Allotment: Weather & Wildlife Woes

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my allotment, I really do but just at the minute it feels like I might as well be banging my head against a brick wall.  It’d certainly be less frustrating!  I’ve been working hard on my plot for the last year, battling against waist-high weeds to try to carve out something even vaguely resembling a productive patch of ground.  Until relatively recently, I had felt as if I was getting somewhere; I’d had much of my patch under thick black plastic for months on end, I’d manured a couple of areas last winter ready for planting in spring.  Over winter, when anyone possessed of their sanity was keeping warm indoors, I was trogging up to the plot and digging over as much of the ground as possible, removing the roots of perennial weeds feet long, and picking out what seemed like a quarry-full of stones, setting them aside for use around the shed.  I ordered seeds, three blueberry bushes which overwintered in the shed, and dreamed and waited for spring.  And waited.  And waited …

Spring never really arrived.  It seemed that one of the worst winters I can remember surrendered abruptly to the advent of summer.  And what a summer – it looks set to rival 1976!  Our allotments, you may recall, have no running water and we are entirely reliant on what we collect from our shed rooves into water butts.  My water butts were full but, with no rain to speak of in over two months, they’ve run almost dry.  In desperation I ordered four 10-litre jerry cans.  Now I wish I’d ordered twice that.  Today I made two trips to the allotment, each with the jerry cans and half a dozen 2-litre milk containers saved for the purpose – 104 litres in total – in an effort to top up at least one of the five water butts.

Jerry cans at the ready!
Everything’s stunted, including these broadbeans.

At this point I’d like to stress that I’m not filling these straight from the tap but have pressganged Mr P into joining me in putting the plug in the bath when we have showers, and saving the washing up water.  Doing this makes you acutely aware of how much water you use in the space of just one day, and much more careful not to waste any – I’ve found I can wash my hands perfectly well with just a trickle!  However, as regards the allotment, with the best will in the world all this dry, hot weather is taking its toll.  Basically, things are refusing to grow, and any produce I might have expected or hoped for is puny to say the least.

Hope the voles don’t notice these swedes coming though!

Raspberries are tiny but very raspberry-ish.  Broadbeans are stunted so are producing very little though, again, what they are giving me is very tasty.

Voles leave these tell-tale signs – the little buggers!

On top of all this, I’m having a god-awful time with voles.  The sodding things are tunnelling their way through every  bed, chomping on seeds and seedlings as they go, leaving holes everywhere.  Moles are burrowing underneath and disturbing my planting, and my broadbeans are afflicted with blackfly.  Like I said, banging my head against a brick wall!  The old chap on the allotment in front of mine says he’s been doing this allotment lark for fifty years and can’t remember a worse year for growing produce.  God only knows how farmers are managing.  Mr P and I ran into one of the village farmers the other evening in the pub and got a bit of the lowdown.  Grass isn’t growing and is so dry there’s little nutrition in it so livestock are having fodder taken out to them.  Water pressure is lower than usual and troughs located uphill from the farms aren’t filling so farmers are having to take water out to them.  What’s happening on arable farms and with vegetable producers I can’t imagine; apparently lettuce stops growing above 30-degrees centigrade.  I think we should all prepare for having to cough up more for fruit and veg over the coming months.

Blackfly have destroyed this broadbean plant.
Slim pickings but better than nothing!

Basically, I’m feeling frustrated, and a bit pissed off to be frank.  I’m caught in a gardening Bermuda Triangle of worries relating to weather and wildlife.  It would be easy to give up and hand over the allotment to someone on the waiting list.

But it’s still a beautiful place to be, it’s still the place that keeps me sane, and besides, I’m not a quitter.  To paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara, 2019 is another year!

10 Tips For Moving To The Country

  1. Be realistic about country life.

It’s not all roses round the door.  You may come across the occasional dead lamb in a field.  Farmers sometimes shoot foxes and rabbits might chomp their way through your veg patch.  Mole catchers string their victims’ bodies on wires … no, seriously  – just don’t ask me why!  And petrol is more expensive in rural areas, as are other things.

 

  1. Consider your future needs before taking the plunge.

Are you likely to need regular visits to a doctor in the next few years?   Will you still be able/want to drive?  Is there a bus service? How far is the nearest supermarket or school, and will you be able to get there in bad weather? See tip no.1.

 

  1. Friends matter but don’t expect to make them overnight.

There are no shortcuts and you can’t force it; it takes time and effort.  https://countryrealist.com/tag/friends/

 

  1. The local community is crucial so get stuck in with it.

Unless you have people queuing up to be friends on your arrival, join the local bee-keeping club, wine circle or scuba diving club – whatever floats your particular boat, so long as you’re getting out there and meeting like-minded people.

