Friday, 17 April 2015

A Time to Sow

Years ago I decided that the time had come to lift as much of the work involved in raising vegetables for the pot up to a decent working height to save all that back-breaking effort at ground level. We don’t grow a huge variety of plants: just those things that really are so much better when they take only a minute or two from plant to pot or plant to plate.

Long ago I gave up on things that were always readily available in the shop – and especially, the farm shop – but were a pain to grow. So it is that the only brassica I have grown for many years are Brussels Sprouts: with everything else you end up with either a glut and have problems getting rid of the surplus or the lot have been devastated by a variety of voracious mouths.

None of the photos today have anything to do with the words. I have just chosen four which have brought back memories. It was after peering through this gate for a long, long moment that Marcia first made real contact with the characters in the book due out later this year. Not that they were there or, indeed, anywhere near there - thy weren't. But it was there that she 'heard' two of the most important people in the book in conversation.
Still, we like our fresh salad bowl (I tend to grown lettuces from which you can cut leaves), young carrots, broad beans, peas and tomatoes – all in the raised beds with a few flowers such as nasturtiums to add to the general colour. These beds are about six foot long and two wide with a soil depth of nine inches and raised so that they are about the same height as a kitchen working surface.

The upsides are that you can remove all the soil every other year or so, ensure it is as weed and pest free as possible, add some fertiliser (and, perhaps, a little potting compost) and replace it knowing there will be all the nourishment needed for the next crop. The down side is that the beds need to be watered during dry weather but there is a butt fed from the greenhouse roof nearby to take the hard work out of that.

This is taken in the Valley of the Rocks just outside Lynton on the north coast. I understand that this valley once carried a river but that the flow was redirected by some geological activity in the past. It was near here that our usually faithful camper van decided to pack up and that resulted in a good deal of interesting activity. Stage one: leave Marcia and Max in the van while I hitched a lift into Lynton. Stage two: arranged for a breakdown lorry to meet me at the van. Stage three: get a taxi to take me back to the van and then take Marcia and Max to our cottage on Exmoor (about fifteen miles away). Stage four: rider in the breakdown lorry back to the garage near our home just north of Dartmoor and leave the van there (about forty five miles) and then to drop me home (just four miles down the road) to collect the car so that I could drive back and join the others on Exmoor (another fifty miles). All of which was not according to plan.
Still in the ground are two other crops: runner beans and rhubarb. Neither of these would work in a raised bed. The first is, of course, just there: fed and mulched in the autumn and cropped in the summer. The second is sowed into pots in the greenhouse for planting out later: as are the numerous sweet peas with which Marcia likes to fill the house during the summer months.

So it was that I have been sowing for this years crops. It’s a very odd feeling working in the greenhouse and on our two raised beds without even knowing whether or not I shall be around to see any of this work bear fruit.

Having said that it was also incredibly satisfying. To be honest I’m not quite sure why that should be the case but I suppose a part of it is that it makes me feel that regardless of everything there is a point in keeping going at a time when giving up would seem the obvious thing to do.
Still on Exmoor but quite a long time ago. Marcia was writing  The Summer House at the time which was set near Allerford on Exmoor. It was one of those hot and rather dreamy summer afternoons when I came across these two in the little churchyard there. Just couldn't resist them
For some reason many men (and I am one) feel that there is a need to leave something permanent behind them. With many this desire is poured into their children but with others there is a need for something more tangible: something physical that can act as a memorial. For most of us this is just not going to happen. As I watered in the second sowing of carrots yesterday I suddenly realised that this is not what it is all about. What matters is far smaller, on a tiny scale and infinitely more important.
On one of our trips we were parked up on Porlock Toll Road looking across towards Wales watching this drilling rig being towed down the Bristol Channel to wards the sea. Looking through the photo files this one embodies so many memories. It was here that scenes from three of Marcia's Exmoor books (The Birdcage, Memories of the Storm and The Summer House) suggested themselves to Marcia and we talked through them (at great length, I should add, but at least these conversations were not inflicted on anyone else).
Our memorials are the host of actions and reactions with the people with whom we come into contact day by day. Sometimes these actions will be good and we shall have spread a little bit of comfort or joy or love. Sometimes they will be bad and shall have caused grief and sorrow. For the vast majority of us it is our actions that stand as our memorials and it is up to us whether those memorials are, on balance, positive or negative. Speaking only for myself, there have been moments in my life when my actions have left much to be desired – moments when life demanded more from me than I had to give, moments when the needs of others seemed less important than my own and moments when I used others as whipping-boys for matters for which they were blameless. All I can hope is that on the other side of the balance sheet there were other moments that will, in some measure, compensate.

Whatever the reason, I commend sowing a few seeds to bring peace of mind to a spirit that is, at times, somewhat troubled.

Finally, many thanks for all your comments. Sorry I have not been able to reply to them individually this week but I do want you to know how much your ongoing support means to me.