The mild onset of Autumn in York has brought a flurry of activity on the allotments near the city centre. Over-wintering onions are going in, planted in neat rows with labels for different varieties, spacing varied depending on size required for the pot.
A tractor load of manure delivered last week has completely disappeared within days, barrowed feverishly away by plot holders scurrying like so many ants. One hopes they all paid their dues with the same speed.
Garlic, that exotic cousin of the humble onion is already in, but could be planted later as it is a bit more hardy despite of its southern origins.
Finally broad beans, a bit of a gamble this far north, is best planted now for an early start in Spring. Any that fail can be replaced after Winter.
By contrast, in our little plot in the Alpujarra mountains in southern Spain, onions and garlic are usually planted in the Spring, in furrows for the all important irrigation. Water is the key here. Often too much in Yorkshire, always infrequent in Andalucia.
There are other contrasts too, other than the obviously greater quotient of sunshine. Garlic in a Spanish market will cost about 3 Euros for 50 plants ready to put in. At an English garden centre, £3 (almost equivalent these days) will buy you a single bulb of six or seven cloves. This year we have also tried some cloves from Normandy, courtesy of Mike from the allotment shop.
Despite being at an elevation of 1000 metres, lettuce is sown in Autumn in the Alpujarras, and seldom fails. The village is a community of subsistence farmers who tend groves of olives and almonds, figs and oranges. In between the cash crops, growing your own veg is the norm, and is a major interest with the village elders.
The locals are good-natruredly amused by our efforts at is what to them second nature, though we get endlessly patronised about our rather sporadic weeding.
"This is a plant, these are weeds. In Inglaterra do you not pull out the weeds?"
Well, yes, but we are on holiday, our grandchildren to see, so many mountains to walk, so much painting and photography."
Juan is not impressed. " Rise at dawn, work until 11.00, come back and work again in the evening when it is cooler."
Pedro is bemused by our lawn mower. "What is this machine for?" "It cuts grass." "No the grass is rubbish, it should be ploughed out three times a year." "But we like grass - it is green..."
"It is Autumn, collect your almonds, prune the trees, oranges will be ready in November, and you can plant lettuce - and broad beans!"
Ah yes, beans. "Will they survive the Winter?"
"Maybe, maybe no, it is the will of God."
Mmm... Yorkshire and Andalucia, some things are not so different then?
Chris Whittaker (Scarcroft)