SOME little beggar has munched my bulbs.

It's irritating, but that's life. It's life. Don't we need to be reminded of life, now, and how it just carries on regardless.

Last year at the allotment, in a fit of over-excitement, I planted some garlic cloves at exactly the wrong time of year. Just prodded them in the soil and hoped for the best.

Garlic must be planted at specific times, between October and January. The frost splits the single buried clove into segments and, hey presto, come June and July you have plump bulbs of garlic.

Try to circumvent the rules and you end up with what I ended up with - a single, sad, skinny pinkie finger of garlic. A slimmed down spring onion. Still ate it though.

Having banged on about my failed garlic to anyone who'd listen, I was given a gift of three beautiful globes for planting and have been counting the minutes until it was time to bury them in soil.

In plant land you're faced with a timetable set by Nature, and try to negotiate or keep her waiting and you'll fail.

The time, eventually, came.

Time to prep the plot, hoe the soil, pull up any weeds. Garlic needs space to breathe so the bed must be as clear of interlopers as you can make it. I've learned to spot what's weeds and what's not during my time on the allotment.

I feel guilt about weeding though. Who am I to decide what should thrive in the soil and what should be yanked up and discarded, left to rot on the compost heap? Each plant is a miracle of science, of atoms and photosynthesis and of other things I can't quite remember from secondary school biology.

My allotment buddy is scornful. "If you're not going to decide which things grow and which things don't, then you're not a gardener, are you?"

Gardener seems to be a type of Medieval king. Aiming for omnipotent control but stymied by forces outwith. The soil works for you, providing you with produce. But only if you bend to nature's demands.

My allotment buddy is underwhelmed. "Could you just be quiet and pass me the rake."

So, there I am. It's the very end of February so I'm a little bit late, but it's still cold enough. I've pulled up all the weeds that have had the winter months to party. The soil is prepped. We're in a sunny spot, good drainage. Everything the garlic demands for its fecund swelling.

And I'm taken back to this time last year. Crouching in the same spot, completing the same tasks - preparing the beds, deciding what to plant and where.

A sense from the news of something coming but, whatever it was, it would be over by my birthday in June. It would be over by the time the early peas were ready for plucking. It would be finished by the time the lettuce was at full frill.

It wasn't, of course. The bulbs went into the ground. The frame for the runner beans was erected. My favourite, the seed potatoes, were buried to develop their treasure.

Rhubarb thrusting, tiny bumps of green that would unfurl into leaves. Everything ready for life.

Then we shut down. We stayed at home. The virus spread and the daily death tallies mounted. Travel plans were cancelled - mine had been to Tanzania, Zanzibar, New Orleans and Boston.

That big world shrank to a small flat. Those broad ambitions narrowed to a journey from home to the allotment. Allotmenting was a permitted activity and I never been so grateful.

Over a hot summer, tending to the plants was succour. The routine of it, amid relentless unpredictability, was succour. Helping things grow when life was otherwise shrinking was a relief.

Physical work when work life had become sitting at a desk all day, long hours every day, talking to flat faces on screens, was a relief. Life in 3D was a relief.

In summer, the cucumber plants in the shed burst out all over. You become used to the sanitary sameness of supermarket vegetables. Cucumbers in reality are wonky, some round like Weebles with knobs on, others long and thin. The tomato plants withered. It was hot for them but there wasn't enough time to give them the water they needed to thrive.

I think we had about seven tomatoes, only one of them a stripy Tigerella, which were delicious but disappointing.

You can't know what's coming though because planting is a hopeful task, just as waiting through autumn and winter for a vaccine. It seems dark but there's something better coming. This, the cusp of Spring, is a hopeful time. You prepare the ground and you water and till and weed and water and till and weed. Then you see what happens. The seeds have their own idea. The birds pluck your garlic gloves from the ground, absolutely no hoots given as to the excitement of the human who buried them there. Mice devour your pea shoots.

The weather does what it wants. Errant teenagers kick at things and smash the shed window. A bee nearly drowns in the pond but you rescue it.

Some things will grow, some things will not. You hope and hope and you pull up carrots to find they are the size of a matchstick. You hope and hope and you dig up potatoes to find a tuber the size of your heart.

You push the seeds into the soil and you hope, too, that you will be there to see the harvest.

You wash your hands for 20 seconds and sing a song and you wear your mask. You keep two metres from those you love and you keep the washing machine going all the time so your masks are fresh and clean. You hope it's enough. You fret at a tickle in your throat or a cough and you hope it's not that. Take a test, wait at home and hope.

You hope no one you know, no one you love, is infected and you wash your hands again.

Now it's time to prepare the soil and time to plant. And a vaccine is rolling out and the route out of lockdown has been mapped. Life is altered unrecognisably and life is just the same.

A little bird, the little beggar, has plucked my garlic glove from the soil. But I've pushed it back in. Maybe it will grow, maybe it won't, but the anticipation of it all feels so hopeful, this springtime re-emergence both in nature and thanks to science.