirors because there was no rear view mirror on account of the large sheet of plastic resting on it. It was a tricky drive but we got home perfectly safely, or at least perfectly undamaged.

So after the staging was successfully erected (whatever was all the fuss about?) we cut the sheet roughly, very roughly to size with a razor knife and then I attemped to breathe some energy into the hotbed which was stuck moodily at 20C. I made about 10 dibber holes down to the serious muck and then administered a gallon of human activator thereby evicting a beautiful iridescent beetle  and a number of brandling worms who didn’t much care for being pee’d on. This is the bit they never tell you about in the allotmenteering coffee table books. There, it’s all gingham dresses and roses, except in real life it’s not – we could feel the coming season growling at us and we were barely ahead.

Yesterday was spent wheelbarrowing woodchip down to fill the paths.  It only arrives intermittently and although in public we all pretend we’re utterly committed communards, we would happily commit murder if anyone else got there first. And so we left today – contented at winning several small skirmishes – and ready for some serious sowing tomorrow.

On the menu – squid poached in a red wine and tomato sauce with mushrooms, flavoured with garlic (loads), cardamon, mace, coriander seed and basil with a dash of lemon juice and some creme fraiche at the end. Yesterday two old friends I haven’t seen in years made contact via this blog. I was deeply touched.

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Suddenly, spring sneaked in and we’re rushing.

ff170491-9847-4193-bede-c05cf564d32cSome people might find even a slightly out of focus photo of a pile of poo a bit – well, rich first thing in the morning, but we at the Potwell Inn are made of sterner stuff and find it extremely cheering.  Most people send pictures of their winsome children or latest culinary triumph. Not so for people like us. This little pile is the beginnings of the new hotbed, nestling in the corner of my good friend Annie’s barn.  She’s dotty about horses. I’m less dotty about the animals themselves – (I once had a bad experience with a nasty natured beast called “Copper” who thought it would be amusing to scrape me off his back by galloping at a low branch), – I am however very attached to their by-products which are going to be converted this year to a wheelbarrow full of early salads, followed by the best crop of squashes ever seen anywhere. Annie is/was one of my parishioners back in the day – I took her wedding service, and she was reminiscing yesterday about the rehearsal when a policeman burst into the church, which was very remote and pretty much in the middle of a field, because he had spotted the cars outside and suspected a burglary was taking place. Now, of course, we live 20 miles away but we still keep in occasional contact. Especially when there’s manure involved!  This little pile is just one day’s output from her extremely well cared for horses so I’m expecting great things. How exactly I’m going to get it to the allotment in our tiny car is another matter. Hot, wet and richly smelly, oh my word – it puts a spring in my step.

But now the urgency of the new season is beginning to dawn on us.  There are still two raised beds to complete and I need to build the hotbed very soon indeed if I’m going to reap the benefits of all that bacterial heat. We’re almost into late winter. Early spring begins on March 1st – according to the Met Offce who have no truck with astrological signs and golden numbers. On top of that I need to build the official wormery and transfer all our lovely brandling into their new purpose built home.  Is it any surprise I don’t get enough time for reading and meditation?  Behind me, in my ‘office’ is the second propagator and later today I need to fill twenty or thirty modules with sowing mixture and set the thermostat to 25C so they can warm up and settle ready to be sown with this year’s chillies.  Last year was the first time we’ve ever tried to grow them and the habaneros failed completely so we’re still on a steep learning curve here. Early today I had an email to say that the spring planting onion sets have been despatched, and the seed potatoes won’t be many days later. If it weren’t for the cough I’d be doing pirouettes in the kitchen.

Allotmenteering can feel a bit relentless at times and it’s true, once you’ve tied yourself to a patch of land and even more a bunch of animals, you have to keep your head down. The seasons are very like the tides inasmuch as they flow unevenly.  There are slacks – we’re nearing the end of the midwinter slack now, and there will be another in high summer – but there are times when, like the Severn, the tide flows so fast you feel you’re in danger of being swept away. And yet you feel completely blessed at the same time. The Potwell Inn couldn’t exist without the huge network of friends, neighbours and well-wishers who have encouraged and supported us over the decades.  It may be a virtual pub but the regulars – that’s to say everyone I’ve ever met and worked with – are completely real, just anonymized a bit to protect their privacy.