June 5, 2012

Rain & Order

The rain has finally arrived. Overgrown as everything is, the land is positively singing with joy!

The only downside is that the slugs are now out in their thousands. 'Naked snails' they call them in German, their writhing bodies threaten to destroy every succulent plant in sight. Protective ashes are washed away and beer traps diluted into dirty, useless puddles. Aside from eating as many eggs as possible to collect and crush the dry shells as new barricades, the only course of action is to trawl the beds collecting as many as we can, drowning them, burning them, cutting them in two – a brutal end, but grimly satisfying.

Mizuna is our crop of the moment - a wonderful dark green spinach-like plant with jagged leaves and pale juicy stems. It works very well raw in salads but is even better stir fried in butter with generous lashings of Soya sauce. It is also a great filler in sauces and our little one just can't get enough of it!

With the sun returning once again today, we begin clearing the pastures of tangled electric fencing from previous years, along with sticks and hard objects embedded in the long grasses, ready for a neighbour's mower to cut the lush grass for a first round of hay.

The time is drawing near for the arrival of our sheep. Our biodynamic farmer friend has five young lambs almost ready to leave their mother and make their home here as our first farm animals to graze the land. Sheep farming is scarce in this area and has little history to speak of. Those that do keep sheep do so only on a small scale. The sheep we have been offered are tiny even as adults and lose their wool in the spring.

I had to come to terms with this idea at first, feeling it to be such a waste not to keep sheep for wool. Yet the work involved with shearing and processing the wool is more than we can take on at present, with so many other aspects of the farm to establish before indulging in idyllic and time-consuming crafts. In the years ahead this will change, but for now, practical solutions to the land's needs are an absolute priority.

The other animals soon set to arrive are a clutch of young chicks from a friend a few villages north of here. In preparation, we begin clearing out the small stone shed at the south end of the courtyard. Chickens were kept here as recently as last year, with a little hatch already in place to let them out into the lower end of the old orchard. Overgrown shrubs, a healthy elder and a dry-stacked hedge provide the perfect foraging ground beneath the shade of our prized walnut tree.

After examining the solid structure of the stone 'hen house', we dither about whether it is perhaps too good for chickens. We both have a love of saunas and are intent on finding the right space to install one here. We settle in the end on sharing it. There are two distinct chambers. The end one with the hatch is ample space for the number of chickens we intend to keep and with a new door to the side, the inside door can be bricked in. This will enable the entrance chamber to be completely independent and when time and resources permit, will make a brilliant sauna. It is then but five paces to the 'pool' that is currently filled with earth and sand and totally overgrown. The sauna will be our life line in the harsh winter months.

Inside, the office is now taking shape. Still awaiting the all important telephone and internet connection, the space is now carpeted with an attractive combination of bamboo fibre matting found discarded on the roadside, a large Hessian rug already in the house, and my deep red Moroccan carpet brought overland strapped to my bags seven years ago. Two bookshelves are now filled, flanking the grand (if a little shabby) oak desk, also thankfully left by the previous owners. The crucial recipe books and land based craft books are at last readily there at our finger tips.

The hall is clear of our boxed belongings and saw our first gathering at the weekend. A healthy balance between work and play is now well and truly established.

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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