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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
FoodGood Life Wife 11/12

Good Life Wife 11/12

‘It’s going to be like trying to get a condom on a whale!’ Foodie is cheerily surveying the metallic ribcage of a ten metre long polytunnel frame. It has been reassembled after he bundled off his unsuspecting mum to help him disinter it from its last resting place on an abandoned farm in Devon.
It now stands bare, awaiting a huge roll of new plastic and old friends visiting from London—also under the false impression that they are coming for a quiet weekend in the countryside. The best tip I’ve heard for guests actually hoping to relax when visiting a rural perma-project is to always carry a decent-sized piece of wood. It gives the purposeful impression of being mid-way through something practical and helpful, enabling the smooth return to secluded sofa and book.
The completed poly is big enough to plant with three long beds and have a path running a circuit around them. I still find it strange not to be able to walk to a shop but can now wander through the aisles of the poly with a basket to get salads, tomatoes and cucumbers. It’s about the dimensions of our old branch of Costcutter and I daydream about propping up a scarecrow at the potting table ‘check out’ by the exit.
This new growing pod is always the warmest place on the smallholding and where we send chilly visitors from hot places to acclimatize. And to do a bit of weeding if they fancy. It smells of growth—humid, earthy and strangely metallic.
It’s the opposite of the worst odour ever released in the yard, when a section of ancient concrete was drilled open and the air filled with the vile stench of decay. I was mistakenly looking for a dead animal till I realised that it was the ground itself, beneath its concrete tomb, that was lifeless and stinking. By experiencing the reverse state there was the revelation that healthy soil is actually alive. I knew this theoretically but not in reality.  In the way that skin is an organ that we take for granted until anything goes wrong, soil is the fundamental element in the ecosystem that—at our peril—we assume to just be there.
I have come from half a lifetime in the city with its assigned sections of ground—parks and gardens—where the concrete stays off and the soil breathes. In rural Dorset it is the obverse equation and there is a visceral sense of the efforts it takes to keep life under control. The lane for the school run stages daily the natural dramas of each season—a burgeoning hedge that’s doubled in size, a branch blown down, a minor mudside in the wet, potholes excavated by ice….These encroachments are diligently cleared and cut but when the weather is tough the road can seem a vulnerable manmade scratch across a dynamic, living place that would reclaim it in a single unkempt winter.
But now is the time of gentle plenty and it is astounding once more to see how in a matter of months small, dry, grey seeds have converted water, sun and soil into a huge volume of lush, bright food.
I love courgettes and could eat them every day, which is lucky right now.  There are four glossy beauties ready by each evening and those undetected under the leaves continue to expand into huge, solid marrows. The children can sit on them around pumpkin tables and are in awe of a new-found capacity to grow your own furniture.
It’s a pleasure for all the senses to pick the ripe jewels of fruit and veg—brushing against hairy leaves that release scent, salivating as a tasty cluster of berries is spotted. When you get your eye in and hit a harvesting roll Foodie says this releases the same chemical endorphins as marujiana—relaxing the mind and sharpening appetite.
After five growing cylces I’m still surprised and frustrated by how late in spring the first abundance of veg come—but equally stunned by the gorgeous bounty of autumn and how long that goes on, back-lit by a rich sun before the clocks go back. A due compensation for the run of washed-out summers. The polytunnel adds a few extra degrees to eke out these very last drops of energy from the year. Until the leaves stop expanding and start to dull and shrivel, the remaining life left in the plants sent out into their final fruits.
Just before the first frosts Foodie picks the end of the poly’s produce to make a batch of chutney, and suspended in its gleaming jars are the seeds that could have started the whole process again next year…

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