Archive for March, 2017

Worth the Wait.

9.29 a.m. I’m sitting in a car. Waiting. As patiently as I can. Outside the well-cut hedges of Sean, a man the local farmer says “messes with sheep”. I’m supposed to be meeting Little Dave at 9.30 to load up a trailer of valuable sheep manure for our muck pens. Maybe the arrangements aren’t as solid as I had believed. Maybe I was mistaken – I hate it when that happens!

There’s a smart looking Alsatian hound keeping a sentry’s eye on me from behind a house window. He may be barking too, but I can’t hear it.

At ground level there’s a rough-house wind blowing. A flock of daffodils, like the hopefuls in an early chorus line audition are throwing shapes and wobbling. On the opposite verge is a fat, glossy and definitely disinterested woodpigeon: the poet inside me has him as the casting director:

“Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”

Image result for daffodil images

I’ve exchanged text messages with the Plantation Owner’s Wife. Nothing new at her end.

Ten minutes later I’m still waiting. Definitely less patient. Looks like this is the third annoying thing – and it is still so early. A day of things-going-wrong maybe? First it was the alarm clock going off at half past stupid. I don’t remember setting it but accept that it must have been me: habit most likely. Secondly there’s the ridiculously loud tapping of the kamikaze blue tit throwing himself at the back bedroom window. Why does he (it is almost certainly a male – do that? Protecting a territory against the reflection that he thinks is a rival?

Just as I’m about to up-sticks and leave the sheep rancher and Little Dave arrive. Phew! It is wonderful that I have been given the opportunity to grab some of this rare resource: manure is droppings and bedding (in this case hay) mixed as opposed to just droppings. This anticipated treasure should fill the two freshly emptied compost bins and come in useful after a “cooking” spell. There’ll be up to forty barrow loads of the stuff, so I’m told.

But first we have to dig it out of the “lambing shed”. Filled with twenty ewes. No lambs.

Image result for Ewe Sheep

“I had my mate’s two tups over,” Sean explains, slowly.

“Looks like they was only here for the grub!”

We scrape aside the recently added looser surface layers of hay. Drive the forks into the solid foot and a half of packed, padded down “good stuff” below. It is not easy work and soon our jackets are laid aside. The dozen or so white geese penned in next door are let out and it gets suddenly quieter.The ewes keep getting underfoot, but they also have a calming effect. The skilfully backed in trailer takes just over an hour to fill. Then it’s back to the site, where there is a wonderful surprise for me when I arrive ahead of the 4X4 towing he laden trailer: the Plantation Owner’s Wife has been industrious and got the early potatoes planted.

She’s roped in to transfer the off-loaded manure to the plot. We have the use of two barrows and get a system going. Little Dave gamely staying on to lend a much-appreciated hand. Again this is solid hard work, especially as our plot is as far away from the central roadway as it is possible to get. But we get our backs into it.

The looser hay goes down first, dowsed with water. A handful of compost activating chicken pellets scattered on it, then subsequent layers added. Bit by bit the heap by the notice-board shrinks – I’ve lost count of the number of barrow loads at thirty – until we are driven to adapt an inclined plane system to get the barrows high enough.

It’s rare to be able to get sheep manure, but it is recommended. It’s not as bulky or as plentiful as horse or cattle manure (sheep droppings are so much tinier of course) but contains 0.8% Nitrogen, 0.4% phosphorus and 0.5% potassium so compares favourably*. My grandfather was known for collecting sheep droppings from the pasture, tying them into a hessian sack, submerging the sack in a water butt and using the “tea” produced to feed his crops.

Three hours after I started digging in the sheep pen we have the heaps packed and retained. We pull recycled black plastic sheeting over each of the heaps to help the processes get off to a good start. I’m planning to add worms from the back-garden wormery (it needs emptying anyway) to boost the rotting down.

Too hungry to wait – and, frankly, too knackered to cook – we retire, after a wash’n’brush up to a favourite garden centre eatery. There are times when only chips will do!

