This year’s first harvest on the allotment has been plentiful. I’ve collected it morning by morning and loved watching the stocks of it grow. It’s a new harvest, one I haven’t tried before, but it has been growing beautifully in the current splurge of April showers. I’ve collected it in the spring sunshine which has popped out between the showers, to the sound of birdsong and my own free-range thoughts.
The harvest is water. This is the dampest drought there ever was, but drought it is. The allotment water butts ended the winter barely half full. So what better way to top them up than by harvesting some of the generous amounts of rainwater currently being supplied by the Allotmenteer-in-chief?
Partly inspired by the genius Rainwater Collection Thingy invented by fellow blogger Val, I’ve tried to create a system of mini dewponds using surplus pond liner. This is in line with Rule Nine of Allotmenteering: that the spirit of Heath Robinson must live on.
The pond liner had already been laid across undug areas of the allotment to keep the weeds at bay, but with a bit of gentle rearranging and scooping out of soil from underneath, it’s been possible to allow the rainwater to collect into shallow pools.
Like a child with a bucket and spade at the seaside, I’ve loved the task of scooping out the water from the pools and filling the four large water containers scattered around the allotment – one of them a re-homed London wheelie bin without a lid. My method has evolved from the simple but slow “Scoop, Walk, Pour” method to the advanced Two Container System: An upturned watering can is used to scoop the water into an empty chicken manure container which is then upended into the butts when full.
It’s basically It’s A Knockout with a purpose. Childish but great fun.
Of course every silver lining has a cloud, and all this lovely spring rain has given slugs and weeds a good excuse to multiply too. But in about 10 days of rainwater harvesting, the butt levels have risen substantially, and it’s provided good exercise as well as the usual benefits of absorption in a task. And it’s given time to remember that for millions of people elsewhere on the planet, drought is a matter of life and death, not a pre-work game to be played with buckets.
Oddly enough, my water resources have been boosted even more dramatically by the year’s other bountiful harvest: rhubarb. I planted three types – Victoria, Champagne and Timperley Early. Champagne seems to sulk and run straight to seed. Victoria gets her act together in the end. But Timperley Early is the gift that keeps on giving, and so far three allotment neighbours plus family members have benefited from its bounty.
The last allotment neighbour to receive some waved an elderly hand at his extensive collection of interlapping water barrels and uttered the beautiful words: “If you ever need any extra water, please feel free to help yourself.”
It was a moment straight out of Jean de Florette, Marcel Pagnol’s heartbreaking story of graft and greed and water in the parched south of France. For any man to offer to share his water supplies is a precious thing.
“But,” I protested, “water’s a scarce resource now. I wouldn’t want to take any of yours.”
“You haven’t got much,” he said. “And it’s tit-for-tat isn’t it?”
So the new currency in drought-stricken, damp Englandshire: rhubarb. I’ll keep harvesting the rhubarb and the rain, and I’ll love knowing that I’ve also managed to turn one into the other.