50 weeks to go…
by Max Akroyd
As I mentioned last week, the sight of all those lovely grasses in the uncultivated parts of the garden had me reaching for my scythe. This week I actually put the thing to use, cutting and stacking a small amount of my own hay. Unfortunately it’s now raining quite hard, my stook has collapsed and the whole exercise might not result in a usable product! Moreover, I can’t seem to get my scythe razor-sharp and my action feels more than imperfect.
But there’s something strangely addictive about the whole process which makes me want to resume as soon as possible. I can only offer a partial explanation: unlike the noisy introspection of strimming or some other mechanical cutting, hay-making with a scythe can be a sociable experience. I could talk to Emma, tell the boys off and hear the goat’s bell. Not for the first time this week I was reminded that progress usually prejudices togetherness.
We’d almost given up and assumed it was a phantom incubation … but Mother goose sat dutifully on her clutch of eggs with no regard to our logic, through rain and shine. She stitched her nest together with her own feathers and shivered when the wind turned to the east. And now she has her reward: five lovely, fluffy goslings. When we go to check on the brood, the new family is usually doing a proud promenade – with Father Goose leading the parade. It’s tempting to reach in and touch the goslings – until a big, hissing parent advises you otherwise!
Spurred on by a dwindling supermarket budget, we’re now defaulting to the garden to feed us. This is an important and necessary step for this family as, for too long, we’ve used homegrown produce to simply augment the bought stuff.
I’m wrestling now with the correct provision of what the family eats. Already it’s clear I probably couldn’t grow enough peas or brocolli. I probably could plant fewer kales, although the dark greening of our diet is definitely a good thing – and the animals enjoy any leftovers. Salad has become the cornerstone of one meal a day, usually topped with just-shelled egg or bean. Simple fare, made gourmet by being so fresh.
A lot of what we’re eating now was sown last October. The failure of the March-sown peas and broad beans (due to drought) means no succession there. And a bit of a wait yet until the climbing beans appear… The harvest highlight of the week would be shared between the first cauliflower of the season and a glut of peas. Pea-podding is now a regular feature of each day and will occupy a whole afternoon later this week as we get the majority frozen.
Much as I love the outcome, I’m sick of potting on brassica seedlings. It really does take a lot of patience to do it for a whole afternoon, even a rainy one. But at least the throng of brocollis and cauliflowers and cabbages and kales are moving along the production line. And I’ll be glad of them early next year. But it is a chore. Almost all sowing now is outdoors – I got lots of carrots sown this week – and the greenhouse looks a bit forlorn. The propagators are packed away and the benches cleared of things now hardening-off outside. Only the peppers and the melons remain to be hot-housed over the summer…
More fun is on offer in the polytunnel where the tomatoes are bounding forward and need regular tying-in to their canes and side-shooting. The aubergines were finally deemed big enough to plant out in the border and that final act saw plantings in the polytunnel concluded until November. I wonder if the blight will hold off long enough to taste a ripe tomato this year? I hope so.
Lost & found
Illness, half term and generalised anxiety have now all been conquered. But not before an unexpectedly large chunk was bitten out of this working week by travelling. A seemingly innocuous hop by plane from Luton to Brest became a giant leap for mankind encompassing a visit to Dinard and Nantes airports along the way. After ten hours unanticipated extra travelling on Thursday, I finally arrived at a dark, wet and windy economy car park at Brest. Only to discover that one of the kids had left a door slightly open which ensured the car’s battery was extinct.
The existence of a helpful Frenchman at 1 a.m. in possession of a special red box and willing to get the car started wasn’t the only miracle of the day. Earlier in the ordeal I also met other French people, an Irishman, an Iraqi and a Slovenian who, despite the unique torture of listless hours spent in airport terminals, remained positive, helpful and generally restorative of one’s faith in humanity. It was a day worth living after all. Well, almost… but there’s definitely a special feeling of hope attached to kindness given and received among people you’ll never see again.