Monday, May 29, 2017

The Riddler's Day Off

I've advanced only a foot or so northwards, that's leftwards on this photo. The weed situation around my baby hedge has become scandalous, so I've had to put time into that; (though I'm not finished with it yet, a-job-begun-is-half-done and all that). I resumed work on the 5th bed yesterday for a few hours.

I'm coming to the edge of what was formerly covered by the old shed. The side nearest the middle of the plot was a rough and ready potting shed, clay floor. Near the gate, an adjoining structure had two old doors as a floor, but they were badly rotted.

Beneath that, a lot of industrial clinker mixed with soil. I suspect that this part was built on top of someone else's idea to lay a hard standing or work area with the clinker.  It could have come from a domestic coke fire, built up over years. The potting shed was added later, maybe by a different hand. The clay floor here is heavily compacted, of course, people have been standing on it for years.

There's glass here, but not the big shards I get further down the bed, more like old broken bottles. I'm hopeful that soon I'll be clear of the old shed's floor, and moving into an area which was once cultivated. I turned this bed over during the winter, roughly with the fork, and seem to recall that the clinker patch was about 7x7ft, by the gate.

Which would make sense in an allotment, to have an area there for your wheelbarrows and what not. But it would soon get thick of weeds if not tended, and virtually disappear; but not quite, because it suggested itself as a good place to put a shed to someone, one day.

I bloomin' hope this theory is right, because the clinker, riddled out, goes into the shed base, and it's almost full - another dozen or so wheelbarrows-full. It's marvellous stuff for this job, together with the bricks and concrete from the old greenhouse.

But once the new shed's base is high and level enough, I've no more use for rubble of any sort. There's no way of getting rid of rubble from the allotment, so if I've got too much, I'd need to get creative, maybe put it beneath the path at the top end, though the drainage is good there, and I'd have to riddle out the displaced soil, so a lot of frankly unwanted work. Fingers crossed I'm approaching a cultivated area, which should have less rubble.

And there's a lot more glass to dig out as I approach the environs of the old greenhouse. I'm digging right to the edge of the bed, by a good improvised fence my neighbours erected a year or so ago. There appears to be a lot of glass right on the boundary, and I theorize a predecessor raked up surface glass there so that it could be "out of the way".

There was a kind of midden, or maybe storage area gone-wrong, in this area, too. That involved many glass doors and sheets of glass, some of which got broken. So more glass.

Two novels sometimes come to mind when I'm working on this. Kafka's The Burrow is one, (which I read decades ago). And also Aldiss's Non-Stop, (which I read as a teenager when I was a Saturday boy at Jarrow Library, for goodness sakes, and leads me to wonder, is there a link between labouring with earth, and memory?)

Talking to The Secretary about what I was doing, she suggested "you've got to hate that piece of ground!" as a motivation technique. I agreed with her at the time, but not now. I used to say bad words under my breath about my predecessors, 100 years of gardeners, good, bad and indifferent.

Now, I sometimes imagine their shades lingering around the plot. And I'm respectful of the earth, all of the digging and riddling and barrowing is part of a process of reclamation. But my predecessors may have been on low incomes with big families, and I'm lucky to be able to devote most of an entire growing season to nursing this bed back to health.

Longer, maybe. So far I haven't encountered a single worm except a stray brandling, wandered over from the shit-heap across the path. I would say the soil has potential, but it's going to need a lot of convalescence: cover crops and mulches, to bring the worms back.