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 Monster Midsummer in Dublin and Lille…

Basil Gooseberries & Rhubarb
Basil Gooseberries & Rhubarb

Chelsea, Chatsworth and Malvern have come and gone, as has Bloom in the Park, and gone too are all those plans we had at the beginning of the month to make postings on all the aforementioned festivals and events. June arrived and on its tails came the air of summer with all its latent promise: warm bright days, summer festivals, ál fresco lunches in short-sleeves and daily blight warnings.
We’ve made busy on The Monster in the Corner, so much so we actually lost ourselves in the doing of things on the plot, and it is only now that we have all things bedded, supported, weeded and netted that we have the time to recap and sketch out the late summer and autumn plans and finally post them here.
All of the plot’s beds are flourishing: the gladiator parsnips are growing very well and now that we’re at mid-summers the Centurion and Stuttgarter onions are finally beginning to bulb but, as expected, about one in six has bolted. The Karmen reds, not surprisingly, are still lagging behind but all the summer bunching and salad onion are now ready for use. We’ve been pulling rhubarb stalks on each visit to the allotment and have jammed and jarred the first flush glut with some finely grated stem ginger. This store never lasts very long as it’s generally shared with extended family, friends and work colleagues, but the Victoria stools seem to be sprouting well enough yet and we should have ample for further desserts, crumbles and that second flush glut for more jam.
The shallot tips are beginning to colour down so these shall be rudely unearthed in the next fortnight or so. A great deal of effort the last 3 weeks has been spent battling the squirrels, blackbirds and magpies for ownership our rapidly ripening blackcurrants and gooseberries. We’ve always acknowledged foregoing nature’s share, but there’s only so much we’ll allow the wildlife to covet.
Having decided against a strawberry crop the last three summer seasons this year we planted up a small bed of 20 plants (a new variety called Malling Centenary) and we’ve had some of these. As with all first year crowns, the pickings were slim, but the berries themselves are of a very good size with that great taste of summer…
The early sown radishes, lettuces and rocket have gone over, so we’ve made more sowing for later in the summer, and the first beetroot sowing is just about ready for some baby-beet pickings. The Broad beans were well and truly walloped with black-fly, and on more than one occasion, this no doubt down to the warm and humid conditions which proliferates their spread, but that said we have fared better than the other plot holders across the walled garden whose potato crops have all been badly decimated with blight. The red Kale sown in May has now been planted into the open drills, as have the pumpkin and ornamental courgette plants, and as usual the herb and floral border which is one of the main focal points of the Monster in the Corner is once again in full bloom and generating the annual conversation piece with the passers-by.
We’ve decided to change the Monster’s ‘rude mechanical’ this year. Since first beginning work on the allotment our ‘play’ has been a large chestnut log with bug hotel and carved wooden plot number in situ. But given the effects of three wet and stormy winters it was looking a little forlorn. This year we’ve gone for a spilled-barrow effect; a living mechanical if you will, the Monster’s designation and number in living floral form. Originally conceived in red, white and bluegiving a nod to the EURO’s 2016 event in France- we’ve adapted a little at the last minute to facilitate incorporating another of the elements of the walled garden into the design, and with a little luck we should be putting the finishing touches to it over this coming weekend.

The Monster's Mechanical Spilled Barrow almost complete
The Monster’s Mechanical
Spilled Barrow almost complete

Almost Completed...
Almost Completed…

Madame dirtdigger is somewhat incapacitated at present, but there’s no slackening-off with this particular one armed weeder & feeder; still showing up for plot duty, still making the most of the weather, and reminding me that as of today the days are no longer stretching. Today, and for another day or so, the season’s daylight is fully taut. Midsummer’s mindfulness abounds, filled with birdsong dawns and those slow receding half-light dusks stretching almost to midnight; young starlings learning the principles of murmuration formation flying and beech nuts and hazel nuts now setting on the branches; cosmos, lilies and lupins beginning to open; sunflowers reaching into the broad light with basil and coriander pots scenting the plot and the outdoor courgettes showing signs of bloom…and to top it all off, great sporting nights like last night that will live long in the memory as the low lying fields of Athenry worm their way into the French psyche’s  association with the Green ArmyCOYBIG

The Green Army doing what they do best...
The Green Army doing what it does best…

 

Robbie's Italian Job
Robbie’s Italian Job

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Robbie Brady’s goal…

Back to our roots…

And so it came to pass that after 2148 days the umbilicus to the collective is severed;  Hmm! From here on it’s one muckraker with one dirt-digger extraordinaire working a patchy sodden canvas with a packet of seeds and the promise of effort in pursuit of germinating a dream…

Welcome to the Monster in the Corner,

a stone strewn slightly sodden suburban allotment;

The little plot with big ideas on how to feed the soul one sod at a time,,,

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1st Daffodil of the year on 16th January… The Monster blooms…