Going green – ish

Back on the Potwell Inn allotment, we’ve reached peak runner bean and courgette mountain time; not that I particularly mind because there’s no finer meal than a bowl of runner beans with a bit of grated cheese on top – Gruyere turns it into a gourmet meal but Cheddar works perfectly well. The courgette mountain can be very challenging because they have the gift of hiding under the foliage until they’re a foot long and almost unusable. We have several of them and I’m trying to figure out a suitable stuffing – vegetarian for preference because I’ve never seen what the point of putting sausage meat into a marrow might be. A strongly flavoured herby rice would work I think. But it’s miles better to harvest them young and full of flavour, before the seeds develop. I love them sautéd with a splash of lemon juice instead of salt. I’ve never liked the sprinkle of chopped parsley on top, it’s a herb and its place is in a side salad. Neither do I bother with all that salting and washing lark. Clearly there was a time (in the olden days?) when courgettes and aubergines were inclined to be bitter but not now, they’re much too well bred. If you want to stop them from turning into a mush, sauté them fast in blazingly hot oil and you get the brown edges as well as the full flavour and texture plus the excitement of setting off the smoke alarms – it’s a win-win.

So we are slowly turning green in several senses of the word. This is the time to become a vegetarian because you can eat a huge range of fresh, locally sourced and organically grown fruit and veg, and a lot less industrially produced meat. Good for us and good for the environment too. We’re not doctrinaire vegetarians here at all, but we eat less and less meat, and I can see a day coming soon when the minuses add up to a tipping point, but going a step further into veganism would be a much greater challenge, and intensive vegetable farming has its own ethical and ecological difficulties of a different kind and so we’re plodding down a middle path and hoping that sustainable, organic, high welfare mixed farming can provide milk, eggs and cheese alongside arable crops. But if the environmental crisis continues unabated then we may not have the luxury of that option any more and then my biggest fear is that the industrial food processing industry will seize the opportunity to flood the market with more expensive junk food.

Also on the allotment we’ve had loads of invertebrate visitors, two of them were butterflies, a gatekeeper and a speckled wood, that flew by yesterday and posed for me along with the whites, the red admirals and a tiny little shy one that flew away every time I got close – which didn’t. Previously I’d written about the suspected Jersey tiger (moth) that took a break on the kitchen window. I posted it on the Bath Natural History Society Facebook (Nature Watch) site and attracted a cluster of comments about whether I’d got the i/d right. It’s a bit rare in this part of the world, but it seems that as global heating increases it’s moving northwards.

However I’d underestimated the competitive instincts of (some) lepidopterists and was quite surprised at how hard I had to fight for my record. In the end, after a couple of heavyweights took my part it was allowed – or at least I’ll feel brave enough to send it to the County Recorder for verification and a puff of smoke up the gabled chimney. There’s no moral virtue in accidentally bumping into a rarity but somehow I felt as if I didn’t deserve to spot it! In the end, though, it was a very beautiful moth and after our discussion of minute details I reckon if it ever comes across my path again I’ll be able to identify it at twenty paces, and since I thoroughly enjoyed the scrap too, a good time was had by all.

Today we added another part of the Skyline walk, which involved yet another stiff climb up the hill to the south of us. As ever the access to the route allowed us to shortcut along the canal, avoiding the city centre which is more crowded than it has been for months. We spotted the resident heron perched opposite – too far away for a decent picture but I took one anyway. Later we dropped in at Sham Castle, with fabulous views over the City and then looped around the top of the hill, through the University and down Widcombe hill – about seven and a half miles in all; a decent walk.

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.

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