Recently, I was away from Crockern for four out of five weeks, leaving Roger and Sam many tasks to contemplate. However, several of the projects were caveated: nothing that involved climbing high up on ladders, using power tools in tricky locations, lifting heavy objects, or doing anything where a possible injury could happen with no one nearby to help. As clever as Sam is, he isn’t exactly Lassie: “Woof, woof, woof!” “What is it Lassie? Has Timmy fallen into the well?”
You might think that with such restrictions in place, Roger would have read all the great works of literature, but instead, spurred on by warm and sunny weather, he and Sam were busy. When I returned, I was greeted with many happy surprises, including new fencing where we are planning to keep pigs and the vegetable garden fully planted. We are trying a bit of everything in the garden this first year, to see what will work. Here’s what we have:
Lettuces, beets, cabbages, spinach, leeks, potatoes, rocket, rainbow chard, onions, carrots, peas, broad beans, green beans, runner beans, celery, celeriac, cauliflower, romanesco, courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins, artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli, swede, brussel sprouts, sweet corn, cucumbers, peppers, squash and asparagus. We have herbs (sage, thyme, chives, rosemary, mint, parsley and marjoram) and fruits (rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and an apple, pear and cherry tree). Mostly, we have planted a deep belief that we’ll have successes.
So far, everything is establishing well in the vegetable beds and the greenhouse and we’ve gathered a few dozen strawberries, several salads and herbs for seasoning various meals. We also have a very successful crop of Stinging Nettles.
Originally, this last plant was not intended for harvest and I hasten to add, we did not plant it. Last year, the area where we put in our vegetable garden was covered in a stand of nettles. These invasive and determined plants stood proudly, like a forest of sturdy pines, occupying the sunniest part of our yard. Not to mention, this was also the one area we had successfully kept out the sheep!
My first encounter with Nettles in England was when my old dog Al slipped down a steep Nettle covered riverbank and fell headfirst into the river. He was not much of a swimmer and in his old age was growing deaf and increasingly senile. As Al fell, I instinctively reached into the river, through a thick patch of stingers, and pulled him to safety. While he shook river water from his coat, both my hand and arm immediately blistered as if from a strange science fiction movie. The swelling lasted no more than ten minutes, but the stinging sensation remained for at least three days.
Last spring, Roger and I worked for days pulling up Nettles before building our raised bed vegetable garden. While working free their tenacious root system, I reflected on one of the stranger things I heard about when first moving to England: “Nettle Eating Contests”. Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever contemplate eating these nasty, stinging, space-hogging plants.
Oh how things have changed! Despite my strong reaction, Nettles aren’t all bad. They make excellent companion plants in the garden attracting aphids and cabbage white butterflies away from our legumes and brassicas. Rich in iron and vitamin C, Nettles have a history of filling the hunger gap and the young shoots of spring are the best to eat for their flavour and nutrition. Nettles can be used in the same way as spinach. Just boil, cool and chop, then throw into egg dishes, risotto, and pasta. Hard core types eat them raw. Not me. I collect the leaves while wearing good gardening gloves and using scissors, and then I dutifully follow a recipe, most recently, for nettle ravioli!
So the few patches that are returning close to the vegetable beds are welcome and monitored!
But our pursuit of health and well being does not rest with our gardening and foraging efforts alone. We’ve recently introduced a bit of life enhancing decadence. Again, while I was away, Roger managed to source and install a wood fired hot tub. It sounds medieval, but it is far from some torture cauldron for witches. It is a sleek, round fiberglass tub that looks like a giant teacup. There is a coiled loop that contains a basket for the fire and once lit, heats the water inside the coil feeding it back into the hot tub. There is even a snug place for a wok, to cook food, on top of the burner. On the other side is a holder for keeping wine chilled. Eat, drink and simultaneously soak in the hot tub. An inspired combination if ever there was one!
In 1983, Eddie Murphy depicted the funk soul legend James Brown in a fictional hot tub talk show sketch on Saturday Night Live. Dressed in gold Speedos and a wig, Murphy shows the Godfather of Soul getting down with his bad self as he sticks his toe in the hot water, achieving a pitch-perfect “Whoa oa oa!”
This comedic sketch aside, there is something profound about the love of the hot tub. Perhaps it goes back to the calming and soothing effects of being submerged in liquid. Is it possible from our early days in the womb, with the outside world distant and yet unchartered, where we develop this early experience of serenity best recreated with a soak in a hot tub? Ah, the water’s embrace as we drift into peaceful surrender is bliss defined. Soaking in the hot tub is not just for pure pleasure, though, as there are health benefits too: stress reduction, muscle relaxation, improved sleep, reduction of headaches, and lowering of blood pressure, to name a few. The heat, the buoyancy of the water and, lets face it, the views surrounding us are a luxurious tonic and marvelous fun!
So now to our ongoing list of projects we can add two more to resolve:
1. Where do we locate the mechanism to spontaneously refill the tumbler of gin and tonic?
2. Where do we source a James Brown style call-and-response back up band?