Kick-starting the growing year
The fifth in my series of articles of A Guernsey Gardener in London was published on 26th March 2022 in the Guernsey Press, my homeland newspaper. This month I am talking of how I plant and grow our early potatoes, and the memories that I have of growing potatoes in Guernsey with my dad in his garden and my uncle in a huge field beside his house. The first two paragraphs of the article are copied below, and to read the full article for free click on the link under the paragraphs. Enjoy!! 👍
"For me, March is the month that really kick-starts my growing year. While we already have garlic, onions, broad beans and overwintering brassicas in the ground and growing well, this month is the one where our planting of seed potatoes begins, and if the weather is warm enough carrot and parsnip seed packets will be to hand, waiting for just the right sunny day.
Throughout most years of dad growing at Martyndale in St Peter’s and Le Pignon in Castel, he earnestly followed the traditional way of planting and growing potatoes. When seed potatoes arrived, usually around early to mid-February, dad would place them in used tomato trays in the greenhouse, nestled in newspaper so they didn’t touch each other; at Martyndale they were placed by the window in the garage as this was sheltered though got good sun. Tucked in their trays they’d get the light they needed, though not the cold they didn’t. Slowly, over the next six weeks or so, chits would form… dark and green and strong."
To read the full article for free click the link below:
A storm's gift
The fourth in my series of articles of A Guernsey Gardener in London was published on 26th February 2022 in the Guernsey Press, my homeland newspaper. The article looks at soil fertility, and how seaweed throughout the years has been a staple soil additive, especially in Guernsey. The first two paragraphs of the article are copied below, and to read the full article for free click on the link under the paragraphs. Enjoy!! 👍
"With all seeds now sorted and stored for this year’s sowings, February is a good time to turn my mind to one of the most important yet often overlooked elements of gardening and growing – the soil! There’s little point in nurturing seeds to seedlings and then on to healthy plants to then transplant into soil which is ill-equipped for the growing on and blooming or harvesting of the bounty. Soil needs to be healthy and rich in goodness, whether that comes from our own homemade compost, from bought in bags of peat-free growing medium or from well-rotted cow or horse manure it doesn’t really matter, as it’s all good food and structure for our soil.
One lesser-known soil additive (certainly where I am in London!) is one that gives a broad spectrum of micro-nutrients as well as the big macro-nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Additionally, this soil additive has important carbohydrates which together with the other nutrients it releases are essential building blocks in the plants we grow. This lesser-known soil additive – seaweed!"
To read the full article for free click the link below:
My third in the series of articles of A Guernsey Gardener in London was published on 31st January 2022 in the Guernsey Press, my homeland newspaper. The article looks at how January is the perfect month to sow plans for this year's growing season, and sort our seds of what you want to grow. The first two paragraphs of the article are copied below, and to read the full article for free click on the link under the paragraphs. Enjoy!! 👍
"JANUARY is always a quiet time at the plot, as it was always at our home gardens in Guernsey… summer’s sun is a distant memory and now warming cups of tea, a slice of cake and a roaring fire are a very welcome treat.
Outside, the weather is damp and cold, the soil the same – and sometimes frozen in London. Growth rates across the board are negligible, though there were and are always a few shards of bright green growth erupting from some Bunyard’s Exhibition broad bean plants or early sown Meteor peas. At the allotment just now, the broad beans are struggling against critters trying to munch them – signs, I fear, of the climate crisis and recent milder winters. This year’s shards of life that dazzle lime-green in bright winter sun are coming from our three types of garlic – Thermidrome, Messidor and Primor, together sounding like a trio of Mexican bandits."
To read the full article for free click the link below:
All I want for Christmas...
The second in my series of articles of A Guernsey Gardener in London was published on 20th December 2021 in the Guernsey Press, my homeland newspaper. The article looks at our Christmas harvests, and how a typical day used to be when I was growing up at Le Pignon in Castel, Guernsey. The first two paragraphs of the article are copied below, and to read the full article for free click on the link under the paragraphs. Enjoy!! 👍
"‘CHRISTMAS time, mistletoe and wine’, so suggests an old client’s most catchy and ‘memorable’ Christmas song, though for us gardeners and growers it’s less about mistletoe and wine and more about Brussels sprouts, parsnips, new potatoes, carrots, cabbage and any other vegetable we can bring into the kitchen, straight from being harvested, for cooking for our Christmas lunch.
