Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Plot Wars

Last December my husband Mike was given indefinite loan of a field in which to grow fruit and vegetables. Though thigh-high in weeds, for him it was a clean page. First he bought a brush-cutter and strimmed the entire field including the hedges – working in 15-minute bursts as this machine is heavy, requires a supporting harness, and is swung from hip height. It took weeks. Next he dug over the first 3 metre by 9 metre plot and poured on thirty bags of home-made compost - a mix of straw-free horse poo and seaweed gathered from our local beach during the freezing winter (I held the sacks open) when it was so cold our faces were numb and even with gloves on we couldn’t feel our hands. Never has no pain no gain rung more true. But to get good stuff out you have to put good stuff in. And with gardening, as with writing, preparation is the key. Meanwhile the field’s previous occupants, rabbits, pheasants and pigeons, were watching, biding their time. With the soil warm from four weeks of hot dry weather in April, new and second-early potatoes were planted before Easter. Additional plots were prepared and planted. That’s when the trouble started.

The day after planting leeks and onions he had grown from seed, Mike returned to the field. The onions had gone and there were random diggings among the potatoes. Clearly something was trying to reach the fresh shoots. We ordered some plastic mesh – the kind builders use – and surrounded the plots with that. The rabbits chewed through it and the pheasants simply jumped over. Each morning he’d arrive and catch the pheasants among the crops. Once over the mesh in a flurry of wings and squawks they stretched their necks forward, head and body totally level as they hurtled towards the hedge, looking as if they were on wheels. Mike dismantled the frames and used the wire netting as an additional barrier all the way round the outside of the mesh. That stopped the rabbits but not the pheasants. This was war and demanded radical measures. My suggestion of an air rifle with telescopic sights and a silencer was declined. Instead he ordered some black electrical conduit and a roll of fine-mesh green netting and built a cage to cover each plot. He made a door for each cage from spare panels of corrugated Perspex on a wooden frame. So far it’s working. The netting allows sun and rain through, keeps the pheasants out, and has created a micro-climate. And we’ve just dug our first new potatoes.

While this was going on I sent off a 14-page outline and character biogs for my new book to my editor who had asked for "a darker edge". She received them on the Tuesday after Bank Holiday. On Thursday of the same week I received an email from her to say she had read them, liked them, and looked forward to receiving an exciting book. So no pressure!


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I salute you both! You deserve your new potatoes. Personally, I'd go for the air rifle solution, but then I'm a country girl.

Great news about the new book. Best of luck with it.

Jane Jackson said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. Though I deserve no credit. When I go with him it's to offer moral support and admire what he's achieved. Though sometimes I take a packed lunch for us both, my little netbook, and work. It's blissfully peaceful - apart from the gargling pheasants - and as good as a holiday with none of the associated travel stress.
Re the new book - I'm steaming along with scene development and having my usual panic about making it better than anything I've done before. So absolutely no pressure at all!