I want to make it clear that this is not, in any way, a defeat.
It’s simply a tactical withdrawal, after which we’ll regroup and return stronger, better prepared, and with a winning strategy. Sometimes you have to arrive at a negotiation; lose a little to gain a little more. Now the charts and diagrams have all been pored over, strengths and weaknesses assessed, what-if scenarios played out in grim detail. Now it’s time for feet on the ground. So with boots on, radio activated and earphones in, the moment has come to enter the arena.
Heaped high at one side, bleached by the summer sun, lie the remains of the ousted enemy, a silent testament to previous campaigns. This year their numbers will once again prove too great. We can only do our best, and hope for little victories.
Let battle commence.
* * *
With the last of the cauliflower and cabbage picked this week, the huerta is ready for the annual song-and-dance that precedes the spring planting.
The soil – if I can call it that – in these parts is a challenge. The sticky orange-red clay studded with fist-sized rocks bakes to concrete in the summer. Seen those NASA shots of the Martian surface? That’s our garden, that is. Then, in the winter, it softens to an oozing, boot-sucking blancmange under the seasonal rain.
Thank goodness for the mula mecánica, a considerable expense at the time, but one of the best purchases we’ve made since arriving here. Each year, as winter recedes, we begin the process of repeatedly turning over the ground and manually lifting out more and more stones to add to the growing pile located beneath the nearby fig tree.
Now facing our eighth summer here, there’s been enough time for experience (cunningly disguised as farcical trial and error) to play its part in our planning. This year, then, there’ll be broad beans, runner beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, lettuce, spinach, chard, rocket and melons.
With as much more stone as possible removed from the patch, it’ll then be time to improve the remaining soil as best we can. Our two-bin compost system turns a year of waste from the kitchen and garden into a fine brown humus to dig into the orange mess. The low yield of compost from vegetable, rather than animal, waste unfortunately means that the amount we have is never enough. Maybe we should buy a mule.
Each year the design of the irrigation system moves on a little, too; this year’s high-tech innovation is a two-euro drain tap to let us periodically purge the plastic tubing, hopefully flushing out the algae and detritus that clog the drip nozzles under an occasional burst of higher flow. We’ll see.
This time, too, we’ll be reassessing the numbers of each type of plant. Last summer saw us overrun with peppers, courgettes and cucumbers. They were eaten, preserved, gifted to neighbours, traded with friends and acquaintances, and anything else we could think of; still there were dozens that went to compost.
The tomatoes this year will be supported by proper A-frames of cane, not by last year’s Heath Robinson hotch-potch of string and sticks that so often left me flat on my face or bound by the ankles, all the while never noticeably supporting any tomatoes.
There’s always so much more to do. I’d like a herb garden, one day. We should use grey water from the washing machine, shower and sinks. The greenhouse is still noticeable by its absence. What about rainfall collection? One day, maybe. Not this year.
In one area, though, I’m admitting defeat – sorry, I mean tactical withdrawal. Though Sue manages to grow potatoes in barrels, which works well, there’ll be no root crops in the huerta. We’ve previously tried carrots, radishes, onions, shallots, garlic and more, with minimal success; the ground is just too hard in the summer to let them develop properly – or to let us harvest them without too much damage.
Sometimes you have to choose your battles. For this year’s song-and-dance, we’ve decided to surrender to the beet.