Rain! In York it doesn’t arrive accompanied by the unmatchable freshness of the scent of parched African grass being revived after a drought, nor does it usually come heralded by thunder and lightning, with the accompanying risk of hail damage. But if allotments are into the business of praying silently for relief, their prayers have finally, if probably temporarily, been answered. May 2020 was the driest May on record in England and the sunniest month ever, at least as far back as records go; this spring’s sunshine hours smashed the previous record by all of 70 hours, and have only been exceeded by summer sunshine hours in three previous years. So you will gather that it has been dry.
Exceptionally welcome as waking up to unexpected rain has been after days of cloudless skies and temperatures in the mid to high twenties, it has brought a minor element of frustration with it. Having seen an obese pigeon lumbering clumsily around in my strawberry bed two days ago, I concluded that it was past time to net the strawberries, and decided that, in spite of the heat, I needed to do that yesterday afternoon. I don’t enjoy the heat, and still can’t get used to finding that it seems to be hotter here at three in the afternoon than it does at midday. When in the middle of January, in the deepest gloom of a York winter, people commiserate with me on the stereotypical assumption that I would rather be back in Africa, I assure them entirely truthfully that I would far rather be in York in winter than enduring the heat, humidity and mosquitoes of a Pietermaritzburg summer. I suspect they don’t believe me. But I digress.
Netting the strawberries involves the simple process of putting the various sections of a tubular steel frame together, positioning it over the strawberry bed and putting the net over it. Simple in previous years, not simple in 2020. The soil is rock hard, water poured onto it to soften it had about as much chance as it would have had on granite, so I couldn’t push the uprights into the ground. The BBC weather forecast did predict a change in the weather, with the possibility of some rain, but the weather-app said there was only a 60% chance of rain in York, and experience tells me that a 60% chance almost invariably flatters to deceive where York is concerned and is more realistically a 0% chance. So I decided I needed to make my way back to the car, go home, collect my largest hammer and hammer the uprights in. Careful as I was in that process, the ends of the steel uprights were slightly splayed by the lengthy hammering and the plastic connections wouldn’t slide cosily onto the tops of the uprights any more. So my whole netting structure has been compromised – and today it rains.
Keeping the allotment going through what has been a mini-drought has involved refilling our water-butt on a far more regular basis than usual. This means dragging one end of a length of three connected hosepipes all the way to the nearest stand-pipe, and doing so as early in the morning as one can face getting up so that one isn’t monopolizing the tap when other people need it. That is something of a hassle, but it is compensated for by the birdsong – and at least one can still do it. At the end of the driest May on record, one might have expected a hosepipe ban. The reason that there isn’t one in the offing, and that the muttering about the possibility of one coming is still very muted, is that December, January and February were very much wetter than usual. While one can be thankful that the reservoirs are still around 75% full, the contrast between the exceptionally wet early months of the year and the exceptionally dry spring, another entry in the record books, is almost certainly another indicator of climate change. With all the other, Covid-19 induced, anxieties lining up to be worried about, one can probably be forgiven for allowing climate change to slip down the list a little. But it certainly mustn’t be allowed to fall off the list altogether, and gardens and allotments will equally certainly help us to keep up to the mark on that one.