Blog#64 – Small Potatoes

In the two weeks we were out of the country, a great deal has happened. I’m not talking about the heroic exploits of teenage tennis pros or the first, reputation-confirming acts of  the Taliban in power. No. I’m talking the very small potatoes of events in a small Cambridgeshire village.

While I wasn’t looking – and despite the ferocious nibbling of SOMETHING which has left their leaves looking more lace than lush – my much-cosseted-till-I-abandoned them-for-a Spanish-sojourn cauliflowers have finally set their yellowy curds. They are barely bigger than a golf ball, it’s true, but they are curds all the same, and they offer hope that one day, if frosts and slugs can be kept at bay, a cauliflower cheese might become a very real possibility. Come the autumn we’ll be glad of that.

Meanwhile, in other news, my friend Mary’s dog Cody has taken ill, but lingers. Too ill to make it to the park, the diminutive canine lay on the sofa to receive my house-call, lifting her head with some effort, but with impressively bright eyes that offer some hope of recovery. Elsewhere, at the end of the garden, Field 59 has been transformed in the twinkling of an eye from an endless stretch of post-harvest stubble to an equally endless ploughed brown chocolate crumb, hungry for seed.

This two-day twinkling is a reminder of how mechanised the world of farming has become.

In the basement of one of the places we stayed in Spain the owner had assembled an impressive collection of very ancient (and very whiffy) agricultural equipment; a scythe of a size and lethality the Grim Reaper would be proud of; numerous hoes, rakes and two-handled wood saws; halters for horses that drew a plough of the old sort, and even a large two-wheeled tipping cart that might last have seen action in the nineteenth century. A wooden stepladder of about the same vintage, handmade over who knows how many hours of careful crafting, folded and unfolded with stunning grace, and stood rock-solid to bear my weight as I scoured a high shelf for something – anything! – to make decent coffee in. Needless to say this stepladder weighed a ton – a far cry, in every respect, from the light-as-a-feather aluminium versions propped against my tumbling shed here at home. None of these sets of steps will ever rot – but experience has taught me that all will, once broken, prove resistant to mending. I hang on to the broken ones, only to avoid adding them to the landfill.

All the above put me in mind of our lasting impact on the planet, and the opportunities I  sometimes get to work in concert with, rather than against, the natural world.

On the latter score, it’s not just cauliflowers I can raise as evidence this year; there are also ACTUAL potatoes. I’ve never tried to grow spuds before, but this year decided to experiment with four varieties, to see which would grow best, and which gave the best flavour.

A variety called Home Guard were first up – fine when roasted, but not much flavour otherwise, and not very generous in yield; each six-foot row of my laboriously constructed bed gave only about a pound and a half of small potatoes. Lifting the current row – a Dutch variety called  Wilja, I was relieved to find three pounds of larger golden nuggets fell from the soil. We roasted those too, and they were fabulous.

One more row of these, and then we will be lifting the Pink Fir Apples, and finally, the maincropping King Edwards. I’ll keep you posted with our tasting notes.

At about the same time as I was drawing the Wilja’s from the soil in time-honoured fashion, hot news arrived in an equally old-fashioned way ie through the letter box. A firm of developers have appealed against the refusal of their planning application for the retirement village they want to build nearby. I wrote in opposition to the plan back in January, on the grounds that the grounds they have targeted (adjacent to the proposed and much-dreaded Misguided Busway) is designated Green Belt. That round we won – the application was refused, but planning applications, like slugs and zombies, never rest. This is especially true where money is to be made. If the plan was for affordable housing, I’d be conflicted; everyone needs a home. But a ‘retirement care village’ with ‘wellbeing and leisure facilities’ sounds like more carefully packaged privilege to me. Not that I am unaware of my own privilege, but Green Belt needs its champions. As a previous commentator on the planning application, I apparently have the right to apply to speak at the forthcoming inquiry, and if successful, to cross-examine those giving evidence.

To be honest, I’m not sure my years of watching Crown Court on telly have really prepared me for the legal frontline. Still, I’ll support those that do step forward, write letters, and do what I can to resist this chewing up of land. Green Belt is, after all, a status designed to protect the integrity of the countryside and to stop villages being absorbed into urban sprawl. It preserves the well-being of all (human and otherwise) – all in fact, who gain comfort, inspiration, safety and relief from our open countryside – and not just those who can afford to buy an expensive apartment that will, in effect, extend the concrete scab over what little is left of our hitherto unspoiled landscape.

It’s not much, but it might be that by combining against the professionals (and the legal professionals they will hire to represent them) we can win against this second attempted zombie apocalypse. Then, in one small corner of Cambridgeshire, earth will stay earth, foxes stay local, and badgers stay sett. Small potatoes indeed.

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Till next time.

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