April 10, 2015
I have these odd moments, increasingly, when I don’t know what time of year it is. As I was about to type the date, I hesitated unsure of whether it was October or November or just another month. All the months in my head were transitional months, months when nature is unsure of herself and makes outrageously inept statements about the conditions of life. April continues to be the cruellest month: rebirth has happened and we have become inured to the sight of blooms and burgeoning buds. The air has warmed, and to some extent the soil is warming too. It’s time to plant.
This year for the first time in quite a number, I’ve got a little greenhouse and have become the seedsman again. I love the precision and concentration of planting seeds into warm potting compost into small pots, adding water, and watching life emerge. Sometimes the seeds are old, so there is the fear that these seeds no longer contain the magic and will not transfigure into leave and stalks and blooms and food. But very often they do: life clings dear.
The quality of the food we can buy in these parts is outstanding, and generally affordable as well. We do the vast majority of our food shopping at the local ‘not just a farm shop’ at Stokeley Barton, which is just down the road, and we know that almost everything we buy there (well, everything that isn’t in a packet or box) comes pretty much from within a five-mile radius.
So why grow at all? Ghandi spoke of ‘swadeshi’: harnessing the power of self-sufficiency and keeping control of the means of production as a powerful political tool. Once that can challenge and ultimately subdue colonial oppressors. There is for me a vestigial swadeshi in growing food for ourselves, and to give away to others when there is a surfeit, which is an inevitability when only two of us are consuming the harvest. It’s also fun, of course, and still breath-taking in its essential simplicity: take care of the soil, get your timings approximately right, add seeds and water, and food will emerge.
Except when the weather is cruel; except when it’s too wet or too cold or too hot or too dry. Except when there is a plague of a particular species that loves to eat human foodstuffs, or the roots that feed them. Except when the moles dig tunnels and starve the roots or simply uproot plants. Except when the birds get there first and enjoy a feast, and tell their kith and kin about this wonderful food source. But most of this happens at the fragile time, which is now. That fragility makes gardening the most human of tasks, instils fear and excited anticipation.
Yesterday I saw the first germination emerge, and today the first leaf on a french bean plant. I sent blessings to the new growth, and to the growth yet to emerge.