First strawberry crop

StrawberriesWell, here’s my first strawberry crop. Never grown soft fruit before.

I thought it would be a lot of aggro – and so it has largely proved. Strawberries are a bugger because of a) the runners they produce in late summer, and b) the difficulty of keeping them weed free. It’s not been easy.

Has it been worth it? Well, almost. We’ve had four plastic pots full so far, with the promise of at least as much again. In the shops that would be about £40 worth.

So yes, it’s financially worth it. But the labour and the nettle stings (I never did get rid of them all) have been tiresome. Raspberries are easier.

Will I grow them again? Probably. Hate giving things up once I’ve started.

Posted on 4th July 2013
Under: Strawberries | 1 Comment »

Of cabbages and Autumn Kings

young carrotsHad a fabulous day on Tuesday. A full six hours at my allotment without interruptions, additions, chores, tasks or interference. AND the sun was shining.

I realised later that this was the first time in more than four years that I’ve been able to enjoy my vegetable gardening at leisure: no clock-watching, no frantic weed tugging in a tightly-defined 10-min window between other pressing engagements. It was bliss.

The bad news, of course, is that it got me thinking about my life in general. The most appropriate question arising: What life?

All I do, essentially, is work. When I’m not working (unusual) I’m trying to fit into the few pathetic remaining hours of the week all the tedious chores and domestic tasks I can’t do at work. Gardening is forced into a very lowly position on my list of priorities.

young beetroot plantsI know whingeing is unattractive. I also know lots of you reading this will be recognising your own lives in this rant and thinking “Get over it, Soilman. Grow a pair.”

I have no answer to that. But I promise you: If I figure out a way to work less and garden more, I’ll be sharing it with you here.

Posted on 28th June 2013
Under: Rants, Roots | 4 Comments »

UK weather forecast: we’re all doomed

The portentous and self-important group of meteorologists and climatologists have delivered their verdict: it may rain for the next 10 years.

Or, er, it may not. Perhaps.

This is such tremendous horseshit. Meteorologists in the UK struggle – by their own admission – to forecast the weather accurately more than three days ahead. This very week, I have watched as their 48-hour forecasts have changed almost hourly… without ever being correct, even then.

There is not a snowball’s hope in hell of their calling this one right. The last few years of crap summers may be no indicator whatsoever of anything. Purely random, unpredictable, inexplicable. After all, as I’ve written on this blog, it’s happened before (1310-1330).

But that doesn’t stop them issuing their pointless edicts and predictions. People just can’t resist trying to foretell the future.

UPDATE, 10th July: In light of the current weather – forecast to continue for the whole of July – it’s clear that the meteorologists were indeed talking utter bollocks.

Posted on 19th June 2013
Under: Weather | 3 Comments »

When to stop cutting asparagus?

asparagusHad our last cut of asparagus three days ago. So there goes another year… and probably just as well. We’d eaten it every other night for 5 weeks. Sick of the stuff.

Technically, you can keep cutting until June 21st. But I never do. If you cut all the way to mid-summer, you weaken the plants and they don’t last as long.

So how do I decide when to stop? Well, this may sound a bit surreal… but I just, kind of, know when. You sense it. The spears produced by your asparagus bed start getting that little bit thinner than they were at first. Plus they slow down. You can almost feel the roots taking a huge breather, trying to gather their strength to keep putting up shoots.

I never put them to the test. The longer the roots get to grow unchecked this year, the thicker and juicier the spears next spring. And the plants will last at least 20 years.

Posted on 13th June 2013
Under: Asparagus | 5 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 »

2013: Through the looking glass

early and maincrop potatoesThis is the view of my vegetable plot today. All nice and familiar – if a little backward – for the time of year. Early potatoes in the background, maincrop in the foreground. Lovely.

Except that it’s the other way round.

Yup: the maincrops are the ones at the back. The tiny haulms getting their first earthing up are my ‘first early’ (ha ha) Rocket spuds.

I put the earlies in the ground in March – on St Patrick’s day, as usual. Then they disappeared. Too damn cold. Now they’re tragically retarded, due for cropping probably as late as mid July.

It’s all a bit of a clusterfuck.

Posted on 1st June 2013
Under: Potatoes | 2 Comments »

How to unsubscribe to The Times… you hope

I yesterday took out a sub to the UK Times newspaper (thetimes.co.uk) to read something I needed. I was looking to see how easy it would be to unsubscribe (I don’t have any plans to – or rather I didn’t have any plans to – but I wanted to see how easy it would be should the need arise).

