Friday, 30 May 2008

Drinking the sound of nature

This is the earliest I've posted my weekly blog. I've been awake for about two hours. Woke up due to hayfever again - felt like there were tiny hob nailed boots tap dancing in my sinuses again. Dragged myself out of bed to take my tablet, and sat by the window for a while.

When I was at school, I used to work with my dad at weekends, helping out on his milk round. This meant a very early start - before dawn, around 4 am. In my now distant clubbing days, I often found myself arriving home at a similar time.

There's something magical, almost forbidden, about being awake at this time. It's like you've stumbled upon a secret. The more solitary the experience, the better. And if it's rural, or sylvan, even more so.

Anyway, I sat by the window, waiting for the meds to kick in and provide some ease. I noticed a moth, and opened the window to encourage it out. I did so as the dawn chorus started. At first, a solitary blackbird sang from deep in the woods. A crow called from the more distant fields. Pretty soon, other blackbirds joined in, then robins, wrens, thrushes, goldfinches, dunnocks, chaffinches added layer upon layer to the mix. The sound gave the air an almost liquid quality, and built as the light crept in. Finally, as the sun rose, the geese on the lake joined in, and by full light, the birdsong dropped away, replaced by the sounds of modern suburban life - car alarms, trains, and the first planes approaching Heathrow of the morning.

I've heard the dawn chorus many times, but most times I was intent on getting somewhere. This time I was able to stop and concentrate on the even, from start to finish. If you get the chance, set your alarm for half an hour or so before sunrise, open a window and just listen.

This hasn't been a great week for gardening. After the downpours over the Bank Holiday weekend, my rainfall gauge filled to the brim - that's over two inches in two days. I emptied it and now it's getting on for half full again. Hopefully this is not going to be the pattern for the summer.

My main project for this weekend is to plant a herb garden in the raised bed we've made in the front garden. As the kitchen is at the front of the house, this corresponds with zone 1 in permaculture terms, as do my troughs of salad leaves, which are now edging the deck by the back door. I do plan to have a herb bed at the allotment, but there I'll concentrate on less delicate plants, which don't need immediate use after picking, plus some tea and medicinal herbs. If space allows, I may slot in a few dye plants to experiment with in time.

I must admit I'm dreading going over the allotment after the rain we've had. I have visions of all the mulch I laid on the beds having been washed away.

Anyway, the tasks set out in the Wartime Weekend Gardener for the first weekend of June include:

Sow outdoor cucumbers. Mine are already sown, and are start to emerge in the mini greenhouse. Hopefully, the frog and hedgehog population in the garden will make enough inroads into the slug and snail population to allow a couple of seedlings to survive long enough to be planted out.

Check over fruit trees for developing fruitlets. Fruit trees naturally shed some excess fruitlets at this time of year - hence the term "June drop" However, the ferocity of the rain last weekend may have pre-empted this, so I'll be checking to see if any fruit is left.

Also, net soft fruit to prevent bird damage. I confess to being a little lax with this. The one year I was diligent in netting my strawberries to prevent birds pecking at them, a family of voles burrowed in and gnawed the ripening areas, leaving me with green or rotten fruits. I removed the net and placed a small bowl of catfood next to the bed to encourage freelance pest control operatives (as Beth Chatto calls them)

Sow turnips. Although thought of as a winter vegetable, baby turnips are lovely with a summer roast or even barbecue, especially with butter and mustard.

Sow a row or two spinach. In the days of the WWG, spinach was just used as mature leaves, boiled, like most vegetables at the time, "into submission". These days, as much spinach is used as young leaves in salads and boiled. Even so, only a small amount needs to be planted, as at least one plant is bound to bolt and set seed, leaving you with limitless greenery for all time.

If you don't fancy the idea of spinach as a weed, or if the oxalic acid content makes it taste too metallic, try growing chard instead. Chard is a close relation of beetroot, so is best grown in the root part of the rotation. There are several varieties, some being selected for stalk colour, ranging from white, through yellows and orange right through to crimson red. It too can be picked young for salads, or allowed to mature for use as greens. The mature stalks can be served separately, and are particularly good braised and served with a cheese sauce.

But then for me, many things are improved by the addition of cheese.

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