I guess of all days of the year Christmas Day is the day us green-fingered lot want to harvest fresh vegetables straight from a garden or allotment. A day for celebrating the bounty of the work that has gone on throughout the year to ensure the crisp freshness and homegrown tastes to share with family and friends that grace our table. For some, Christmas Day is a day of celebrating a birth two millennia ago, for others it’s a time to gather and share gifts and happy times, and for a few it’s simply a day off from the everyday drudgery of life – for most it’s likely a mixture of these and a fulsome meal around a crowded table strewn with disarmed crackers, printed novelty jokes and a microscopic plastic magnifying glass."
To read the full article for free click the link below:
Where it all began...
Yesterday, the first in a new series of articles of A Guernsey Gardener in London was published in the Guernsey Press, my homeland newspaper. The article takes it all back to where it began for me - as a young child in a lane in Rue du Lorier, St Pierre du Bois, Guernsey. The first two paragraphs of the article are copied below, and to read the full article for free click on the link under the paragraphs. Enjoy!! 👍
"MARTYNDALE, Rue du Lorier, St Peter’s… that’s where the seed of A Guernsey Gardener in London was set, though it was not for another four decades and more that the seed would be sown.
Looking back, those days of the late ’60s and early ’70s were pretty idyllic for me… a huge garden with flower borders, loads of lawn to play on and a good area of ground set aside for the growing of fruit and veg. We were surrounded by fields, flower-splashed meadows and family, friends and a host of aunts and uncles who were named such simply for being part of our lives than being a blood relation; the occasional cow found in the garden that would be led around the side of the house, up the road, and along Route des Paysans and back into its field; secretly scrumping in a nearby orchard (when in fact the owner always knew full well); the spring-picking of violets and primroses that would be sent off by dad to Covent Garden (note – not something to do these days); the whole street pasting asters of all colours of the rainbow onto a float for entry to the Battle of Flowers… and that heavy heady smell of the glue; walking to St Peter’s School and all the playground fun, and swimming certificates for a width, a length, two lengths and more; and the utter joy of a walk down to L’Eree and a day on the beach… a beach which to this day is one of my favourite places in the world to sit, chat, laugh and reminisce with a swiftly melting soft ice cream cone and crumbly chocolate flake in hand."
To read the full article for free click the link below:
Rain on my parade
Saturday... A Bank Holiday weekend... Blue skies. Grey skies. Billowing white clouds. Blankets of grey. Sun. Brief showers... very brief showers... and lots of chat.
Being the first Saturday in May it was Naked Gardening Day, though no one I know of... including myself... was brazen enough to go the whole hog; I did go barefaced apart from suncream and wearing a T-shirt... so my arms were definitely taking part in the day of the year that elicits a huge amount of social media interest with very little full-on nudity... which is both fair enough and a good thing in my view!! Much more Monty Don and Carry On rather than red-light district... thankfully!
Being Spring Bank Holiday weekend in the UK I guess it was always going to be a busy three days at our site, as I'm sure it was across most sites in the four countries of the UK... and possibly allotment sites, Victory Gardens, community gardens and such other community-driven green spaces around the northern hemisphere too. Down Under, the busyness is of a different time; gathering harvests, relishing bounties and seed-saving for next year's hopes and dreams... polar opposites, literally!
As I chatted with plot neighbours there was much talk of how this year is behind last year; the sunniest April on record still turned out to be the frostiest since the great depression. Early potatoes still not showing, carrot and parsnip sowings delayed, direct sowing of French beans postponed, tomato plants still being coddled at home, fleeces readily at hand, greenhouse venting largely closed, warmth whilst in sunshine, chills in the shade, flasks still filled with warming liquids rather than cooling cordials, and no rain... or too little to give any real benefit. The forecast was for the Bank Holiday weekend to end with a downpour, or two, or three... and no one was complaining... and no one is now as for once that forecast was right!
With so many wanting both to chat and just crack on with their tasks a quiet job I'd planned for Saturday was moved to the day after, and a job for the day after was done instead. Beds were topdressed with Soil Improver and Peat-free Compost, and their bags dried out and readied for re-use. The forecast rain would mellow the topdressing onto the beds, and the nutrients will start working their way down.
Shortly after my job was done I was told by a passing fellow allotmenteer that my beds were so neat that they looked like they were on parade... and I sort of got the drift, and hoped for once the forecast would be right so that we WOULD have rain on my parade... which we did. I'm still deciding which beds will hold brassicas, and which beans and salads and direct-sown beetroot and turnips, and more; one thing for sure is none will hold radish which remains a bête noir...
We're now well into our growing year, which for us runs October to September, just as it did for my dad; I know I think differently to others, and I guess in terms of this I always will. To me the planting of garlic and sowing of broad beans in October is always a good start for the year.
