Home & Shop Companion #0039
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
Two weeks on from my last letter and the view from my window looks very different. The early ornamental cherry has now shed all its leaves, but the Japanese maples are providing ample compensation. The little one in the corner, its leaves a watery Indian yellow changing to ochre, stands out against the still-green hawthorn hedge, and overtopping the hedge, the larger one with its layers of delicately fingered fronds is a dark russety orange, or if the light catches it just right, an explosion of russety scarlet.
Beyond the maples, over the low holly hedge and just out of sight of the workshop, the vegetable garden is also shedding its summer plumage in readiness for winter. The French beans are just stalks clinging to the hazel or bamboo supports, and the bed which had pumpkins, squashes and tomatoes is now cleared, dug over and sown with rye and vetch, except for two zucchini plants which are still just about holding on. They were the ones I planted out between the early potato rows, and although the potatoes did restrict their growth for a week or two, once the potatoes were lifted the zucchinis grew away, but I don’t expect they will produce any more fruit now. By contrast, the tomatoes at the other end of the bed were a complete failure, the cool damp months this summer not doing them any favours. Then last month they got blight, turning the green fruit to mottled brown before they had a chance to ripen, which is the reason why, until this year, I had stopped growing tomatoes outside. The greenhouse tomatoes, however, have done well. My favourites are the cherry tomatoes, the variety Gardeners’ Delight which I grow every year living up to its name both in quantity and taste. I also grew a couple of beefsteak tomato plants again this year, but consistently they do less well than the cherry tomatoes so I don’t think I will try them again; I suspect they really like warmer conditions. Another cherry variety I grew for the first time this year was Moneymaker, but in taste they were less good than the old favourite, with tougher skins and they were less productive too, so I’ll give them a miss next time; the name should have roused my suspicions; never trust anything that advertises itself purely on making money!
Looking back at the garden after seven months of the growing season, the time seems to have whizzed by, the hopes and expectations of March and April have been made, worked upon and revised, and now they have either been achieved or disappointed. Most years I keep a gardening/farming diary, usually the bare bones of sowing and planting dates, haying notes and veterinary treatments, and it is always a useful reference for the future, but whenever I have written more I never regret the extra detail. Last year however, I was too busy and preoccupied to write anything down and had to rely instead on the empty seed packets as a guide to what I grew, but this year of course I have these letters as reference, so next year it can’t fail to be great! Can it?
Looking back to the spring, there were of course other hopes and expectations, mostly manifested as fear and foreboding as we faced an unknown future with the Corona virus sweeping across the country. By July the lockdown had changed the virus’ trajectory, the cases became fewer and much of the fear disappeared, but since mid-September hospital admissions have been doubling every week, with harder hit areas going into partial lockdown. But unlike March and April, there is less public patience with the restrictions, compounded by the dithering and confused messages from Government which tries to give the impression that ‘we are beating this thing,’ rather than treating us with intelligence and respect by saying that we are in this for the long haul.
At this time of year, I often feel like it is the start of a long haul as I look towards winter, the cold and the wet, the mud and the dark, especially when the clocks go back and the evening feed is an hour earlier, and by late December the light will have gone by four thirty. The tendency to hunker down with a hot drink, put another dry log on the wood burner, eat another piece of cake and slacken the belt one notch is something I try and resist, not always very successfully. Because I work inside much of the time, my workshop is not-so-strategically placed next to the kitchen, it’s easy to become semi-moribund during winter, so I am thankful that I have to go out at least twice a day to check on the horses. Once I am out and whatever the weather, I am always pleased to be there, to start and end the day with physical activity, fresh air and soak in whatever light the clouds allow. Thinking back to the springtime lockdown and the benefit so many people gained from being outdoors, keeping active and positive is going to be even more important this winter as the pandemic continues its horrible path. We may not get to choose what the virus does, but we do have some choice in how we tackle it and how we cope with the wider effects. Choosing to believe that ‘they’ will come up with the silver bullet next month and it will all go away, ‘that we are beating this thing’ and ‘it’ll all be just great,’ is maybe one way to trick yourself to get through the dark times, but I prefer to credit myself with a little intelligence and respect, and accept that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
In practise, for me that means getting on with life as far as possible, making the best decisions I can, and incorporating pleasure and meaning into part of every day. The ingredients in my recipe include playing music, eating a slice of raw home-grown carrot as I prepare the evening meal, talking with friends, making things, forking hay to horses, or particularly this week, enjoying the spectacle of the trees changing colour.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.