You may have seen already the video of me planting out our Messidrome Garlic, and our Bunyard's Exhibition Broad Beans. It felt like such an achievement after seemingly endless delays; day-on-day and week-on-week 'other things' needing to happen since their respective beds were ready in early October. However, they're in, and hopefully the plump garlic cloves are each putting down their thread-like roots, and the broad beans are swelling so that the little primary root of each seed – the radicle root - can force its way out of its shell and into soft, loamy earth. Bliss!!
This morning, in sorting out various photos on my phone, I noticed I had accidentally taken one of the Messidrome Garlic bed after the cloves had been planted. The thing that struck me was the tiny difference between the two pictures - the 'before' and the 'after' shot if you like. On the left is the 'before' shot, with the soft soil topped by a small guideline, whilst the 'after' shot looks virtually identical though without the line.
It made me think of two things.
The first is that what we see above our sacred soil can hide so much of what's going on beneath a quiet surface. So much of what we do in growing our own food starts off, after planting or sowing, with nothing seemingly happening... then a shoot breaks through the soil and we smile. Though still then, especially with root and tuber crops, garlic, and ground nuts like peanuts, we don't fully know what is going on underneath; a forest of vibrant growth above may simply only suggest what is going on down below.
My second thought is that by simply removing that guideline, and without knowing the time and energy I had put in to planting the individual cloves, it would seem as though little had happened. In fact I had spent a good while splitting each of the garlic cloves from the bulb, checking each clove for disease or damage, gently raking the top of the soil, placing down the guideline, laying each clove along its line and in its row, adjusting the spacing here and there, using a trowel to gently make the planting hole, placing each individual clove in its own growing space in the damp soil, covering each clove up and then carefully smoothing out the surface of the soil. So much time and effort had gone into this planting, though the only visible sign to show for it that day was the removal of a piece of string.
It made me think that we humans are similar.
What others see on the surface of us, in our face, our gestures, our stance and even our words often tell a very different story than what is happening beneath the surface, inside our bodies, inside our brains. And the fact that we might go along with the actions and words of others does not make us them, and to understand that is key.
In addition, what might seem a simple task to one person may to another be herculean. The result of an activity for two people may be the same, though the process for each may be entirely different. For one that activity could be a simple run-of-the-mill, day-in day-out task, whilst to the other the task may be monumental, take much more thought, energy, learning, fear and time. Again, understanding that we are each different is key.
Being thoughtful, caring and understanding of others is so important in today's exhilarating and vapid world - a world where good traits are often seen as a weakness, and time spent on good, thorough achievement is often disregarded.
It’s important to find one’s own guideline in life, and the line that is right for each of us can show itself at very different stages of our life, and they often change as the years pass. What was once so important is now irrelevant, and vice versa. Endeavouring to find that line and follow it is again key.
In my life, where others have seen a weakness in me, I have learnt to find a strength, and seeking and finding the right guideline has brought me to where I am today, and I am quite happy with where that is.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 11
I came down here to pick spinach, or chard, or even some Portuguese Cabbage. It doesn't really matter which. It’s 4.30pm and the darkness is beginning to creep in from the west. The clocks fell back an hour yesterday – giving in one way and taking in another. After a minute or two I realise I’ve become still, just watching the sky darken. I’m reflecting. Not on anything specific you understand; just me reflecting in this time, and in this place.
I think reflecting is something we don't do enough of. We're always moving from one event to another, from one requirement to another, from one job to another, always on the move and always running towards the next thing that needs to be done. So today, now, I'm just taking a few minutes out.
Sitting on our little pale blue wooden bench, which definitely needs renovation and certainly a new lick of paint, I'm now reflecting on our top growing space. Our first growing space here. Our first real allotment space in fact. And through this growing space to the space that has become our own just recently. There's so much work to do here, though it's not a challenge that I'm letting get me down. It’s actually rather exciting in its challenges.
Glancing across to the bench I notice the Calendulas I rescued a few weeks ago from the tomato bed are still giving us their happy orange blooms. The violas are doing the same with their own shade of positive purple. Then I notice the parsnips, which with a mild though distinct frost last night will have begun to sweeten. Then in front of me... Yes, those two beds are still empty. The broad beans haven't been sown yet, and that's yet another week that's gone by without them being in their cool dark beds. And our Messidrome garlic is still to go in. As is our elephant garlic, which I now think will be planted at our Community Gardens plot. However, these three will have to wait for another day. As I’m just sitting here, reflecting on nothing and everything at the same time.
