Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Soggy Wet Day in a soggy week in a Messed up Year of Weather

What a soggy, soggy day! Once upon a time, if I saw someone cycling in this rain, I would have thought them simply mad, or just plain stupid. Yet here I've been, into town and back, through the unrelenting rain. So soaked that I had to stop to drain my shoes and wring my socks out half way.

At least it was warm. The last time I biked this much in such wet weather was in cold stormy winds in December.

This week has been wet, wet, wet. Aside from a bit of rain at the end of May, it has been relatively dry since April, with some 2 week stretches of scorching drought.

The weather has been perfect for the raspberries, which have been blasting away for over 4 weeks, but are now near their end. I have eaten so many raspberries every day that I don't mind a break! The variety I have, Glen Moy, sometimes crops a second time in September/October, and it looks like if it stays warm with enough sunshine, that shall happen again this year.

But the disaster has been the plums. The local yellow plum has failed miserably because of the warm February, followed by a cold March and April, with the heavy snowfall on April 6. What flowering there was started in February, but never got pollinated, because there weren't enough bees around, and what did get pollinated seems to have fallen off from the snow and cold that followed. So this year I will be having less than 10% of the amount of plums I had last year.

Climate change? There is no way that Genetically Modified Anything could ever be designed to cope for this degree of unpredictability in the weather. It takes a few years to design and distribute any new variety of food crop. With weather as changeable as this, the only 100% reliable form of agriculture is to grow mixed pasture and graze animals on it. Just when the global food shortage is telling us to eat less meat, especially pork and chicken, as these are fed on grain stocks.

Other gardening events. I slashed my kiwi plant in a spate of madness 3 weeks ago, removing every leaf and branch until only the main stems were left. Kiwi plants grow to an unmanageable size, and I should never have planted it as I don't have that amount of space. The plant bled profusely for the first 3 days! I couldn't figure out where all the drip was coming from, until I noticed that the wounds were bleeding from 3 main arteries where the most recent shoots had been thrusting from. It was buckets of kiwi sap, if I had collected it, until it finally stopped completely after 5 days. The sheer osmotic pressure from the powerful root system was awesome to behold. I wondered if the thing would die, but fortunately it has survived and is putting out new shoots. A 6 year old kiwi plant, attacked ruthlessly in mid-season. If the damn thing would only fruit just once, but they are sexual, and this is only the lonely female, with no male around.

The clay soil of the allotment has been a lesson in humility. To grow food on untreated, unimproved clay soil is nearly impossible, as all the seeds and varieties that are bred for human consumption assume that you have John Innes loam. Bah! The broad beans are yielding only one third of what they should, while beans, squashes and tomatoes grow so slowly that at times I have been crestfallen. There is a very narrow window of fertility in clay soil, and that is when the moisture content is just right, which seems to be only 25% of the time. The rest of the time, clay is either too dry and hard, or too waterlogged, for normal vegetables to grow, even if you give it water when it dries up. Even weeds struggle! Only plants that bide their time and have plenty of time to bide can grow well in clay soil, and in the English growing season, nobody has ever bothered to breed vegetables suited to clay soils. Commercially, they would just plough it often, then dump lots of nitrogen fertilizer on it and grow wheat, potatoes or grass on it. They wouldn't bother using it for any other food you find at the supermarket.

I deduce that it will take another 2 years of cultivation before this soil reaches a reasonable level of productivity. Meanwhile, if it weren't for the Tescos, Sainsburys, Asdas, and Morrisons of the world, I would be starving as badly as any African. It makes me sick how ignorant people are about how food is produced. If I were a farmer on the Archers, I would be tempted to let the land lie fallow and let the population wonder where the food has gone. The English people are quite happy to cover up England's bountiful arable lands with concrete roads, parking lots, airport runways, shopping malls, suburban housing developments and industrial parks. The United Kingdom is only 60% self-sufficient in food, but is more than 600% self-sufficient in proselytizing about economic globalization and international human rights. The fools that bang on about how other countries should be run, drive to their supermarket and stuff their cars with plastic bagfuls of food flown from parts of the world where people are starving and malnutritioned. Being overfed, indolent and even obese, they don't need to eat half as much as they do, and even worse than that, they throw away half of what they buy. Is there any way to teach these people a lesson? Maybe they should be sent out to Africa or Haiti or Bangladesh and forced to live on half a portion of rice per day. That will be the day. We don't even do that to mass murderers in prison.

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