A kind of giving (87 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

The other morning I was filling a bean trench with a mixture of straw and manure. As usual the piglets came to see what I was up to and, particularly, if there might be any food on offer. After all, breakfast had taken place at least ten minutes earlier. Nothing doing, they decided and went off to have a nap or catch up on a bit of sunbathing.

Apart from one. The most intelligent-faced and hardest working of all the piggies. She assessed the situation carefully and decided to contribute to my effort by disappearing into the barn and reappearing moments later with a generous mouthful of her straw bedding.

Now I’m sure this was merely an instinctual response. She thought I must be making a nest – a very serious matter for pigs, second only to food in importance – and decided to help out. But I found this a completely disarming thing to do regardless of motivation. Due to her other attributes I’d already determined that she would be a breeding sow, but this act definitely secured her bacon!

Ok, so it missed the kids’ holiday. I concede it is freezing at night. My hands are chapped and sore from exposure to the east wind. And I’m praying it doesn’t stay parched for months like last year. But a dry and sunny spell in March is a very nice gift indeed. A blessing, almost. It feels especially poignant after the grey deficit of winter has been experienced to the full.

I’m not confusing transient control over the garden with personal merit, by the way: it’s as easy to be master of all you survey in March as to be hopelessly down and out in June. Nature determines all. But my present, paltry efforts are greatly assisted by the drying effect of the wind and these rainless days. It means I can do the first complete mowing without battling a soggy tangle of resistance. Even better, I can hoe. The long beds of shrivelled broad beans and peas have been cleared of their tiny but burgeoning foes. The hoe’s blade is also the perfect antidote to the sallow pan covering my clay soil.

I can’t offer the words or the images to capture the invigorating revelation constituted by nature waking up. That joyful energy permeates everything – and even if you’ve hard slog in a trench to do – it surfaces in happy moments. A new, gentle light on the woodland floor. Goats resting on newly-mown grass. Buds appearing on newly-planted fruit trees.

It’s probably not possible, though, to live on beauty alone. I have a very prosaic interest in what can be eaten as we head into the jaws of the Hungry Gap. Even with all the ingenuity in the world the new year’s sowings are only just being potted on. Thanks to the gift of dry weather that kept on giving last year, there’s a gap where my purple sprouting broccoli should be and my cabbage collection is distinctly on the small side. Only salsify is presenting an edible opportunity in the formal beds at present. I’m assured the leaves can be eaten like spinach, but with enough heat, salt and butter I suspect that would apply to most green things.

The polytunnel is still reliably offering up its November sown salads however. And eggs and pork aplenty keep the prospect of next March from being too daunting. But it’s the sheer abundance of wild garlic and nettles pushing through everywhere all around the field that give a welcome foretaste of the generous abundance to come. Hopefully.