A plane that took off from Heathrow half a minute ago comes into view above the treeline, and dissects the darkening sky. I don’t think it’s going to be a sunset that Richard will be able to make anything of this evening. The clouds are forming a grey blanket. Of course, this will mean that the skies will be less open than last night and the outside temperature will be a few degrees warmer. No frost tonight... maybe. Even though it's fabulous to see a clear night-time sky that is full of stars and wonders, as gardeners we need to remember that this brings with it cooler temperatures - as the cloud blanket is not there to hold the warmth in.
There really is so much to do down here. The old apple tree that bears hardly any edible fruit will need a pruning, but that can wait till January. Our tree honeysuckle needs a definite shaping, and even though we're not going to be cutting back the Buddleia in full now (as we will be doing that in February) it does need a distinct trim to let as much of the low morning light on to this plot as possible.
Everything is still… I hear a train in the distance, rattling over the viaduct. A fellow plot holder hoeing his soil... back and forth... back and forth. The side door of the local pub clunks shut. And then I notice the street lights have all come on; silently.
As another plane, smaller this time, crosses the tree boundary from its take off at Heathrow I know that it's now dark enough to see the plane’s headlights spearing the way. Are they called headlights? I wonder this often, and should really look it up. When there's time...
I better get on and do what I came here to do. Harvest spinach. Or chard. Or…
This evening we're having Rocket & Walnut Pesto with Wholemeal Pasta and Greens. Richard has particularly requested this tonight. I did wonder why, though it's not really important to know. If it gets any darker I won't be able to determine which of the spinach plants’ leaves are the best to harvest, so I better get on.
It really is well worth taking some minutes out of the day and reflecting on the stillness of things. Without time out from the hubble and bustle, and the noise and the lights of everyday life, we simply don't have clear headspace or energy to push forward on all else that we'd like to get done.
The weeding of our new plot can wait for another day. And the sowing of the broad beans and the planting of the garlics can also wait. The morning after next looks as though it will be fine, and won't hold the chilliness that this morning did. The ground will also be just that little bit softer, before the rains begin again.
So all of this can wait a few days, and I'll just sit here for five minutes more before I harvest some spinach and chard. Decision made. Spinach AND chard.
It is in these moments that I realise how lucky we are to be wardens of the allotment spaces and growing spaces we all hold dear. Long may these times last.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 9
This afternoon I had a little bit of luxury, well at least it felt like a little bit of luxury.
It feels as though I've been at my desk for an eternity. The last fortnight I've had only fleeting visits to the allotment to check on a few things and harvest. This afternoon though, I was able to take out a couple of hours and set to on preparing beds for the sowing of broad beans and also of our garlic. The garlic is going in where our tomatoes were on the top plot, and even though I took the blight-ridden plants out a few weeks back there was plenty of weeding and rescuing of flowers to do. I potted up some cheery Calendula, some absolutely gorgeous self-seeded Violas and a fabulous Feverfew which was dancing in the wind. Hopefully these will all over winter and be able to be used either in pots or in beds in the spring.
So, the long bed for the Messidrome garlic is ready (below). There's still a flower left in the far end though I'm sure it only has as a few days of glory left in it. The bed I've sorted for our broad beans (above) still has a nasturtium in situ. I'm leaving it here for a few more days as Vivi has been making Poor Man's Capers from these seeds so I need to check on her video and try and make those before I pull the plant out, which is destined for the compost heap. In the other end of the bed is a small Morning Glory which has been trailing along the ground as it had nothing to climb. It will definitely be bitten by frosts and come out though I'm leaving it for the bees for the moment.
One of the jobs that I also sorted this afternoon was the weeding of the autumn harvesting broad bean plants, the Luz De Otono. As I was weeding, two big fat bumble bees came down and nestled into the unctuous flowers. They seemed happy with their lot as they buzzed from flower to flower. I've already noticed that some broad bean pods are forming so maybe we will get more beans in November. Time will tell.
So, though some may not see these two hours I've had as a luxury, the hours certainly were for me. I came away feeling uplifted and refreshed, and with three types of carrots and some Portuguese Cabbage in my hands. Along with the Desiree potatoes we were given a few weeks back and some Linda McCartney burgers, that is this evening's meal sorted.
