47 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

 I’m drafting this post under the shade of the big chestnut tree at the top of the field. The weather is still beautifully sunny but more lenient due to a cool breeze. With enough sunblock and antihistamines physical work is possible once again for the majority of the day.

Still, it’s nice to stop. Emma is taking long sleeps during the day – there are signs the birth is very close now – and I jump at the chance to sit down somewhere cool and look after the boys. At present one of them is drawing a picture of the goslings and the other is running around with a stick fighting baddies. Behind them, the prospect of rolling fields all the way to the distant Montagnes Noires/Meneziou Du. It’s such an  idyllic scene that it’s difficult to regard it as real – more like looking at a painting.

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The foreground of the view is a bit more troublesome from my perspective. I can see things in the garden that should be bigger by now and things that should have been cut down by now. I’ve been concentrating on the Upper Beds this week, removing the remnants of the beans and peas. Many weeds have been taken out too and left to dry in the sun for a day or two before being offered to the fussy goats, who seem to prefer their weeds sun-dried for some reason. I then arranged the newly-clean soil into long drills, about a hundred metres in total. And now I’m waiting for rain again…

We did get a day’s rain – maybe two inches in total. This perked up the existing plantings considerably, but left little impact on uncleared soil. Another dose of rain, though, and I can quickly administer  extensive, direct sowings of anything  and everything which can swallow a July sowing. This act might atone for the self-inflicted wound of failing to water the greenhouse-dwellers for a couple of days. Maybe it was too much sun on the gardener’s brain but this neglect of an obvious and fundamental duty destroyed ranks of pumpkins and brassicas – shrivelled to a crisp on the hottest days of the year.  Only the chillies survived the cull.

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A happier note has been the harvest of some big crops. The freezer is now home to a large stash of frozen cauliflower. I also pulled the first shallots and garlic of the season. Loads more to come when I can face the prospect of even more empty beds!

Talking of which, the potatoes are now coming in too… despite frost, drought and a range of experimental growing techniques, the jackpot of spudly abundance has been hit. I’m pleased to declare one of the aforementioned as the best method of cultivation I tried. The tubers are biggest and sweetest when exhumed from the manure-rich depths of the lazy beds. Given the weirdness of this year’s weather and the complete mix up of seed varieties and planting times I don’t make any scientific claim for these results. Suffice it to say that I’ll be expanding the provision of lazy beds this winter.

Of the other methods planting through plastic was probably the worst: the plants haven’t flourished particularly in this heat with a black plastic blanket around their roots. Unless you want pre-baked spuds, it might not be the way to go… Similarly flawed were the conventional sowings with added straw mulch. Surprisingly perhaps, the straw didn’t protect the plants from that late blast of frost and gave safe-harbour to slugs and snails which obliterated any plants the frost didn’t…

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I suspect next week’s harvest might be a slightly different proposition! I wish I had the words to express the profound consistency between the prospect of a new child and all the other things that happen on our disorderly little farm. But I might end up accidentally equating my wife to a breeding sow, or something equally unwise.

But that irresitable growing force is everywhere: seeding, flowering, fruiting. Rebirth and renewal. Fingers-crossed.