Driving from Barcelona to Mont Serrat, the bus wound past many a farm. The earth was dry and heavy, used relentlessly down the centuries, all nutrients washed down the steep slopes to the river below. Yet despite the scorching heat the dark green of vegetable gardens bloomed everywhere against the rocky backdrop.
A lot of effort must go into these plots. The lush green rises from an earth which looks barren. Hoses stretch across the ground, a moving pattern of irrigation. Large zucchinis nestle against the ground, and pumpkin and squash plants spread across the earth. Tomatoes of all types stand staked in rows, while netting protects the larger plants from birds. To produce crops here requires dedication and vigilance – and probably a lot of heartbreak.
In contrast, the earth in my backyard home is so lush you could eat it; every clod turned writhes with worms. There is no reason for me not to emulate such productive patches back home, considering my bay tree is taller than our two-story house.
Today we turned the first bed in our old vegetable patch. Finding the time to build proper beds will take a while, but now I have one patch planted with my first crop for the coming spring. (Yes, it is still winter, there is a frost some mornings, but today it hit 23C.) As these plant grow –
such as potatoes, radicchio, fennel, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and some carrot seeds for good-luck –I can take my time building up the next bed with a wooden frame, to help keep down the weeds and grass.
One hindrance to actually getting started has been the jungle now thriving between the house and the vegetable patch (which is up the hill on the other side of a creek. Once or twice a year, when heavy rains coincide with a high tide, we get flooded in. The paddock down by the creek can be under water for a day or so. Once we ended up with someone’s bath-tub in our backyard.) Now, just getting across the stream is a bit of an effort, as we’ve only had a chance to half-build the bridge since the damage of the last floods. The last half of the bridge involves hopping along one strut.
So much for leaving a garden to its own devices for a year or so as we rebuilt. Nothing quite like clearing waist-high weeds and nettles. Still, I’m hopeful for a few discoveries under it all. In the last storms a tree came down across the vegetable beds. A very large tree. Now, thanks to the chainsaw, what isn’t stacked drying for next winter lies across the compost beds – a bonfire and we’ll have a lot of great ash ready to go into the soil.
Beside the garden is an old shed (once a temporary stable, long before we bought the place) and beside it an old tank, which is at least half-full. Somewhere under the growth are the hoses for watering. At least I can reach the tap, and rebuilding the shed is on the to-do list, (I’m not sure how far down). A bit of guttering will give a decent rain-flow into the tank. In the meantime, I’ve concocted a temporary water slide from the roof to the tank with bits left over from the building.
Down by the house, however, the herb garden is going well. We’ve built just a short bed, some 5m or so, easily turned over and replanted in a morning. Being a few steps from the kitchen, it’s easy to keep the lettuces and herbs watered in the heat – I’ll get a drip hose sorted out eventually. I’ve just hacked my way through the lantana to the old tank off the garage. Once I find the hoses and connections, clean out a gutter full of a year’s worth of
leaves, and put on a three-way tap to the tank, this one will do for watering the kitchen garden. Eventually we hope to pump the water up the back and fill the old tank up there. Now we have decent guttering and enormous tanks, water is no longer an issue (I don’t know how we survived in the old place, when only a small amount of guttering actually collected rain. At the moment water-trucks go along our road every day, but our two large tanks are both half full, plus our roofs collect so much dew of a morning I can watch it run into the tanks. It’s embarrassing how much please I derive from watching water run into the tank!)
I’ve constructed a small green house from a plastic bag which once housed a quilt. It has a strong zipper, and using two wire arms from a broken clothes rack the bag stays upright, and my seedlings moist for days without watering. At the end of the kitchen bed
I’ve started a compost pile. Even waiting to grow our own things, it’s amazing how much we produce for the compost each day. I can’t wait till we have chickens again – we have more than enough scraps for them. I miss the cheerful sound of them cackling away to themselves during the day, or their proud clucks after laying an egg. The warmth of a freshly laid egg as it lays in your hand, the colour of their yolk; I’ve yet to find a shop-bought egg to equal it.
A never-ending cycle of jobs lie before me, in a world where I never have enough time. How people live off the land, let alone make a living doing so, is beyond me, although mankind has done so since he evolved from the primeval slime. (Well, maybe a little later, when he began growing crops in the Fertile Crescent.) Each time I get one job done, I’m that bit closer to improving my self-sufficiency, and the joys of eating what I have grown.