A monstrous winter cold and its less than lovely side effects meant I wasn’t feeling especially sociable towards the end of 2019.
Nevertheless the weather was mild, even sunny on a few occasions, which encouraged me to combine self-prescribed doses of vitamin C and zinc with good measures of fresh air and daylight imbibed while weeding and edging the flower borders at home, and, as things improved, sorting out some of the perennial weeds on the allotment that managed to get the better of me last summer.
It never ceases to amaze me how the simple act of turning soil can be such a brilliant tonic, and it’s not just me who thinks so, with scientists linking the soil-dwelling bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae with increased levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by nerve cells that helps us feel more relaxed and happy. It’s great to get ahead with preparing the soil, but mindful that there’s likely to be plenty of inclement weather to come, I’m covering freshly dug patches with a liberal helping of leaf mould to help protect it.
One digging session revealed a decent crop of potatoes that I had failed to harvest over the summer. Remarkably few of the tubers had been attacked by slugs, which meant there will be plenty to keep us going in the weeks ahead. Given the volume of potatoes and their tasty waxy texture I’m pretty sure the variety is Charlotte, which I’ve been growing for several years.
Further mood enhancers include the sight of snowdrops and daffodils tentatively pushing their steely leaves through the cold soil, bringing the promise of colourful blooms within just a few weeks, and the multi-coloured shoots of garlic planted during the autumn, together with occasional visits from birds, the most memorable of which was a flock of long-tailed tits.
These cheery little balls of fluff, known in some parts of the country as bum barrels or mumruffins, stand out with their pale-pink breasts, black heads and elongated tail feathers. They’re also pretty noisy, filling the air with their high-pitched twittering and trilling calls as they flit between branches.