June 28, 2020

Yesterday, for the first time in about three months, I got properly drenched on the bike – as in needing to change out of everything when I got back and being truly grateful that just because it’s late June doesn’t mean we don’t light the woodburner of an evening much of the time.

The thing is, we’re clearing out our freezer because it needs defrosting, which means eating our way through all those supplies we sensibly filled it with during those not-exactly-hoarding-but-definitely-stocking-up-on-stuff days in late March. We got through a lot last week when we decided to go without our weekly supermarket shop, in preparation for visiting my parents, but now we’re down to the trickier items that raise more questions than answers: uses for half a packet of filo pastry, anyone? What best to do with a lockdown-inspired pasta sauce that is a bit like pesto but it turned out the recipe was for feeding an army? And why did we think it would be useful to stock up on frozen sweetcorn when we never actually eat it?

In answering that last question, I remembered an old Hugh Fearnley-Washingup recipe for ‘extra corny cornbread‘ that was so old it was actually filed in our recipe folder instead of being stuffed in the back with all the other recipes we have accumulated since. This would go wonderfully with the pork stew we had planned for tonight to use up the last batch of salsa verde made from last year’s tomatillo crop. The problem was that the supermarket was completely out of cornmeal or polenta, and we didn’t really want to go traipsing round all the other shops in Bigtown looking for one that had it in stock.

Fortunately the barter economy is still alive and well in Bigtownshire (despite the actual barter group being shut down out of caution at the start of the lockdown) so thanks to the magic of Facebook I was able to find someone within cycling distance who had spare cornmeal, and wanted new potatoes (the plants in the greenhouse having finally produced a crop). The only problem then was picking a window in the weather when it wasn’t absolutely hissing down. As you may have gathered from the introduction to this post, I failed – although I did manage to set off while it wasn’t raining which is often half the battle.

I doubt that back in February, when I noted that I was getting the full use out of my new Aldi waterproof trousers, I could have even begun to imagine how little I was going to get rained on in the coming months. This should be the point at which I wax lyrical about how I long for the days when I regularly get soaked on the bike again, as things return to normal … but that would be a lie. Even after a break of three months, and with summer’s slightly warmer rain, I’m never going to pretend I enjoy cycling in the wet.

pieces of cornbread

However, I do enjoy baked goods and now we have cornbread, so every cloud …


June 23, 2020

It seems we are coming out of lockdown – even here in Scotland where things are proceeding at a more cautious pace than south of the border. Not only can we make the 100-mile round trip drive to see my parents (as soon as the weather relents enough to make sitting in their garden while we socially distance a realistic prospect) but I got a text from my dentist confirming that my checkup will be going ahead on Friday (of all the things I was looking forward to being able to get back to doing, I can’t say this was top of my list)

I’ve also had a bit of a break in the work schedule – as a glance out of the window at the weather would confirm – and a chance to actually get to grips with a couple of those lockdown projects I started back when I thought everything being cancelled for the foreseeable future might actually give me some more free time.

One of these was an attempt at a couple of timelapses from photos taken during our daily state-sanctioned exercise. I’m still wrestling with the technology to make a proper timelapse (including something that can compensate for the difficulty of taking a photo from exactly the same spot at exactly the same angle every day) but for now the WordPress gallery gives a good enough first draft of the arrival of spring at the wood at the end of our road.

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Sifting through the photos and trying to line them up is something of a thankless task, but I’m glad I made the effort – it seems an appropriate enough response to these timebending days. Weeks, even months can pass in the blink of an eye, while also being measured out in endless days: the same walk, the same spot, and time sneaking up on you all the while without your leave.

Pride Goeth

June 11, 2020

OK, I’ll confess it. I’ve been seeing a lot of fresh new eager gardeners starting up during the lockdown period. I’ve seen their questions, shared with them their joy at the first shoots, commiserated with them over their setbacks, even dispensed a little lofty advice. After all, I remembered when I was a new gardener, negotiating the perils of slugs and damping off and all the ills that befall young veg shoots if you’re not careful. If you’re not, say, someone who’s been growing veg for over a decade now and – despite the usual catalogue of minor mishaps – managing to get some decent results.