And on broad beans, will I do Bunyard's Exhibition again? This year they were bitten so hard by snows and rugged chill winds I think we'll be back to the seemingly sturdier Aquadulce Claudia come October. And that's where part of my head is now... October... and next year. I'm already making notes, as it's never too soon... varieties I want to grow... and ones I don't... seed-saving of what and how and when. I'm doubting onions will be in our beds next year. In fact, I doubt we'll do onions here again... unless, of course, we do...
So the weekend wore on and work got done... hoeing, weeding, raking, topdressing, watering, tidying and importantly the art of quietly observing; a simple yet complex skill that often many forget.
Of all that got done on our May Day at the plot, and during the rest of the weekend, the most important was chatting... chatting is so important, and such an intrinsic part of allotment life; remaining socially-distanced didn't mean we had to remain distant. Catching-up... who's doing what, feeling well, needing an uplift, a gifting of smiles, a sharing of laughter, a listening ear for someone's sorrows, and an uplifted heart from sharing someone's joys... simply spending time in the company of others whether friends, colleagues, acquaintances or simply frequently passing nods and smiles. This is allotment life... as important as communing with the soil, sowings, seedlings, plantings, harvests, Planet Earth and Mother Nature is communing with each other.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, 4 May 2021
As many of you know, the fabulous Vivi (or The Queen of the Gardens as I call her) has become a really close friend of ours over the past year; in fact it's not even a year since she and we met physically for the first time. That was a memorable day, as every hour spent with her since has been. Apart from being a good friend, I also admire her for all the work that she does in her garden, on such a tight budget and with such a clear unambiguous necessity in mind: the requirement to be able to feed herself for a year. And she does it with such grace and tenacity, teaching us lots and learning from us a little, with earnestness and with integrity and most of all with true, honest grit, determination and hard work.
As I was tackling this additional growing space over a few mornings earlier this week, Vivi was a near constant in my mind. This area here, now under cardboard and bricks, is on a fellow plotholder's growing space he is not going to be able to use this year. He's asked if we'll manage it for the time being, and we'll be growing a selection of squash on it. Some of these squash will be distributed, others will go towards various soups and sweet and savoury treats for our Association get-togethers... which hopefully we'll be able to have once again when this lockdown ends!
The soil here is very different to further up at our plot. It is more alluvial. It is closer to what was the Brent River bed many years back. The soil is quite compact, with loose yet tight clay deposits; fertile and robust, whilst being hard to work and tiring. However, two mornings work and the bed is now forked, weeded, Marestail removed, topped with a bag of well rotted manure, watered, covered with cardboard and weighted down with dried branches and heavy old bricks. It will stay this way for at least another month, maybe even six weeks, and then the squash plants will go in... though fingers crossed as I am waiting for them to germinate!
So in my work of these few mornings, I've become even more admiring and understanding of Vivi and the way she tends her soil, the knowledge that she has of her soil and the genuine year's worth of fresh food she grows in her soil. A number of people have suggested she needs to go No Dig, though 'needs' is a very challenging word for many of us; especially when 'needs must' are the words that one needs to live by.
So hats off to you Vivi! My admiration for you is higher than ever!!
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 29
I checked on the Cedrics and Cedricitas earlier and they're all blissfully unaware of what is going on in the world. You see, they're well cocooned (almost!) in their own world. They've survived the winter really well and have been munching away on their breakfasts, lunches and suppers. I know it's not the type of sustenance that I would want, though Hey Ho... they seem to love their nourishments!! They've also now eaten fully through their winter blanket (more commonly known as a hessian sack!) so Richard really does need to get his crochet needles out and sort something for them for the coming winter. The other day I suggesed to Richard that I buy some hessian twine for him to crochet them a blanket... though he didn't seem impressed by the idea... I guess a hessian sack will again have to do...
Whilst knowing we're in the middle of the major worldwide crisis that some predicted though none expected, I have to say I'm rather enjoying the quiet, the tranquility, and the general lack of rush that the world finds itself in. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate there's so much to hate with this worldwide tragedy being played out in real life rather than on a high-definition screen; loss, pain, anguish, exhaustion, anxiety, stress and the lack of a normal day-to-day life,... though, within these extraordinary times there is also some quiet, some balance and some peace for many of us too.
Obviously, it's a deeply sad, busy, exhausting, dispiriting and hopelessly challenging time for those frontline workers in the NHS and all hospitals, hospices and care homes around the world, the delivery drivers, many teachers, police, ambulance drivers, supermarket workers, shopkeepers, careworkers, farmworkers, volunteers, rubbish collectors, charity workers and all the essential 'unskilled' (as our hideous governments like to call them); many are working through this time ensuring we're as safe as possible in our homes, whilst they're out doing their essential jobs and working in so many dangerous places, including in our hero hospitals. These essential workers, who it is now so clear our societies and economies cannot do without, are the real heroes, in both horrendous times of crisis like these and also our 'normal times'.
