51 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd



Half term holiday weeks like this usually require an improbable combination of excellent peasantry and olympian parenting. I fell short of the ideal again and wasted time feeling disconsolate as the field reverted with alarming speed to that thing it does best: being a field.

But there have been golden moments too, when the elusive synthesis of family and garden has been stumbled upon. In my humble experience, following the long, raggedy line of my children into the beds to find dinner is as good as it gets.


After being measly for the first five calendar months, the growth rate is  now exponential. Everywhere the jostling and striving of greenery, the shooting and leafing of plants which are the best adapted to local conditions… they gang up on the artificial order of the cultivated areas. Those long winter months of wishing for progress are rewarded in June by an avalanche of the stuff.

But the crops are also coming in despite their problem neighbours. The kale is doing me proud. The coarser-leaved collards so valued in April are now disdained and consigned to grateful goats and hens. Older humans are now enjoying the reptillian fleur de lys of cavolo palmizio: each leaf folded in half, stalk removed and the remainder sliced for boiling quickly. Meanwhile the children (who’ve had it with spring greens already) can be persuaded by the dainty heads of brocolli Santee. I confess I didn’t know this variety was meant to put up heads in its first season but we cheerfully decapitated it anyway. 

Another succession is apparent in the lettuce bed – the doughty barba di frate was cut each day and came again for a second cut by the end of the week. Even the broad beans have come good and the Aquadulce crop – cruelly evicted from its cotton wool wrapping by children’s hands of various sizes – has been added to just about everything. Oh and strawberries – not the sweetest yet, but still enough for six hunter-gatherers every other day.

Slowly the jigswaw is getting more pieces in it. Self-sufficiency is a 20,000 piece one, full of sea and sky… but a corner is definitely taking shape.


But mainly take, take, take this week with only the essential maintenance done in return. Weeds grew skywards and the swards of hay in the field have finally put on some length too. I understand from a friend who knows about these things that decent hay will be at a premium this year due to the late cold and drought. Consequently I’m now eyeing my handsome rough areas – all bobbing purple grassheads – with a sharpened scythe in mind. After the cut hay had dried in the weeks of imagined sun ahead, I would somehow – the vision gets a bit fuzzy here and unhaunted by stray canines – relocate the hens onto the stubble to keep it in check…

A rare time to sit back in the sun and speculation about such things has been forced upon me by illness. A bit lost is not an entirely comfortable place to be with 51 weeks to go, but you have to try and accept setbacks and instead watch your offspring being sickeningly energetic around the place, closely followed – in their enclosure – by stampeding piglets.

Thanks to this weeks’ bounty from the field I’m getting the impression that any fool of a peasant can feed himself from June to November (although I may be the exception…). More importantly my family are getting the confidence in that former notion too. It’s those other six months which will take military-scale planning and those ponderings may at least be undertaken if your wheels are otherwise a bit come off …