Behold, for example, the lushness of my potato plants in the greenhouse.

lush potato plants

This is a trick I learned from a fellow gardener (indeed, the garden inspection committee) who likes to throw a few early potatoes in under glass to get the first news a good few weeks before the outdoor ones are ready. With a nice early variety you can have them dug up and eaten in time to get the slower starting greenhouse plants in for the rest of the summer. In this case, our tomatillos have been knocking on the door for a while, wondering when they were going to get their feet into the soil. Given the potatoes had started flowering it was time to start harvesting and reap the benefit of my years of experience.

Behold, if you will, the magnificence of my potato harvest.

very few potatoes

In fact, this is actually an improvement on the original – the first plant I dug up had no potato tubers on it at all. I blame the insane weather – it turns out that if the soil is too warm, then potato plants don’t bother setting tubers. You would have thought the chances of this being a problem for us was exactly zero, but not so, given all the sunshine we had in April and May. I’ll probably still file it under ‘nice problem to have’, but it just goes to show, there are no surprises the Weather Gods won’t spring on the the unsuspecting gardener, however much they think they know.

Meanwhile the rest of the veg patch is looking almost as if I know what I’m doing…

… but we know better now.

A Dry Spell

May 20, 2020

Oh frabjuous day …

half full water butt

Yes, it’s come to this – I’ve actually been hoping it might rain. This is the problem with being both a gardener and a cyclist (at least in normal times).* I think I’ve mentioned that it’s been dry, and now I’ve learned by listening to Gardener’s Question Time that this has likely set back my asparagus bed another year (we have six whole spears poking up at the moment). Apparently I should be watering it all spring, even here, where watering things outside just feels like a category mistake. Of all the things I thought might go wrong with my asparagus bed back when I planted it, ‘not enough rain’ would have been right there below ‘meteorite strike’ and, indeed, ‘global pandemic’.

aloe flower spike

The other thing I wasn’t expecting was for one of my house plants to look as if it’s attempting to fill in the gap. I don’t think I’ll be steaming it and having it for supper though…

But anyway, it has rained, finally. It has even largely confined itself to raining at night rather than waiting until I need to go somewhere on my bike and arrive looking like something other than a drowned rat (something that may happen again some time in, ooh, October maybe?). And now, proving that the end times are indeed upon us, it has managed to stop raining (and I’m trying very hard not to wish that it had done this after it had finished filling up the water butt, rather than giving up half way through) and we have had a simply glorious day. I still have too much work to do, but I took the afternoon off anyway and spent it pottering around in the garden enjoying the fleeting contentment of a gardener in weather that’s nice enough to garden in but not so nice you’re worried about your water butt drying up.

meadow flowers

Or, indeed, your lake.

* and here I have to take issue with Charlie Brown’s assertion that the secret to happiness is owning a convertible and a lake. Sure, if you’re of a positive bent – a lake half full sort of person, if you like – you might be able to look on the bright side whatever the weather but most of us would simply be grumpy either way because either our lake was drying up or it was rubbish weather for riding around in a convertible. Although, now I come to think of it, I suspect that if you have the sort of life where you own a lake (and a convertible) then there are additional compensations that are not available to people who own a bicycle and a water butt …

Here I Come, Busy or Not

May 12, 2020

It seems we’re allowed unlimited amounts of exercise now in Scotland, which would be more exciting to me if I had even a limited time to exercise this newfound freedom. But no doubt by the time I’ve dug myself out from beneath my current stack of multiplying deadlines we’ll be back down in lockdown again, so despite not technically having the time to do it, I took the opportunity today to load up the basket of the freshly de-punctured Brompton with another batch of chlli babies and take them down to some friends in return for them not insisting on me taking away any of their spare cucumber, courgette or brussels sprout plants.*

chilli plants

Actually, this was probably allowed under the old rules – after all, I was delivering food, albeit in a very slow way – although I suspect we’re not really supposed to exchange quite so much chat (at a safe distance) in the course of such deliveries.

Either way, it gave me an opportunity to check out the state of the ford, which is bone dry; unsurprising given that the Weather Gods seem to have gone into self-isolation themselves. I don’t remember ever seeing the river so low.

dry ford

In truth, it was good to get out on the bike, whatever the reason. Running twice a week might be keeping me fit and walks in the woods are lovely and all, but they’re not the same as the couple of hours of moderate exercise that I’ve grown used to getting almost every day just in the course of running my regular errands. It might feel like it takes up time I don’t have, but at the end of the day I’m probably more productive (and certainly feel much cheerier) if I’ve been out either on the bike or in the garden.

dry waterfall

I’ll still be following the Scottish Government’s advice to stay at home rather than the UK government’s stay alert message (probably fortunately as I slept terribly last night). But, busy or not, I might have to make more time to ride my bike while stocks last. Or at least until the Weather Gods come out to play again …

bluebell wood

* They also offered a home brewed bottle of beer, but with the Brompton’s tyres at bike shop pressure, and the roads increasingly potholed, I declined the opportunity to cycle back home with what would effectively be a glass fragmentation grenade in my basket.


