Twenty odd years ago, when this field was briefly a commercial garden, a rabbit-proof fence was carefully constructed around the perimeter. Despite holes and gaps (it no longer serves to keep rabbits out) long stretches of it are remarkably intact and make a useful edge. The eastern boundary has long since been a wood and the birches, horse chestnuts, alders and hazel were overhanging and the brambles and nettles invading. That’s “were” as in they aren’t now. A day earlier this week spent tree trimming and bramble/nettle scything has opened up the edge, back to that old rabbit fence to give more light and elbow room to the fruit border that we have planted/ are planting – the elderberries, damsons, currants, quince, rowan, pears and crabapples. And now there are inviting habitat piles behind the fence, and some coppiced hazel that should come up with useful pea sticks and bean poles in a couple of years.
But today, nothing so exciting as tree felling. Dock digging. We are clearing this year’s maincrop potato bed of lingering weeds. We also find a few “moochers” (potatoes left in the ground that will sprout next year – a word we have adopted from Robert MacFarlane’s chastening book “Landmarks”). Moochers are how blight virus overwinters and then escapes next season. We try to eliminate them as soon as they appear. We have to wonder how we missed such big ones when we were lifting the crop … but we wonder that every year! When the bed is all-clear we broadcast some old field beans, hoping they might germinate to help sustain the brassicas on this bed next year.
One of today’s challenges is to collect as many ingredients as possible for a one-pot stew tonight. Between the market garden, the walled garden and a few foraged wild ingredients, the cook amasses 37 – including herbs. This week’s frosts gave us the go-ahead to include parsnips and jerusalem artichokes. Make that 38 if you choose to stir in a dash of the home-grown horseradish we dug and minced yesterday.
We find time to give some attention to the late-planted afterthought bed of leeks in the small polytunnel-to-be (the frame is up but we have yet to put in the door/window and skin it). It makes a change to be weeding out rosebay willowherb rather than docks!
And this week’s treat – the Red Falstaff apples. It’s a miniature dwarf tree planted last year. It produced over twenty fruits in Spring, so we reduced that to three. They grew into large, red, glorious apples. They are crisp, juicy, sweet and truly delicious. I hope the little tree isn’t exhausted with all that.
For the last half hour, after the school bus has dropped them off, we are joined by two young helpers. They do a little light weeding and entertain us energetically. They are worth their biscuit.
We’ve all earned our biscuits today. As usual.