Category Archives: seasons

Spring

Apart from rapidly-lengthening daylight hours, the progression of the flowers, and the gradual migration to warm-weather clothes, today I have encountered a couple of very specific signs of the season.

First, after several hours of rain this morning, I went out in the afternoon.  In the damp post-rain air, I suddenly caught the strong whiff of the wild garlic, the first real treat of the year available for foraging.  I shall enjoy collecting and eating it over the next few weeks.

Second, I seem to have a nightingale in the back garden.  OK it could also be a near neighbour, but on balance of probabilities I think it’s my garden.  It’s a noisy bugger, though one of the nicer noises in this or any other place I’ve lived.  I’ve just finished my evening meal and was serenaded.  Damn, the glass of wine was right, but I should’ve been out on the terrace with a young lady!  Alas, I fear for any innocent little bird in a garden where the neighbours both sides have cats.

Fruits of the Garden

I’ve just eaten my first blackberry of the year.

I used to think of blackberries as (predominantly) September fruit. Late August, early October, but predominantly September’s bounty.

In Southwest England I gradually got used to an extended season. In 2003, when I had no money for food, I was picking and eating blackberries into the second half of November. By that time they had long since ceased to be a pleasure, and were hard work to gather, but in the absence of soup kitchens it was a matter of necessity. Subsequently I also found that we have a rich crop through pretty-much the whole of August, too: indeed, on lower ground there’s more in August than September.

But mid-July? This must be a new record! Though it was just the one berry that had reached a real sweet ripeness.

The bushes in my garden show a huge crop to come. Last year I ate them, froze them, gave them away, cooked desserts with them, even made several jars of chutney, and still could’ve had more. This year I have a new fruit&veg juicer, so I look forward to drinking some, too!

And I must check up on the plums. Last year I had just a handful of them from the garden, but they too were delicious.

Blackberries

This year I have my own private supply of blackberries.  That is to say, I have brambles in the garden, with no human competition for them.  Nor indeed their customary companion, nettles.

Having today picked my second big batch of the season, I am astonished by both the quality and quantity of what I can easily get from just a few bushes.  Yes the weather has been great for them with a good mix of sunshine (the dominant theme this summer) and also a healthy amount of rain.  But I’m sure having them to myself, with the neighbourhood cats probably even reducing competition from the birds, is the main reason they’re so great.

This gives me a happy problem of excess.  Even freezing a lot of them (as I always do) I’ll have desserts to last me more than the year to next season, so I’m going to have to find other uses for them.  Two that spring to mind are giving them away and repeating the delicious chutney I made a few years ago, last time we had a really good season and I wasn’t incapacitated by that tennis elbow.

It also thrusts on me the problem of managing rampant briars.  I hadn’t realised before that they grow huge, vicious stems bearing none of the fruit.  Until recently I had removed none of the brambles except when they came to block my path/steps, as I didn’t want to deprive myself of their fruit.  This morning before picking the berries, I went out in boots and old, full-length trousers and chopped the unproductive branches ruthlessly.  That left my hands as shredded as they always are in this season, but re-opened paths at the back of the house for next time the window-cleaner comes 🙂

I’m faintly wondering whether removing vast quantities of those vicious brambles might affect next year’s crop.  But I’m reassured by having seen brambles cut back ruthlessly, yet grow back vigorously in ample time to yield another vast crop the following year.

Does the thickness of a bramble correlate with its age, so a thin (though still long) green stem is this year’s growth while the half-inch-diameter ones are several years old?  If so I’ve cleared the brambles of ages from where the fruitless ones were thickest!

Spring!

It’s the end of an era!

For the first time in many months[1] I’ve had the confidence to go out (further than the local shops) on the bike without carrying any form of rain protection “just in case”.  It’s mild, sunny, and blowing a vigorous breeze.  I feel much better for a ride!

In another sign of spring, fresh rhubarb arrived in the shops several weeks ago (though I suspect it was grown by some not entirely natural process to be with us quite so early).  Happy to see the season of good dessert ingredients brought forward.

[1] Possibly since last May, if you allow “rather get wet than wear waterproofs when its warm” as a form of rain protection in the summer months.

Drought

Earlier this week I met a huge articulated lorry on a country lane.  It was carrying a big load of hay: something one might easily see on a tractor on that road, but not a big lorry.  I was on the bike, but had to pull in at a passing place to meet it.

It’s a bit of a puzzle.  What was a load of hay doing there in April, and why was it on a lorry whose natural environment should surely be the motorway?  My best guess is that here it’s surplus to requirements after a much milder winter than in the past two years, but that someone in the drought-hit east or southeast of England needs to supplement their animal feed.