May 6, 2020

In a world otherwise turned upside down, I could have hoped that the iron rule that means bouts of fine weather always coincide with me being chained to the laptop might have been broken, but it seems that some things remain unchanged, global pandemic or no. In fact, the ease with which people can now have meetings without needing to leave the house or even put their trousers on is, if anything, making things worse. Which means that while everyone else appears to be manicuring their garden to Chelsea show standards, ours is more at the ‘dandelions are a great early source of nectar for pollinators’ end of the spectrum.

dandelion seed in the grass

Today was another gorgeous day and after a moderately productive morning it was just too tempting to get out so I granted myself a precious afternoon of garden pottering.

veg plot in May

If I pick the right angle (and preferably not one where the greenhouse looks as if it is toppling over), the garden almost looks as if I have things under control, especially the food producing parts of it. The potatoes, lettuce, beetroot, broccoli and kale are all planted out and flourishing (the broad beans and peas are also planted out and seem to be fulfilling their destiny as tasty mouse snacks).

bolted kale

I’ve just given the purple sprouting broccoli a severe lockdown haircut to see if it will produce another flush of shoots before it all bolts but I just let the kale behind it do its thing; the bees love it and now I haven’t the heart to grub it up to make space for my new chard seedlings.

From other angles, it’s more of a work in progress, except without the progress. I tell myself that a garden is for life, not just for lockdown, and that there’s no point rushing into projects that I won’t have time to complete. And you never know; dandelions, empty tubs and random piles of gravel may well feature at Chelsea next year.

garden in reality

Just remember you saw it here first.

Emerging (or – Exciting Shopping News)

April 28, 2020

one tree in leaf, one not
We’ve reached the point when even the trees can’t agree whether or not to come out of their lockdown and risk bursting into leaf …

As for the humans – well I’m not going to venture an opinion on what we should be doing about it, and I’m very glad I’m not responsible for deciding either, although I was very glad to hear this ministerial announcement which means that when we do start to emerge in greater numbers, there will be space for people to walk and cycle while keeping a nice safe distance from each other and the rest of the traffic.

Lockdown might not have ended yet, but I did manage a little loosening of my own isolation in that I had an unavoidable trip to the post office yesterday so at last I had a chance to do things I haven’t done in five weeks, like cycle into Bigtown and visit an actual shop (the other half has been doing the supermarket run once a week). This was quite exciting to me, adjusted for our new reality of what counts as exciting – especially as I also had a chance to buy a paper, bringing us up to a massive three this week. I mean it’s not the ford, or even a new pipeline, but you’ll just have to take what novelties you can get on this blog these days.

view from the bridge

That said, as far as cycling into town went, I’d have been hard pressed to notice any difference. The post office is just at the edge of town and traffic has never been that heavy there and if I was expecting tumbleweed rolling through the streets then I would have been disappointed. What I did get was all the fun of negotiating the new rules having not had a chance to adapt to them gradually – so yes, I was that person attempting to circumvent the one-way system in the shop (I was deeply apologetic when I was politely but firmly told to follow the rules). To be honest, the strangest thing about it all was the continuing fine weather which meant those standing outside waiting to get in were just enjoying a nice blether in the sun. Regular readers of the blog will know just how strange a phenomenon that is around here.

Anyway, with that excitement over it’s back to my round of work, local walks, and the odd outing on the bike, enjoying the emergence of spring and wondering what the future lies in store.

trees coming into leaf

How is your lockdown going?

