The summer, what little we’ve seen of it since the heady days of the June “heatwave”, moves along bringing with it dire warnings of the upcoming conflagration about to be unleashed on us all, not (this time) by “Katastrophic Klimate Kalamities” but by the recently resurrected spectre of “Man Made Global Warming”. Excuse me if I allow myself a wry chuckle at the bright pink weather maps (which once were verdantly green), the “on the spot” reports about people needing to drink water in hot weather, the hypocritical tweeting of the celebrity “talking head” cognoscenti and the gushing hyperbole of morning TV hosts, asking their avid viewer if he (or she, or xi) now has sympathy for the Just Stop Oil “activistas”. I suppose the belief must be, amongst those most ardently promoting this old bollox, is that if they say it all often enough, and paint it colourfully enough, than it’ll have to come true. Methinks they protesteth just a little too much.
On to more important matters and the reason for the yellow tomatoes not turning red. It isn’t a mystery of any kind, it’s simply the result of my forgetting I planted two seeds a neighbour had given me, from the yellow tomatoes they had grown in 2022. Now I’ve realised what they are, the waiting’s over and the eating’s begun. A firm fleshed variety with less than average seed content and a pleasant, slightly acidic finish. I haven’t cooked any of them yet, but I no doubt will, soon enough.
I doubt I mentioned it at the time (it was 2011) but when we were building the house we made a conscious decision to keep the thorn hedge to the front, rather than installing a fence or going to the great expense of having a dry stone wall constructed (no brick or block walls allowed at the time), but there was a big gap which needed filling. I dug up a decent sized gooseberry bush from a lane in the village and planted it in the gap. It’s taken a while to establish itself, but this year we took just over eleven pounds of fruit from it, which is handy, as the wild bush I usually forage from is dying back. I’m going to give it a “hard prune” a bit later this year and see if I can’t bring it back to life, but, in the meantime, the freezer’s nicely stocked and this “free form” gooseberry tart made an excellent pudding. A simple sweet shortcrust pastry, with a couple of ounces of ground almonds and a couple of ounces of semolina to soak up the juices as the fruit cooked. A healthy sprinkling of brown sugar, 40 minutes in the oven and voila!
Sadly there have been a couple of unexpected casualties in the ongoing fight against the small but highly persistent rodent population. We’ve had plenty of mice, one toad (which survived, with a limp), a couple of slugs (which didn’t) and two little shrews. Sad really, I’d never have thought they’d be attracted by peanut butter, as they’re mostly carnivorous, but I guess it’s hard to resist the opportunity of a sweet treat, even if you’d really rather have an earthworm or two.
I decided to follow some advice Norman gave me some years ago, only more radically. It was always his contention that, once the fruit had set on the lowest tomato truss, then it wasn’t in any way harmful to remove some of the lower leaves on the plant, which would take moisture and feed, without really doing much of anything else. A bonus is that it make the plants both easier to water and more accessible for weeding purposes. Any road up, I’ve removed every leaf frond below (and level with) the bottom truss on every plant, I’ve also made small dams around the base of each plant, allowing me to target both water and feed at the stronger first set roots. I don’t know if this is an “accepted” method of tomato plant management, I can’t be bothered to look it up, but aesthetically it’s pleasing and (as yet) I can’t see any detriment to any of the plants. Onwards and upwards!
I normally post a shot from the north facing door, looking down the greenhouse past the raised beds, so, just to offer a different perspective I took one from the south end, looking from the western corner past the strawberry beds. Note the beer crate leg extension tool, the wooden step ladder with plywood tool attachment (still in development stage) and the compost bay door retainer, formed from a bit of scrap angle iron (it has a matching piece on the other side). Nowt gets wasted (apart from a bit of my time) and nowt gets chucked away until it really has outlived its usefulness, even then most things end up on the “it might come in handy one day” pile or shelf. You never know when summat will need “yawking up” when you’re operating at a basic subsistence level.
Dave’s made a (somewhat tentative) on the plans for the “other” greenhouse. It’s in a bit of a poor state of repair, but he’s carefully shoring up the sides of the southern end with 40mm multi-wall poly-carbonate sheets. When that jobs done we’ll replace the broken roof glass and take down the northern end frame (with door) which will be fixed in place on the middle galvanised main frame. Phase two (or three) will entail removing and disposing of the glass in the northern end (nearest the camera) and creating an outdoor plot for potatoes, other root veg and brassicas. The southern end, hopefully more or less watertight when finished, will be used as a log store/shed and space will be freed up in the main house for growing more of the crops (chilies, peppers, even more tomatoes) which thrive under glass. It’s a big project and it needs a lot of care to do it safely. I’ll do as I’m told and, hopefully, that’ll forestall any serious risk to either mine or Dave’s well being. Further updates (if I don’t forget) will be posted as and when any progress (or setbacks) happen.