 

  1. Support local events.

Help out with well-dressings, flower festivals, and fund raising events.  God knows what my offering for the flower festival will look like but it’ll be fun doing it.  If you’re completely cack-handed, turn up in person to buy cakes, second hand goods, and offer support of the pecuniary kind. Read more here https://countryrealist.com/tag/village-life/

 

  1. Avoid rocking the boat.

On Twitter recently, there was the story of a farmer whose new neighbours kept lodging official complaints about the smells emanating from his farm.  I mean, seriously?!  You don’t want everyone thinking you’re the neighbour from hell – make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for before taking the plunge (see tip no.1).

 

  1. The country is a working place.

Farms do smell, and are noisy at times (tip no.1 again!).  Livestock represent a huge investment of time and money so treat cattle with respect and keep dogs on leads round sheep.  Ask visitors to park considerately; at the May Market, one visitor double-parked and caused chaos because farm traffic couldn’t get through.

 

  1. Chickens make great pets!

They’re no trouble to look after and just need a balanced food, fresh water, and a clean, safe place to sleep and lay their eggs.  With their funny ways and their little puk-puk noises, they’re so endearing.  Those amazing eggs are just a fantastic bonus.  Read more here https://countryrealist.com/category/chickens/

 

  1. The great outdoors is fabulous for your physical and emotional wellbeing.

I can practically feel tension and stress sliding off my shoulders when I’m on the allotment.  When I’m digging and pulling weeds I don’t think about work. At all.  Get your name on the allotment waiting list – you might get lucky like I did!  Read all about it here https://countryrealist.com/tag/allotment/

 

  1. Weather is king.

In a farming community it really does rule everything that goes on.  In good weather, silaging might go on til 10pm. In the snow we had early in the year, I couldn’t get to work, but had to defreeze the hens’ water every couple of hours (and we’re back to tip no.1!).  Follow the link to read more https://countryrealist.com/tag/weather/

 

This boils down to tip no.1 – being realistic and doing your homework.  If you’ve done that, and you’re convinced the country is the place for you, go for it.  It’s an amazing place to live – good luck!

 

I’m always a bit excited when someone reads my posts!  Please leave a comment using the ‘comment’ button below – woohoo!

 

 

 

 

Peak District Colour: Monyash May Market

Monyash has a thriving community spirit and there’s usually something going on.  Today it was the annual May Market.

Pommie band in action. Note the new bull under the sign!
Skittles on the village green.

Held every Spring Bank Holiday, this has been going on for as long as anyone can remember – the village was originally granted a charter for a market and fair back in 1340 but sadly this is the only market remaining.  We met a family today who, though they no longer live in the village, retain local ties and had come specifically for the market today.  They remembered the market as a big affair, with over 40 stalls, a pet competition, and much more.

Mr P’s in charge of the shopping bag!

Today’s market is a much more low-key affair, with just a handful of stalls selling second hand goods in support of local causes, such as the primary school and the small park behind the pub.  But everyone has a good time and certainly doesn’t go hungry!  There is a rather splendid barbecue, from which I enjoyed an absolutely massive hot-dog which deserves a much better name, featuring as it did a fantastic Critchlow’s sausage completed with fried onions and mustard.  It was hot, juicy, and incredibly delicious.  Mr P hardly ever eats meat so missed out on a real treat, I reckon.  Yah boo sucks to him!

The best hotdogs in the world!

The May Market also coincides with the well-dressings, which take place at the same time all over the Peak District.  This is the result of an awful lot of hard work, with volunteers staying up til midnight to puddle the mud and get the petalling completed in time but the results speak for themselves.  It’s great to see these old traditions surviving in a world where the screen seems to dominate everything we do.

Monyash’s well dressing 2018

The local school hosts afternoon tea but I’m afraid all I could manage was a piece of rhubarb cake and a cup of tea.  Mr P had said “Just get me anything” then when I got back a piece of lemon cake for him, claimed that was probably the only thing he didn’t really like. Didn’t stop him eating it though.   I had rather hoped for a piece of a cake I’d seen being carried in a few minutes earlier but it turned out to be intended for the cake competition.  Drats!

 

 

Results of the cake competition – how did the judges restrict themselves to such small pieces?!
The school all decked out for the occasion.

We also managed to buy a picture of the Peak District, which is already hanging in the hallway, from the stall in the Methodist Chapel, where I also bought a big Pyrex roasting dish just the right shape and size for a chicken.

Our latest purchase. £5 well-spent and for a good cause.

This year, we actually won a bottle of wine from the ‘Wine or Water’ stall (last year it was water), and picked up an Alchemilla Mollis for the grand sum of 50p.  There were skittles on the village green, and cade lambs in the schoolyard.  Music was provided courtesy of the Pommie (Pommie is the nickname for Youlgrave) Brass Band.  The weather was fabulous, which makes a change from the previous year when it was sodding awful.  Fingers are crossed for next year!

