To And From The Allotment ~ The Monochrome Seasons

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When I set off across the field to my allotment garden I often do have a camera tucked in my pants’ pocket. And yes I know very well this is no way to treat a camera. But then the inclination to take photos overtakes the scruples. There is so much to see and consider, both around the allotment plots and along the field path from our house – the different times of day (or night); the changing seasons; the shifts of light; the state of the land; what is growing; what is not.

This month Jude at Travel Words is featuring black and white photography in her 2020 Photo Challenge. And as I’m presently in monochrome mode and most days still going gardening, I thought I’d post a somewhat themed response to this week’s assignment, ‘a retrospective’ using archive shots.

This is what Jude says about the assignment:

‘Look for shadows and textures. Carefully choose your images so that you can angle the light to create a sense of depth with the shadows’.

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Much Wenlock’s Southfield Road allotment plots back on to this field. It’s an adjunct to Townsend Meadow, the field behind our house. I’m guessing this photo was taken in October, though only because the ground looks newly ploughed, but not yet harrowed and re-sown, which is the farmer’s usual habit. I certainly don’t remember him missing a chance to put in some over-wintering crop, wheat or oilseed rape or field beans. On the other hand the ash trees are very bare and the hedgerows very spiky for early autumn. The light, too, and the dead grasses along the barbed wire fence also suggest winter. Even the glint of turned earth says ‘cold’.

Here’s that distant same spiky hedge, but a late afternoon view taken from the Townsend Meadow side:

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This is the field path running up beside the allotment hedge, also a wintery view from a couple of years ago. Much of this grassy margin has been ploughed up now and is presently sprouting winter wheat. The next photo is the path closer to our house, in early summer with the Queen Ann’s Lace going full throttle.

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English allotments tend towards the shambolic – lots of recycled greenhouses, makeshift sheds, cold frames, and windswept polytunnels. They can look very bleak in the winter months, or in the case of the next shot, disturbingly other worldly. It was taken at dusk when the greenhouses seemed to be capturing the last of the light in a distinctly sci-fi manner. The eerily lit straggle of dead tomato plants caught my eye.

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This was the shed I inherited from several previous owners when I acquired my first allotment plot. That was back in 2007. (Goodness how time flies when you’re digging and composting.) Heaven knows how old it was, but never mind. Before I moved to another plot some years later, it served me well despite its tendency to lean to the east and harbour roosting snails.

There had of course been moments when he who builds new sheds from scratch and lives in my house was called in for emergency resuscitation measures i.e. when the leaning reached critical declivity and demanded a hauling back to as near vertical as was humanly possible; a manoeuvre that took our combined effort. One day I found a 1725 halfpenny just in front of the door. Astonishingly it was barely covered by soil, and in a spot I had walked over hundreds of times. I wondered who had dropped it there long ago. Had the old path from the Sytche across Townsend Meadow (now only visible on antique maps) passed under my shed? And who had dropped it and later sorely missed it? A lass on an errand to fetch a jug of ale? A ploughman dropping it from his pocket while reaching for his tobacco?

The shed was also picturesquely sheltered by a very old greengage tree, the light through its foliage making the sunspots you can see on the door. It was more of a copse of several trunks than a single tree. Fruit production was sporadic, but once it a while it produced the most delicious plums ever invented if only you could get to eat them before the wasps did.

These days the shed is no more. For several years it lay abandoned. Then last winter the new plot holder demolished it, along with most of the tree. By then the shed truly was on its last legs, but the same can’t be said of the tree. Now only one spindly trunk remains after fellow allotmenteers objected and stopped the final act of culling. I still think of the tree that was. The creamy spring blossom was spectacularly lovely, the scent so delicate.

But enough reminiscing. We have the tree’s offspring over the hedge at home. I dug up a seedling tree a few years ago and planted it there. It’s already four metres tall and grew four greengages this year, none of which we sampled as they were difficult to reach, though  we were very happy to see them.

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A home-from-the-allotment shot: the ash tree at the top of Townsend Meadow caught with the sun about to slip off the edge of Wenlock Edge.

