Plotting away with woods and distance.

Tequila Zephyr & Honey

On February 1st we crossed our fingers just as St. Brigid had once crossed the reeds and rushes in the hope that the coming growing seasons would be kind to us. We had been prevented from stepping out the monster’s measure since mid November due to one of the wettest winters on record and our desire was that Lá Fhéile Bríd would at last herald the beginning of winters end.

And for a few short days the meteorological elements seemed to have heeded our wish for by mid February the early spring bulbs had bloomed. Small patches of vibrant yellow trumpets dotted previously drab garden borders, and the muscari’s blind inflorescence began sallying forth from their spindly leaf crowns. In mid February there was still a lot of standing water on the monster’s measure. It still rained almost every day, but, we had hoped that the slowly rising temperatures and early spring crawl towards equinox would dry things out and that we would, at last, begin the annual cycle of sowing and growing on plot 31.

In mid February we had general elections in Ireland, and as a result a new Dáil; we had Irish whiskey on sale at 35,000 euro a bottle; bee populations were at last globally acknowledged as being in drastic decline and  50% of all fish in the oceans we were being  told now contained micro-plastics.  Mrs Dirtdigger purchased Cosmos and sunflower seeds on one of her garden centre shopping ventures and Dirtdigger himself was getting his hands dirty and looking forward to ‘not looking forward to’ the screening later in the year of Mr. Speilberg’s first foray into the Musicals genre with his particular take on the classic Westside Story.  There were Primary contests on one side of the globe, just as there was a daily ding-dong in Hong Kong on the other side.

There was also now, notably more interest being reported in a new bug which was making its way from mainland China and was causing eyebrow-arch in Italy and France.  While in China this bug/virus  was still considered ‘distant’, or at least somewhat distant as it was still  ‘over there’ so to speak, on the other side of the world. But only a few short days later cases were being reported in Europe’s heartland. The number of cases soon became catastrophe, and catastrophe and causality very quickly showed just how small a village modern day planet earth is become.

And before you could shake a stick at it, it was here.

Everything is changed; changed utterly. Old certainties are challenged, and established protocols and covenants rudely awakened.  I don’t know what the German words for ‘social-distancing’ are, but until quite recently I dare say most Germans didn’t know either, or at least had little need to consider such a jargon concept. And just as I don’t know the French for ‘flattening the curve’ or the Italian and Portuguese equivalent of ‘r-value’ or ‘lockdown‘, regardless of  cultural mother-tongues we all have had to learn a whole new language rapidly. I’ve heard children as young as five speaking of cough-etiquette and hand hygiene, just as I’ve heard other ten year olds explicate the conspiracy theory that this is and was a man-made disaster visited on western democracies by, well, well by someone else. And just yesterday Mr and Mrs. Dirtdigger’s seven and eight year old nephews spoke with almost unnerving erudite insight on the pro’s and con’s of social cocooning.

Everything changed, and is changed: schools and colleges have been closed for 5 months, and every non-essential retail, manufacturing and construction business was closed and many remain closed; anyone who could work from home has had to do just that, and in the first few week of this new aberrant reality every Thomas, Richard and Harold had to adapt to the imposition of a 2km travel restriction limit.  Hundreds of thousands of people here in Ireland were suddenly out of work while globally tens of millions were confined to home with little to do with their new found time-on-hands but to listen to the grim reportage-stream and watch live images from Italian and Chinese cities at the epicentre of this global pandemic. Seven months later and little is changed. The only thing that has changed is the focal location. Everything changes, yet everything remains the same.

Our last full day on our plot prior to lockdown was March 15th .

We had only just begun with the season’s undertakings when on Sunday 15th we were informed that the allotment site was being locked down to comply with emergency statutory regulations. The St Patrick’s Day festivities were cancelled, the pubs were closing, and quite unthinkably even the churches were closing, so it came as no surprise that our allotment site would also be closed.  The stark fact of a natural social distance with this pastime and hobby did little to persuade otherwise. On Sunday 22nd we were allowed access for 2 hours to put things in order, and that, as they say was that until the end of May. We could not access the monster’s measure for 10 weeks, that same 10 week period which turned out to be the brightest and driest spring and early summer period since 1837; the brightest driest period in 187 years. 

The country may have been in enforced lockdown, but there was a silver lining in that while everyone was confined to their own backyards at least the sun shone brightly.  By April 6theveryone bore unseasonably early summer tans, and had learned to settle for socially distanced garden bingo and karaoke sessions, while every slowly stretching April and May evening invited cold Peroni and pizza sessions al fresco.

When we returned to our plot on May 18th we were, not surprisingly, greeted with a scorched earth scenario: our kale was non-existent; our peas and beans had disappeared, and our onion sets were still, relatively sets. The beetroot and turnip seedlings were miniscule but at least we had seedlings, just as with the parsnip seedlings; sometimes there can be a benefit to notoriously slow germination rates. Our rhubarb stand was decimated. There is a reason why gooseberries and rhubarb are synonymous with Irish summers of yore, the reason being that they both thrive in generally cool and damp conditions, and this by and large is the general Irish summer experience.  But this year they never stood a chance, and at May’s end they were practically invisible. Having spent an hour assessing and bemoaning the sad scene we rolled the sleeves.

