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!

The Weather: Snow Sucks!

Well, my post this week had to be about the weather didn’t it?!  While there are lots of other things I want to write about, the snow and arctic-like conditions have been the most pressing concern for country-dwellers over the last week.

The mere – frozen over

 

It all started on Tuesday – I was working from home and keeping half an eye on what was going on outside since I needed to get to work in Derby the next day.  During the afternoon, the white stuff began to descend and by the time I got up on Wednesday morning we’d had a good couple of inches.  The sub-zero temperatures meant the sodding stuff wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry.  No traffic was passing either, which is never a good sign.  A quick look at http://buxtonweather.com suggested that I wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.  Over the next couple of days, it came down in bucket-loads and local roads were either being declared impassable or completely closed.  Not just side roads, you understand, but main routes, including the A515 which runs between Buxton and Ashbourne.  Locally, two lorry drivers were stuck in the snow for four days until rescuers managed to dig them out.  Nevertheless, there seemed to be no shortage of idiots willing to chance it, judging by the number of comments on Buxton Weather from people who somehow had just about managed to get through and were willing to supply pictures of the conditions they’d managed to ‘brave’.  Quite honestly, as I said in a Facebook post, unless you were a brain surgeon on your way to perform emergency life-saving surgery, your journey just wasn’t that important, and even if you were, it was still doubtful.

It’s a whiteout in Monyash

During those next few days I must have checked Buxton Weather every couple of hours but I wasn’t alone in that.  It’s a great website, updated every few minutes, and equipped with links to webcams locally, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Living out here you become obsessed with the weather – it’s absolutely crucial to everything you do, whether it’s travelling, taking care of animals and livestock, gardening, or just taking the dog for a walk.  Your awareness of the weather and it’s variability, and tendency to change drastically in a very short space of time, is heightened.  In weather as harsh as this it really could be life and death.  You need to be properly equipped and I will talk about appropriate clothing in a future post.  However, I digress …

There used to be a road under there!

Over the next three or four days we were effectively cut off from the outside world. No post, no tourists … and eventually we started to run out of essentials like firewood, milk, bread, and loo roll.  This latter is particularly important to Mr P., who likes to have at least four spare rolls available at all times, and gets quite nervous if supplies get lower than that.  The bread issue was addressed relatively easily as I’d been prepared enough to have a supply of bread flour and dried yeast in stock.  In a former life I used to make all my own bread.  One day a fortnight I’d bake enough to last two weeks – loaves, rolls, sweet muffins … they were made, frozen, eaten and enjoyed, and filled the house with that amazing smell that you only get with homemade bread.  Moreover, making your own bread is easy.  Really!  It requires no special skill; you just need a bit of time, patience, and some energy for the kneading process.  Oh, and a modicum of self-restraint so you don’t end up scoffing the lot while it’s still warm from the oven, slathered in butter, honey, or whatever your particular fancy happens to be.

Homemade bread makes the best toast with loads of butter. Never mind the calories in this weather!

 

We managed pretty well all in all but my main concern was for the girls.  Chickens are pretty hardy but I thought minus 15 degrees C at night might be pushing it a bit.  During the day we were getting up to a relatively sub-tropical minus 6 degrees but oh, those nights were fecking freezing!  I was going out every couple of hours with a kettle to defrost their water, which was freezing solid within about 30 minutes.  Chickens drink a surprising amount, and go to sleep (it’s almost a torpor) as soon as it starts to get dark, so it’s important that they drink enough during daylight hours.  Warm water is something they particular enjoy in cold weather and I was taking out warm porridge for them too, in addition to their usual feed and corn.  They absolutely love porridge and go mad for it, mobbing me as soon as I set foot in their enclosure.  During such cold weather, it was one of the few things that would tempt them to come out of their coop – usually they can’t wait to get out in the mornings, practically falling over each other in their rush to get to food.  But this was a whole other experience for them.  In spite of it all, they somehow managed to keep laying though, and eggs were one thing we weren’t going to run out of.

Nevertheless, by Saturday now only were we running out of basics but I was going slightly stir-crazy.  Luckily, on Saturday afternoon there was light at the end of the tunnel, and we risked the short drive to Bakewell.  Mr P. is a careful driver (a bit like a maiden aunt at times) so we made it in one piece and it was just lovely to get out.  Though it’s only five miles away, Bakewell was like another world!  The streets were largely clear of snow though it was perishingly cold and my wellies were totally inadequate so I came home with feet like blocks of ice.

By Monday I had a clear case of cabin-fever and was in a foul mood.  Pity the poor Mr P. who had to tolerate me.  But then the roads were declared open again and I don’t think I was ever so glad to go to work as I was on Tuesday!  What a joy it was to be around people again, and to be wearing less than four layers.  And how strange to hear that many people had hardly been affected at all – lucky buggers!

The whole thing was a real reminder of the vagaries and local peculiarities of the weather, the importance of paying attention to it, and not taking things for granted. Of taking proper care of your animals – dogs have to be walked and chickens fed regardless of feet of snow – and yourself.  And of the importance of looking forward to spring if you don’t want to go crazy.  Bring it on!

Dogs still have to be walked! Basil enjoys a snow day.