The days are getting longer and I am itching to start our first full growing season on the new allotment. But there’s nothing I can do there yet. Sheffield has escaped flooding this year, thank goodness, but still the ground is waterlogged.
This week we had some pale sunshine and I wandered down to the site to see what I would find. There’s a strange tension on a warm day in February: I welcome the break in wintry grey and the sudden loudness of birdsong in the woods but I also fear that plants will start to push through too soon. The weather is fickle at this time year and a week of mild temperatures can be followed by iron frosts: last year we had thick snow at the end of March.
On the allotments there is an air of expectancy. Most of the plots that I first saw bursting with produce back in August are empty now. Here and there I spot a few leeks, some overblown brassicas, but on the whole the beds are a uniform brown, naked beneath the watery sky.
A few are covered in thick layers of manure: it looks as though nothing is happening but I am obsessed with soil these days and I know billions of organisms are active below the surface, pulling down goodness, working fertility, preparing the way for sowing and harvest.
Every so often the earth offers a glimpse of spring. Crimson rhubarb tips, startling in their brightness; a clump of snowdrops.
I think there has been some secret revelry while most of us gardeners were curled up in our warm houses. The scarecrows that won a prize in last year’s allotment competition are looking decidedly the worse for wear.
I’m about to move on when I see something strange is also happening on the scarecrow-plot’s shed. They’ve put a green roof on it, these enterprising allotment neighbours of ours.
Back in the summer it was thick with grass and wild flowers but now the vegetation has died back a bit to reveal a whole new world, a jumbled-up jungle, a scrambled safari park.
It’s compelling, the liminality of this place, this time of year. The allotments are in the city but barely of it, full of bustle and busyness but keeping their activity silent and hidden. The season is mostly winter but also teetering on the threshold of spring. No wonder there is magic on the shed roof.
What else am I missing, I wonder as I turn for home.