28 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself 300 kilometres from home in a car with hardly any petrol in it. The pension protests had left the petrol stations around Caen ferryport without supply and I had about 30 kilometres worth of fuel left in the tank. At first light, the foggy Norman villages around Ouistreham seemed an appropriate venue to give up all hope – only the unacceptable irony of finally getting washed up in a bad Peak Oil metaphor spurred me on.

Similarly, there is an inexorable certainty that the small reserves of unearned wealth that allowed us to exchange an end terrace in North Yorkshire for a small farm in Brittany have almost evaporated too. We stumped up in the poorest part of France with a head full of ideas and no real experience of farming and expected to thrive. It’s not a new phenomenon. (It’s worth hunting out ‘The Long Story’ here). Which is reassuring and annoying at the same time!

The lessons have come hard and fast since we arrived and, after a rainy week spent crunching numbers, it is now crystal clear that this project is not just a mildly interesting examination of how the post-industrial fits with the peasant life – its success is key to our continuance in smallholding at all. Something has to spring the trap of food price inflation and this is it. Which, when you look at the state of the field, means I better get digging!

*

Once upon a time I would have considered eating out of the garden in mid-November a nonsense. Not that I would have considered it at all back then: I was too busy fighting against the tide of dazzling rush hour headlights…

It remains a surprise to find green things and purple things to cut and eat in the semi-dark and battering rain of the penultimate month, that dark and distant satellite of the growing season. The salad things earn pride of place. Mustards, chicories, endives: each little leaf, precious as a jewel, is carefully washed and presented. Even stuff that would probably be chucked to the hens in July is cherished instead. They watch in outraged disbelief as I scuttle past them with the last outsized courgette of the year tucked under my arm and back to the shelter of the house.

The so-called oriental vegetables have proven to be a very mixed bag. Truly the hostas of the vegetable world, a lot of them got slugged to death, but the pak choi survived the onslaught. Pork and pak choi a meal make and I’ve got plenty of both suddenly.

The other productive thing which November was made for is bed preparation. A perfect remedy to the inevitable week of autumnal deluge is spending the occasional sunny November day readying the soil: I’m still trying to get all the peas sown but I’ve been working on the onion family’s beds too. Suddenly lifting a few acres isn’t as heavy as it used to be…