Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Good Earth

It's back to the beginning for us in the garden, back to basics. And how better to get there than a fine March spring day with my two favourite gardeners ;) Well, granted Holly does just lie back in her various yoga poses while we battle with the tools of the's a dog's life indeed..

July 2011 - still a work in progress ;)
There's something deeply primitive and intensely satisfying about digging the Holly Cottage garden soil. I guess it's because, for us, it's been just two years since we first turned the sod on the otherwise rock hard and tree-root ridden earth that pre-dated our arrival. It's hard to believe it, but when I look back on the photos, I think wow - we did that. We transformed a blank canvas to a 3D kaleidoscope of  food and floral bounty. Deeply humbling that those amazing plants and flowers and fruits and vegetables actually grew where we asked them to grow. And without demand, for the last two years. 
In the beginning -
that's me in the corner :)

The first year (2011), we just took a chance. About a week solid of digging a small patch not more than 8m x 6m, and then we trusted in some hard earned experience of veteran gardeners. In broad daylight (!) I raided the chicken coop of the Cappaduff farm and loaded with a bag of chicken poo, stole my way back to the Holly Cottage garden and spread the golden (stinking) gold dust. 

March 2011

We hadn't a clue really and we just followed instinct and the back of seed packets to guide us in our baby gardener steps. That first year - we had broccoli that would give the giant oak trees a run for their bark, giant sunflowers with  over 15 heads, peas to feed an army and spuds to feed a hungry couple for at least until the following spring. All from nothing. But nothing comes from nothing. 

The ground that had once been home to several leylandii trees - OK to look at but not much nutritional value - was just waiting to supply us with veggies and fruit for the year. That's the magic. That's the Good Earth. That's the soil that might well be one of the least understood systems on our planet. That's what Tony Juniper in 'What has nature ever done for us?' tells me. We rely on the soil - from Africa to China to inner Ireland - for over 90% of our food. It's a thin layer of so-called dirt - a derogatory name that beguiles it's power to make or break the non hunter gathering state of Homo sapiens. About a tablespoon of arable soil is home to more bacteria than there are people on earth...and those bacteria comprise representatives of some 20,000 species. One tablespoon. One tablespoon of soil. Mind blowing. Forget Mars exploration - let's get back to the ground beneath our feet. Surely it's worth understanding better what we are losing annually through soil degradation, erosion and pollution so that we can appreciate it's magic better and sustain food production for the 7 billion or so of us that are here today? And let's not forget the extra 2 billion set to join the growing global table by mid-century.  

July 2012..bigger and better
Anyway. Back to the ground outside our own door. Last year was a bit of a let down for us, easy to blame the weather - it did play a big part - but we certainly learned about blight (no famine thankfully), wind burned peas and disappointing Brussels sprouts. Slug anyone? Bumper crop there ;)

2013 is going to be a great year, I can feel it in my optimistic weather sensors. And this year, there was no back breaking digging, no endless picking of stones and rock from previous owners, and no digging of pesky tree roots. The soil is ready for planting - a perfect loose brown crumb, with last year's recycled food compost dug in along with a generous spread of chicken manure. It's beautiful. Not a plant in sight except for spring broccoli and hidden garlic bulbs waiting for the sun, but what a start and what a promise. This Good Earth just keeps on giving. 

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