Last weekend our powers-that-be extended the official drought area to include us (southwest England) and the Midlands.  That’s interesting, because water levels in our reservoirs, though rather low for April, are almost identical to where they were this time last year.  With this week’s rain (heavy showers – classic April weather) they’ll creep up above where they were a year ago.  So why have they declared us a drought area?  Do they have plans to transport our water eastwards?

For the record, we have had three months of very dry weather from about the second week of January to a few days ago, including a couple of exceptionally warm and sunny weeks at the end of March.  But following a very wet end to last year there was lots of ground water to feed the reservoirs and (coupled with seasonally low demand) stop them depleting.

WordPress isn’t allowing me to embed SouthWest Water’s relevant graph (and infuriatingly offers no clue why: I even checked for any metadata suggesting copyright might be an issue, but there is none).  So here’s a link to our reservoir levels.  Note that if you read this post after the end of 2012 the graph will no longer show what I’m talking about.

Bunkering down

This is unquestionably the worst time of year.  It’s dark most of the day, and to make it worse people are burning coal, wood, and other things turning the air foul.  This year remains thoroughly mild, in what may be a reversion to normal after two real winters.

And the season of humbug is in full swing.  I can cope with a few stupid lights – even flashing ones.  And a salvation army band (or whatever it was) in town playing lots of David Willcocks arrangements.

But the shops are a whole nother story.  Not just the display of ‘seasonal’ crap, but bigger crowds than at other times.  And that’s not gift shops, toyshops, or even clothes shops, it’s bloomin’ supermarkets.  Do they all eat twice as much for the whole month of December?

I wonder if I can bunker down and live on tinned/frozen/miscellaneous longlife food for the next three weeks?  Ugh 😦

You know it’s hot when …

… the sheep on the edge of the moors are all clustered in the areas of shade.

… the heating on the bus apparently can’t be turned off!

This year’s Indian Summer is particularly striking, coming as it does not just after the equinox, but also after autumn seemed to have set in in earnest with some fairly serious wind and rain.

(For international readers, we Brits use the phrase Indian Summer to describe a spell of hot, sunny weather coming after summer is supposed to have ended.  Just about late September it’s pretty usual).

Unseasonal

By the calendar it’s spring.  By the weather it’s high summer, with daytime temperatures well into the twenties and lots of sunshine.  And our reservoirs were unusually low for the season even back in January and February, before (by some accounts) the driest March on record, and an April that thinks it’s June.

So you’d think spring produce would be in the shops.  Yet my attempt to find spring onions just now failed to find any such thing in two greengrocers and one supermarket!  As with most produce they’re usually in the shops in all seasons – either imported from distant parts or force-grown in artificial conditions when out of season.  Yet now, nothing!  Bah, Humbug.

More positively, I’ve got some nice firmly-in-season asparagus and rhubarb in the kitchen, and six months of continually-varying seasonal goodies ahead.

As for the weather, will it turn out like 2007 when a hot dry April was followed by heavy rain, with floods in parts of the country, in June/July?  Or will this year be the big drought?

Spring!

After a false start in February with about one day of warm, fine weather before it turned first wet and then much colder again, this time it seems to be here for real.  Not quite warm yet, but about a week now of borderline T-shirt weather when out in the sun (of which there is now plenty).

Yesterday just walking over Whitchurch Down to Lidl, the real signs of spring were all around.  A lady of pensionable age sitting out on a park bench to enjoy reading her paper.  The buzz of the bumblebee.  The startling scent of spring blossom after the drab winter months.  Etcetera.

Alas, this reminds me of what we’ve lost.  This year and last we’ve missed our customary early springtime when the once-lovely tree in Paddons Row would blossom gloriously, upwards of a month earlier in the season.  It’s looking very dead, having  borne neither blossom nor leaf as of late.  Could it be the winters?  Or has some human activity cut off its roots, or poisoned them?  Surely a tree that size has seen its fair share of winter, which leaves the perils of its concrete-jungle location as prime suspect.

Dismal light

Last night at 4a.m. came a big clap of thunder.  I got up to go and disconnect all electronic equipment from the mains power, in case of a damaging spike.

Going back to bed, I notice it’s a lot lighter than it should be.  My window is lit up, almost bright enough to be daylight through thick cloud.  Not in a healthy colour, rather a dirty grey shade of salmon pink.  Looking more closely, I see it’s snowing: the light is just the usual streetlight pollution reflected off thick, falling snow.  Why the **** are we burning so many ugly bright lights at 4 a.m.?

Going out today, I’m disappointed to find it’s nothing like last winter’s real snow, but rather classic English mild-weather slush.  Ugh.  Still seems to have brought half the county to a halt.