“An old man is setting a row of broad beans. So small a row, so shakily, dibbing a hole for each by jiggling a twig in the ground until it has made a space large enough. His allotment runs to the narrow verge between the cliff of chalk and the sunk road; right on the edge of an arm of the cove where the lorries enter. Balanced up there he sets his broad beans, while many shovels eat away at the ground below him. In three months they have taken this huge bite out of the hill: it will take three months from now for his beans just to be in bloom. Once he was a ploughman driving a team over a hill. Now, shakily on this little remnant of allotment, he sets a few beans. Because it is that time of year: it is time to sow beans.” – Adrian Bell, Men Of The Fields, 1936
I like this passage. It can be interpreted at various levels. At one level it resonates with the maxim “if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today”.
This Easter (or Eostre) weekend, I was back at the family home. when I grew up, my old man reserved the back garden for fruit and vegetable production, and most meals, cooked by my mum, featured some produce from it. No great fanfare, it was just what you did.
I never took much interest, but for me as for most people I meet who are part of the food growing renaissance, there is this direct ancestral connection with the act of cultivation, and the concurrent sense of returning. Though my stepfather would be glad to know that he is by no means solely responsible for my life of literally mucking around, at the expense of a respectable career.
For many years he has ben threatening to give up raising vegetables, as it becomes harder work, yet each year he seems unable to resist at least setting a few rows of beans, as he has this year. On Sunday, in the face of a threat to turf over the old veg patch, I emptied a couple of compost bins onto it, and my five-year-old niece planted pumpkin seed into the mounds, whilst her grandfather watched.
I returned to Hawkwood to continue the epic task of potting up five hundred asparagus plants into 2′ pots and bags. The asparagus bed awaits the meticulous preparation of perennial weed clearance, digging and raising. But you have to allow asparagus a year or two to establish before you can start cropping. So I thought it would be a grand idea to “steal a march” by growing them on for a season in containers. Four days into the job, I am probably not alone in questioning my judgement on this one. But questionable choices like this are a feature of gardening, as the garden simultaneously exists in many times: in the garden, time stands still, yet is of the essence. Plant a tree, bean, or asparagus plant now. Good times.