Shortly before the New Year arrived, severe fog and frost turned the allotment site into a stunning yet haunting and eerie vision. Not a soul was brave enough to venture into the -1 temperatures, many still tucked up tightly in bed I am sure.
I on the other hand had other ideas, my dad would be arriving early and I had digging and a bonfire planned in my mind. So after a hot brew and flaky croissant, digging and building a bonfire is what we did.
Digging on a completely frosted plot? Are you sure?
Yes, I didn’t think it would be possible either when we first arrived. The site was a calming spectacle I could take in for hours, but one that bought dread at first that my plans might be scuppered. The majority of the soil was frozen solid and a fork was not going to break it with any amount of force.
One area of my plot though which has been covered in weed membrane for the last year gave me hope. With my frozen fingers and toes crossed we pulled back the icy membrane to reveal rich slightly damp soil, perfect for digging. As we started to dig and turn the un worked soil, worms began wiggling free showing great signs of hope and nutrient packed goodness. The robins must have set their sights on us as soon we put the fork near the soil as within seconds we had one sitting on every side of the plot fencing waiting to find their own breakfast. Of course as soon as I tried to capture the moment to share with you, they were in flight off in to the neighbouring tree.
Now before I continue, this tree! I adore trees in all their varieties especially fruit bearing ones. I admired this one too, until I decided to start work on my un-touched side of the plot. The soil is wonderful and the majority of weeds have died which brings much ease, but then the fork suddenly feels resistance, a tree root as thick as my finger encroaching into my plot. Not just one but many.
I refuse with gritted teeth to take this too seriously, I of course must embrace all I am given and see the benefits the tree provides. I dig up what I can and cut back the growth when I can dig no more.
Digging is required, at least in the first year I believe when perennial weeds are in abundance. I dream of the no-dig method becoming reality very soon and admire the work Charles Dowding, an expert in this field brings. For now though, it is required in my opinion but not something that gets me excitedly giddy. Sowing and watching my produce grow certainly brings more joy, but this doesn’t happen without the initial preparation.
I was very quickly itching to do the fun activity for the day, building my first plot bonfire. Collecting the wood, wrinkling newspaper and snapping twigs brings back such fond childhood memories and for me is up there as one of my ultimate father and daughter activities. As one of the first girl Scouts thanks to my dad being the local leader I experienced many camping adventures. Erecting tents and building bonfires in all conditions were key responsibilities. Winning the award of ‘Toughest Scout on trip’ too one year.
Our first probably too hurried attempt was unsuccessful and I was quickly advised that my grandparents would be unimpressed with our waste of valuable resources. Sorry Nan! We returned to digging briefly before taking a calmer and more patient approach to our second attempt.
Success! It’s amazing how quickly when done properly the flames take hold, within minutes we were feeling toasty. All we needed was foil covered jacket spuds and bananas filled with squares of chocolate for the full memory lane camping experience. We continued to dig, taking breaks to add more materials to the fire, the amount of waste turned into valuable ash within minutes surprised us both.
There was something special about just us and the vibrant bonfire surrounded by a frosty and foggy calmness. Crackling of the fire and birds singing were the only sounds.
4 hours of hard work and laughter quickly past and we were both certainly ready for lunch, tummy’s were rumbling. We packed my tools, removed our muddy gloves and headed across the river Thames to our local favourite pub, The Queen’s Head.
Sausage and mash alongside a warming mug of mulled cider was certainly going to do the trick; we were warmed up and re-fuelled.
Although these kind of days limit the work we can do as gardeners, there is always something that can be achieved including:
– Cleaning the greenhouse and pots ready for Spring sowing
– Sowing chillies in a heated propagator or on a sunny windowsill
– Pruning autumn raspberry canes
– Planting up remaining bulbs in containers
– Taking root cuttings and plant in the edge of a pot filled with a gritty compost mix
– Stay cosy indoors reading books and browsing through seed catalogues.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year and every success in achieving your dreams both on and off the plot.