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

Keeping Cold: a view to a chill…

Crisp, clean and crystal clear, and conjured from unobstructed air the first frost of this winter season greeted all worm catchers yesterday morning. Cool and bright and star-shiny sheer the winter’s first offering of season’s secret ministry glossed most low lying grassy areas and hardened exposed shallow pools. Though our met service had forecast frost, this was no sharp event and certainly no f# affair with much of the crystalline magic dissipating with the first rays of early sun. The cool air exposed all al fresco breaths in bamboozled bewilderment, and as though having seen it all before car windscreens glared with vague subfusc opalescence, awaiting intervention with kettle or pot to clear their view to the chill.

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Tweed swede and Tender & True all on a bed of fast fading rocket

Last winter’s first frost did not occur till quite late in the season; with November and December both recording above LTA (Long Term Average) temperatures the first frost of last winter did not settle till 5th January this year.  So,  we’ve had the first frost of last winter and the first frost of this winter ten months apart and in the same calendar year. This year it seems winter is settling in early: we’ve covered and cleared what we needed to, and we’ve started to harvest and use the autumn and winter stocks of swedes, parsnips and kale. We’ve greased the bolts and oiled the latches, and we’ve stacked and stored the planters and pots. And while still trafficable and feasible to do so we turned sod on that area where we had scattered wildflower seed last spring and summer in the hope that exposure to the harsher elements of the coming season may just tame its unwieldy clumped lumpiness. The constancy of Mrs Dirtdigger’s deadheading drill together with the relatively mild October weather meant we still had some blooms to brighten the monster’s visage on our recent visits, but, we thinks the creeping crystal carpet may have put an end to this.
Still, it’s good to feel this early seasonal chill, and ideally our wish would be that this first frost is but a precursor to a winter of some sustained wintry weather; maybe not too much though (mindful to be careful of what one wishes for), but, as most gardeners should have learned, the earthen canvas in which we cultivate our dream performs best after a period of vernalization: rhubarb stools and gooseberry bushes; blackcurrant, apples and pears all benefit from a measured stretch in Mother Nature’s chilling cabinet, and much the same can be said of the early spring bulbs and flowering perennials.

So, just as we here at monsterinthecorner prepare to cover and muffle and wrap our bodies up against the elements of the coming season, our hope would be that the monster itself stays quite cold. And safe in the knowledge that most gardens invariably survive the wintriest of storms, our wish is that our little plot keeps cold, and does not get too warm, for once tender shoots have been top-dressed and strawed, spring’s cheery show creeps best from chilled sod…
So, stay chilled, keep cold.

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All 2lb 2ozs of winter parsnip root

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Another pair of swell parsnips