 

* Horse manure is 0.6% Nitrogen, 0.6% phosphorus and 0.4% potassium; cattle manure is 0.6% Nitrogen, 0.3% phosphorus and 0.5% potassium.

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… and the Smug Feeling …

DSC03468There’s a reason I’m clinging onto the guttering while perched on a too-short ladder footed on a board (that until twenty minutes ago held six terra cotta pots of over-wintering fuchsias in our greenhouse) on top of the roof of the laundry room roof.

Our elder daughter and her partner were coming over today. He was bringing his extendable ladder that would reach from the ground to the roof and we would clean all of the accumulated moss and debris from said guttering. Debatable which of us would actually be mounting the rungs: he being allegedly a feared of heights and me suffering from the remnants of some kind of virus (Mostly recovered now, thanks for asking).

But then we discover that. The ladder. Doesn’t. Actually. Reach.

We’ve tried roping another ladder on to it. But, even for me, it looks risky. The vertical sides don’t marry up and thirteen metres of marine-standard rope won’t make it any safer. It won’t fall down and it is lashed tightly enough that the whole won’t collapse, but there’s a dangling propensity for sideways slippage before I’m even half way up. Discretion is the better part of most things, especially when you are taking on verticality eh?

So we root around, trying to bodge together a tool that’ll reach from the lower storey roof along the guttering so we can scrape the rubbish back to us and scoop it out. A dessert spoon, a garden rake, hand trowel?

Then, looking across the gardens from this lofty flat roof perch I espy Ian in his back garden. Maybe he can help. He’s got a big van that’s positively bristling with ladders.

I call out to him; there are only five gardens between us and I’m kind of famous for having a big voice (trust me that’s a whole different story). His partner is in the garden with him, kneeling by the aviaries there. They both look around. Funny how we always look at eye level first: then see me.

We converse about types of ladder and the two of us set out from our back garden to get the ladder.

No need, as it turns out. Before we reach the end of the road Ian’s big wagon is trundling round the corner.

He’d been checking out his bonsai collection he tells us. Funny really, he’s always friendly and helpful, but a big guy, skin covered with tattoos and hardly the sort that’d strike you as a bonsai practitioner (if there is a special term for this I don’t know it – yet!). Our kids (kind of grew up together) and he’s a marvellously generous big guy with a skin full of tattoos: not at all what you might expect from those mischievously misleading first impressions.

He gives us a brief introduction to his hobby and I’m fascinated (“You don’t call it privet if it’s a bonsai: that’ll be a ligustrum,” he informs us).

His ladders are perfect! Secure, heavy and easy to manoeuvre. Strangely the back guttering is fairly full of moss, but the front one has absolutely none. Theories pass between us: prevailing wind direction seems the obvious one. Remember that a theory is, after all, only the latest explanation that best fits all the known facts (including the Theory of Evolution). So, the job is accomplished in double quick time and we sit in the wonderfully warm sunshine around the wood burning stove in the Dell at the bottom of our garden. Even though it is a warm, blue-skied day the upwards change in temperature is tangible as we step nearer to the stove. Coffee, cake, the satisfaction of a job done and – yes – the smugness that can only come with knowing you have clean gutters.

“Gotta Have One O’ Them!”

I’m looking across the roughly dug allotment plot wondering if it isn’t all just a waste of time. Too, too late, of course: we’ve just paid the allotment rents for another year in one of those rush of blood to the head moments; all fire, plans and enthusiasm. None of which is there as I lean awkwardly on my spade. Predictably my elbow slips and I smack myself on the chin in a most undignified manner. Thankfully nobody seems to be watching.

