11,000 years later . . .

IMG_0003RUNNER beans bursting with the stuff of life. Embryonic roots and stalks uncoiling like tentacles. Into the black earth they go, plop plop, to re-emerge – hopefully – as elegant green vines with scarlet flowers. And then pods with purple beans. And then some of those beans dried and stored in readiness to activate another cycle. And so life goes on . . .

Things are stirring. Finally, after a gap of three years, I am planting food for the table. My allotment plot in the north of North Yorkshire – loved and cherished for nearly two decades – is a thing of the past as new ground yields fruit here in the south of southern Spain.

It’s a huge change and many things are new and bewildering. But we humans can adapt. That’s one of the things we do well.

More than 11,000 years ago our ancestors made the leap from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Forests were cleared and stuff planted – wild barley and lentils, mostly. Wandering tribes carried seeds to germinate in new lands. Pioneers crossed deserts and plains to plough fresh soil. I dwell on these achievements while I sort my beans.

Making the move from England to Andalucia in a 1991 Volkswagen T4 campervan isn’t quite trekking out of Africa to plant tall grasses on the shores of the Black Sea, or crossing the mid-West in a covered wagon with a sack of grain and a bag of beans, but it’s a nod to those desolate waves of forgotten humanity who put their faith in destiny and agriculture.

Today, faith comes in small glossy packets with plant-by dates and pictures of perfect produce. Life is easier for the modern pioneer. Planting instructions – in Spanish and English – are included. No barrels of untested seed for us. No wolves either. That’s not to say life is without its setbacks.

Lettuce, radish, gherkin, cucumber and potted squash plants (awaiting a permanent home) doing well after a day of heavy rain
Lettuce, radish, gherkin, cucumber and potted squash plants (awaiting a permanent home) doing well after a day of heavy rain
Following the initial failure of the lettuce crop, my mate Roger gave me some plants. I suppose I owe him a pint
Following the initial failure of the lettuce crop, my mate Roger gave me some seedlings. I suppose I owe him a pint
The tomatoes are doing well, despite being grown from old seed, some of which was bought on Madeira about five years ago
The tomatoes are doing well, despite being grown from old seed, some of which was bought on Madeira about five years ago
The first fruit from the new garden – a radish (yeh, I know it’s not a fruit). We had half each
The first fruit – a radish (yeh, I know it’s not a fruit). We had half each
Broad beans, or habas as they call them here, are a staple of Spanish cuisine
Broad beans, or habas as they call them here, are a staple of Spanish cuisine
Green beans, above and below
Green beans, above and below

IMG_0021

I’ve planted ten asparagus crowns and nine have emerged. That’s better than the six out of ten I scored in North Yorkshire
I’ve planted ten asparagus crowns and nine have emerged. That’s better than the six out of ten I scored in North Yorkshire
Garlic's doing fine
Garlic’s doing fine
I bought a packet of onion seed because someone told me you can’t buy onion sets in Spain. A week later the shops were full of sets. So I have three varieties on the go: pictured here are red salad onions grown from sets. The seeds I bought are Valenciana Tardia, which sounds a bit like a rubbish football team. And I’ve just planted Stuttgarter Riessen sets. We should be well onioned by September. But this is Spain, after all
I bought a packet of onion seed because someone told me you can’t buy onion sets (little baby bulbs) in Spain. A week later the shops were full of sets. So I have three varieties on the go: pictured here are red salad onions grown from sets. I’ve also planted Stuttgarter Riessen sets. The seeds I bought are Valenciana Tardia, which sounds a bit like a rubbish football team. We should be well and truly onioned by September. But this is Spain, after all

My first plantings of peppers and chillies (five varieties) failed to germinate, as did my first trials of lettuce (four varieties) – all old seed brought from England. Tomatoes (four varieties) and cucumbers (two, if you include gherkins) have been more successful. Brassicas are running at a 50 per cent germination rate; peas and beans about 80 per cent; while odds and ends such as celery and squashes (courgettes, pumpkins) are doing fine.

So despite 11,000 years of knowledge, experimentation and commercial enterprise behind mankind’s agricultural achievements, growing stuff can still be an unpredictable process. At least I haven’t crossed a continent in an ox cart to make this discovery.

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18 thoughts on “11,000 years later . . .

  1. You sound about as good at growing food as I am – bugger all! I have managed some rhubarb (but it’s not very tasty) and have managed potatoes before by cutting off sprouting bits and putting them in a bucket. Bet you were both full after that radish! Haven’t had a radish for years – must get some…
    Carol.

