Rough Gardening In A Pandemic (Laying The Ground) RIP Norman

So Many Pots, So Little Compost
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

It’s no secret that, by now, we’re all heartily pissed off with this whole Covid business. I could write a litany of woes, some deeply personal, some widely shared and others purely observational that would, in turn, bring tears to a statue, make a vicar swear like a matelot on shore leave and reduce the most stoical amongst us to quivering emotional wrecks, but hey, why bother. I have no doubt we all have a tale or two to tell. I rarely watch any form of “news” these days for these very reasons, it’s all too doom laden, as if we need reminding! Accordingly I restrict myself to the comedy of what is fatuously known as “weather forecasting”, which is always good for a wry giggle. Seems to me the only time they get it 100% right is when the whole four nations are either being rained upon, snowed upon or in the grip of a heat wave (The old ABBC loves a heat wave, more grist to the doom laden “Climate Change” myth, something else I find myself ignoring with even greater zeal than in previous times). Today was such a day weather wise, more of which later.

Pre-Covid there were only a couple of things that sustained my tenuous grip on sanity anyway. Some of them, like fell walking, cooking, photography, reading and drinking have hardly been impacted by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the really important ones, like spending time with the extended family, visiting friends in different areas of the country, eating out, ending up at a pub after a walk, the village all day breakfasts, the village flower show, days out to museums and galleries, holding a proper wake for a loved one, Arnison Gents Outfitters January sale, scrabble club, swimming, camera club, being stimulated by outside influence enough to sit and type something fulfilling for Going Postal, being able to even get to my desk to start typing in the first place and DOMINOES have all gone (to a lesser or greater extent) by the board. Although I’d always recognised the socio-communal benefit of our regular domino sessions, which I’ve touched on on more than one occasion over the years, I’d never got just how intrinsically important it is for all of those who take part in it. I’m not even sure we’ll ever get back to it. The 2019-2020 season never got concluded. The 2020-2021 season, which never got started, would now be in its final throes to allow for lambing time to take precedence, and no one really knows whether there’ll be the enthusiasm or the numbers to hold a 2021-2022 season, even assuming it’ll be amongst the allowable leisure activities gifted back to us by those now holding sway over our every common liberty.

Time For A Side Up
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

One thing that no one has attempted to stop me from doing is visit my greenhouse. Maybe that would be my line in the sand. Like many other people, no doubt, I’ve made the grandiose claim that I won’t stand for such and such a thing, or another thing would be my “final straw” and then meekly (apart from ranting on social media) gone along with the rules, bending them as much as humanly possible to suit my needs, but never actively doing anything about it. I suppose that’s all part of the shared human condition. I have nothing but admiration for those who’ve taken a stand against forced authoritarianism and suffered as a consequence but maybe I’m just a bit long in the tooth, or too set in my ways, to be the rebel I once aspired to be. It may also be that living in darkest Cumbria allows a level of freedom that others don’t have. Who knows?

Although I keep an eye on my glass during the winter, once the last of the  fruit and veg is harvested I don’t normally get fully back into things until the end of February or so, but this year, given I have a little more time on my hands, I’ve made a start with the tidying up (something which I always mean to do more thoroughly than I actually ever get done) and prepping the ground.

With the sad passing of Norman who went into hospital with pneumonia, only to be sent home to die having contracted hospital acquired Covid, it seemed like an appropriate time for a bit of a clear out and a re-jig of both growing area and methods. An old feed bin had long housed several hundred plant pots of all sizes, mostly plastic but with a fair number of clay ones amongst them. It seemed a waste to throw them out as they were mostly in decent condition, so I hit on the idea of giving them away. I had to put up a sign. People are so honest around here that I’d have been getting phone calls asking if it was okay to take a couple. One young fellow came along with his kids and we got to chatting. His 3 year old daughter wanted to paint some pots & grow some plants. Made my day talking to them about it. Small things make a difference during these times. The feed bin now sits in the yard, having served a worthwhile purpose on the farmstead for many years, waiting for the scrap man to come around.

