Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Epiphany & field plans - Jan 05

From Tuesday, January 04, 2005

According to Wikipedia, Epiphany was set on the 6th January because Chanuka, the Jewish Festival of Lights is on that date. Chanuka, I went on to read, is the time when Jews mark the renewing and/or rededication of their temple, by burning oil lamps and candles. I think the theme of renewal fits in with the other days we observe at this time of year, like New Year's day, Christmas day and the Solstice. Also it makes sense to have fire/light/candle rituals in the middle of Winter, just to keep people's spirits up when the days are so short and everything seems cold and dark. So the tradition, at this time of year, is to focus on renewal, before the seeds start sprouting and life begins again.

I can go with that, it feels right to light fires & candles and think about the year ahead. It's also a good time to plan which seeds to plant and where, and to start preparing the land for them before the weeds take root again. Early in November I cleared 2 of our raised beds and dressed one with manure (for potatoes) and the other with well-rotted compost from the bins. I'll probably try to grow brassicas in that one, but in previous years these have all been eaten by rabbits. This year I'm planning to construct metal cages over the brassicas and the crucifers too. The rabbits don't eat potatoes or the leguminous crops. The field is Northwest-facing and very exposed, so more crops do better if I start them off under cover and only plant them out when they're fairly strong.

But the thing I most need to be doing in the field in Winter is land-clearing, because it's easiest when the land is dormant. I usually do a bit just before Spring, in February - I widen the paths a bit and maybe surface some of them with grit or cinders and do any restructuring work that needs doing then. There's an area by the entrance where I want to convert a deep border into path and an overgrown brambly area into... I haven't decided what yet, and I'll have to decide before I clear it or it will just revert back to overgrown brambles. Nature has a way of doing what she wants.

My main aim regarding what I do in the field is to work with Nature rather than against her - which is why my field looks so unkempt compared to my neighbour's neatly-mown grassy haven! But I don't want to dominate the earth, I want to learn about it instead - there's an amazingly intricate system of chemical balance going on, when you leave ground to it's own devices. Weeds don't just grow in any old place; they all have a function, which is to replenish the soil with the nutrients it's missing, amongst other things. So, for example, nettles will grow where the soil is lacking in iron and after quite a few years, that soil will be iron-rich and something else will grow there instead - to replenish any other missing minerals. Of course, nettles are a valuable crop for us humans because they supply us with iron too, and huge amounts of other vitamins and minerals in early Spring, just when we need them. They've also got a lot of medicinal uses and you can make a powerful liquid plant food out of them. I'll always allow nettles to grow on my land, in fact I think long and hard before removing any plant that's put itself somewhere. I've never yet come across one that isn't performing a vital function, so I only pull 'weeds' when I *really* have to.

posted by Gill at 8:51 AM 0 comments


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