Coming soon – my review of our new chicken coop. Try not to get too excited!  Please contact me if you’d like to comment – it’s always great to hear from you.

 

Allotment Worries And Woes: A Sense of Inadequacy

My website is connected to Twitter and Facebook.  These days I don’t use Facebook as much as I once did, not necessarily because of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal (though that is a concern), but because Twitter has suddenly grabbed my attention.  In part this is because it’s awash with shepherds, farmers, gardeners, and allotmenteers all tweeting away with useful hints and tips, not to mention cute pictures of lambs.  It’s also because I’m somewhat obsessed with anything to do with rural life and am somehow living vicariously through other people’s seemingly wonderful lives – even though I know that it’s all bloody hard work.  Yes, rural life is more about feeding the soul than the bank account, this I know.

Lambs having fun getting into the hay feeder.

There’s a fly in the Twitter firmament though.  All these gardeners and allotmenteers, whose tweets and blogs I read, enjoy, and inwardly digest, are annoyingly good at it, far more organized than I am, much more experienced, and, quite frankly, I’m getting just a little bit pissed off.  Everyone’s wonderfully supportive and helpful but, even so, I’m starting to feel just a little bit inadequate! Don’t they ever have seeds which fail to germinate?  Don’t they ever buy completely the wrong tool for the job?  Or suffer attacks of the heebie-jeebies worrying if they’ll ever produce anything at all that’s even vaguely edible once they’ve cut out the manky bits?  Don’t they ever feel like, well, like a fake?  I definitely do.

All this is putting me very much in touch with a sense of my own inadequacy; what if I’m not up to the job and actually don’t produce any edible crops?  I don’t want to fail, who does?  However, to date my successes are few and far between.  When I took over my allotment, about a year ago, it was a beautiful, tangled mess of wildflowers and weeds.  There was no shed, no water; you couldn’t even really see where beds had been.

I do like an organized shed.

Now, there’s a brand spanking new shed, on a site I levelled myself, complete with shelves I put up myself (do yourself a favour – don’t buy metal shelving units from B&Q), hooks to hold my tools, and a kitchen unit/butchers’ block bought from a charity shop to act as storage/potting bench.  There’re blue plastic barrels bought for £2.50 from the local brickworks which act as water butts.

Blue plastic barrels. Cheap and cheerful.

I’ll admit I was grateful to Mr P for carrying them up the sloping site but I could’ve done the guttering and downpipe myself if he’d let me.  I connected the barrels together with a bit of plastic pipe … basically, I did pretty much everything myself.  I don’t want to eat chemicals so I’m clearing the site the hard way … by hand, digging out the most enormous perennial weeds – nettle, dock, couch grass, and dandelion.  It’s back-breaking work but strangely satisfying and it has a practical purpose – to feed us.  I’m proud of what I’ve achieved on my own.  But oh, it is taking time to get going.

Apparently it can take up to 21 days for broad beans to show their faces.  I planted some at the allotment and about 10 days later, as a sort of experiment, planted some in loo roll innards (I wish someone would come up with a one-word name for them) and put them on the window sill in the sitting room.  A couple of days ago I came home and was beyond excited to find that a broad bean had finally germinated.  I was so excited I couldn’t do anything except point and say “broad bean, broad bean, broad bean!!!”  The trouble is, nothing’s happened since.  And I do mean Nothing.  Nada.  Ne rien.  What am I doing wrong?!

A lone broad bean …
Leeks are germinating!

It’s not that everything’s refusing to grow.  I’m having some success with anything floral; the nasturtiums are going great guns, the sunflowers are coming up trumps, and the French marigolds are doing well too.  But the tomatoes were looking very leggy and weedy so I’ve planted them deep in their 3″ pots, and the squash aren’t looking as if they’re going to do anything at all at the minute.  Ok, so the leeks are doing really well and I’m happy to plant more but Mr P and I can’t just live on nasturtiums, sunflower seeds, and leeks (if anyone’s got a recipe which requires all three, please let me know).

The question is, what can I do?  I can only keep going I suppose, try to be patient, refuse to be browbeaten by vegetables, and resort to alcohol.  I’ll have a ‘Pissed as Arseholes’ cocktail, thank you very much.  Well, it is a bank holiday weekend.  Chin chin!! 

‘Pissed as Arseholes’ – a subtle blend of champagne, raspberry & blackcurrant vodka, and fresh raspberries.

 

Please feel completely free to contact me about anything at all.  All gardening advice gratefully received or we can just talk about cocktails we have known and loved.