I expect that I am echoing people up and down the country, around the globe. This is starting to feel very real.
This week has been about adjusting to a new normal. And then another new normal comes along. And then another.
I was exhausted by Friday. I expect you were too.
It is a mental exhaustion. It is exhaustion from hungrily watching a screen all day in video conference calls. Seeing the faces of my friends and colleagues. Wanting to reach out to them, so that we feel one another’s support.
It is exhaustion from worry. Worries which chase us through sleep, and are there to greet us in the morning.
Despite mental exhaustion, or maybe because of it, I have a thirst for movement. For the outdoors. For purposeful activity.
The best purposeful activity I know is digging.
Stevie and I have been talking recently about increasing food production. We have been thinking a lot about living more sustainably. I have been reflecting that a lot of my gardening is about flower production, and wondering if more it should be about food production.
We have about seventy-five square metres of raised beds in which we (well, Stevie) grow veg. We vary what we grow each year, but it might include purple-sprouting broccoli, leeks, onions, garlic, cabbages, cauliflowers, potatoes, peas, beans (broad, french and runner), courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, turnips, asparagus, artichokes (globe and farty), tomatoes, cucumbers, chillis and salad leaves. We have a fruit cage of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, white currants, redcurrants and gooseberries. We have a rhubarb patch. And finally fruit trees: apple, pear, plum, damson, greengage, quince (so far fruitless), mulberry (getting there), apricot (swoon), fig (swoon and fall over, eyes rolled back).
This sounds like loads. But spread across a whole year, or more like six months, given that the harvest is minimal from November to May, it does not feed a family. Some crops fail. Probably a quarter of these crops will be disappointing. Seeds don’t all germinate, slugs and snails get hungry, pigeons too, the crop bolts and runs to seed when your back is turned.
So, we concluded, some more planting space would be welcome. We thought this as we gazed out at the lawn.
I was also looking for a project. A family project. You know, something that would get us all outside. And teach our girls an important life skill.
So yesterday morning, out we all went.
Stevie and I have a very different approach to making a new bed. Whilst I tend to just start digging and hope for the best, Stevie likes to measure. Thoroughly. It involves pegs and lines, a fair bit of pacing, and a fair bit of head-scratching.
His beds end up being straight. Mine are kind of wobbly.
We also discovered we had a different technique when lifting turf. I dig a deep clod and then shake off the soil. Stevie said this was removing too much top soil.
He showed me his technique of cutting in sideways and rolling the turf. It was hard. I couldn’t do it.
So Stevie did his thing, along with Cate, and I emptied the wheelbarrow. I made a nice lego stack of upside down turf at the end of the compost bays. In a year or so, this will have rotted down to a nice friable consistency, and we can feed it back to the beds.
I couldn’t help admiring my tulips as I waited for more barrow-loads of turf.
It’s easy to get distracted by tulips.
Now it might not have escaped your notice that I appear to have two raised beds full of tulips. Could these be used for vegetables?
If things get desperate, maybe. But for now, the tulips are safe. I have 20 different varieties of dahlias potted up in the greenhouse to move into these beds once the tulips are done. You can eat dahlia tubers. They are, apparently, similar to potatoes.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
For now, let’s get digging.
Once my younger daughter joined in and took over the wheelbarrowing and turf-lego stacking, there weren’t enough jobs to go around.
I decided I should make the tea. And a cake. I made ‘lockdown simnel cake’. I had to make a few substitutions owing to restricted ingredients, but it turned out pretty well.
And, a couple of hours later, as if my magic, we have a new potato bed!
We will grow potatoes in the first year to break up the soil. Then we will add some goodness to it in the form of home-made compost next winter. We typically rotate our crops to reduce the build-up of viruses in the soil. A typical crop rotation pattern is peas and beans, which fix nitrogen into the soil and improve it, then hungry brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips) on enriched soil, then roots on depleted soil (carrots, parsnips). You can add potatoes or salads or sweetcorn and squash into the rotation if you like them. You can break the rules a little bit if you like.
This activity was a brilliant distraction.
The news is not good, and increasingly we are going to be affected by this horrible virus.
Please stay as safe as you possibly can. One person can potentially infect 59,000 other people if they do not practice correct social distancing.
This week, around the country, NHS staff are being redeployed to roles they never saw themselves in. Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Health Visitors, Health Care Assistants, Paediatricians. Staff are stepping up to do what is needed where it is needed.
We are going to have to dig deep in order to get through this.
Sending love and courage to you all.
Courage is not the absence of fear.
But rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.This quotation has been attributed to various people, including Roosevelt. Whoever said it, thank you.
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