There is some ripening happening in some of the red cherry tomatoes and the yellow pear shaped variety. The larger one of the two red ones in the picture has been duly seen off and very tasty it was, too. The small few weeds are removed every couple of weeks or so, depending on how much persuasion needs applying to Mrs. C to pop round and give me a hand. TBF, she has put two good shifts in in recent weeks, but I can see I’m going to be needing her help again pretty soon. I’ll post a fuller progress report on the second pea and broad bean plantings next time and a bit more of a look at the leeks (going well) the cabbages and sprouts (coming along) and the parsnips (a sad tale) next time, but it’d be churlish of me to say I’m not generally very pleased with the way things have gone so far this season and we’re still 20 days away from the village show, for which I should have some half decent entries, so long as we get our fair share of sunshine over the coming couple of weeks.
It isn’t all weeding, exfoliating and exterminating, sometimes I take the odd afternoon off and get away from all the hustle and bustle of village life by visiting a nice garden, or a (once) stately home, or occasionally both at the same time. Dalemain is a couple of miles from home and it’s a fascinating place, with a decent set of gardens. There’s been a building on the site, of one kind or another) since the 12th century and the current family have been in permanent residence since Sir Edward Hassel bought it in 1679. The Festival Of Marmalade is an annual event and the guided tour of the house is entertaining and revealing in equal measure. A bit pricey, but if you’re in the area and you like this sort of thing, it’s well worth a visit. Old Jack’s house still stands empty and looks more abandoned with every passing day, it isn’t a stately home, but someone should really do something with it, if you ask me.
In case you didn’t know, there’s a war on. Russia invaded Ukraine over claims of ethnic cleansing in the disputed Donbass, a region of Ukraine (disputed) which is populated mostly by ethnic Russian speakers. The rest, as they say, is history and the conflict lumbers on, although actually finding out any “truth” about what’s really happening is much like finding the proverbial “needle in a haystack”. A chap I follow on twitter, Robin Redmile-Gordon posted the following, which he kindly allowed me to reproduce;
“There’s been a great deal of talk about how much the US is “giving” to Ukraine to help them fight their proxy war. Please be in no doubt, the US gives nothing away. They open an account, just like the one you have at your bank. They debit the account with the cost of the surplus, second-hand arms and munitions and the mercenary charges for each soldier they put on the ground. They apply interest. Just as the bank owns the home you think is yours, the US owns Ukraine. When the time comes to rebuild, the US will decide what gets built and which US contractor will build it. The contractors bill will be paid out of that account and Ukraine’s debt will grow. Ukraine is fuelling the US economy, right now. All those munitions have to be replaced and stockpiles rebuilt by US industry. The faster Ukraine uses their artillery shells, the merrier the tills in the US ring. Their young men slaughtered on the battlefield, their country in ruins, they’ll be in debt to the US for generations to come and whatever piffling output they might generate in future years, will go offshore to pay these debts and interest. War is a business and we all know Joe likes to dabble in business, other people’s mainly. Those are the facts. If you don’t like facts, turn on your TV and switch off your mind”.
Hard facts are very difficult to find regarding this whole business, the propaganda machines on both sides are in overdrive, but estimates on casualties (so far) are as high as 330,000 military personnel (with a reputed 80,000 plus killed) and as many as 10,000 Ukrainian citizens also dead as a direct result of military action. It’s easier to find out about the financial cost than the human though, and here (as alluded to by Robin), the numbers are eye watering. It’s estimated that, in seventeen months, Russia has spent over 90 billion US dollars on the war. The damage to infrastructure in Ukraine is estimated at IRO 140 billion US dollars and rising (the “rebuild” cost will be considerably higher). Between them, the US (by far the largest contributor to the NATO pot with over $41 billion) the UK and the EU have given money, weapons and munitions to Ukraine to the tune of over $50 billion and rising. Yet we’re told virtually nothing about what’s actually happening on the ground and we certainly aren’t being told if there’s any chance of it ending any time soon. The cost to all of us is high, the cost to the people directly at risk is unfathomable, yet we all know that when it’s over, which one day it must be, the only real reckoning will be in the accountancy offices of the global corporations who make the bombs that blow people and places up and also make the steel and concrete to rebuild the infrastructure. And while the war still rages (if it does), how much of this vast fortune is being hived off by corrupt politicians and functionaries, how much is traded for favours, how much will make its way back to the US, or into Europe, as a “sweetener” of one kind or another and how much is already resting in the Swiss bank accounts of the ostensibly “Great and Good” who already and, increasingly boldly (without fear of any kind of recrimination), hold firm onto the reins of power, in the certain knowledge that their heinous crimes will never see them brought to book?
© Colin Cross 2023