What do you do when you find that there used to be a house in your garden?
We had discovered that the land we were planning to turn into a luscious forest garden had once been the site of three homes. If you recall from Chapter 7, Farmer French had simply bulldozed them out of his way when he bought a mega-tractor. Now we were faced with the back-breaking work of preparing the soil and bringing it back to fertility.
As you may remember, John is always itching to get his tools out and, for months, he had been resisting the siren call of the concrete base of an old electricity pole firmly embedded in the garden. With the purchase of an even more powerful electric drill, John was unable to resist the lure any longer and he set about digging the hulk up. He even co-opted one of our vicarious children, Rob, who was staying with us for a few days. I decided to hide in the kitchen and wait for the cry of victory/anguish depending on the successful/piercing of a member outcome. But no matter how hard they tried, the concrete was staying put, much to John’s frustration, but fortunately so to did all their body parts.
John started saying we would have to find a big plant pot to put over it when, yes, you guessed it, Monsieur Pioche appeared like Mr Ben’s shopkeeper to hoik out the concrete with his all-purpose tractopelle…
Tractopelle 2: John 0
…although Monsieur P did manage to reverse into and over a tree which might have been quite interesting if only we’d noticed what kind it was before he demolished it.
So now we had a clear piece of land to start planting. Or so we thought, until we heard the story about the three houses that used to stand there. Remembering the convict-level-hard-labour of making holes to plant the fruit trees, we realised that we would need to dig up most of the three houses before the site was capable of becoming a garden.
Fortunately, we had learned all about rotivating while on the self-sufficiency course in Ireland so we hot-footed it down to the local garden equipment hire place and got ourselves a motobineuse to make short work of the stones.
And here is just how easy it was…
[If you’re reading this via email, you’ll need to click here to see this video.]
We hired the rotivator for two days to be on the safe side, after all we were sure that it would slice through the ground and we’d be done in a day at most. But no.
The ground was as hard as rock itself so needed a first pass just to create some grip for the rotivator’s blades to grab onto. Then once they were able to start churning the soil, huge rocks were flung out behind, more than once causing Johnny a great deal of pain in a rather sensitive area. Finally, the rotivator bucked and reared as though possessed which meant he had to hang on for dear life to keep it in a straight line, meaning he had even less strength than usual for washing up.
My job was to make sure that I cleared any stones in front and behind him to minimise the risk of damage to the blades and further injury to husband. Monsieur P had lent us a nifty little mechanical dumper which we filled over and over again with rocks which we moved to the other side of the house where we need rubble to level out the land. Waste not, want not.
On the third day, we weren’t quite ready to “produce vegetation”. Instead, we heaved the rotivator back into the trailer and drove it very tiredly home to the hire shop. We then fast-forwarded to the seventh day and rested from all our work and saw that it was good.
Slowly, slowly, doucement, doucement, we were getting closer to being ready to plant things. All we needed was to revitalise the soil which right now featured clay and limestone, but mostly clay, which became sticky and slimey in the rain and baked hard as concrete in the sun. Lovely! Thank goodness we like a challenge.
Next week: Making compost on a shoe-string