I am so fed up of mud. It’s everywhere right now. The poor chickens are miserable, I do my best to ensure their coop is dry by the time they go to bed but during daylight hours they have to scratch around in a soupy bog. I’m having to lay down fresh straw every single morning, and every night I’m having to remove their bedding and replace it with fresh to ensure they have somewhere warm and dry to sleep. You’re supposed to do this, depending on who you talk to and what you read, once a week or every fortnight. But I can’t see how I could leave the poor girls for 14 days without a change of bedding, even at the height of summer. Who wants to sleep in their own doings?
We’re getting a lot of compostable material, that’s for sure. Which is a good thing. The mucky straw is being used to accelerate the processes in our compost bins, and has also been used as a lining for the raised vegetable beds, underneath cardboard. I should really say bed singular, not plural, because we’ve only got one of them in place so far and won’t be getting the two tons of manure and two tons of topsoil we need to fill the three in total we plan to have delivered until the end of the month.
Our back garden looks like a scene from a Vietnam war film. If only there was a Colin Farrell popping up every now and again, that’d be something. But no. There are pieces of wood everywhere, bits of old and new wire fencing, and two gigantic heaps of branches and twigs and hedge clippings. We also have four large ponds. We aren’t supposed to have any, but there they are, about three inches deep. I’m thinking of naming the chicken coop Avalon, after the mythical island. If the rain continues for many more days it may be that Atlantis will prove a better choice.
Then there are the three large slatted plastic panels, no idea what they were once used for but we found them behind the shed and now they form a path around the coop to make collecting eggs and cleaning less impactful on the feet (mine, not theirs). The panels help me to avoid sinking and thus becoming a candidate for discovery in 2913 as a perfectly preserved example of an Englishman of the 21st Century. But the panels are bright orange, for goodness’ sake. Bright orange! Still, purpose before aesthetics, I guess… At least until we actually want to enjoy relaxing in the garden, when it is to be hoped we will see all the hard work of the past two-and-a-bit months pay off big time.
We have a skip in our garage. It isn’t a standard skip but a kind of giant, and very strong, bag that you buy from the garden centre, fill up to the weight of 1.5 tons, and then call a number to have it taken away. This weekend we intend to get all the debris out of the garden, and into the bag. The people who lived here before us, and likely several previous occupants, used the garden as a surreptitious dump, the theory behind it all, I think, being that if it’s tucked into the hedge, or buried, nobody will ever see and nobody will ever know. Who needs hideous dramas like bodies under the patio when you’ve got vintage sweet and crisp wrappers, children’s toys, plant pots, thermometers and even a large, broken ornamental sundial to unearth on a near-daily basis? Oh, and how could I forget the four-foot-high candelabra?
We do have a patio, though. And no I’ve no intention of ever lifting it to see what might or might not be underneath. If it has secrets, it can keep them.
I’ve never been a gardener before. I don’t know what I’m doing ninety per cent of the time, I’m just relying on all those gardening magazines and books I’ve read over the past year having an osmotic effect on me. The instructions on seed packets help, too, of course. But it’s very disheartening to spend hours out there, doing stuff, every day and to then look out of the kitchen window at a muddy hell-hole occupied by sad wet chickens (actually, they can’t really be sad—they lay us between one and four eggs every day, and I swear they look proud when I make a show of thanking them).
The only comfort (actually, the second comfort after daily fresh eggs) is that the seeds I started planting from January onwards in trays in the mini-greenhouse are all coming up, and looking very healthy and happy. The broad beans are seedlings no longer, instead standing about half a foot high having been potted on two weeks ago. The leeks are looking… well.. leaky. Same goes for the onions grown from seed. This week, Biblical disasters not withstanding, I am going to plant the elephant garlic, real garlic, and two varieties of shallots bought for me for my birthday by my friend Amethyst Dragon. I am also going to pot on the leeks and onions.
