“All those long shadows,
Your joy and pride
Was making the gardens grow again”
– Robb Johnson, Making The Gardens Grow
The darkest hour comes before the dawn, they say. Just as we skid into Spring, a thud of wintry weather has stilled wind and time, so we sow our first seeds whilst frost lays on the ground. And in the last week, two gentle men who are part of the OrganicLea story, pass on. They’ll not meet the glimmer on the horizon: the warm spring breeze nor the apple blossom.
Campaigning journalist David Ransom was a mentor to Clare, our intrepid Training & Outreach Worker, when she was being intrepid in other ways and places. He came to interview us for a feature on Permaculture in New Internationalist magazine in 2007. In doing so, he validated our, at the time, outlandish belief that community food growing could have a role to play in the movement for global justice. The Food Sovereignty Movement, as it is now, was but a twinkle in his twinkly eyes. Later, he lent his weight and wordsmithery to the Foreword for our book, “Seedlings FromThe Smoke”. The last time I saw him was at that book’s launch, September 2014. He likened Hawkwood, with its gardens, glass temple and popular army, to Byzantine: it was a memorable image, an extraordinary speech.
Fred Whiting, my grandfather, is known at Hawkwood as the man behind our “Kondine Red” tomatoes (see “You Say Tomato”, March 6th, 2010). He taught me from an early age the value of just getting outdoors, and the possibility of holding independent ideas. He was a perpetual dissenter, but he also knew which way the wind blew. Post-War, he left London for one of the emerging New Towns, for better air, space and opportunities for his family. He also left the work he loved, seeing that the emerging industrial model of agriculture had limited need for his class, the agricultural labourers. These were wise decisions that, in my life, I’ve senselessly reversed. Though not without his tacit understanding. Everything cycles, after all.
Sometimes life cycles touch, though their beginning and end can appear poles apart. We are still unearthing the Jerusalem Artichokes – which have been fabulous croppers this year – as the time comes to plant them again. On Jerusalem Drive last week, Vi and her team were planting within seconds of lifting: if we’d been any quicker off the mark the whole thing might have descended into farce (albeit this would be a minor syllabic change to what this tuber commonly descends to). The remains of the tomato and chilli plants, carted off either side of the solstice, had barely cooled on the compost heap when trays of their embryonic descendents appeared on the propagation staging this month. A day without tomatoes is like a day without sunshine, and there are precious few of those here.
Maybe, just maybe, this year will be the year without a “Garlic Gap”: our remaining dried stores continue to seep out into the farm stall and Wednesday lunches, whilst our early Spring Garlic more and more looks good enough to eat. In general, stores have scored: for the first time since records began – all of seven years ago – Hawkwood Harvest Hands have provided something for Box Scheme and stalls throughout January, the darkest month. These Tuesday mornings Gary or I have the treat of rifling through clamps, where our Beetroot and Black Radish are kept, needled in stacks of coconut fibre. Herein lies all the excitement and tactile experience of a Lucky Dip, with the weird twist that all the prizes are from a limited range of root vegetables. I always come away feeling lucky, millions wouldn’t.
It’s the tradition here to insinuate to all and sundry that we will be producing salad in early February, and then do nothing of the sort: they like a lie in, salad beds, so it seems. This year though, we were as good as our word: on the ninth of February, we opened for restaurant trade again. And rocket and mizuna are germinating, so here we grow. After the darkest hour; the burying of loved ones, the horizon shifts still. It’s only in our power to rake over the soil, to make the gardens grow again.