Archive for the 'Winter' Category

Winter jobs in the vegetable garden

Happier times: Summer holidays

Greek theatre in Taormina, SicilyIt’s a difficult, gloomy time of  year. In the UK, we’ve had gales and pouring rain for a fortnight. Most of the country’s under weather warnings as I write, and no doubt tomorrow’s TV news will bring the familiar shots of shivering folk being ferried from their submerged homes in rubber boats.

It is, in short, shit.

So my thoughts turn to sunnier days. In the dark dirge of winter, it’s hard to imagine summer was ever even possible, far less that it happened – and that you were there.

My Sicilian photos prove otherwise. It all seems dreamy and surreal now, but there WAS once sunshine and there WILL be again. I have to repeat this to myself several times a day.

I really, really shouldn’t have been born in a high latitude. It doesn’t suit me. I’m a creature of light and sunshine. The darkness fucks me up.

Posted on 3rd January 2014
Under: Winter | 2 Comments »

The iceman cometh?

I’ve been thinking about sunspots.

Now, cool your jets. I’m not going to start banging on about Maunder Minima and little ice ages versus global warming, CO2 and all the rest of it.

Reasons: a) I’m bored by all the arguments that generate more heat than light, and b) I’m not qualified (you might reasonably ask: on the basis of a piffling few hundred years of unreliable weather data… who really is?).

No, this blog entry merely asks a hypothetical and rather narrow question, viz:

If solar activity does hugely affect climate, and if we are the verge of a new ‘Maunder Minimum’ period that will bring much colder winters (all theoretical and unproven)… what would that be like on my vegetable plot?

Well, I guess it would mean more years like the last three.

Which, I gotta say, is bad news. Because 2011-2013 have brought average vegetable yields at least 20% lower than before – even worse in certain crops (potatoes are more like 40% down). Lots of rain and no sun, allied with longer winters, has been fairly crappy for me. Yet more rain and/snow plus even longer winters would presumably be disastrous.

And I’m just a humble one-man vegetable grower. Extrapolate these figures to northern hemisphere farming, as a whole, and they add up to a hell of a lot less food.

I don’t pretend to know how this would play out. Especially if lasted – like the 17th century ‘little ice age’ – for 70 years.

But I’m doubting humanity would feel it was an improvement on what’s gone before.

Posted on 7th June 2013
Under: Rants, Winter | 4 Comments »

Why average ≠ normal

OnionsWell, everything’s about a month behind. These onions would normally have gone in mid-March. By now, they’d be at least a foot high and the bulbs would be starting to swell.

Obviously this year that’s a way ahead. Not a single potato has shown a leaf above ground yet. Five years ago, I harvested my first potatoes on May 21.

I’ve not even sown any root vegetables yet. No point: Soil is still too cold. I may risk sowing some carrots tomorrow, but I’m not optimistic they will work. What a helluva winter it’s been.

The marvellous thing about being a gardener is that every year is different. Every year you see things you’ve not witnessed before. This is undoubtedly the latest spring I’ve ever seen, but records are there to be broken: £1,000 says I’ll see a colder and later one before I die.

Being a gardener also helps you understand the concept of ‘average’. You see with your own eyes, every year, that the seasons are wildly different. So many folks think ‘average’ means ‘normal’. There is no such thing as ‘normal’. There are only anomalies – sometimes extreme ones – that cancel each other out into a mean when you do the maths.

This year, we’re merely seeing the kind of weather that stops my May 21 potato harvest being ‘normal’.

Posted on 27th April 2013
Under: Winter | 2 Comments »

The sun is out. The matrix has reloaded.

Incredibly, there is sunshine today. At 12C, it’s not exactly the Sahara… but it sure feels like it after the winter we’ve endured.

I went to the plot. I planted onion sets, cleared the asparagus bed and spread manure. It felt good.

Why can’t I live in Italy? 12C is about as bad as it gets in, say, Sicily. I could grow melons, lemons and oranges – and peaches and nectarines. Bloody marvellous.

Instead, I’m living in this shithole. Buggeration.

Posted on 7th April 2013
Under: Winter | 5 Comments »

Sunset? Never!

sunsetSTILL haven’t got to the plot. STILL suffering full-time builders. And it’s STILL ‘going to be ready by Christmas’.


I’m going to see the worst on Saturday. It won’t be pretty. There will be acres and acres of chest-high weed and for 10 minutes I’ll feel like a lazy, thumping failure.

But then I’ll pick myself up, get digging and clear it again. Because when you’re a vegetable gardener, that’s what you do.

Posted on 1st November 2012
Under: Winter | 4 Comments »

Give up the allotment stereotyping already

Today somebody in TV asked me to help ‘keep an ear to the ground for unfolding stories’ about allotment life. (S)he was making a documentary, you see.