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

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2020 Photo Challenge

Through A Hedge Backlit

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I took these photos yesterday, late afternoon, as I was going gardening. The hedge runs up beside the allotment, the south-westerly boundary to Townsend Meadow behind our house. As I reached the gap under the ash tree, the unofficial gateway to my garden plot, the sun burst through the hedge bottom. So I ditched the compost I was hauling, and fished out my camera. I was still thinking about the leaf photos in my last post, and decided monochrome could work here too, this time catching the plant-life silhouetted in the lowering sun. I added the sepia glow in the edit. In the northern hemisphere, sunshine in November always seems a specially precious gift, brimming with untapped possibility.

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Lens-Artists: the sun will come out tomorrow  Anvica’s Gallery has set the spirit-lifting theme this week. Go visit!

The Changing Seasons ~ July 2020

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The last day of July and it’s HOT! And rather a shock to the system. For much of the month, the Edge has been cloud-bound with low light and at times even chilly. Every now and then I’ve grown confused and thought it must be September. The wheat in Townsend Meadow is already looking overdone. (So soon!). The vegetable plots seem confused too. Many plants, especially the climbing beans, seem to have gone into a trance – as if they’ve given up before they’ve hardly begun. But then it’s a sign of the times, if not the status quo – confusion.

And at least the potatoes and onions have remained steadfast and productive. There should be tomatoes soon too. August also comes with fresh cultivating possibilities. I’ve been preparing to sow Chinese greens, endives, spinach and Swiss chard for the autumn and winter. Maybe some carrots too – the stubby little Paris Market variety, which can be sown late. And then when the potatoes are harvested it will be time to sow over-wintering green manures: mustard, annual rye and field beans. So the round of soil nurturing continues. It’s all part of a process of extending gratitude for keeping us Farrells, (friends and neighbours too) well nourished. We seem to be keeping the insect world pretty well fed too.

Now for scenes from the gardening fronts. On both sides of our garden fence the yellow helianthus and golden rod are bursting forth among the hot reds, pinks and purples. It’s a gaudy scene, and though I don’t care for the colour of the pink phlox, in the present heat wave it smells wonderful – a sweet warm meadowy scent. Meanwhile up at the allotment, the communal fruit trees are already showing signs of prodigious production, and I’ve brought bundles of very fine onions home to dry:

The Changing Seasons: July 2020

Top Crop ~ The Big Cauliflower Ambush

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Many may not know this, but cauliflowers are the sneakiest vegetables – not to say the most covert in their growing habits. You may watch over them for months – from plantlet module to big leafy crown; you may peer frequently into their tight green hearts, even peel back a few leaves, and there will not be the smallest signs of a cauli. Then one day – last Monday to be exact -THIS HAPPENS!

I was just leaving the allotment polytunnel after my usual late-day visit, and thought I caught a glimpse of curd in the corner bed. When I pulled back the monster leaves there is was,  the size of a football and utterly perfect. How could I not have noticed it sooner? Did it grow overnight like Jack’s beanstalk?

I don’t usually grow cauliflowers in my polytunnel, but back in the autumn when I bought the modules, I had three weedy ones left over from my outside planting, and thought I’d try them under cover. When I go up to the allotment today there may well be two more like this.

The problem with cauliflowers’ sneaky habits when grown outdoors is that by the time you discover curds big enough to harvest, more often than not they have already been found by slugs and earwigs (also sneaky) and been well nibbled under the cover of leafiness.

Anyway, I guess a lot of you might not find cauliflowers especially appealing. But there are many approaches besides the usual cauliflower cheese. Grated raw and briefly sauteed in oil it makes a good rice substitute. Steamed and pureed cauli is also delicious (spot of cream and chopped herbs added). And the whole head can be sliced into 1” thick steaks, given a good olive oiling/seasoning, and roasted in a hot oven for 35 mins, turning after 20mins. I also tried this the other day with celeriac and it was brilliant served with a mushroom strogonoff sauce. I’m thinking one of the polytunnel caulis might be in for similar treatment this evening.

The next photo is just to give you an ideal of the scale of leaf disguise adopted by this paricular cauli. I had to peel off masses take this portrait, and rather wished I had some livestock to feed them too i.e. rather than the compost bin microbes.

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Square Tops #23

The Changing Seasons ~ March 2020

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Here we are – a week and a half of home confinement, and I’m thinking Much Wenlock is a pretty nice place to be if one has to live under the lockdown regime. People in the town are trying very hard and with good humour to stick to the strictures of ‘no mingling’, and of course it’s not too hard to do where the population is small and there is plenty of space.