Couldn’t find anything, so contacted their live customer service. This was the exchange:

Customer Services: [Private Message to Guest]  Hi, To cancel your subscription (subject to contract) you must call freephone 0800 018 5177 and select option 3 (for overseas customers call 0044 20 7711 1527). Opening hours: 0800 – 2000 Mon-Thur 0800 – 1900 Fri – Sun Regards name redacted

Soilman: [Private Message to Customer Services]  Sad that a simple ‘unsubscribe’ option is one you’re too afraid to give. Already I have that nagging, nasty feeling that the day I DO try to unsubscribe I will find it incredibly difficult. Or worse, that I’ll find you stealing money from my credit card long, long after you’ve officially ‘unsubscribed’ me. That’s the message one infers, you see, from your current set-up.

Customer Services: [Private Message to Soilman]  I apologise Soilman if that’s how you feel, however we are not thieves and we don’t like to be accused of being one. The reason that there is no tab there is because of the security involved allowing account access to members of the public. We hope to incorporate this as a feature at some point. If in the meantime you have any difficulty in cancelling your subscription or you find you have been overcharged please call 0800 018 5177 and press option 2 to report it. Regards name redacted

Soilman: [Private Message to Customer Services]  Thanks name redacted. Appreciate your reply, but your bridling at my perfectly reasonable point – made in good faith – makes me even more worried than I was already. I’ve not been a customer for a day and I’m already being reprimanded by you. Wow.

If this is customer service, I wonder what customer abrasion looks like. The Times has had THREE YEARS to get used to the rigours of dealing with customers in the digital era of instant feedback and instant response.

What have they learned? Not much, on this evidence.

[Oh, and BTW: What exactly is ‘the security involved allowing account access to members of the public’? Isn’t that the same security protocol needed to access every other aspect of your account (which the Times otherwise provides)? How does one need more ‘security’ to cancel an account than to set one up and upgrade it… both of which, naturally, the Times allows?

I do so love having my intelligence insulted.]

Posted on 31st May 2013
Under: Rants | 3 Comments »

No posts, because no gardening

No activity on this blog because there’s been so little movement on the allotment.

It’s still so very cold. My roses, blooming at the end of May in a good year, are barely out of winter dormancy. Chestnut trees, usually in full flower on May 1st, have only just produced their first white candles.

I had to re-sow my cauliflowers last night. The first batch, sown in early April, were stunted and hopeless. It’s just too bloody cold for anything to grow properly.

The worst of it is that the weather pattern is beginning to look depressingly like last year’s: A low jetstream ‘trapped’ over the UK bringing endless low pressure weather systems from the northern Atlantic.

I really don’t think I can face a fourth CRAP summer in a row.

Posted on 17th May 2013
Under: Rants | 7 Comments »

First asparagus of 2013

First asparagusVery exciting to see some asparagus at last. More than a month after the earliest date I’ve cut it, but better late than never. This lot will make a very welcome supper.

The potatoes remain a mystery. Still no sign of ’em, and I’m afraid there never will be. One suspicious piece of evidence: I gave a few to my mother, who lives at the opposite end of the country – and none of hers have come up either.

Is there such a thing as dud seed potato?

Postscript, May 10th: Two tiny leaves have finally appeared today. That’s two plants out of 50 seed potatoes planted.

BUT it may mean the others are following on behind. Let’s hope.

Posted on 5th May 2013
Under: Asparagus | 3 Comments »

Help: Potatoes not growing!

Weirder and weirder: my first early potatoes haven’t grown. At all.

I put them in in March, just before that ghastly late cold snap. The maincrop ones (which I put in a month later) are just starting to show above ground. But of the first earlies, no sign.

I dug one up and it had a few spindly roots (and a few small slug holes), but no shoots. This is absolutely unprecedented. I’ve never had potatoes simply not grow.

Was it the frost? I’ve never known tubers underground to get frost damaged, but is it possible? Has anybody else every experienced this? Would love to hear from you if so. I’m baffled as to what’s going on.

What I really want to know is this: will they grow if I wait long enough? Or are they dead and ruined?

Posted on 4th May 2013
Under: Potatoes | 8 Comments »