Grow Your Own: Farmer’s sons returning to the land

About 14 months ago, I realised there comes a time in a man’s life when he gets too old for this hell raiser existence — when he wants to settle down and grow food for his table.

I had to do something. Man, I was hitting it pretty hard. You name it, I took it — Mighty Munch, Hunky Dorys (Buffalo Flavour), Johnny Onion Rings, those Keogh ones in the nice packaging; I was out of control. I needed to get away from the sources of temptation, to stop seeing my solutions in the bottom of a crisp packet. So we got an allotment, my brother and I. Farmer’s sons returning to the land. Our farmer instincts, long buried, slowly reawakened like ancient seeds sprouting again. (Not all farmer instincts were reawakened. We resisted the temptation to sell a site with good path frontage.)

This time last year, I wrote about the shiny new tools and the shame of buying manure in Homebase and planting without knowing what we were doing. I said we had to sit back and wait.

It wasn’t plain sailing. It was deformed and odd and weed-ridden and patchy sailing actually.

The success rate on some vegetables was low. It was like when a wildlife documentary voiceover says “Alas, out of this batch of 200 eggs, only three of four turtles will...” I think we planted carrots but don’t know where they went. I accidentally killed some turnips during The War On Docks.

We experienced Neighbouring Allotment Envy. Others were putting up stakes and nets and seed boxes.

By contrast, we were a bit neglectful. One week, after both of us were on holidays, the place looked like ‘that house’ in the estate where the front is in a bit of a state because the father is a ‘yoke’ and is seen a lot of the time in his vest. There was mortification on the day the Lord Mayor came to do an official opening of the allotments and we found men workers from the city council weeding our patch because it was too much of an eyesore for the photographs. Apparently we had allowed rhizomes of scutch grass to take hold in the soil. ! The shame.

But despite us, things other than rhizomes grew. And they’re delicious. I picked peas, radishes and beetroot. Ate them there and then. I don’t even like beetroot. There was at least one dinner’s worth of potato. One of the turnips has had a resurrection.

This year, we started earlier and the place is in better shape. Most neighbours are still more advanced but we’ve found a few who are worse than us so we have something to tut-tut at. Our once-shiny implements are satisfyingly weathered. Our fork is slightly bent. I’m proud. You know what bends steel? Manual labour, that’s what.

There’s nothing like gardening to clear the mind. One gets a period of focus that is rare with all the stimuli around us. I hardly check my phone — except to see whether anyone’s reacted to my tweet about how gardening clears the mind.

Gardening, after a shaky start is growing on me. A lot.


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