But I can’t help thinking where this will leave us – once the panic abates. Much will have changed; possibly for the foreseeable future. Coming out of isolation may prove a challenge for many. One thing is certain, we must not lose faith in our fellows. We must restore confidence in society in all senses and not keep seeing neighbours and all other humans as vectors of disease, particularly one that has been so badly presented in the often excruciatingly salacious mass media fear-fest.

In the meantime, I am still allowed to walk across the field to my allotment. There are many signs of new growth there despite days of icy winds. The artichoke plants, Swiss chard, over-wintered cauliflower plants, and sprouting broccoli are looking vigorous. There are a few leeks left to eat, assorted salad greens in the polytunnel, and I’ve planted out most of my broad bean seedlings. At home the conservatory is chock-a-block with young pea plants. The spuds are also well chitted and I’m hoping that it will be warm enough in the coming week to get some in the ground.

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And despite the cold, there have also been some amazing-light interludes – ethereal sunshine that opens eyes and mind and spirit in elevating ways. And of course the star of my March snaps has to be the red-legged partridge that arrived so surprisingly on our shed roof the other morning and then launched into full cry for the benefit of any other partridges out there. Coooo-eeeee! For those who missed that post, here’s a reprise along with other views from Wenlock in these stay-at-home days.

The Changing Seasons ~ March 2020

Hilltop Cloud

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I spotted this little cloud the other day as I was crossing Townsend Meadow on the way to the allotment. And though it has no obvious silver lining, it does seem an optimistic little entity. Very buoyant.

 

Onwards and upwards, everyone!

Square Tops #2 A big non-mingling hug to Becky for setting us off on this topping mission to keep spirits up every day in April. Follow the link to join in. Square offerings only.

 

The Changing Seasons ~ August And The Turn Of The Year

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There’s been a sense of autumn happening all month. The wheat harvest began extra early, some weeks ago in fact, then stalled during heavy rain, then started up again, the combines’ drone resounding from the hills around the town. But over the hedge behind the house the crop remains uncut, though it received its chemical drench last week, the mega-tractor leaving great tracks of smashed crop as it sprayed – a herbicide no doubt. It’s not my wheat of course, but somehow I find this a disturbing sight, though quickly suppose there must be a ready reckoner knack for weighing up the benefit of bad weed removal over good crop loss. Now it is raining again and by yesterday the ears that were pale ochre had acquired a coppery glow. At this rate the grains will take a lot of drying out, and we’ll be hearing the grain driers’ drone instead. When activated, they go all night. Or that’s my impression.

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But as to the autumnal feelings, the lime trees have a lot to answer for. After magnificent flushes of tiny green blossoms that filled the byways with delicious scent, the flowers’ seed wings have fallen everywhere in drifts, filling the gutters, strewing the Linden Walk like so much sea litter,  and thereby also doing a very good impression of autumn leaves before we’re ready for them.

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We’ve had high summer intervals too, days when the garden has been filled with blossoms, bees and butterflies, and especially Painted Ladies which have appeared in huge numbers this year, apparently on a reproductive a high in a ten-year cycle. There have been lots of Gatekeeper butterflies too, and Peacocks and Tortoiseshells and Commas. Also Cabbage Whites, which I’m not at all keen on, since no vegetable defence system seems secure against the breeding imperative. The guerrilla garden over the fence has been spectacular, and the garden within very pleasing, if unruly.

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At the allotment all the gardeners are heavily into ‘harvest home’ mode – baskets of runner beans, courgettes, tomatoes and potatoes being gathered, armfuls of dahlias, asters and gladioli borne home to share with friends and neighbours. The place is alive with pollinators of every kind, flocks of Gatekeepers and Painted Ladies on the abandoned plots where teasels, verbena and oregano are running rampant among the weeds; lots of bees in my butter bean blossoms and courgette flowers too.

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So all in all, things in Wenlock have been pretty good this August, and we are very lucky to be here. The weather may be weird, our democratic system such as it is coming apart at the seams, no one really knowing what Brexit will mean, but Rip Van Winkle Land is alive and well, and just to prove it, here’s a somnolent evening view of the town from the allotment.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

The Changing Seasons: August 2019