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    1. Hi Carol. We’ve been discussing rhubarb and whether or not it will grow here. Must look into it because rhubarb crumble is an absolute necessity to sustain life as we know it. The radish are lovely and juicy, by the way, and dead easy to grow.
      Cheers, Alen

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  2. I think it’s great that your 5 year old seeds from Maderia, has borne fruit in Andalusia.
    There is something refreshing about tending a vegetable garden. So I’ve heard 🙂
    It makes good sense and is very soothing.
    I came to think of a Danish poem by Halfdan Rasmussen when you confront us with vegetables instead of abandoned train carriages and mad landowners in the northern English mountains.
    The poem is impossible to translate but I gave it a try:

    Here is peaceful and quiet.
    There is no hustle and bustle.
    I have sown parsley
    and letter with pure onions.
    Let the world turn to fight and combat
    I rather agree with everyone and one another
    and myself and all is well.
    There’s people enough going
    trying to pursuits to blow up the planet
    I do not want troubles
    and guns behind my hedge.
    While the others go and sweat
    to give another varnish,
    I puzzle with beetroot,
    celery and parsnip.

    All the best,
    Hanna

    http://www.bennyeandersen.dk/noget-om-helte-livet-er-en-morgengave

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    1. I’ll go along with that, Hanna. And it seems to have translated pretty well. It appears to echo the sentiments of what the poet is getting at. It certainly echoes mine, at least.
      Beetroot and parsnip are puzzling me also; beetroot because mine seems to be growing far more slowly than it does in England, and parsnip because it’s a winter vegetable and if I plant it at the usual time it will probably be ready before the end of summer. So I don’t know what to do.
      I shall think of something.
      Cheers, Alen

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    1. Chrissie, I can’t believe that someone who spends her weekends backpacking and carries pyjamas for her dog along with all her other gear does not have patience. Mind you, I must admit to losing mine occasionally when things go wrong – which they invariably do.
      All the best, Alen

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  3. I have this image of you at the dining table, ceremonial carving knife in hand, Mrs McEff waiting for the radish to be cut . . . the first feast from the allotment. From someone who struggles to grow a beard I am in admiration of the results so far.

    Do you have slugs? I could send you some if you haven’t.

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    1. No slugs here, which is a mystery because a few years ago there was an epidemic in England of big brown slugs and they were referred to as Spanish slugs. Perhaps this is another example of political propaganda, or Project Fear as we call it these days, as in the English during Napoleonic times referring to syphilis as French pox and the French calling it Spanish pox. I don’t know what the Spanish called it – Moroccan pox, probably.
      Anyway, I like the picture you have conjured up. We did, of course, toast the Queen before slicing the radish.
      Cheers, Alen

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  4. Tynemouth etc.Wel as to radishes,the F35 fighter 169 we have ordered but we have no aiircraft carriers to carry them, HMS Elizabeth and HMS Parker-Bowles are still under construction, Obama insists that they are only to be used in British air-space.(Handy if the SNP get stroppy) The lady not to be mentioned re the Scottish Estate.(They are constructing 3,dams enough for1200 dwellings) and as the staff are sober ( my lady wife has gone to Blyth to start a closed order nunnery : Little sisters of the p….ed) I can only exist having phoned the good monks of Buckfast to supply me with cases of their excellent tonic wine with wine blanked out. The butler has a sniffer dog the can respond to a Tesco tirimasu at up to a mile off,I bet he teaches the bugger to read, before long. At any rate I have just remembered what I was to ask you. Have you any any ‘ Re-enacters in Spain? I asked ma-in law what these people milling about the village. Ha she replied De are de people Mitch the desire de battlefeelthehisstoryfunken.Zo there you tommy Schwerin. I now know that it almost possible to travel the length of the country on preserved railways so yah boo sucks to beardy Branson but re-enactors??? Surely there must be another force? Nein she said vate an see ThaTiger was started and further conversation ceased.So that’s the News. I have already set off for Spain to join the radish season only we got lost ( the footman driving) avoiding Gateshead,and using the Hieronymus Bosch map that you used when the footman pointed out you had Breughal and ‘not ein Bosch hiz pain ver Krap he vent into dear vite goodz mit der exasploshun nein? So As I lay in South Shields park by the lapping sound of the I remembered I never got the bog roof fixed.Savil etc pip pip Peter.

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    1. Blimey, Peter, you’ve covered some ground there, old mate. I like the notion of Britain being almost covered with preserved railways. That’s one to think about.
      All the best, Alen

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