Six weeks later and the monster’s measure is greened once more.  Mrs Dirtdigger’s wildflower patch is way behind, but it is starting to colour up. The onions have bulbed-up, but given the early stresses during the lockdown-drought well over half of them are already bolted. We’ve had some strawberries, some raspberries and we’ve certainly had a very good blackcurrant crop from the Ben Lomands with our Ben Tirrians also bearing a reasonable crop for early August. 

We have courgettes aplenty and cabbages of a latterly re-designated cultivar, Lazarus- the hint being in their name. There is also a potentially good crop of cucumbers and tomatoes, but still green and immature at present due to the fact that since 12th June we’ve had little or no sunshine.  By mid June Irish summer weather had returned to normal. The daily temperatures have held at or above average but it has been quite dull and wet most of the last 5 weeks, and just this week we’ve sown next year’s lupin, foxglove and chive seed. Today being August 6th we are into the first days of autumn, and restrictions are being re-imposed. And that was that…the locked-down plotted and spiked allotment experience…

If ever we needed reminding that there really and truly are things more important than golf, or rugby or parades or foreign holidays or the local boozer or allotmenteering for that matter, well this year has helped put many things into a much needed perspective, and whilst stomping the monster’s measure is a much cherished pastime, we have another string to our bow which pays the annual con-acre ground rent, and that has afforded a frontline experience which the monster’s space helps balance.  We are not out of the woods yet; not by a long, long way; and rather sadly a lot of people have already begun to ignore the trees. 

We’ve made our jams and we’re planning our pickles.

As any crow or raven could tell you reality roosts easy when the trees are taken for granted. Our hope is that the only second wave we’ll experience is a late second flush in the monster’s autumn blush.

Rosa Pachelli by #janpaulkelly

A rain of circles & squares…

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Sunflower sentry duty…

It rained on August 1st, and it rained again on the 2nd. It rained on the 3rd 4th and 5th; it rained the first Tuesday and again on Wednesday 7th and the next day also. Thus it rained the whole first week of August. It also rained each day of the second week, with another full encore the following week. In fact it rained every day the first twenty two days of August, and that, as must be said put a real dampener on the late summer’s gardening experience.

It did dry up and improve somewhat toward month’s end but the dull damp conditions for most of the month took its toll: the potatoes were blighted, as was the polytunnel tomato crop; the pumpkins sat in the dull damp and those that survived the unseasonal water-logging and flooding simply called it quits and failed to mature and swell to anything near expected potential, the vines mildewed completely and we had to pick the remainders. We had to lift the late onions and shallots and cure them under cover, and the lettuce and rocket bed was obliterated by the constancy of the pelting droplets; the summer colour in Mrs Dirt-digger’s orangey-patch looked bedraggled and those sunflowers which actually managed to bloom looked forlorn. We did however have some cucumbers from the polytunnel, in fact – and perhaps by way of compensation – we have had a veritable cucumber glut, which we’ve put to good use by using all the excess in a store of pickles, a challenging exercise with our dried herb and spice rack; turmeric, mustard seed, fennel seed, dill, chive flowers and shallots, fifteen jars in all to see us through the leaner months.

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Anemone with rudbekia

Things improved greatly with the first days of September, skies cleared and the sun shone; we had days with temperatures well into the mid twenties and all breathe a sigh of thankfulness at feeling the remnants of summer before it disappeared completely again for another year. The nights are cooler now and the mornings mistier, and with the exception of a couple of overcast occurrences the first 20 days of September had been a bonus. As I type there is patchy blue sky once again, a strengthening breeze and an expected temperature this afternoon of 18 degrees, which for the latter end of September is as good as it gets. Rain is forecast.
The early-fruits harvest through the early summer months was disastrous, a combination of last summer’s prolonged severe drought and this spring’s adverse blossom burst timing, and although our gooseberry and blackcurrant crop was practically non-existent as a result, these last few weeks Mrs Dirtdigger has been foraging some wonderfully plump blackberries which we’ve combined with April Queen Cider apple to make some seasonal jam that will more than compensate for the meagre store from the early season harvest.

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Grasshopper on a ripening pumpkin

We’ve already dipped into the pasta sauces and pizza sauces we jarred, just as we used the Rhubarb and Ginger Jam; we’ve also used plenty of the summer pickles, and this weekend we will set about combining our now fully ripened Cayenne peppers with Fresh coriander leaves and garlic bulbs harvested in July to make some Harissa, another of the monster’s staples.
The Purple Cascade French Beans proved to be a winner, and though the vines are now spent we have over 10 lbs frozen for use in the coming months. The beets are finished and it’s just a tad too late to try a successional sowing, the autumn curly kale is ready anytime soon and we still have the parsnip bed which only lately seems to be spurting growth and this should herald a good crop, most especially with the warm damp soil conditions that are autumn parsnip heaven.
And so with the drawing to a close of the monster’s annual cultivation activities, other activities come to the fore. We’ve already begun to plan some of those changes we need to make, and also some we want to make during the forthcoming winter season. Mrs Dirt-digger is planning a large octagonal herb wheel construct into which we’ll relocate most of our herbs early next year, and we will also finish the gothic picket fence which we started last winter.
It rained again yesterday, but as we are now the darker side of the equinox the weather is as expected to be given that. The rudbekias and anemones shine in the speeding autumn sunlight, the dahlias stand blousy-bright and the autumn beauties are on sentry duty right the way around the monster’s perimeter.

