Friday, 25 January 2008

The latest bulletin from 66 years ago...

The only instruction in the Wartime Weekend Gardener for the fourth weekend of January is to lift any root crops remaining in the soil, frost permitting. Then store them in trays of compost or preserve them.

Hopefully we'll have a dry enough weekend so those who have fallen behind because of the wet weather (or like me, the heaviest cold for ages) can catch up.

The Spring bulbs I planted last Autumn are starting to flower, but not in the expected order. First to bloom were the dwarf irises, a deep crimson purple variety, then Katherine Hodgkin, a muted grey mauve and chartreuse one. The crocuses are open now, but the snowdrops are still budding up. With another year's growing, the timings should sort themselves out. My first venture out of the house since I went down with an absolute stinker of a cold took me on a bus past Winchmore Hill green, where I saw the first daff of the year in bloom. There's even talk of frog spawn sightings. I hope not round here - I need to remove the ponds at the old allotments, and can't do that until next week.

Sad news in the local paper. The Big Issue seller in Enfield was taken ill and died suddenly last week. His pitch was outside the Post Office, right by the bus stop. He was happy to talk to anyone, whether you bought a copy or not. In his early days selling, his dog was stolen, and people rallied around to help. His replacement dog, a very happy friendly Staffie, was as much a part of the community. Enfield is becoming even more soul less and anonymous, so losing someone who in spite of their circumstances was able to make a contribution to the feeling of community is a blow.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Tasks for THIS weekend

This weekend (third of the year), the book suggests you plant Horseradish "thongs". Only for the brave as it spreads rapidly and has deep roots. We don't seem to have inherited any at the new allotment so I might risk some in the "wild" are I have planned behind the polytunnel.

Also sow another batch of Broad Beans. Now that is a good idea. Just make sure the mice & voles don't beat you to them!

How much I'll get done this weekend is debateable. I need to fight off the cold I've caught before venturing out. We started planting up a shade tolerant flower bed under the trees in the garden and I bought a pale yellow Hellebore that will take pride of place. Just wait for the rain to stop and the wind to drop.....

Friday, 11 January 2008

This weekend in 1942

Another installment from The Wartime Weekend Gardener:

Second weekend of the year:

Plant out Red Cabbage seedlings.

Spread well-rotted manure over any areas of the veg plot not in use.

So a pretty quiet week. Good thing with the present weather. A couple of comments from me on the above information. Due to this country's slavish adherence to EU seed regulations, most wartime seed varieties are no longer available. These days, most red cabbage varieties are for Spring sowing. And don't spread manure on the area you've set aside for this year's root vegetables, unless you plan to enter them in the "Ugliest Veg" class. I'm waiting for the council to deliver the municipal compost for that.

We're lucky at our allotments as the local riding stables delivers their muck heap to us every few weeks. We were actually busy spreading a good layer of manure over our new allotment on the frostier days of the Christmas break. The steam rising from the dung heap was an amazing sight. The heap was so hot that the centre was turning to ash!

I was tempted to wrap a couple of potatoes in foil and cooking them in the heap. Instead, I prepared a special ericaceous compost heap for my blueberries and cranberries by building up layers of manure and conifer shreddings. As the council have been collected discarded Christmas trees this past week, hopefully they'll be delivering more wood shreddings so I can continue with this layer cake.

One evening as we were leaving the allotments, we saw a few Widgeon flying overhead. Last Saturday we decided to get off the bus from town a stop earlier and walk past the nearby lake. We were lucky enough to see three Shoveller ducks. All the time I've spent visiting wild places and nature reserves and I see two breeds of duck that I'd never seen in the wild a short way from my door.

Must make the most of any good weather this week end - this week has been almost literally a wash out.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Extracts from a favourite book

I picked up a copy of a little book called The Wartime Weekend Gardener a few years ago in a charity shop. Published in 1942, it's a wonderful snapshot of how the Dig For Victory campaign encouraged people who had never got their hands dirty before to raise their own food.

It takes a novice gardener with very little time through every task, weekend by weekend, they will need to perform to grow vegetables, and some fruit, for themselves. It also has chapters on raising hens and rabbits for food. Even today it stands as a clear and concise guide to work by.

Anyway - tasks suggested for the first weekend of January:

Plant Jerusalem Artichokes
Sow hardy salads and a few carrots to grow under glass.
Lift Rhubarb roots and replant for forcing in the dark.
Finalise seed orders.

I guess even then the trick was to keep on top of things until all hell broke loose in March.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

What can you do?

New Year resolutions are all very well, but is this the best time of year to try to change something about yourself?

If you're in the Northern hemisphere the depths of Winter are here, and you just want to be comfortable, South of the Equator it's Summer and you're having too much fun to change your ways.

Most successful changes I've made have been around the Equinox - March or September. Maybe it's that sense of balance that make resolutions easier to keep.

Things I'm still doing more than a year down the line include getting milk delivered rather than buying from a supermarket, always carrying a sturdy shopping bag with me, composting as much as possible, use a whistling kettle on the hob rather than an energy hungry electric kettle, keeping a separate recycling bin (on average four times as much goes in this as the rubbish bin) and changing to a non-chemical toothpaste.

One thing I intended to do but fell through was to get an old fashioned push-pull carpet sweeper and use that rather than a vacuum cleaner. But the new place we live only has carpet on the stairs. However, I have resolved to use a dustpan and brush, and only vacuum as a last resort.

All little things, but all go towards reducing my drain on energy resources.

But I still aim to improve. I now have a wormery, so even less food waste will have to be put out for collection. We're constructing raised beds at the allotments, and as no dig systems and forest gardens require copious mulch, all paper waste will be shredded and used there. Changing to milk delivery rather than shop bought means that I no longer have access to vast amounts of plastic bottles (which would go for recycling anyway) but those that do are not passed on unless I can find no way of re-using them.

And the heating only goes on when we REALLY need it.

All these improvements and I don't think we've felt any inconvenience.