First frost – bang on time

 

Or at least, bang on time as long as two consecutive years make a trend. Cropping French beans in the autumn is always going to be a bit speculative, and although we’ve had a few feeds off these and another batch, last night’s frost was enough to do for them. A year ago we’d had the coldest October for many years and this year it’s been the wettest, all of which is completely symptomatic of global heating. Twenty years ago we could entertain ourselves with thoughts of a Mediterranean climate but now we are begining to grasp that what we’ve inherited from our destructive behaviour is extreme and destructive weather.  Last night the temperature on our north facing  second floor window ledge went down to 4.5C, and when I looked out of the window as soon as the sun came up I could see frost on the green outside. When we got up to the allotment the beans had succumbed. However this year we were ahead of the game, and so any other tender plants have been moved under cover or harvested and stored.  This has produced a great deal of material for composting and we’d been slightly concerned that the heap wasn’t heating very well, largely due to the ingress of rain. But adding a lot of cardboard, turning it roughly and chopping the waste by getting on top of the heap with a spade have all helped. Along with a few handfuls of fish blood and bone sprinkled  with the wood ash from our incinerator, the heap was heating up fast today and we’ll resist resist adding any more material until we can turn it all into the next bay and start afresh.

The window boxes are due to be changed too, and so today we swapped the first couple with new ones planted up with spring bulbs. It doesn’t make much of a photograph, but gardeners have a lovely knack of seeing beyond the bare facts into the future.  To me those neat boxes, covered with gravel to stop the mud splashing up aganst the windows, are a promissory note for the future, and it won’t be long before the green shoots appear. We’ll strip out any of the existing plants in the summer boxes that can be saved, divided or propagated and get them ready for next summer. Any spare or spent earth and growing medium goes straight on to the allotment.

The wisdom of converting to raised beds really came home today.  After so much rain, in the past we’d have struggled to do any work at all on the wet ground – but now it’s easy, and the no dig regime means that we just loosen any weeds and pull them out carefully. The beds themselves are often firm enough to step on without fear of compressing the soil too much. Weeding, and the raking up of any green material that’s lying around isn’t just cosmetic. Slugs feed on decaying matter and the less food we leave lying around for them the better.

This morning the christmas cake emerged from its wallpaper hat and went into a cupboard wrapped in greaseproof paper and ready to be fed with a little brandy whenever I think about it. Maybe this year I’ll actually get to ice it, but it takes ages and costs a fortune for the marzipan, and I’ve noticed that the family often peel the icing off and leave it on the plate because it’s so sweet. Madame and me, however, love to share a flask of tea and a slice of Christmas cake up on the allotment on cold winter days.  As soon as I’ve sent this post I’ll be back in the kitchen making Christmas puds – so then all the preparations are done and we can concentrate on everything else we want to do. There’s never a dull moment at the Potwell Inn.

 

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.