Blog, gardening

Spring Fever…

 

…makes a change from the cabin fever we’ve all been suffering for the past few weeks. I’m itching to get out and do some work in the garden. Everything has gone to rack and ruin! Until the end of February, the winter was unexceptional. Nature was gearing up   for spring, as usual. I’d had cloches warming the soil so I could plant some potatoes very early. Tomato plants that I’d germinated on my office windowsill had been potted up, and were sitting in the heated part of my biggest greenhouse.  It was all on course.

seedlings-2708679_1920
My seedlings don’t exactly look as good as these any more!

Then March came in with not just a lion, but blizzard conditions the media dubbed The Beast from the East. We had days and days of temperatures well below freezing, and heavy snow. You can read more about that here and here.

Apricot_flowers_bestThe whole month was a write-off as far as I was concerned. When the weather was good enough to go outside, I was busy working on Women’s Lives in Bristol. When I had a break in my writing schedule, the weather was so bad, it put the garden out of bounds. There’s no point sowing seeds into freezing, waterlogged soil.  With the greenhouse door either frozen shut or blocked by snowdrifts, I left it well alone. The only action going on inside was the flowering of the apricot (you can read more about that here) and nectarine trees.  My visits were restricted to checking the heater, and bringing bowls of bulbs in from Tottering Towers, as they finished flowering.

This Easter weekend means a fresh, if late, start. The first purple sprouting broccoli will be ready to pick (I’m thinking broccoli and stilton flan…). The compacted, airless soil around the garlic and shallots needs freshening up. A winter’s worth of pesky weeds needs to be decapitated. My first job will be to sharpen the blade of my hoe. Then it will slice through those infant hordes before they can set seed. One year’s seeds means seven years of weeds, don’t forget!

Once the weeding’s done, I can plant my potatoes.  Good Friday is the traditional time for that job, not for any superstitious reason but because in the past,  religious festivals were the only time working people managed to get a day off.  I’ve tried loads of different potato varieties in the past, but this year the season is so late I’m relying on some tried-and-trusted favourites. I’m growing Rocket, which will produce new potatoes in about ten weeks, Duke of York, another early but which will take a bit longer, and Pink Fir Apple which is a late maincrop variety. It won’t be ready for lifting until the autumn, but the distinctive long pink tubers will give us that distinctive new potato flavour into the New Year.

I’ll also be making the first outdoor vegetable sowing, which will be parsnips. I’ve had some soil covered for them to warm it up and dry it out, but once the seeds are in I’ll leave the protection off. They’re tough enough to stand whatever April can throw at them.

Have you got anything special planned for this holiday weekend?

Blog

In the Bleak Midwinter…

A young oak tree came down across our track
I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year! It was quiet here at Tottering Towers. The only excitement was a heavy fall of snow. It brought down lots of branches in the wood. One fell onto the electricity cable supplying us, and some other houses on our hillside. It snapped with a huge bang at 4am, waking everyone. While we were all in darkness, the night outside was filled with sparks from the arcing electricity cable. It was quite scary for a while. 
We cook with electricity and it powers our gas central heating, so we had to find alternatives. Housework keeps you warm, but it’s not very exciting. We could boil a kettle on our gas hob to make tea, and it was a good excuse to live on soup and cake!
Flares, from Pixabay
So many people were affected by the bad weather across Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties, it was 9pm that evening before we had light and heat. A brave engineer had to repair the damage while standing on top of a cherry-picker in a stiff, freezing wind. 
It’s only when there’s a break in the supply that we realise how lucky we are to be living at a time when life is relatively easy. Imagine you’re a Victorian woman living in a city tenement. In the days before electricity, every morning is pitch black and freezing. The only sounds come from rats scrabbling beneath the bed your wheezing children share. Snow blows in under the door of your single room. Fetching all the water you need from the communal well will be a slippery job today. If your husband gives you some money, your family can eat. If not, hard luck. He’ll go to the pub. You and the children will have to go hungry. 
Women in those days had no voice, and no power. They lurked in the footnotes of history until they gained an element of control, first over their own money, later their vote and finally, their lives. Much of that progress was driven by women themselves. It took a hundred years of hard work, lobbying and violence before their lives improved to anything like today’s standards. The only way was up—and women from my old home town, Bristol, led the way. 

 

2018 is the centenary of the first British women getting the vote. The publisher Pen and Sword Books is producing a series of books to mark this defining moment. Each volume concentrates on one British city. My contribution covers Bristol.  Struggle and Suffrage—Women’s Lives in Bristol, 1850-1950 will be published later this year, and there will be all sorts of events to mark the centenary. To make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for my newsletter in the boxes at the tip of this page, and follow my author page on Facebook.