Home and Shop Companion 0062

letter from a small corner of far away

Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,

Yesterday morning, which was Easter Day, I sat outside in the warmth of the sun and chatted to my daughter on the phone for twenty minutes. She was telling me about their new allotment which they have just taken over, renting it for about $50 a year from their city council. I’ve seen pictures nearly every day this week, and starting with a plot unkept for a year, in just a few days they have made splendid progress clearing the weeds and marking out the beds ready for planting. An allotment garden is a great thing if you like being outside, especially if you live in a city, to be able to go somewhere else but still in your own space, somewhere quiet, somewhere where you can tend the soil and grow your own food.

My own garden is progressing too; it’s the time of year when it seems like everything is to be done, especially when the weather is warm, and you think you perhaps should have started earlier. Today however it is cool, even cold again, so those jobs don’t seem quite so pressing, but I did fork over some soil on the way back from the field before going into the workshop to varnish a viola. On Saturday I planted potatoes in the garden, shovelling compost into the trenches before setting the potatoes and forking the soil back on top, and started some seeds in trays in the greenhouse. Included in that selection were some leeks. I have a tendency to leave sowing leeks until too late so they never get very big; they always seem to grow so slowly, so starting them off inside is probably a good idea, but it does seem strange to be sowing some now when we are still eating last year’s crop which are still in the ground. But it won’t be long and the old ones will have to come out before the centre turns hard to push up a seed head, unless we eat them all first.

Home and Shop Companion 0062

The other plants still with us from a year ago are the purple sprouting broccoli, growing in the bed next to the greenhouse. We have just started to pick them, the last gasp of last year’s work and a welcome fresh addition to the dinner table. Between the leeks and the cabbages, the first shoots of the broad beans have broken through the soil, and the remainder of that bed has been worked to a seedbed in preparation for peas and climbing French beans. Until then, the weed seeds are welcome to germinate before I hoe or rake them out when I sow or plant out the crop. Next to the last of the kale plants which are now heading to seed, the sticks for last year’s French beans were still in place, until a couple of days ago when I pulled them out and started to dig out the grass weeds which are starting to run together. I did sow some green manure here in the autumn, but it didn’t work very well, here or in the field, probably because the seed was old. It’s tempting to use up old seed, especially if ‘only’ for a green manure, but a good cover created by a vigorous green manure mix really helps keep weeds in check as well as keeping the nutrients over winter, so old seed is probably a false economy.

In the greenhouse, I also planted out some tiny lettuce and cabbage for early eating, and sowed other salad crops directly in the soil, so after a winter of avoiding the greenhouse, my evening routine now includes an obligatory garden visit, especially to water the trays and pots in the greenhouse.

A week ago, we had enough rain to set back my cultivations in the field, the rain consolidating the ground enough so that, despite my expectations, it didn’t need to be rolled before cultivating. The bed for potatoes, which had been rolled once and cultivated twice, I went through again with the cultivator, this time set as deep as it would go, probably about five or six inches so it is a nice deep tilth for the potatoes, and then I rolled it to give a good surface for making the ridges with the ridging plough which I hope to do this week. I also cultivated the bed for the other vegetables. This was ploughed more shallowly, because in this bed I am not concerned about getting a deep tilth, so I set the cultivator much more shallowly and then rolled it to squash the clods. Finally, I went over with the light harrows, so the surface is now flat and fine enough to sow small seeds and to plant the onion sets.

There has also been a seasonal change to my early morning routine; before breakfast I have been putting Lucy in a small part of the already tiny paddock at the bottom of the garden to get her digestive system ready for grass when she is turned out in the field. The first day she was there for only twenty minutes, in a space only five yards by five yards. The extreme confinement is not only to regulate how much she eats, but also to make sure she eats it all down tight, so I have less to mow with the lawn mower later on. Today she was out there for over an hour, and once that is eaten down, I will confine her in the grass headlands at the end of the vegetable patch so the short grass is less of an interest when turning horses at the end of the rows, before turning her out to grass properly.

Today, however, it doesn’t seem like turnout weather, though plenty of local dairy herds are now out, and there are lambs just outside the workshop window.

Take care,


William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.

Home and Shop Companion 0062

Home and Shop Companion 0062