'Normal times'... I guess there's the rub.
Do I want it to go back to those 'normal times'?
Obviously, I don't want anyone to die in life-threatening situations, though even as this virus goes on evil does not take a pause for calamity. And afterwards I'm sure war will still wage, greed will prevail, we will plunder Mother Nature, and the rich will be heralded and the 'unskilled'... well... they will likely again be forgotten... though I hope and would almost even deign to pray that this is not the case.
We need a new normal, a different and more caring normal. A normal that genuinely appreciates kindness, understanding and thoughtfulness. Many people who are having challenges are not born into their challenges, and the challenges they find themselves in are not of their own doing. For these people, and all people and all of our greater kin of Mother Nature, virus and post-virus, I like to hope that there will be a greater knowledge, a greater appreciation, a greater understanding of the important elements in life; of air, fire, water and earth in balance and nourishing our bodies and sustaining truly sustainable lives, not just for the few but for all: with a greater appreciation and comprehension of how being kind, being thoughful and being understanding is the true greatness we can hold in our minds and in our hearts.
We can no longer accept without thinking. Virtually globally, our governments have continually put economy before society, and that cannot continue. If our governments do not understand we need a 'new normal' it is the duty of each of us to tell them; at the ballot box, in writing, through social media, and through the actions we take. Let's not buy the cheapest without understanding why it is so cheap. Let's not buy simply what we want, but think first and buy what we need. Let's think how a purchase negatively impacts on someone's life, or all of Mother Nature and our one Planet Earth.
Let's not forget the times of Covid-19. Let's learn from them. Let's change the future. If we don't, Covid-whatever is only a small number of years away...
The times they are a changin'... I hope!
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 28
Time and tide... (AGGIL 27)
So here we are... Twenty four days from my last blog post... with much having happened... yet much having stayed the same...
It was said by the fastidious wordsmith Geoffrey Chaucer that "Time and tide wait for no man", and this has certainly been the case for me over the last month. Time has certainly travelled on and the ebbs and flows of life have meandered unannounced, yet with a quiet fanfare...
Richard's nosebleed, visiting mum, rain, a pandemic, stock market crashes, gales and gusts aplenty, more rain, some sunshine... and life carried on. Some videos were made, Planet Vegetaria was exquisitely active, seeds were sown and our newly acquired plot has taken shape. So yes, life carried on... even if I was not writing my blog...
So here we are.. Twenty four days from my last blog post... with much still to happen... and yet much still to stay the same...
...and with normal service of my blog posts being resumed!
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 27
A sight for poor eyes (AGGIL 26)
When we drove into the entrance of the riding school a few weeks back, this great hulk of aged compost was really a sight for poor eyes. Now, I don't mean that my eyesight is bad... as it's not...
Let me explain...
This year I decided to do my best to cut down further on my participation as a consumer in this crazy world we now live in; I'm simply thinking more about what I need rather than what I want. So... my choice is that I want to buy less, so to be able to pick up compost for free from not too far away was a definite joy to grab hold of!
This compost is well rotted, soft, pliable, and already comes with worms included! It's a really well-turned mix of stable clear-out, woodchips, goat dung, those stone chippings you get to keep horses' hooves keen, and the rake out from the arena base. The management of it has been good too, as it's clearly been turned with a mechanical digger, and heaved up high, and the result is rather sublime.
This morning we did another two journeys... another two tonnes. So, in nine journeys and across three days, an allotment friend and myself... AND her reliant Citroen Berlingo, have moved nine tonnes of compost. We've shared it... 50/50... though I will be baking a loaf or two of bread as a little thank you. Our journies to the riding school are not quite over yet though, as we agreed another morning of shovelling later in the week.
Recently, I'd been wondering how I was going to even topdress the cardboard of our edged beds with an inch of compost. You see, I didn't really want to take compost from our old plot; maybe a few shovels full as an activator though certainly no more. The compost that we have in our pallet compost bin needs more time to break down, with a good turn or two to come, though the one in our Hotbin needs to be emptied so can be used. However, I'd really no idea how I was going to cover even thinly the three layers of cardboard of our repositioned edged beds... without spending money... and pretty serious money too!
So, being now able to put down not only an inch of compost on each edged bed but rather three or four inches is really a joy to behold, and a sight for my poor eyes and, by my own decision, my shallow pockets.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 26
...long term partners.