Just as my weekdays are filled with a nine-hour day job, a three-hour bus ride and a precious few hours spent with The Girl, so our weekends are filled with the long list of chores needed to turn a muddy bog-field into vegetables and an orchard.
Today I got up early and began working in the garden, and we had a productive day, planting four apple trees and a damson tree. The quince will have to wait until we have the back area dug. I also uprooted some of the brambles that invade our property from the hedgerows along the canal, leaving only the thorny dead stems as a (hopefully) animal-proof wall.
The vegetable gardens, however, are more complicated. Soil in Ireland is thick with stones anyway, deposited by the Ice Age and ground smooth by hundreds of thousands of years of glaciers spreading over and land and withdrawing again. Such a proliferation of rocks is one of the main reasons for the famous rock walls that line the fields – they are stacked so as to support their own weight without falling into a pile, and hedge plants eventually grow up through the crannies between the rocks until the result is a solid wall of rocks and vegetation. We are doing a bit of that ourselves, lining the driveway with out smaller stones, but it is a long process, and we need to plant soon.
In our case, the soil is also strewn with builders’ rubble and other residue of history. When I dug in the damson, for example, I hit a vein of thick white paste under the soil, apparently lime abandoned by builders and covered over. I also encountered the roots of the invasive evergreens that we cut down two years ago, a piece of the car my late father-in-law abandoned on the land when he first moved here many years ago, and chunks of the gray clay that line the canal – the last apparently left by the canal-builders in the 1750s. In short, there’s a lot of junk under that boggy earth, and digging is slow going.
Sometimes, however, we find something more interesting – today it was a roughly circular flint stone, flat and apparently knapped, with a sharp blade all around and a notch at one end. Such things could occur by chance, but we might be looking at a Stone Age tool – not an arrowhead, perhaps, but a knife of some kind. I’m not sure how it could be verified, but I will run it by local experts.
All this rubble, though, means that we are going to have to use raised beds in places, nailing together boards and filling the bottom with pollarded willow croppings for drainage. It will be more work in the next few weeks, but less work in seasons to come.