32 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd


“Oh suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright and sunny weather.”

Helen Hunt Jackson, 1884

I’m also a big fan of October. Which is odd, given the dying down going on all around. But there’s something much more human-scale about the task before us at the beginning of autumn. The boisterous growth rate of  spring and summer is all very well, and very necessary of course, but the turn of the gardening treadmill is now manageable – albeit at a steady canter.

This year’s mild conceit that we were good fruit growers afforded by a sunny summer can now be reconfigured as what tidy gardeners we are by nature’s ebbing into dormancy. I took my chance with both hands and mowed and strimmed like there was no tomorrow. If only I could maintain this order during the growing months. Instead the weedy wreckage of last season was erased from memory and new plans immediately took its place.

The lack of any irrigation on the field was the major defeat of 2010: having no water caused the collapse of my successional plantings. Instead of summer edibles, only rank weeds followed on from the potatoes, the alliums and the broad beans. This particular nettle must be grasped. I’m proposing a two pond solution whereby a small reservoir of rainwater fed from the hangar roof can be pumped up to another smaller pond at the top of the field and then gravity-fed to the beds below. These ponds will also double as suitable places for the ducks and geese to congregate.

Grandiose engineering schemes aside, the need to service the food requirements of June 2011 – the start of self-sufficiency – are foremost in my mind. I’ve prepared and sown some big broad bean beds:

Similarly, the over-wintering pea beds are underway too. The hybrid variety Sima gave us more peas than we could be bothered podding last year. Something tells me we’ll be glad of every petit pois next year. The garlic bed is ready too. But I’ve yet to find any cloves for autumn-planting in the shops… I could use my own from last year but I’m too fond of cooking with them!

Other than completing the list of things that need doing before November pulls the rug from under all this optimism, we’ve been trying to get out and about a bit as a family, walking here and there and soaking up the warm but ever-lower sun. This instinctive activity is mirrored by the animals: the goats are often to be seen lying down in the sun contentedly chewing the cud and the pigs seem extra busy between the narrowing limits of the day. For one of them, Big Pig, there won’t that be many more days left, I’m afraid. So I hope she can have one or two more sunny ones.