I’ve planted five fruit trees—one cooking apple, one eating apple, one cherry, two pear—and countless berry and currant bushes. Well, they’re not bushes just yet. Actually, they’re sticks, some of which have hopeful green buds on them. I’ve made a rockery filled with ivy, bulbs, and heathers. I’ve planted a black grape and a white grape. I’ve also planted four rhubarb, and a few climbing ornamentals to bring colour into the mix. I will soon be scattering meadow flower seeds nearly everywhere, the aim being to have a garden come July so, well…. so gardenish… that you could imagine the intro title sequence of The Little House on the Prairie taking place there, some little girl in a white frock running happily from tree to tree.
Blimey. I read like a gardener (albeit a mad one) even though I don’t feel like one (a gardener, that is—the jury’s out on the whole sanity thing).
I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about the chickens having miserable days. That’s down to the weather, goodness knows it’s making me miserable, too. In fact, those chickens are pampered. Oh yes. Just like the rest of our zoo. Only our cats, fish, terrapins, mice and cockatiels never had to live 12 months inside a cage with hardly any room to move. I suspect our chickens are still, after just two weeks of freedom, enjoying the new adventures every day brings, whether sunshine or storms. They’re also going to be producing organic eggs from now on because I found a local supplier of organic feed, and any vegetable treats the girls get are shop-bought organic. The last bag, which while it wasn’t organic was GM-and chemical-free, stood about three feet high, and will be empty by midweek. Those birds sure can eat, and no, I’m not overfeeding them. They get the recommended measures. Any worms and bugs they get, nothing to do with me. Blame the soil.
Such is the heavy clay nature of our soil, I could pipe hot water underneath the garden and open up a mud spa. But I suspect at the height of summer, assuming summer doesn’t consist of one slightly overcast warm day, that the clay will take on the properties of concrete. There’s something to look forward to, while making a mental note to get any digging out of the way over the next six weeks.
Seasonal moaning aside, there is one very big positive to having our own garden of sufficient size at last to plan wonderful things for it. I am spending a lot of time outside, engaging with the natural world. My pagan spirituality is inextricably linked to my relatively new-found passion for gardening, and for growing our own food (well, at least a significant percentage of our food at height of season). I almost feel my internal body-clock becoming better attuned to all the rhythms of the natural world, and that is, I believe, a primary cause of my feeling so much happier post-move than before. I can spend hours in the garden and not notice the passing of time. I can meditate, feeling my cares slip away, when I’ve got both hands in a bag of potting compost or I’m digging over a section of land.
Coming from a long line of working class northerners I probably have farming to some degree in my blood. If that’s so, my venturing into keeping chickens and growing my own fruit and veg is something of a throwback to the whole ‘hunter-gatherer’ and ‘circle of life’ thing. You know. You’ve seen The Lion King, haven’t you? I certainly feel at times that I connect with my ancestors when I’m out there in all weathers, cleaning the coop, cutting branches. It’s just real, same as the Goddess and Her powerful and active involvement in all things is real to me.
I’m no standalone, one-thing-to-talk-about Pagan. My spirituality and my ethics, my conscience and my creative interests, are increasingly hard for me to separate out from one another, by which I mean any discussions I enter into about Paganism end up involving chickens, and every chat I have about planting times invariably ends up moving from there to talk of the Wheel of the Year. I’m guessing this is a good sign, indicating, perhaps, that I am achieving a degree of internal completion, a kind of wholeness. There’s definitely a sense within of my foundations being more secure, and I’m less inclined to think negatively of myself today than I was a year, ten years, twenty years ago. My beloved happily noted my increased self-confidence recently. I am smiling more, able to relax properly, even though I am doing more physical outdoor work now than ever before.
So growing older does not in itself ever have to indicate decline of any kind. I am immensely grateful for the discoveries I am making in my forties, the biggest one being that you don’t have to indulge any sense of not having got to where you wanted, or that feeling you’ve got everything you thought you wanted, so what else is there?–because even if you die tomorrow, you’ve got all the Time you’re ever going to need to do what you’re supposed to do. Just get on with it and stop worrying.
I was a kid who rarely got his hands dirty. Now I find it hard to keep them clean.