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
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
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
As we stepped into mum's apartment the other day, my senses were immediately struck by a smell that I knew so well yet also could not quite place. I'd been caught by a scent that was both heavy and heady, yet full of light and shade at the same time. Each pace I took along the hallway the stronger the scent became... until, as I passed the kitchen doorway, I saw some narcissus in a small glass vase and was instantly transported to another time and place; to a time some four decades ago and a place some 3 miles from where I stood...
When we lived as a family at Le Pignon, a home near the centre of the island in the parish of Castel, I would walk with friends to school; Castel Infant School. I guess I was around ten or eleven, with no cares in the world and a host of unknown hopes and dreams ahead.
Our journey to school would be along Rue des Varendes, which lead onto Le Villocq, up Le Neuve Rue, right into Rue des Cauvains (avoiding the electric shock treatments of the Castel Hospital!!), then passed the King Edward VII Hospital, and then, as we got to the T-junction with Les Vieux Beauchamps there they were, directly in front of us.... a field of golden daffodils dancing in all their sunshiney glory. Yet for me it was not the yellow beauties that caught my eye, it was the yellow-eyed white narcissus that did, and they caught my nose too... and my imagination. These cherished mutli-headed floral gems were called Avalanche, and dad told me that they were from the Scilly Isles, which I always thought a wonderful name for an amazing multi-headed cascading fall of blooms... yet a silly name for a group of islands.
As we'd walk home from another joy filled day of school - and I do mean that as my schooldays were full of the joys of learning, of numbers, of letters, of nature, of play, and of friends - we would pick a bunch or two of flowers on our way. Diving into the field, we would gently pick a handful with the billy-goat-gruff farmer looking on... "Don't take too many... I gots to make my livin'".
As we walked to the back doors of our homes, where comfort and love abounded, the hands of each of my friends was the glory of a bunch of golden daffodils for their mum; in mine a multi-headed magisterial mystery of name and of place enveloped in gold and white petalled flows for my mum, Mary.
Those few steps into mum's apartment a few days ago really took me back... more than four decades... to a heady scent of the past.
A Guernsey Gardener in London - Day 25
So much of our lives for the next year, and beyond, is held within this simple, unassuming cardboard box.
It's name is Bertie.
Bertie originally started its travels on the Isle of Arran, coming to London then spending some time in France, before returning to London. A quick visit to Wales then ensued, though for much of last year Bertie was just happy to sit at home... quiet... unpretentious... still. And we're delighted that this was the case, as Bertie holds so many of our growing hopes and dreams.
It is within the packets... within the monthly sections... within Bertie that much of our growing year is held. The seeds in each packet, and each monthly section, will barely ever see the light of day. As they sit in the darkness of their packaging they're really just waiting for the dappled darkness of soil... or compost... and moisture... and sunlight. You see, it's these seeds that will germinate and grow and produce food for our table. Some will need to burst into flower before giving up their taste-filled offerings; others will just be resplendent in their luscious, leafy green goodness; the rest we'll know little about until they're pulled from the ground and their lengthy tap root or bulbous tubers are revealed to the sun or rain drenched world.
Bertie is a spit of a thing and doesn't really weigh much, though this meek little box carries the full weight of bountiful growing seasons and harvests... harvests that we hope will sustain and nourish.
We certainly have much to thank Bertie for, and can only hope that our growing hopes and dreams for this year are fulfilled... weather and pests permitting!
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 24
Even though these planters look a bit ragged and rugged at the moment, they still bring me that little uplift that one needs when starting a long day of work.
Yesterday was a day at For Earth's Sake, and it was longer than usual. We had an additional meeting in the early evening - a Business Improvement District meeting - so my train back would be late. It's rarely a chore to travel down and visit Vanessa and the team, however multi-sequenced my trek... They're all working so hard to try and do good for the planet, its wildlife, flora and fauna and its people. Nothing to not enjoy being part of, though it is a trek; albeit giving one time to think, as public transport often does.... though more on this another time...
... going back to these planters!
It's early morning and the middle of winter and they're looking a little forlorn. In a few months' time some of this grouping will be flowering and giving up their yellow buds to commuters already weary and worn on their morning commute... I'm sure they are even more of a blessing during their evening trudge back to home! These planters, or rather the plants, are also adding a little fresh air, doing their carbon dioxide and oxygen thing that they do so well. These little green growing places, these oases that we often walk past without a care do lift the spirit, if you let them. I'm forever grateful that there are those willing to care for them; as part of their job or on a voluntary basis of one sort or another.
