The partridges ate my broccoli. No seriously - they did. I should have known they would because Barry told me. He said “put up some netting or you won’t be able to eat your greens”. But what do I know, I’m a townie and what do townies know about veggie growing? One minute I have a five square metre balcony in London and the next I’m perched on a bloody great hill in the south of Portugal. Barry however, knows all about these things but then I would be surprised if he didn’t; he is a man of the soil, he’s a man in touch with nature but most importantly - he is a man with a tractor.
He is, I should explain, a neighbour and like myself an ex-pat Brit. He showed up one day astride his John Deere insisting that I needed furrows. Furrows! I thought furrows were wrinkles in the forehead but evidently it’s an agricultural term, like mulch, polyculture and hilling which are words that are alien to me, these words relate to pastimes far removed from my comfort zone. Apparently not only do I need to learn to speak Portuguese but if I want a balanced diet I also have to take on board a new vocabulary in my own language. And Barry, nice man as he is, is the reason I have an aching back, he is also the reason I now possess a pair of green wellies and why my field, once a shimmering carpet of wild flowers, now looks like a showroom belonging to a manufacturer of black plastic irrigation pipes.
And that is how it started.
So far I’ve terraced a piece of land and formed a level now given over to vegetables; I’ve built four raised beds and am growing more veggies than our family of three can eat in a month of Sundays. As we harvest a crop we visit friends and neighbours to offload surplus cabbages, lettuces, onions, carrots etc. They, unfortunately for us being occupied in the same manner, offload their surplus melons, rhubarb, broccoli etc. and the only people who profit from this mass barter are the local white goods retailers who are selling out of freezers faster than they can get them into stock. Hell’s bells! What became of the urbane, man-about-town sophisticate, who believed retirement in the sun was going to be relaxing each afternoon, swinging slowly in a hammock after a long languorous liquid lunch? Well if you’re interested, he’s surfing the internet for garden sheds, Googling shotguns and gulping down Ibuprofen.
But this is not going to be a blog about vegetable growing, well hopefully not – it’s just that, that’s all I seem to have been doing for the last few months and yesterday my aversion to heights was tested to the extreme when Sophie decided she wanted to harvest the olives. Harvesting, to my wife, means I do the bending, climbing and digging whilst generally getting sweaty and dirty and she puts things in the fridge and freezer. Yes, a true division of labour. There I was, roughly fifteen foot (whoops, I’m a European now) five metres above the ground, plucking olives (from a tree that possibly took root around the same time Henry Ford produced his first car) in order for my wife to put them in jars of salted water and stand them on shelves in the garage for three months therefor displacing my half-full paint tins, dried out tubes of silicone sealant and calcified irrigation spray heads, all irreplaceable and
bound to be needed in the very near future.
I’m almost pleased winter is arriving.