The Relocated Tool Station & Compost Bay
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

The tool station (which stood next to the old feed bin), a cobbled together jigsaw of pallet retainers formed into a box, where I keep hoes, rakes, spades, gripes etc is now positioned by the strawberry beds (they’ll be salad beds this year) which has freed up the “grund” by the old bench for planting. Exactly what’ll be planted there I’ve yet to decide. A major job still to tackle is whether or not to remove the plastic skirt from the frame support blocks, cement repair them and then “tank” them with bitumastic paint. I may well save that one for next winter. I like the idea of having a change around every now and again and I don’t suppose Norman would have minded, he’d just have wanted his fried tomatoes every Saturday dinnertime.

There’s Always Glass To Replace
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

Glass, or the maintaining of it, is probably the most challenging annual job. There isn’t a season goes by without at least half a dozen panes needing to be replaced and this year is no different. If anything it’s a little worse this season, maybe a dozen or so, but the weather needs to be right for the job, no wind, warm and dry being the order of the day. It isn’t something one man can easily do either. I’m generally just the labourer, deferring to the more skilled at technical jobs, which suits me fine.

All The Pots I’ll Ever Need
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

I didn’t get rid of all my pots and containers, but using some old metal drawers and bakers trays I’ve put shelves under the potting table. This means I’ve got my kit more to hand, which will hopefully help me to keep a tidier ship and make the whole process a little more efficient.  I intend, unless something radically changes in my life, to continue to make use of the greenhouse for years to come but it makes sense, as I get older, to keep the whole process as simple as possible, without it ever becoming either tiresome or boring (for me, anyway).

Man And Machine In Perfect Harmony
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

With everything cleared and tidied away it was time to call in the expert. My brother in law is a man who can be relied upon to make things happen. This old rotovator had been in use on the farm since Adam was a lad, but a couple of years ago the engine gave out. A local mechanic tried (and failed) a couple of times to resurrect it so it stood in one of the sheds whilst, in true country manner, we mulled over what to do with it. The engine which now powers it was, until recently, fitted to an old concrete mixer, also kept in the shed. WD40, brute strength and a level of good old ingenuity means we now have a working rotovator. On the down side the concrete mixer isn’t much use, but we’ll cross that bridge when (and if) we get to it.

Tilled “Grund”
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

The ongoing problem with my shoulder means I’d struggle to handle a bucking rotovator but Dave was more than willing to test his new baby out.  He tested it out to such an extent that the whole patch of “grund” is now tilled and ready for laying out over the next couple of weeks. The top left hand corner has long been a problematic area when it comes to planting out. When we have a long spell of wet weather the rain drains off the field and under the greenhouse at this point, often water-logging it. I’ve put up a couple of tables and I’m going to grow strawberries and chilies in pots this year. The larger orange tubs are going to be drilled for drainage and partially buried at intervals down the right hand side to contain squash and courgettes (don’t at me). Tomatoes right along the middle, peas and beans just this side of the tables and root crops along the left hand side will finish the job and keep me just busy enough.

Ready For The Off!
© Colin Cross, Going Postal 2021

Compost seems to be very expensive this year and I knew I needed more than usual if I wanted to grow more in pots, in the end I got 900 litres for £60. I could have ordered in bulk but then I wouldn’t have had the fun of loading the car, unloading the car & barrowing it (in the pouring rain) up the path & into the greenhouse. Mrs. C says I delight in making work for myself. On occasion she may be right, but I think my veg growing will be easier this year, for the few changes I’ve made. I’d never be writing about this, or enjoying the trials and tribulations of being a rough vegetable gardener, without the taciturn encouragement and sometimes grudging support of the stoical old sheep farmer and market gardener that was my father in law, Norman Hoggarth Mounsey. Born in 1934 he passed away on the 22nd of January this year aged exactly (to the day) 87 years. He built this greenhouse and worked it for years, feeding his family and supplying the local community with flowers and vegetables as he did so. I owe it to his memory to keep it going as long as I possibly can.

© Colin Cross 2021

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