World Turned Upside Down

April 15, 2020

If mutant dandelions weren’t enough to worry about…

There’s a couple of other signs that the world is surely on its final approach towards the end times. First is that it hasn’t properly rained for weeks – yes, here, in South West Scotland. There’s been rain forecast but apart from a tiny spot of drizzle on Sunday morning it’s never materialised. And days that were forecast to be a bit meh have shaped up to be glorious. It’s wonderful, of course, but the gardener in me is trying very hard not to wish it would rain…

ruined tower and blue sky

The other thing is that I haven’t been out on my bike for a week (and I feel fine). This is probably the least cycling I’ve done (apart from a fortnight’s holiday spent on an island that consists mainly of flights of stairs) for years. It turns out that for me, riding a bike is largely an enjoyable way to get somewhere, not an obsession in itself.

caution bicycles sign

That said, when the sun shines and the wind drops and it’s another gorgeous sunny afternoon it would be churlish not to get the bike out and reassure it I haven’t forgotten it. So today’s state-sanctioned exercise was a tidy 12-mile loop around the local back roads, just because we could.

bikes on a bridge

It was good to know I could still get up and down the hills.

open road

If you’ve had enough photos of empty country roads and glorious sunshine (with the other half as a figure giving scale to the image as he disappears into the middle distance) just let me know.

bike and open road

Sunshine while Stocks Last

April 8, 2020

A few days after the southern half of the country was basking (illegally) in sunshine, the spring warmth has reached us here, no doubt due in part to the fact that I have just finished knitting an enormously warm jumper (of which more anon) and some last-minute work has arrived which ought to keep me chained to my desk.

But with mutterings about tightening lockdowns and banning outdoor exercise – and with vitamin D in short supply – we thought we’d better get out on the bikes and do a little stockpiling of our own.

sunny skies and reservoir

I’m almost reluctant to post these photos as I know how incredibly lucky we are to be able to get out and enjoy such scenery with barely a handful of cars and just a few other cyclists and walkers scattered along the route.

tree shadows across the road

This used to be one of my favourite rides when we lived down in the old cottage and it was on our doorstep. We don’t do it so often these days but perhaps we should.

climb up to the top of the hill

The route took us past the ford road but I thought you’d probably be bored of ford updates so I didn’t bother going down …

… just kidding, of course I did.

Ford almost dry

Hope you’re all staying safe and are able to get out and enjoy the spring weather.

Missing: One Mojo

March 9, 2020
sprouting rhubarb

I would have illustrated this with a photo of the little lambs, but rhubarb stays still to be photographed and lambs don’t

The problem with the seemingly endless, relentless weather we’ve had this winter is that when the weather warnings finally stop and the wind drops and the sun even ventures out briefly, I seem to have become too ground down to take advantage. Despite lengthening days, lambs appearing in the fields, and a general sense that spring might actually be on its way, I haven’t really felt the gardening urge yet (to be completely honest I haven’t felt much of an urge to do anything – I think the constant drip of bad news is finally starting to get to me).

seedlings in propagator

This year, for the first time in ages we’ve missed potato day so I haven’t had a chance to make a random selection of seed potatoes, and nor have I ordered any seeds, apart from the chillies and tomatoes we’d started in the propagator. But spring waits for nobody and arrives when it likes, ready or not, so yesterday we had a quick trip to one of Bigtown’s garden centres and this morning I took advantage of a window in the weather to visit the other one to complete my planned purchases.

Tree-lined road

And then, with more rain forecast later but the morning remaining fine, I went off on a little mini adventure to see if that might reset my mojo a little.

St Queran's Well

My destination was St Queran’s Well – not because I believe in its reputation for healing (although in these uncertain times perhaps a little magic water wouldn’t go amiss if your local supermarket shelves have been stripped of supplies of hand sanitiser) – but because it seemed like it might be interesting. It seems to have been a place of pilgrimage for centuries (when cleaned out in the 1870s, several hundred coins were found in it, some dating back hundreds of years). It is still visited by those seeking something from its powers, going by the ribbons and other bits of cloth attached to the nearby cloutie tree – although the Tibetan prayer flags suggest this is more down to new age practices than the survival of ancient cult beliefs – or possibly just someone hedging their bets.

cloths hanging from a tree

The sheep had left some offerings too, albeit probably unintentionally.

sheep's wool on wire

I didn’t take the waters, just a few photographs. There were an older couple there who I think were visiting out of more than just curiosity so I left them to it. I hope if they were seeking something they found it.

And me? I got home before the rain started, which is always most pleasing, and I’d enjoyed a pleasant detour on my bike, so any lift in my mood is probably down to that. With two bags of seed potatoes and a veg-plot worth of seeds to plant we’ll see if it’s been enough to restore my gardening mojo when the rain stops again.