Friday 27 July 2007

Peasant labour


When I chose a spot for our new vegetable patch all I really did was wander out from the house until I found an open area, mentally stuck some surveying pegs into the earth and announced that from now on this ground would be known as the Growing Fields.

With the grass shaved off short and a layer of black plastic to destroy the living weeds we left it covered over winter and this spring hacked our way through the top layer to produce a rough tilth in which we stuck our potatoes. Considering the weather, the blight and the wholly inadequate depth of soil we got a pretty good crop but unusually for us the blight has forced us to take the full harvest very early this year. The plot is currently empty.

We thought we would try some of the quicker growing vegetables - early peas, short rooted carrots, radishes and so on to keep the ground in cultivation and to supplement the small crops already growing in the back garden. However, we had discovered during the potato harvest that the ground was virtually undiggable, full of stones; some of them big enough to build houses with and such soil as exists is claggy lumps of clay and sand intermingled in uneven distribution.

So we started collecting the stones...


and after several passes with the rotavator we had taken out 10 or more barrowloads. This has hardly made any difference at all to one end of the plot, about a third of it, which seems to be entirely composed of rubble and rocks and might well have been a roadway or a hard standing in previous times. The rest of the area isn't quite so awful but is still capable of turning up brick sized boulders with very little disturbance. We'll have to keep at it, probably for years, while constantly adding extra organic material to rebuild the soil structure and fertility.

Did I pick the wrong place? Hard to tell, on a farm that has been primarily dairy for much of its history there is little previously cultivated land to discover and the unimproved fields are most probably of similar construction over the whole 9 hectares. We've started now, we may as well finish.

open field

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