This past weekend we set some lavender and bay laurel cuttings; we collected our marigold, sweetpea, poppy and calendula seed heads, we cut the last of the strawflower blooms and have them drying in the potting shed and we planted some ‘Thalia’, ‘Sunnyside Up’ and ‘Double Fashion’ daffodil bulbs for new colour next spring and with that action right there, this circle is squared for the year.

It has started to rain, again

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Win some, lose some; taking in the outcome.

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Moneymakers ripening on the vines

then suddenly it was now;

the evenings noticeably shorter and the days slightly cooler, weeks and months have slipped by in the blink of an eye, and summer is most definitely in autumnal transition. July lived up to its promise and in doing so conferred on us four weeks of reasonably warm sun-filled days, a small seasonal mercy given the experiences of the late spring and early summer. June was typically hit-and-miss, and of course April and May, well, least said there the better…
But summer definitely arrived with July; however, it seems to have checked-out immediately on Augusts’ arrival. We’ve been returned to the all too familiar dull and wet routine this last week and the short range weather forecast indicates much the same for the coming week, but at least the temperature is holding up.
Summer came but now is most definitely going, and yet it seems as though some of the monsters summer show has only just begun. The sunflowers have only shown their faces in the last two to three weeks, and only now (as we enter the second week of August) have the gladioli made a full entrance. The disastrously dull and damp spring not only hampered the annual seed sowing schedule through April and May, it also had a detrimental time delay on many of the other garden stalwarts. We’ve had very little in the way of a crop from the gooseberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant bushes, and the apple and plum trees have not fared much better, a combination -we thinks- of last summer’s and autumn’s severe drought followed by this spring’s constant grey and stormy washout. We did have some nice rhubarb while it lasted though; we also had kale, rocket and chard a plenty, some fine beetroot and potatoes which we are still harvesting and consuming as we need and by way of compensation perhaps we have had a good harvest of onions, shallots and garlic.

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Centurion onions left out to cure…

  So, win some, lose some…plenty of alliums, and no strawberries.
The effects of the delayed spring are visible still though, even in the polytunnel. By this time last year we had been harvesting our tomatoes for over a month, whereas this year most of the set trusses are yet to ripen; there is plenty of fruit and Mrs Dirtdigger has made some fabulous tomato, basil and onion soup already with the first flush, it’s just that most of the tomato crop is still green at present. We have had some fabulous courgettes, we’ve had Rosa Bianca aubergines, and we are having a veritable cucumber glut fest, so we’ve opted to make some summer pickle with the excess. The pumpkin vines have set fruit and hopefully these will bulk up over the next eight weeks or so. The parsnips have struggled a little, but in the last fortnight they have begun to crown out and leaf-up a little more vigorously perhaps indicating that there is some subterranean development as well.

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some of the daily harvest from the monster’s bounty…

We made and jarred some jam, but nowhere near the volume we made in previous years, and we’ll have to wait a while longer as the ingredients for some of the monster’s other staples are still only ripening, but, there’s time yet.
Each gardening year is as different as different can be from those that have gone before. There are so many variables to consider when undertaking any gardening project it is surprising at times that anything at all is ever successful, and yet we continue to do it, day in, day out, and week after month, year after year. As any recorded sowing diary should show, you can sow the same varieties of seed on the very same day each year, and you can expend the same effort in care and attention to planting on and planting out and maintaining a thorough watering and feeding regime, and end up with results so different from previous years’ as to have you think you must have lost a whole month somewhere between April and July. And thus has been this year’s curve.
It’s been dull and damp and warm and wet, maybe not when we wanted it to be, and at times certainly not when we needed it to be, but that is what we had to work with so we got to work while attempting to ignore the pop-up pond that appeared on the monster’s measure throughout the spring, and which has made an unexpected if not wholly unsurprising return this past weekend.

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Cucumber, time for summer pickles…

So win some, lose some, and we certainly lost some this year, but Mrs Dirtdigger’s pollinators patch has been buzzing, and we’ve had hares and pheasants and frogs and buzzards and bees, and what we failed to get on the one hand nature gifted us with the other. We have not had the success hoped for with some things this year, but the harvest is in full swing so we’ll see how things fare. We’ll not change too much mind you for some variables are beyond our control: we’ll continue to tread softly; we watch our track, pay attention to the footprint, and we here at monsterinthecorner will continue to play our part in negating damage to the wider planetary variables, conscious of the degree of long-term damage our species has had on the fundamental variables on which we all ultimately depend for our continued existence.