Back at home, inside a centrally heated room, looking out at the heaving-with-mating-toads pond last night, everything was going to be so simple. Rake out the soil, level it off, sprinkle some lime, line out the rows …

In those marvellous trouble-free visions there hadn’t been a biting late February wind and Storm Doris had never been conceived, then arrived and shattered and distributed three quarters of the greenhouse glass across neighbouring plots, driving one thumbnail sized shard into the side of a shed at eye-level. And the soil had obeyed even the slightest nudge from the hoe blade which sparkled pristinely in the heavenly spring sun. The sun which, this morning, was nowhere to be seen, being masked by racing clouds which every now and then leaked showers of lacerating hurled at the face raindrops.

I had managed to use boards salvaged from skip-dived pallets to make a reasonably – to my eyes, at least – level edging to the plot, neatly, for a while at least, containing the soil and anticipated crops. And I’m in the middle of consuading* myself that the edge actually is spot on when I am joined by a neighbour: Stewpot.

“Nothing like a straight edge to set the plot off well, is there?” he asks, politely, patting me on the shoulder, smiling when I shake my head.

“ … and, er, that is nothing like a straight edge is it?”

Did I think he was being polite? Just a moment ago?

But this banter is the stuff of allotment relationships. At least here, in this part of the UK. Staffordshire that is.

“Well,” I reply, “I was always told nature abhors a straight line!”

“Well ,Nature would be right comfortable on your plot then I reckon.” Suddenly there are three of us; Biker Bob has wandered over. Is looking over my shoulder, squinting, smiling broadly.

Bob and Stewpot have never met: I do the introductions. There is talk about Storm Doris (of course there is, this is England and, as an Italian friend of mine says “it is no surprise you talk about the weather, you ‘ave so much of it!”).

Mobile phone cameras are used to show photographs (and a video) of the wind in action. This technology is truly amazing isn’t it.

Stewpot confesses that he’d love to have a motorbike: preferably a race replica that’ll do nought to sixty in science fiction times and sound like a beast!

But with a partner expecting a child in about six weeks he realises it’s a dream that’ll have to wait.

“Rubbish!” puts in Bob, “you want one, get one now.”

“If they say no, it’s too dangerous then do what my neighbour did. Since he was thirteen he’d wanted a motorbike. Kawasaki’s were the thing then: green meanies we called ‘em. Shit-hot on the tracks but all of ‘em standard green. Bit like your Model T Fords. Any colour … as long as it’s black.”

“His mom said it was too dangerous; his dad’d come off one and had to have a leg amputated. Kept the bikes he did, but had to adapt the controls and had a helluva job balancing for a while. Yu can imagine!”

Then he was sweet on this girl and she wouldn’t ride one ‘cos it’d mess her clothes …”

“… and, if you’re not careful – actually even if you are careful – one thing leads to another and, like him you’re a grandfather and you don’t know where the time went.”

“So, now he’s ready to get a motor bike.”

“But what about the grandkids,” says his daughter, and don’t be so bleedin’ daft says his wife and his mates down the pub laugh and talk about incontinence. So he tells ‘em he’s changed his mind; that he wants a micro light instead. Buys himself a voucher on some web-site thingumajig and they all troop off to the old airfield. It was busy in the Second World war but it’s a massive out of town warehouse site now, like so many of ‘em.”

The find he place. A blister hanger left over from the War. Filled, floor to roof with wings, frames, tools, cabling, karabiners, a couple of broken propeller blades, helmets, sick bags and about twenty certificates in frames on the wall.

Turns out this guy has been a world champion. Stunting, film work, a dozen or so crash landings that he confesses to and a smile as wide as the Amazon in flood.

His daughter takes the pilot guy to one side, gives him the be-careful –with-my- dad spiel. Adds “he’s too old to be doing this kind of thing really but he wanted to try …”

Next thing he knows he’s suited up, sitting in a canvas seat with his butt near-scraping the ground and heading towards a fence at a rate of knots. Then he remembers he can still breath and air whooshes out between his pursed lips. The front lifts up and the fence, the ground, the roads are falling away below him … and he loves it!

He gets talking, over this inter-com thingy to the pilot. Fact is, they get on like the proverbial house on fire. He gets told about the daughter’s “word in your ear” and can’t resist it:

“What can this thing really do?” he’s asking, eagerly.

