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Touch the Earth

Thursday, 10th July 2003, West Yorkshire

vegetablesThis summer I feel the need to touch the earth, so much so that, when I've got an hour free, I'm more likely to go down the garden and start digging than sit at the computer and catch up with this diary.

Henry Williamson (1895-1977), author of Tarka the Otter (1927) once said that he'd got to the stage where (I'm quoting from memory here, this was a television documentary of c.1970):

'I could describe a field of wheat “billowing golden in the breeze”, but could I grow a field of wheat?'

He turned to farming, taking a farm in Norfolk.wheelbarrow

It might not be on that scale but at least I've found it satisfying this year having that extra bit of time to grow vegetables.


neglected cornerI'm continuing digging over my meadow area which is roughly twelve feet square. As this piece of the garden has been neglected and used as a dumping ground - for piles of twggy debris, old wood chip from the paths and bulbs dug out from elsewhere in the garden - the soil is more varied than it is in the regularly cultivated parts of the garden. There's a secret earthscape beneath our feet of saffron-stained dock tap roots and wriggling nettle rhizomes, a spreading network of mycelium and huddles of dormant bulbs - like Russian dolls, the whole plant, flower-and-all packed inside - waiting for the spring.

myceliumFor instance, when I dig into the old wood chip there's a smell of mushrooms. Many of the chippings are laced with filaments of white mycelium - the vegetative growth of the fungus.

snowdrop bulbsbluebell bulbsI've learnt to distinguish the two types of bulbs that thrive here: snowdrops (left) are like small, purplish-brown-skinned onions, the size of a finger nail (one of my fingernails) while bluebells (right) look more like small white new potatoes when you come across them in the dark earth. They're about the size of lychees and don't seem to have any 'onion skin' covering. As I've said before, I think these are the garden variety, originating in Spain.

earhwormIt seems to be the season when earthworms tie themselves in convoluted Celtic knots.

juvenile robinWhen I walk away, a young robin, brown and speckled all over, comes and investigates the bed that I've been digging. When I return he hops into the hedge. next page

Richard Bell