I write this whilst taking a few minutes rest before making supper, and unusually I'm having a nice glass of red wine. Another little bit of luxury.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 6
As I was shopping in Morrisons this morning it was with a bit of a heavy heart I had to plunge my hands into the loose onions and bag up a kilo or two. As you may remember, our onion harvest for the past growing year was pretty disastrous, and our garlic harvest wasn't much better. It had rained so much just prior to harvesting that our onions and many of our garlic were pretty damp. Some of the onions had succumbed to white rot and others just weren't up to scratch. None of them had bulked out in the way our previous onions had. With our garlic the Allium Leaf Miner had taken quite a toll and we will certainly not be growing garlic nor onions in that bed for some time to come. Leeks is another of the edible allium family that I don't think we will be planting this growing year; the last two years have been pretty poor totally due to Allium Leaf Miner.
Now we are in a new growing year, at least for us, and I had the joy on returning from shopping of opening up the Messidrome garlic that we had purchased from Suttons. Apart from the plastic netting bag packaging I am absolutely delighted with this order. The cloves themselves are big and chunky, and the bulbs from which the cloves have been split are absolutely full; happily almost filling the palm of my cupped hand. We haven't grown this variety of garlic before though one of our YouTube subscribers suggested that we do. Normally we have grown Germidour, both new from Wilko and as saved cloves from the previous harvest, and we have also planted cloves from a bulb of garlic bought from Lidl.
Last year the onions and garlic went in deeper than I normally do, very much in the the way that dad used to do it. However, I'm going to be planting them this year as we have done in previous years. I don't think it's the fact that the way dad used to do it was wrong, I think rather it is more that the soil in Guernsey is far lighter and more sandy and therefore drains extremely well. Our allotment soil is good, don't get me wrong, though it certainly doesn't drain like much of the soil in Guernsey. Given this, these Messidrome cloves will be planted about an inch or so deep and then we will top dress with some chicken manure pellets in the spring. After planting we will cover them loosely with scaff netting for a few weeks, until they have started rooting and the green tips have begun to lift above the surface.
Messidrome garlic is a soft neck variety and hopefully is going to store well for us. Though I have not yet checked its origin I am thinking it must be from the Drôme region in southeast France, and be that region's famed harvest. The blurb says it has 'excellent flavour for all culinary uses' (what else would a grower or allotmenteer use it for?) and 'stores for longer and has more numerous but smaller cloves'. Time will tell...
Unlike in all our previous years of growing alliums, we are not going to be overwintering our onions this year. Last year we overwintered sets of Red Baron and also Shakespeare. In the years that we have grown Red Baron they have always bolted, and then have to be used first as they won't store well. In contrast, for the last few years the Shakespeare variety of white onions had done superbly for us, and stored well through to about January when we ran out.
Richard and I were at the RHS Malvern Autumn Show last Sunday and met up with a load of YouTubers, including Vivi Gregory, Jane Kelly, Huw Richards and Liz Zorab who were taking part in a Q&A in The Potting Shed. During the Q&A Huw mentioned that he is not going to grow Red Baron again as his had also tended to bolt. I must admit there was a little bit of me that was pleased that someone who grows organically as well as Huw does had also had challenges with their Red Baron. I felt a little less inadequate in the onion department!
So, as I mentioned we are not overwintering onions this year. We will have our garlic growing over winter, and we will have two types of broad beans too; maybe some peas also. Hopefully the growing tips of all these will keep me smiling through the winter months.
I am going to be following the advice of Vivi this year and buying onion sets for planting in the spring. In fact I will be copying the Queen of the Gardens entirely this year in our choice of white onions and will be growing Jet Set, and they will be going in around March / April I think [note to self, check What Vivi Did Next's video of her planting sets in 2019]. We are still going to be growing some red onions, even though Richard is not a great fan of them. I have ordered a variety called Rosanna - again a French variety which is apparently pink rather than a deep red. I have never grown this variety before so it will be interesting to see how it does for us, especially compared to the experiences that we have had with Red Baron.
This afternoon I got down to the plots, got the rest of our tomatoes out on the top plot, and tomorrow I will start preparing that bed for the Messidrome. Oh, and at Morrisons I also bought myself a mini flask. A little treat that will keep me warm for the work ahead at the allotment over the coming dark months.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 3
...long term partners.