In flour again.

Much gratitude to my son for arranging it, and his mate the baker who, between them, came up with a 16 Kg bag of bread flour that should see us through the lockdown. It’s perched on a chair in the hallway at the moment but I’ll get it into a food bin first thing tomorrow because flour gets infested with tiny moth caterpillars incredibly quickly.  Baking with a new flour is always a bit of an adventure until you’ve baked a few loaves because they all behave quite differently.  My old mate Dick England who had his own flour mill up in Berkeley on Severnside, always reckoned to leave the new wheat to ripen for a while before it was fit to mill and make bread with. It’s strange how even potatoes have their seasons as well.  The man who ran the Regal fish and chip shop in Hotwells would shut down for several weeks as the new season main crops came in because he didn’t think they were good to make chips from.

So new flour and new adventures demanded a celebration and I made a Dundee cake for our tea breaks on the allotment. It was hot today and we worked for around five hours setting up  a new bed for the peas.  We’re growing a traditional variety called Alderman which we tried last year.  In our haste to be greener than thou, last year we tried to grow them on jute nets, but they were so prolific and heavy they just tore the nets down – so this year they’re going to be grown up sheep wire attached to some strong poles. While I was doing the civil engineering bit, Madame was busy sowing and potting up – it’s a very busy time of the year both on the allotment and at home where we made a start on replacing the spring window boxes with their summer equivalents. They’ll be mainly geraniums this year because the garden centres are all shut and we won’t be able to buy ridiculously expensive bedding plants to supplement our own.

The asparagus bed is so nearly there, it’s frustrating, but the early spears were deformed by the cold nights so we’re hoping that a spell of warm nights will give us our first proper feed. Our son went off to get some beer for the beer traps.  Slugs are a menace and at least we send them off happy.  Last year’s very unscientific experiment seemed to indicate that they’re real ale buffs – they much preferred the expensive brews to my cheap stuff from Aldi.  Tonight Jo dropped off four cans of bitter for a pound.  I’m not optimistic. We sent our best numbers off with Marston’s Pedigree Ale but it cost about tenpence a slug.

Please can we have our weather back?

No – the pictures are from last year’s cold and wet spring but this year we’ve had the hottest Easter and the coldest May bank holiday since records began – or so we’re told, and it’s been so dry we’ve been wielding the watering cans. The allotment is desperate for some rain so it was good that at least some fell last night, although not in the predicted quantities, but the satellite picture shows that the main rain belt has passed us. It’s all very confusing. There’s no frost predicted until the forecast runs out on the 22nd May which means we’ve probably seen the last of it – but there’s always a chance of an unexpected freeze.

Plants respond to day length and temperature.  Day length can’t change but plants that are adapted to the ‘April showers’ scenario are finding it a bit confusing because this year June seems to have preceded April.  Apples and strawberries have flowered, grapes came into leaf and many other tender crops became extremely vulnerable. Luckily we fleeced all the potatoes last week, but our neighbours who didn’t, have had their spuds touched – probably not fatal but a setback nonetheless. Here at the Potwell Inn our indoor propagated tender plants, especially the runner beans, are now adolescent and growing fast enough to leave home but until things settle down a bit we daren’t put them out. One neighbour in the better favoured ground above the path has lost the lot. How we missed the April showers! Sunshine and showers in equal abundance are the better start to any season.

So we’re grateful for the rain, but now we can hear the slugs revving up like formula one racers. We’re sort of ready for them because we’ve had beer traps out for a fortnight without any takers.  Today we’ll re-bait them all and I don’t doubt there will be a good harvest. Happily metaldehyde slug pellets have now been banned, and I’m very uneasy about ferrous phosphate as a subsitute, in fact apart from the fact that they’re unnessary chemicals I’m not even convinced that they work. Hand to hand combat is a lot more fun.

Unbelievably I’ve had to water the ‘compost heap’ already, but the worms have a prodigious appetite for kitchen waste with cardboard for pudding. In the last few weeks they’ve consumed a kitchen table-sized box which I collapsed and put on top to conserve the heat, and which they moved into as soon as it got wet, and took it all down. That’s why “compost heap” has got inverted commas, by the way, – it’s more like a worm farm but it’s so efficient at reducing waste I’m loathe to steam it up with loads of hot material. Clearly we need to build a separate facility for the worms so we can revert the compost heaps to reducing piles of green waste.

Planting out, then, is going to have to wait for a couple of days – but the true spinach has begun so yield to nature and attempt to flower, and so we picked a couple of large carrier bags full yesterday and cooked them along with some beetroot thinnings which we’ll have for lunch. The spinach is already in the freezer, but I’m looking at the stores and thinking we need to get cracking and finish them up during the hungry gap to keep a sensible rotation going. It’s all too easy to use preserving jars and the freezer to avoid deciding what to do with our produce. I’ve only just begun to adjust to the absence of our children and reduce the amount I cook (after 20 years!) but the message doesn’t quite seem to have arrived at the preserving department.

Ah – the hungry gap. When you live in the centre of the city, surrounded by delectables from all around the world, you have to have an iron will to finish up the passata, the sauces and pickles, rather than wander round to the supermarket to choose something new and hideously expensive to appease your jaded palate. But we at the Potwell Inn have iron will in abundance and we toss our heads at ready meals. “Mmmmmm” lovely, we say, as the longing for the summer plenty secretly grips us.

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