We had some planters at the top of our road which had "seen better days", sullen palms in them. Not really the ideal plant for this place at the outskirts of London, in my humble opinion... I suppose the council thought "plant a palm and you won't have to worry about it", though the rest of the human detritus that gathers in these planters is the main problem. You see, the issue isn't the palms... it's the people. At one time I thought about taking up the cudgel with these top-of-the-road travesties and doing some guerrilla gardening, though there's already a lot going on in our life and maybe that would've just been a step too far... Anyhow, now they are gone, and the space is more barren... ...
... going back to these planters!!
As I continued my journey to Cranleigh, I had a little outward smile and inward warmth at this little oasis of greenery; positioned awkwardly amidst the rolled steel tracks of railway lines, harsh steelwork hoardings, softening wooden fences, vibrant caution stickers, and the hard concrete, tarmac and slabs of the platforms.
Returning late last night, and passing through the station at a little past 11pm, I glanced over my shoulder at these planters again; through the cinematic little lit pods of travellers of the train as it trundled out of the station.
There they were... unsurprisingly... across on the other platform, in darkness yet lit up by the neon glow on the station. All quiet, and gentle, and resting...
One bus ride home and I would be doing the same.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 23
The natural world. Forever amazing and inspirational.
For us, at this time of year, a trough of our strawberry plants is hardly a thing of beauty, though like all real beauty the truth is never just skin deep. At the moment the silent joy is in a few green leaves, protected by their waxy cuticle layer. The plants are keeping themselves tucked up under a blanket of last season's dead leaves; the ones that worked hard photosynthesising to ensure the plant grew, fruited and gave berries of paradise. They do need tidying up; but not at this moment.
At this moment this crispy brown veil is a blanket, a home and a refuge for tiny insects hibernating and microbial life; life that we don't fully understand and that we can't even see with the naked eye. It is often when our world's in winter's embrace that we take stock and think of what's to come. With some tender care, judicious pruning, and a little liquid fertiliser from reconstituted organic chicken manure pellets, these now quiet strawberry plants will soon start shouting and give us an abundance of fat red berries... only about five months to wait! Of course, the flowers will come first, then bees, butterlies and insects will pay a visit... or two... or three. They'll leave some magic dust, and then fruit will start growing... and swelling... and ripening.
I look forward to the days of strawberries, and now know our summer is not too distant... bringing the bliss of heated rays of sunshine... and seemingly endless watering!
But first... now... at this very moment.. we are in winter's embrace.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 22
As I've been pottering at the allotment today, two well-known sayings have come to mind. The first is "It's never too late to do some good" and the second is "Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today".
It's the 1st of January and obviously the start of a brand new calendar year. Our growing year is gently moving forward and getting in to gear, and this morning it's been about tidying the beds on our top plot.
Where we had our completely unproductive Butternut Waltham squash and quite productive climbing beans I've set to and weeded the bed; taking out any perennial weeds that were starting to take hold and covering all with a single layer of cardboard. A single layer here will do for the moment, and if it needs another that will have to wait for a few weeks as the rest of our cardboard hoard is needed for sorting out our newly acquired half plot next door.
Another bed, where our autumn harvesting broad beans were - the Luz de Otono that I vainly had much hope for - has been weeded thoroughly: some couch grass was coming through and it had to come out. I made sure I followed the root back as far as I could and pulled it from as deep as possible. We'll try the Luz de Otono again next year, this time sowing from seed. With such an unusually wet autumn this year the plug plants grew well but got black spot quickly and needed to come out. So today was just about tidying that bed. The soil is quite high in this edged bed, as we had added compost to hill the potatoes, so some of it will soo go onto a new bed at the plot next door.
Mr Robin - I'm sure not the one from home - is keeping me company and fluttering nearby; taking in the view of what's been done. Sitting next to me on the left arm of our blue bench, every now and again he flits off to the ground, digs around, rustles something out and has another nibble of lunch. Now he's off in the buddleja, which I'm glad I haven't yet cut back; clearly he doesn't like it all too neat.
It's completely silent down here today... almost. Even though the sky may be grey, the stillness is quite golden. There are a few people at the pub so occasionally there's a background murmur from the beer garden. Others are walking along the canal path and the river path, so every so often the shouting of a child screeches across the allotment. Barring this though it's mainly birds twittering, an occasional car door being slammed shut, and a very slight rumble of planes at Heathrow as their occupants jet off to who knows where.
