PHIL CALVERT: Getting busier with vegetable planting

Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert

EVERY year, at the end of my annual cycle tour with the lads, I promise myself to maintain my fitness by trying to keep going out on my bike for an hour. Sadly, other commitments, idleness, bitterly cold weather and above all, lack of daylight hours, mean this never happens. The dust starts to accumulate on my bicycle from the moment I return from touring, only seeing the light of day as the next year’s tour grows ever nearer.

New Year’s resolutions never work for me. There is too much boozing and eating carrying over into January that good intentions soon founder. That is why this year I opted to make a difference to my lifestyle for Lent. There are many benefits in this. The excesses of the Christmas period are mere memories, and abstention for Lent is finite. It is a commitment for 40 days not open-ended like New Year. You could argue that instead of being punished for chocolate as at New Year, you will be rewarded with chocolate. For me, however, the incentive is to enjoy using every second of daylight hours instead of staying in bed as the world outside comes to life. It is also getting warmer.

As a consequence, throughout Lent, I combined dieting (theoretically, no chocolate or spuds) with being an early riser. Getting up around 6 a.m., I make a brew and haul my pallid lard-enhanced form into my protesting cycling gear, and with Monty in tow, set out for a tootle along the canal near Altham. I generally have the place to myself and the unsurfaced section demands a fair amount of effort which presumably is good exercise. Ideally it is a mild wind free morning with good visibility and no rain. Usually it is none of these.

Gritting my teeth as I push forward into a rainy headwind is the norm but the outing is nevertheless exhilarating and so far I have had no issues dragging myself out. Last Saturday, Sunday and Monday were, however, difficult. Viewed from indoors, Sunday morning in particular was beautiful. Clear blue skies welcomed me as I ventured out while the world slept.

The low sun, however, dazzled rather than warmed. The air had blown down straight from the arctic and was icy, and the puddles along the towpath were frozen over. Monty and I put the miles in, but my fingers went through agonies of cold, so much so, on one occasion I had to drive home afterwards head on one side, as my clumsy numb fingers couldn’t release the buckle on my cycling helmet.

Now the weather seems to have shifted from this freezing mode into a gentler unsettled period. It may have been miserable at times with torrential rain, and occasional gusts of wind but the air is warmer and overnight frosts have for now gone away. Hopefully this marks a shift away from the icy wintry weather into more moderate spring conditions. Certainly, as Monty and I set out mid-week it certainly felt much more pleasant.

It wasn’t just Monty and I that seemed to benefit. We (ie Wifey) have been busy raising vegetable seedlings in our greenhouse at home, and they seem to have put on a lot of growth. Outside I replaced some old strawberry plants with new (hopefully ready for Wimbledon) and instead of looking like they were huddled against the cold they are now looking fresh and vibrant, and are filling out nicely. The grass has started to grow and the fish have started feeding again.

With milder conditions and increasing hours of daylight, now is the time to start making a difference in your gardens. Indeed our vegetable garden is now looking pretty immaculate and ready to go with the onions and garlic nearly a foot tall and the spuds starting to push through.

I don’t know how I find the time … I’m always out on my bike!