CHAPTER 6: Planting the Seeds

Having completed the most strenuous aspect of the project- digging those four trenches- I was relieved to stand back and admire the site. The digging had churned up quite a lot of sand-rich soil, and there was a slight golden glistening to it when I popped up for an inspection on one morning in the middle of April.  I was amazed at how a piece of land could be transformed so much in under four months; in fact, adding up the days I had worked on it, it hadn't even reached a month yet.

Reflections aside, it was critical that I got on with the planting, so that all of my crops had the time they needed to germinate and start producing their respective tap-roots. Hence, the next three days would be devoted to planting my seeds. My 85 potatoes had been sitting in the porch for at least a month by this point, chitting away, and it was time to transplant them into the soil on my site. How do you transport 85 potatoes with very delicate sprouting eyes? I seem to recall it required two trips with the wheelbarrow, along with a barrow of care and concentration mixed in. Mum and I had prepared the holes for each tuber earlier in the day, and so once the potatoes had arrived at the site, they were ready to go in, immediately. There's something quite remarkable about this stage of a plant's life; all that potential stored up, ready to be realised. I went round and gave them, indeed the site's, first ever water.

If a barrow of care and concentration was required when planting the potatoes, a whole truck load was needed the following day. Carrot seeds are extremely small; smaller than the head of a pin, for instance. Picking each seed up is an amazingly difficult task, and luckily, I never had to. Mum had spent many hours when I was busying my way through my degree in London sitting at home, making what horticulturalists refer to as 'seed tapes'. Put simply, they are a roll of thin tissue paper with seeds intricately glued at regular intervals. In the ground, the tissue paper disintegrates after a week or so, leaving in place, the carrot seeds exactly where you want them. Though this is less fiddly than placing individual seeds in the ground, we still had the challenge of ensuring the seeds were going in the ground where we wanted them to be. This would now be the 10th consecutive day of bending my back over the soil, and I was beginning to feel a dull, yet expansive pain, encroaching across my lower back.

The 'going' improved the next day. Planting turnips is an inordinate improvement compared to planting carrots, and although we still had 250-odd to plant, it was a straight-forward process. And one, incidentally, that didn't require any sophisticated equipment. To demonstrate just how amateur we are, we used a pencil to make 250 shallow craters in the soil and one by one, a turnip seed was dropped into them. All it required then was a light 'dusting' of soil over the top! Sometimes the most effective horticulture stems from the most basic of technology (pun intended there). Geographers have a word for this kind of enterprise; they call it 'appropriate technology', and indeed, appropriate it was too!

Many weeks had passed, and although I was back at the Royal Holloway for the exam season, I was frequently phoning home to check the progress on my plants. The potatoes had really taken off...the turnips had germinated... but the carrots weren't doing very well. I was already making contingency plans. Indeed, many other of my fellow gardeners with plots further down the hill had expressed their difficulties in yielding carrots, and perhaps I should have listened more intently. My plan would be to give them a week to prosper, and if they weren't showing any signs at all of germination - if they had no will to grow at all - I would plant some extra turnips in their place. Luckily, a couple of days later I was greeted with the fabulous news that they were showing some signs of life, albeit stunted and delayed. Before long, the site was looking good and across the email, my Dad sent me a few photos.

Potato plant emerging from its soily depths!

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