Autumn fires

An afternoon at the allotment, and a long-overdue bonfire. There was a huge pile of stuff that had been growing since early summer, and every time I’d tried to have a bonfire over the past three months it seems to to have rained. Either the pile was sodden and inflammable, or the day itself was wet and I didn’t fancy hanging about getting soaked even if the fire got started. 

But today, a light shower this morning notwithstanding, the big burn got under way. Whoosh! Nothing burns like a pile of cuttings and clippings which has essentially been seasoned all summer. Once I’d got things going, on went some of the end-of-season debris too. 

The sweetcorn has been attacked by what I can only presume are badgers – what else would be (a) interested in eating corn cobs, and (b) hefty enough to push over plants which are well-rooted and over 6 feet tall? Anyway, whether it was Brock or someone else, the crop was mangled – so up came what was left, and onto the bonfire it went.

While the blaze carried on I did some ‘bastard digging’ – not an expression of my dislike, but a ‘technical’ term much-loved of my Horticultural College tutor. Essentially it means – according to him, at any rate – single-spit digging to turn over and loosen the earth, as opposed to double-digging. Anyway, it did the job in turning the large open part of the plot – where there are no raised beds – from a weedy and unsightly thing into a nice, freshly-dug patch of good soil. And it is good soil. Regular additions of organic material over the years have made that patch the best on the plot – far better than the raised beds, even though they are topped-up with new matter every season, and fed throughout the growing season too.

And digging frees the mind to contemplate other things. Aside from turning-over some of the more arcane plot details from John le Carre’s ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’, which I have just finished re-reading for the fourth or fifth time (and enjoyed more than ever), I gave thought to the future of the allotment. 

Ironically, given that I spend my working days gardening for other people, the allotment has – as I have mentioned before – had to take a bit of a back seat over the past couple of seasons. To the extent, indeed, that I have thought about handing it back, and letting someone have it who can do it proper justice. But then, I think, just one more year. And that is where I am now. One more season to really get it how I want it to be, and if I fail, then that will be it. I want the allotment to be a place where I can do the gardening jobs I don’t get to do so much elsewhere – growing food, trying out new things and experimenting a bit, and putting in some old-fashioned graft with spade and fork. I also want it to be a place to take the children and their mother, where we can have picnics and pootle a summer weekend away every now and then.Most definitely not a place I dread going to, for fear of what I might find in the way of bedragglement and weedage. 

So, then, one more season. Put the hours in over the next few months and get everything properly sorted for the spring: but without spending money on it – there’s no need: the raised beds simply need a few running repairs, and the paths need sorting out – but essentially the structure, and a shed and a fruit-cage, is all there.

There are half a dozen fruit trees that were – if I am honest – only temporarily planted earlier in the year: they need properly planting in the places kept free for them – apples, pears, cherries. And soft fruit too – raspberry canes and gooseberries hastily heeled-in on arrival from the nursery, for which I need to create room in the fruit cage. The shed needs a coat of paint as well. There is no shortage of work to keep me at the allotment over the next few weeks, even if the produce is down to a few runner beans and the odd root of potatoes.

And then – come the spring – spend as much time there as it takes, and as much as I can manage, to grow good vegetables and lovely flowers to bring home and enjoy. The allotment is on the way to/from the children’s schools – so there is really no reason why I ought not to be able to carve out 30 minutes or so a day, every day, to call in and keep things going. I shall call on Lia Leendertz’s ‘The 30 Minute Allotment’ to guide me: little and often, little and often…

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