|One of the residents of Hackney City Farm.|
One minute it seemed that I was up to my eyeballs in the intricacies of work, on the busiest press day for some considerable time, and yet almost the next, it was a bright, sunny Saturday morning on Broadway Market, and I was sharing the crumbs of my breakfast sausage roll with a starling, who was hopping around below, metallic livery glistening in the light.
There were other things to revel in as the morning unfolded. Now I could just walk down the road toward Broadway Market, but I rarely do.
It’s much more interesting to cross that road and walk alongside the Regent Canal, at the back of an estate.
This isn’t a towpath side, and the bank is fenced off.
It’s a tip in many ways, but for all the careless trash that has been thrown in with the weeds, it’s also bursting with life. Squirrels are often visible, leaping from tree to tree. Yesterday, one was running around with what appeared to be a slice fruit loaf in its mouth, stopping every so often to have a proper munch.
Above, a great tit was on watch duty. Still higher up, smaller birds sang their songs.
And it’s a stretch where the changing of the seasons always seems so subtle yet obvious: from spring buds on trees that drape beyond the rusted railings to reddening leaves in the autumn. It always seems that I spot the changes here first.
How different it was this morning, as day came up to reveal a canopy of featureless grey.
But the week ahead not only beckons – things were required of today.
I toddled down to Columbia Road for the first time this year, pausing in Haggerston Park to admire more evidence of the turning of the year; pale green strings of bells, tinged pink in places.
Les was in his shop – so I was able to organise potting compost and, as he suggested, organic seaweed feed. He’ll bring those up later in the week.
But there was no joy on the subject of something to dig into the heavy, clayey soil at the back.
“What you really need,” he said, “is proper manure”, and went on to say that it was a pity I didn’t have access to a car, since nearby Hackney City Farm would probably give (or sell) me some.
Oh well. Wandering back along the market, I mused on whether I could get anything appropriate from Bradbury’s ironmonger at the top of Broadway Market.
But then, since my journey could easily take me past the city farm, I thought I’d pop in to enquire.
In the tiny shop, the ladies heard me out and suggested I look in the farmyard for someone called Stuart.
The yard itself was a bustle of hens clucking around, while one volunteer worked in a stall at the far end of the cobbles.
The smell – ah, the smell!
I remember that smell fondly from all the childhood visits to farms. It is, as my (honorary) Uncle John would say, “a good healthy smell!”
There were also signs everywhere, warning that it wasn’t a good idea to pet any of the cats you might see, since they’re working farm cats and can ‘get a bit grumpy’.
Stuart, as it happened, was busy in the kitchen; a vast man with a bandana around his head. After hearing me explain my mission, it also became clear that he was entirely the wrong person.
But he led me to an office where two women were on duty, with various of those grumpy, hard-working farm cats sleeping around the place in various spots.
It was a superbly productive conversation.
Later this week, I’ll pop down – it’s just a short walk through the park – and they’ll give me as much manure as I need. I get it free because, living so close by, I count as "community". And they'll lend me a wheelbarrow to bring it back too.
Now that’s going to be serious metropolitan sophistication!
But nothing could be better for what I want.
Fortunately, the weather looks decent over the coming week. Tomorrow and on Tuesday, in between trying to find a boiler engineer, waiting for my mini greenhouse to be delivered and making marmalade, I’m aiming to weed and sift the rest of my patch.
It’ll be backbreaking, but it has to be done. And once it is, then everything will get a bit easier.
Once the manure is dug in, it’ll get to rest for a couple of weeks. And then I should be able to start sowing directly into the bed.
In the meantime, I’m reading Felicity Lawrence’s Eat Your Heart Out: Why the food business is bad for the planet and your health.
I’ll go into more detail at a later date, but it doesn’t make for pleasant reading – even when you don’t actually eat vast amounts of processed food.
But it’s yet another swathe of information that makes me wish for a simpler life – and also convinces me of how worthwhile it is to grow as much of my own food as possible.
My little experiment in the car park is actually rather more than just a bit of messing around.
While it gives me pleasure in and of itself, and while the mere exercise of gardening is probably good for the health, the more I learn about the state of our food industry, the more I realise that it’s good for me in other ways.
Okay, let’s not go over the top with what I can achieve in such a small space, with limited time and very little knowledge or experience.
But if knowledge is power, then knowledge about food also gives an edge to such exploits: an edge that says that it isn’t just a bit of playing around.
The next few days should be busy and a bit testing and also fun.
The coming months will be fascinating.