from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?


– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.


Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.


Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 28 April 2011

how to love hornets


(No, not the Larsson book...)
   When I was training to be a therapist 25-odd years ago, my then-partner repeated to me something that writer and therapist John Rowan, I believe, had said: ‘A good therapist needs to be a good gardener.’ I think of this a lot; and I substitute ‘lover, partner, friend, parent – and writer’ for ‘therapist’ too. It’s about the faith of planting dormant seeds in tended soil; it’s about trusting incubation and germination; it’s about being aware of the whole interdependency of an eco-system; it’s the patience to be aware of seasons and cycles and not force things; it’s an awareness of the conditions needed for growth: nutrition, sun, timely rainfall, attention, healthy neglect or at least knowing when to hold back. And isn't it important also to resist digging things up all the time to look at the roots? (I say this, in its metaphorical context, with some wryness.)
   And I think another important point is the significance of wildness, wild margins, weeds ('flowers in the wrong place', as someone so succinctly characterised them); not being in a hurry to tidy, to clear everything up, but to allow too chaos, shambolicness, lack of clarity, contradiction, uncertainty. These wild margins, literally and metaphorically, of course, are often host to the most flourishing, vital and surprising growth.
   Thinking about all of this reminds me of something a farmer neighbour said to me a year or two ago on the Bere peninsula, where I then lived, where we were both leaning over a gate looking over his land which dropped to the beautiful Tavy river: ‘They don’t make this any more. Tell that to the planners and developers. And, you know, everything depends on an inch of topsoil and timely rainfall.’
   I think about that often, too.

I’m a committed (if sporadic) gardener. It’s such a primal joy, eating your own food (though I also forage for wild food – always have). I want to share with you my joy at witnessing the effectiveness of the completely chemical-free mini-ecosystem in and around our veg garden. Two years ago we installed a bird-table by the lower veg plot. The placing of it was more by accident than design: there was a space, and I can see it from the kitchen window.
   My sister tells me that it’s imperative to keep feeding the birds through the spring and early summer, rather than stopping after the winter, as brood-size is determined by the perceived local food-supply. So we did; and for the first time we lost no brassica at all to caterpillars, as the tits, dunnocks and robins simply hop from the feeder to the veg plot. In addition, the slugs and snails that plague us because of the old stone wall have caused minimal damage this year – I assume because of the thrushes and blackbirds at the feeding-place (though I do surround vulnerable seedlings with builders’ sand, as of course slugs don’t like roughness).
   More, we’ve experimented in co-habiting with hornets and wasps, swarming in their hundreds around the willow tree near my study in the garden all last summer. In case you’ve ever wondered what wasps actually do other than wreck a picnic, I discovered that like bees they pollinate; and both wasps and hornets devour blackfly etc. On closer inspection, I noticed that several of the willow branches were sootily black with larvae; totally coated, and that that’s what the wasps and hornets were eating or taking back to their young. AND not a single sting was had by any of us all summer, with the exception of our friend Francis, who closed his hand on a drowsy hornet that had come inside and was lounging on a curtain.
   The downside of hornets, though, is that they can prey on bees. Last year the billions of blackfly on the willow seemed to keep them occupied, however. And they do seem to be less aggressive than wasps.

We now have built three more big raised beds in the ‘top’ garden, which is a reclaimed field. The field garden is a north-facing slope, though reasonably sunny for a lot of the day, and because it was once adjacent to the farm on whose land The Man converted the barn in which we live, there is a big flat horseshoe-shaped area that was once a silage pit.
   One rounded end I’ve kept for a one-day sacred garden; at the moment there’s a small firepit in it. Otherwise we (that is, TM) have been building beds out of local larch. I didn’t want to use treated timber of any sort, and I figured that since they build boats out of larch it should be reasonably weather-resistant. So we have one down to garlic, onions and leeks, one which will be brassica (cabbage tribe, for non-gardeners) as we have the peas, beans, sweetcorn and courgettes now in the smaller bottom beds near the house, and as of yesterday we have the topsoil for planting our more-than-chitted (chut?) potatoes – 120 plants, which should see us through. I have a bath full of salad veg, some of which has overwintered, and I’ve dotted a few globe artichokes into flower beds. If everything works we will be mostly self-sufficient for veg, and the sweetcorn gives us some protein, as do peas and beans (essential if like me you’re vegan; pretty much so if you’re vegetarian, as is TM).
   We’re trying to move (well, I’m trying to move us) towards a permaculture system based on forest gardening. We have a little margin of woodland, amongst it some nut trees; and a small orchard. We’ve added more fruit trees, and in the edges of the woodland, where I’ve planted narcissi, I’ve also put comfrey for green manure and a few tiny currant bushes. It’s hard work and we don’t always stay on top of it with our other work, and family. And we are so lucky to have this ground. And if you are a gardener, you will know that there is little to beat the joy of the first broad beans, the new potatoes, the constancy of courgettes…

And if you live near Totnes in the UK and need some wild/bird cherry seedlings, we have any number of self-seeded ones needing to be replanted.

OK, back to tending the work of bringing forth others’ writing…

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