Home & Shop Companion #0056
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
I made a start on the vegetable garden today. After below average temperatures and frozen ground ten days ago, the temperature is now well above average, and although it has rained, the garden is just dry enough to hold my weight, though the field is still too wet to work. It’s good to make a start on the garden anyway, because in another month or so, by the time I have done the work in the field, the garden could already be behind schedule. Next to the bed where I started digging, there is plenty of kale left to eat from last year, and the purple sprouting broccoli is just starting to sprout, rather early. It didn’t take me long to fork over most of what was the legume bed, not because I am any superman but because the soil, after years of cultivation and compost, is easy to work. The green manure didn’t grow very well in this bed so instead of inverting the soil I only pushed the fork to a third of its depth to loosen the roots of the grass weeds which were starting to take hold. This week I will probably sow the broad beans; in this year’s legume bed there are so few weeds I probably won’t touch the soil except to push in the dibber before dropping in the seeds. Later I can run a hoe over the surface when the weeds come.
A robin joined me to look for his supper as I was digging. He is often known as the gardener’s friend, probably because he comes to see you as you work, or more accurately, he comes to see what you have unearthed. He was in luck; I did see him pounce on some sort of grub as I straightened up from my moderate exertions. The European robin comes from a different family of birds than the American robin; our robin stays around all year, and with its bright orange breast it is a popular image on Christmas cards. They are argumentative little birds. One Easter morning as I sat at the kitchen table making up rhyming clues in readiness for the children’s Easter egg hunt, a robin landed in the hedge outside the kitchen window. I am not a fan of anthropomorphism, whether it is dogs, horses or robins, and this came into my head.
The robin sings upon the bough
and as we listen, we think, how
beautifully the sweet bird sings,
it must be thinking lovely things,
But to a robin it’s a shout –
you other robins, you keep out!
Looking up the robin this morning, I discover that the robins of the same species are much more shy on the continent of Europe than they are here, and that fact reminded me of an idle speculation about what robins did before humans were there to dig our gardens. The answer, I mused, must surely be pigs or wild boar. Since we have had no wild boar here for hundreds of years, until some imported ones escaped in the 1990s and became numerous, perhaps the robins were just stuck with us, while in Europe they stayed in the forests and followed the rootling boar.
Whether that theory holds water or not, the robins are welcome around here, and I guess their lives are about to get easier because spring is just around the corner. Along the hedges the delicate kittens’ tails of the hazel flowers have already appeared and Lucy is showing much more interest in the grass verges as I take back and forth from the field.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.