So he gets thrown through a couple of curves and to cap it all off – a wild, exhilarating loop the loop. He can’t believe he’s actually asked for it, let alone done it: but he has. When they land on the ground his family’s faces are carved from thunder clods; if looks could kill the pilot would be six foot down and long forgotten.

“Gotta get one of them !” he keeps repeating on the silent drive home, “gotta get one of them for myself!”

Next birthday his family buy him …

… a motor bike!

 

 

 

 

 * That’s a little more than persuasion, with a large dose of con-trickery thrown in (of course!).

Caption This:

You know, there are days when you’re walking to your plot …

… you spot something …

… and think “why haven’t I got my camera?”

I had mine slipped away in my over-shirt pocket when I spotted this,

But I’m damned if I know what more to write about it.

Any suggestions?

dsc03456

The Edges of Spring?

 

 

“March,” so an oft-quoted proverb goes “comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb”. Much is made by the British met Office that 1st March (also St David’s Day) is their beginning-of-spring (as opposed to the astronomical one) but certainly with two named storms around the date we have certainly had the lion roaring around us.

But strong winds, as well as bringing rain, scoot the clouds away and yesterday we had gloriously blue skies. Perfect for my assigned job of putting the second edge to the “middle plot”. We have three plots between us on the site. You might expect them to be of equal size … but the middle one is noticeably narrower. We had worked together on the first side, fixing ex-pallet planks together (using the nails taken out of said pallets), established a straight edge and with much removing of turf from the existing path, set it into place with stakes sawn from the ubiquitous pallets.

Never having been one for straight lines even I am impressed by the formality it gives to the plot … and it is a move forward, something that was not there before. Over winter we have ventured up to the site: to ritually winter-dig, to gather parsnips or check on the state of the plot, security, move things from place to place, wonder at the growth of winter sown broad beans and onions. But this – for a fine change – is real progress.

And, with the tenuous warmth of the sun pouring down it is easy to recognise the creeping-up of spring. Birds nesting well under way, bulbs pushing leaves through the soil surface, polyanthus blooming, hazel catkins blowing in winds, no frogspawn yet, but amphibians quite vocal in our back garden. Sweet pea seeds sown in pots. Potatoes – finally set into boxes to chit up. Not everyone does this: Little Dave already has his early potatoes planted* (“It might get cold,” he wisely says, “but they’m underground, won’t get affected.”)

 

Plot 4D has a make-over. The winter dug soil is raked out, levelled. The winter weather has hopefully done its task of breaking up clods, killing weed seeds, discouraging slugs and snails. Now the rake pushes and pulls it into a charming workable area, less uncouth, more welcoming. Lime gets added because the soil on this plot is really gloopy and the lime should help break it down. Strangely the nature of the soils varies from plot to adjacent plot. Let the sun begin to heat up the ground now. The weirdly shaped roots of runner beans left in the ground are rounded up and popped onto the compost heap with other debris, the serpentine white roots of couch grass go to the pile to be burned.

While working I am joined by Dr Pepper – good to see he is staying on-site**. If all goes well he will become a first-time father in around six weeks’ time. Understandably he is both nervous and excited, unsure of how much time he will be able to put in up here.

Tadpole Bob also wanders over. Thankfully I have accomplished the second edge, which is cause for good natured banter.

But, while we are talking a pair of buzzards cleaving the air above us and goldfinches assaulting what must be the last seeds remaining in a teasel seed head everything feels turned around. We are sailing towards spring, warmer weather, germination, lighter days … then summer!

And it feels like it: positive and going somewhere as opposed to just jogging on the spot.

 

* I often say “there are a hundred gardeners hereabouts, so a hundred different best ways of growing the best potatoes”. (Though I may have paraphrased a wiser gardener!)

** Rents have just been paid and it’ll be a few weeks before we know who is keeping plots on – and meet the “newbies”.

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