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 »

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 »

Not tidy, not a tosser

Contents of my shedSome of you were sad enough to want to see my allotment shed.

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. First, it’s not a shed – it’s a plastic dumpster (whose assembly you can watch in my foolish video). Second, it’s a bloody disgrace.

I don’t do tidy. Tidy’s for tedious tossers. Sorry, but there it is. Apologies to all the tedious tossers I count among my friends. I love you guys. I know it’s a sickness.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to be tidier. I would. It’s just that becoming so would require becoming a tedious tosser. And some prices are just too high to pay.

Posted on 6th March 2010
Under: Rants, Winter | 12 Comments »

Greetings from Morocco

Jardin Majorelle in MarrakechOK, time to ‘fess up: I’ve been in Marrakech, Morocco. A very special treat in February for a SAD sufferer, and a huge boost to my flagging morale.

The sun shone every day, and it was glorious. Interesting from a gardener’s point of view, too; this is a shot of Yves St Laurent’s garden, the Jardin Majorelle (which contains a rather dignified and touching memorial to the man).

The yellow and blue theme runs throughout, with cacti and limpid pools making a rather special visual experience. Bizarrely, there seemed to be only French tourists there… which seemed a waste. If you’re ever in Marrakech, don’t miss it.

Posted on 28th February 2010
Under: Flowers | 9 Comments »

Fed up with winter

I so am. Almost nine weeks after the shortest day, and it’s still dark, dank and freezing.


There was a bit of feeble, watery sunshine yesterday. Not warm, exactly, but a distinct improvement on conditions over the last two months.

Instead of cheering me up, it’s depressed me further; like Tantalus reaching for his grapes (is it just me, or does that phrase sound like it should be in the Viz Profanisaurus?), I thrilled to the prospect of Spring… then remembered it was still Feb 17.

Utterly gutted.

Posted on 18th February 2010
Under: Winter | 12 Comments »

The compost heap from Hell

Compost heap horrorLooks like a shanty town, huh? Welcome to “Slumdog Allotmenteer”.

I’m not proud of myself. A compost heap should look a bit ragged around the edges… but this is beyond unhygienic. The bags are full of chicken shit from my mother’s farm, and the pong is really minging. Makes your eyes water.

The rest is… well, junk. Let’s call a spade a spade: I’m a filthy bugger, and I need a clean up.

Mental note: Tidy up plot soonest.

Posted on 9th February 2010
Under: Compost, Winter | 11 Comments »

Dawn of Spring

Hammersmith at dawnFor any SADsters out there who track these things (like me), today is a momentous day: the end of the darkest period of winter.

I’ve never been diagnosed with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but a diagnosis feels superfluous. My symptoms tally perfectly with the medical dictionary.

Plus everyone says I’m a sad bastard. Ergo etc.

Anyway, the point is that mid-November to the end of January is the grimmest, darkest time. From now on, the days lengthen fast.

This does wonders for my mood. I get out of bed with a spring in my step. Even when I’m regularly visiting the gym*.

*The author wishes to make clear that this statement in no way implies any recommendation or endorsement, specific or general, of regular gym-going. On the contrary. As heretofore indicated from time to time, he fucking hates it.

Posted on 1st February 2010
Under: Winter | 10 Comments »