Earlier I left Richard with his Shark vacuum cleaner. It arrived yesterday. He immediately unpacked it, checked it all over and gave it a quick try out. This morning he's been doing the two upstairs floors... and complaining that I was getting in the way in the bedroom when I wanted to get changed to come down here. After a brief break for us both and a soya milk coffee, I left him to his hoovering and came down here to do some tidying. All of that is now done and three beds are tucked away under cardboard, and another bed is thoroughly weeded. I could have done this weeks ago, and it's only taken me a couple of hours. Though for whatever reason I didn't get round to it then. And I have now. Which is good. That is how life is after all.
So, coming back to those two sayings. Sometimes you do need to put something off because you know you just don't have the energy to do it today. And sometimes things are too late as you missed a deadline, and whatever you do after missing that deadline will never take you back to it. For what I needed to get done here for some illogical reason these two sayings sprang to mind, though I have no idea really why they did. I guess somewhere in my mind they just wanted to. Certainly it's not been too late, and certainly I haven't put off until tomorrow what I could do today. Clearly, the time was just right.
For some it may seem like an odd thing to be spending a few hours on New Year's Day down at an allotment, though for me it seems the perfect way to start another calendar year. And a great way to start my third month of my blog, 'A Guernsey Gardener in London'.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 21
To date, I've always planted out onion sets in the autumn for harvesting the following summer. Most years we've been lucky with our white onions and had really good results; the variety of late has been Shakespeare. However, with our red onions, which have always been Red Baron, it's been a different story. They have always bolted, which obviously is not the intention and is no good for long-term storage.
However, over the past few days I've been getting that little itch again of needing to sow some seeds... as us allotmenteers often do! I had a hunt in my seedbox and came across some Ailsa Craig onion seeds which had been free and enclosed with a magazine some months back. So yesterday, as I was popping down to the allotment to do our Christmas Day harvest, I decided to sow these whilst I was there and see how they do... though in fairness even if I had had nothing to do at the allotment I would have still gone... that itch being itchy and needing a scratch!
It's become somewhat of a tradition in the UK to sow onion seed on Boxing Day. I think it springs from those wanting to grow exhibition onions, like Kelsae, though may do me well too (even if I was a day early!). I guess this tradition really aligns more to sowing on the shortest day and harvesting on the longest; though nowadays after an extended family ridden Christmas Day I am sure many will want to escape for an hour or so on Boxing Day to potter at the allotment!
I've never done onions from seed before, though have over the last few years had a hankering to have a go. It'll be interesting to see how they compare to how we've grown our onions previously... as sets... planted in the autumn... as I have already said...
Apart from White Lisbon Spring Onions which I sowed a month or so ago - growing along with what Kelly from Kelly's Kitchen Garden is doing - I currently have no onions growing. You see, I'd already decided that this year we'd plant out sets in the spring, just like Vivi does. Hers always seem to do well and not bolt, so we'll follow the way of the Queen of the Gardens this growing year.
You may remember last year we tried planting our onion sets deeper, as dad used to do. Sadly, the result was pretty poor. All of the red onions bolted yet again; fourth year growing and fourth year bolting. With our white Shakespeare, which had done really well in previous years, they didn't seem to like being planted deeper than we normally do. Largely, the harvest had onions that had either rust or allium leaf miner. Of course one reason could have been the deeper than usual planting, especially as I now remember that the soil that dad had in Guernsey is much sandier than we have, which will have certainly helped with drainage. Additionally, I think the white rot took hold as the onion sets seemed to stay quite damp around the growing onion. I know I didn't weed them enough and let Mizuna germinate and grow to full-size plants; this itself will have kept moisture in the soil at the level that the onions were forming... not ideal growing conditions for a crop that likes its own space. A note to self to hand weed more often AND remove volunteer plants if I even think they may at some point do harm!
So, I think a combination of things rather than just one had resulted in last year's poor onion harvest, and I've taken responsibility for these errors, and learned from them; as all us allotmenteers must. We get to know our soil, our light, our weather, our watering regime, our composting techniques, our fertilisers and our ways of doing things, and learn more and adapt again each growing year.
So, the sowing of these Ailsa Craig is done. They've already had a night tucked up in the poly, and we'll see how these little hard balls of onion seeds get on over the next few months. How quickly, or slowly, will they germinate? Shall I thin to one strong seedling per module or allow them to clump? When will they need planting out? Should I buy Enviromesh and cover to reduce the risk of allium leaf miner? Do I need special fertiliser for them or will a top-dressing of chicken manure pellets suffice?
We will see how they do, and find these answers as we go along. Learning and adapting as we allotmenteers always do.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 20
...long term partners.