by Max Akroyd
One man of questionable fitness and three acres’ worth of meadow to transform into something to grow vegetables in. Where to begin?
Proper farmers round here reach for the bottle marked ‘Naphalm’, or something similar, and blast the lot into a lurid, orange oblivion. That clearly wasn’t an option for the organically-minded, so two years ago I picked up my spade and started digging. Those early beds still exist in a small corner of the field as a monument to naive, defeated enthusiasm.
Next wrong turn: pay a neighbour to rotavate the lot. For one blissful week everything is lovely and plans on paper are reproduced on the land. Also sadly replicated however, a thousand times, are roots of the perennial weeds which soon regrew on a biblical plague-like scale. The previously abundant worms were massacred and the soil structure dissolved into a slurry.
Out of this wreckage, my preference for plastic mulch was born: it kills the weeds, encourages the worms and stops the soil getting too wet or too dry. There are disadvantages though. Although it’s re-usable, unlike glyphosphate, the initial investment is quite big on this scale. Attaching it to the field with giant staples is fiddly and mind-numbingly dull. Worst of all though is it’s tendency to blow away when the autumn gales start. I’ll never forget the morning last autumn when I walked into the field to be greeted by 100 metre high, black plastic serpents rearing up into the morning sky.
It’s hard to subscribe to the organic mantra of “working with nature” when the old groke is trying to blow one’s puny efforts all the way to Nova Scotia.
So after a sleep-free night, engendered by the realisation that another hope-massacre would jeopardise this whole project, I launched myself into the sea of wind with barrow after barrow of rocks. Heavy, Breton granite placed gently on the billowing yards of plastic – a little tentatively at the perimeter of the garden where the trees were bowing and scraping before the implacable majesty of the wind.