CHAPTER 4: Three Months of Site Preparation

I love going back to Norfolk. It's my home county, and I take up any opportunity to travel home. In some ways, it's like travelling back in time. Not much changes in the 'green and pleasant land' of the Norfolk countryside, and as I wander through it, I am reminded about how lucky I am to have had my life stitched within the very fabric of this glorious place. As I weave my way through the lightly scattered villages and towns, I reminisce about the memories I have made here. It is therefore fitting that my dissertation - the single, most important piece of work I have created thus far - stems from work conducted no more than 1/4 mile away from my own house.

 The first three months of 2015 were some of the most memorable of the year. Each week, I would head home to turn what was a bleak, overgrown nest of weeds and grasses into a semi-respectable field site. My first priority was to strip the site of its weeds, and this would be a two-phase process. On a bitterly cold January morning, my Dad picked up a grass strimmer (a brush-cutter, in fact) and spent many hours doing battle with the foliage. It was all going so well until the last half an hour, when the blades suddenly ejected themselves from the machine and catapulted through the air, only to fall amongst the heaps of cut grass. A needle in a haystack, comes to mind...
A week later (28th January) I was back again. It was obvious that a site which would eventually have four trenches, 2 foot deep, would need to be bordered off and segregated from the public footpaths, and thus our job today was to start to fence the site. For £50, I had bought about 15 wooden fence posts and some netting, which would do the trick of securing the site. In one of the most hostile days of the year, as the heavens relieved all their supplies of sleet and rain, Dad and I staggered up to the field site. Our task was to simply knock the wooden fence posts into the soil. It was easier saying it, than doing it. We found, much to our dismay, that using a sledgehammer only damaged the tops of the posts, deforming them. We cursed our way through the work, until the fourth or fifth post, when the rain suddenly became unimaginably harder. Hastily, we gathered up a few of our tools, and took refuge behind a bush. I could feel each precipitated pellet working its way through the cotton fibres of my jumper, flowing down my back, and ponding into my wellies. Soggy was not the word for it. We ventured back home.

Once again, Mum exhibited another one of her 'out of the box' ideas. How about using an empty baked bean can to cover the wooden posts, protecting them from the impact of the sledgehammer. It was worth a go, considering the fact that the make-shift wooden cover we were constructing in the garage didn't seem to be going well. And, yes; you've guessed correctly. It did work. By no means was it Chelsea Flow Show standard, but to demarcate the perimeter of the site, the posts were more than adequate. I can remember chomping my way through that immensely satisfying Steak Pie that evening; home and dry and  having made progress.
Another week went by, and back at the field site, I (happily) found myself. This time, my Mum and Dad and I were wrapping the netting around the posts, which had survived a week of gales. The galvanised steel we used would keep the site safe for public walkers, but would also act as a barrier to wildlife who might become peckish over the summer and fancy a nibble on one of my prized vegetables. We dug a mini trench around the perimeter, and folded the steel netting into this trench, thus preventing rabbits burrowing holes to access my carrots. In short, every action we executed had been thoroughly considered and discussed.

By mid February, the site had almost dried and it was now time to apply a round of the famous Roundup Ultra 3000 weed-killer. Whilst we had removed the large majority of the vegetation on week one with the strimmer, there was still a carpet of stumps which required urgent attention and so we spent a good morning spraying the site with this solution. That afternoon, it would be time to buy the first round of seeds. Unlike turnips and carrots, seed potatoes need a period of time in which to 'chit'. Chitting is basically the process of speeding up the ageing of the potato seed, making it more likely to germinate once in the ground. We arrived home from the gardening centre, and I transplanted each seed potato into an individual slot on a former egg-box tray. Seed potatoes were born to fit on former egg-box trays; the fit is impressive. And so, for just over a month, they sat chitting happily in our porch. This was, perhaps, the first instance of where we adapted our house to suit the needs of my dissertation, and for a family who loves keeping things orderly, it meant turning a blind eye every once in a while.

Before long, April had arrived. I had no more than 48 hours arrived back from a week's field trip in Sicily when I stumbled back up the path to the field site. The weed-killer had done its job well, and it was now time to rotavate. Rotavation, for those not horticulturally inclined, is the process of mechanically disaggregating the soil, fragmenting it up and making it easy to work with (and in my case, dig through). The soil as it stood that morning was far too hard to grow anything, let alone something as delicate as the Carrot! As with the brush-cutter, we hired a petrol-fuelled rotavator for a day. As it was delivered, I can remember us frantically trying to remember what the driver told us about its operation, but alas, we partly forgot. Not only couldn't we rotavate, but we couldn't even turn it on. A phone call had to be made, and before long, we were back and making good progress.

The day of rotavation would mark the final day that the site looked anything like an unused field. From 6th April, I would begin an eight-day slog of digging my four trenches.


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