A paradox (60 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

Most weeks this life is good. Very good. Bird song, trees bedecked with blossom, the play of sunlight on the hillside and all the other things that make spring an illuminating place to be. However, although I’ve still been dimly aware of these things, this particular week has been more mundane: a robotic plod through a task list which, against all the rules of fair play, is longer at the end of each day than at the start of it!

I’m not yet familiar with the territory of a successful year of subsistence. Maybe these tight contours of unceasing activity are confined to, say, April and May? And by June I’ll be sitting at the top of the hill drinking elderflower wine in the shade of the chestnut tree. I’ll watch the children doing the weeding, the goats hanging out the washing and the pigs flying by…

I want this to be a paean to rural contentment. I don’t want to pee on anybody’s fire of enthusiasm. But right now it’s wall-to-wall grind on the farm. It seems if you want a semblance of unsophisticated man-made order – won from the natural sort – it unavoidably requires ten hours of physical labour. Each and every day, at this time of year. If we’d inherited our patch from soil-toiling ancestors it might have meant a lighter burden, but this back to the land generation has to break theirs on marginal ground. By midweek, for example, I was so tired I even forgot my PIN number. I was parked outside the bank needing cash for grain and … nothing!

Perhaps aware of my slow-witted state the animals have been full of mischief. I’ve had goats in the hen house and a goose in the pig house and then goats in the hen house again. Moving the Daddy pigs to their spring pasture turned into an eight hour face-off. It might have been the coffee grounds I accidentally tipped into their leftovers bucket, but they were tireless and cunning adversaries. Or that’s how it seemed. It was only upon completion of the task that I realised they are now down-wind of the (female) piglets. Uncharacteristically for their gender, they look less than impressed by their new, clean and tidy environs and just stand around gawping in the direction of the girl pigs instead.

In the greenhouse I’ve sown kale, calabrese, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bush tomatoes, chillies, peppers, basil, hyssop, lovage, chervil, parsley, beetroot, okra, spring onions, leeks, cucumbers, gherkins, lettuces, chicories and courgettes. In the soil, I’ve planted out: parsnips, collards, kales, cabbages, parsley, burdock, mitsuba, broad beans, peas, turnips, beetroot and spinach. The first potatoes have appeared and I’m planting more daily. I’m down to my last 50 unplanted Jerusalem artichoke tubers and might just throw them to the pigs tomorrow so I can at least tick one thing off the list for this year. I’ve also renovated the polytunnel beds and sown some catch crops in them. I even got a big patch of lucerne raked in. The rest of the time I dig, mow, strim, hoe and weed things. The rest of the rest of the time I spend with the family, either complaining or asleep!

To be honest, the sheer scale of the commitment to growing most of your own food has a spiritually deadening effect. It’s like being a dreary fundamentalist adhering only to the word and accepting no intermediary. It means I’m a slave to the garden. But that’s ok. After all, it’s the only road to freedom I know.