I was rather rude. I usually am when journalists ask me for unpaid help to do their jobs. I spent 12 years scratching around looking for ‘stories’ in various guises. It was hard, thankless work. I did some things I regretted to unearth those stories, but never – I’m delighted to say – did I ask anyone else to work unpaid on my behalf.

(Sorry, T***. I’m an evil bastard and you deserved better. Blame all those moronic journalists I helped in the past who never bothered to thank me.)

It got me thinking, though. If you’re a documentary maker and you want to make one of those whimsical flicks about eccentric allotment holders… well, what do you go looking for? Men in cloth caps? Modern mums growing organic food? ‘Modern’, child-friendly sites given over to flowers, bring-and-buy sales and weekend group-hug barbecues?

Just what IS the modern non-allotmenteer’s stereotype of the allotmenteer? What’s the REAL stereotype of the modern allotmenteer?

I couldn’t even construct a stereotype of my own allotment site. The folks there defy stereotyping. We have old, young, fat, thin, male, female, undecided, the works. All classes, all social groupings. There’s not a pattern to be found, nor a good character portrait to be painted. Most of us are so fucking bland and brain-dead (I include myself in this description) that it’s a wonder we get through the day without climbing into a brimming bath hugging a plugged-in electrical appliance.

Sure, we have some cloth-capped old boys. And some earth-mother orgasm knitters. But we’ve also got family men, young singles, old ladies, retirees, newly marrieds, salesmen, writers, designers, tradespeople, civil servants. The full range of humanity, in short. With all the foibles, irritations, disputes and friendships that you find in any heterogeneous group of human beings.

Really, TV makers, there’s no great ‘story’ in this – any more than there’s a great story in Salsa dancing clubs, the George Formby society or duplicate bridge night at the Rotary club. It’s just something done by folks who happen to share an interest.

They thrum ukeleles. We plant parsnips. It ain’t the meaning of life.

Get over it already.

Posted on 27th February 2012
Under: Winter | 14 Comments »

Back in the shit

Er… hello? Is there anyone there?

Sorry. Haven’t been here for a while. Ahem. Life got on top of me, rather. Too much to do, too little time. It happens.

New year’s resolution: Less waffling, less ranting, more gardening. Goddammit. And you can quote me on that when I next go off on one.

Today’s back-to-the-plot task was emptying the compost bin and spreading manure and compost on the plot. I love doing this. It’s hard work, but that earthy smell of shit and fresh compost (year-old vintage) is wildly stimulating. Makes me think of all the fantastic vegetables I’ll be growing later in the year.

It’s not far off now. The grim short days are lengthening, and soon I’ll be moaning about running out of time. Actually, who needs ‘soon’? I am running out of time. Curses.

Posted on 7th January 2012
Under: Winter | 9 Comments »

Of mud and geophysical determinism

allotment winter diggingHard at it again. Weeds got a bit out of control over the summer, so I’ll be trying to wrest my allotment back from Nature over the next few months.

Have been enjoying Guns, germs and steel, a book about the rise of civilisation. The stuff about early agriculture and human settlement is particularly fascinating. If you were ever under the impression that there is something innately ‘superior’ about Europeans, you badly need to read this book to understand that pretty much everything that’s happened in human affairs since about 9000BC has come about solely thanks to geophysical determinism.

And, er, that’s my contribution for today.

Posted on 12th November 2011
Under: Winter | 7 Comments »

When Spring turned to Winter

Apologies for radio silence here. As UK readers will know, this is because it’s IMPOSSIBLE TO GO OUTSIDE. Winter has returned, with a vengeance, and I’ve been forced to chain myself to a radiator with a large box of chocolates (yes, at gunpoint… since you ask).

This is bad enough, but I’m living with a cat who takes news of bad weather even more badly than I do – and who blames me for it. When I let him out in the morning to test the temperature of the patio with his paws, he turns a look of such malevolent hatred on me that I fully expect to be turned to stone.

So it’s with special fervour that I’m praying for a bit of sunshine.


Posted on 2nd April 2010
Under: Winter | 6 Comments »

Top season for parsnips

Huge parsnipThink I may have left the parsnips a tad too long…

Given good soil and good conditions, parsnips grow to monster sizes. Some folks say they get woody and unpleasant to eat when they’re huge, but to be honest I’ve never noticed. Provided you cut out the core before cooking them, they’re fine.

And actually, this year’s crop has been my best ever. I’ve had two 15ft rows of huge, straight, tapering roots. Delicious, too, because all these frosts have sweetened them marvellously. This is Tender and True, my favourite variety.

How were your parsnips this season?

Posted on 9th March 2010
Under: Roots, Winter | 10 Comments »