Aw, sorry, didn't get round to that!
At this time of the year, I always feel as if there are just not enough hours in the day to get round to doing all the things that need doing or should have been done yesterday. Still, I know that by the end of May, things will ease off and it will be a case of maintenance and picking and apart from watering chores, we'll be able to take weekends off, spend time with the kids and go to a festival or two. Yet it took a near breakdown to teach me to ease my workload.
The season for sowing and planting starts quite gently for us about mid March with the building of a straw and manure hotbed, which will nurse the young seedlings that are already germinating in the propagators on my bedroom window sills. Over the course of the next two months, after the tomatoes, capsicums and aubergines, the hotbed will warm all my babies: the french beans, squash, courgettes, sweetcorn and then, if there's any heat left, maybe some flowers. Oh, the excitement of the new growing year's potential! The hours spent dreaming over seed catalogues during long winter evenings are bearing fruit and promises. The gardening club in the village starts up again, we discuss the idea of a community garden and a possible location is identified. It sure feels like spring has arrived!
Two weeks later and pretty much all of the window sills in the house are full of seed trays and pots, the tomatoes have been moved to the hotbed in the polytunnel and the only website I check with any regularity is the met office one, where I anxiously check the night time temperatures. During the day it is unseasonably warm, about 20°C, but frost still threatens at night. Every evening the young plants get tucked up under a couple of layers of frost fleece, every morning we have to rush to take them off, lest they be cooked by the heat generated by the composting process in the hotbed and the sunshine heating up the air inside the polytunnel. If you take your eye of the ball for any time at all, plants will die, that's a given. At this stage you can't allow them to get too hot or cold, too dry, too wet or stressed in any other way or they'll run too seed instead of giving you a crop.
And then comes Easter and the kids are off school for two weeks, the relatives are coming to visit and the house is an absolute tip. Laundry baskets are overflowing and the hoover hasn't been seen for weeks. Food cupboards are empty and I can no longer avoid a monster shopping session, not forgetting the Easter eggs! The email inbox shows a hundred odd unread emails, there's unanswered messages on the answer machine and I start to feel like I need to have another one of me plus a wife.
By now, the end of April, I'm running ragged. I'm still sowing, but also pricking out hundreds of seedlings and potting them on. I've been planting out the young plants in their final growing positions and putting up climbing frames for them. But now the weeds are growing even faster than the young veg, which means I'm also having to hand weed the raised beds. With the temperatures having dropped to single figures again, the young plants are barely growing and after days of rain, the slugs are moving in! This means daily slug patrols. And as if I didn't have enough to do yet, the pond is getting choked by algae and this needs fishing out every few days. The raspberries still need mucking and if don't get the sweetpeas in the ground soon, they'll be flowering in their pots. Trays of seedlings are queueing up to be planted on into deep trays. This year I'm trying John Jeavons' model which involves pricking out seedlings into deeper trays to let them grow to a good size before planting them out in their final positions. This means the plants can better withstand slug attacks and the brassica's develop a good root system before having to battle clubroot in our soil. It's a bit more work, but you can get more successional crops in, which is essential if you only have a small patch of land. I think ”How to grow more vegetables” by J. Jeavons, is an absolute must read for any gardener.
When the first young plants go off to market to be sold, it rains cats and dogs and blows a gale. Not the kind of weather that puts customers in gardening mode, so most of the plants come back shocked and shaken by this brutal outing in the wild world beyond the polytunnel. They'll need some extra TLC.
And then last Saturday, we decide to take the afternoon off to go to a trial opening of the community shop and café. In the last couple of years, the neighbouring villages of Taliesin, Tre Ddol, Furnace and Eglwys Fach have lost the last two remaining village shops and in response to that, a group of people have come together to try and reopen one of them as a community concern. There's no Transition initiative involved, just the recognition that functioning communities need a village shop. It's not just a place where you buy stuff, it's where you meet people, hear the latest gossip and put up posters for local events and workshops. Two years without such a place and all of us locals have realised what we have lost and this is now driving the action. Prior to putting in a bid for the Big Lottery Fund, the organisers need to be able to show that there is sufficient local interest, so for several months now questionnaires have been going round, meetings were held and if anything, last Saturday felt a bit like a celebration of all of the work that has already been done. It was an absolutely wonderful event; students from a catering course at the local college had baked the cakes, volunteers staffed the serving counter, the sun came out and the kids all ran around outside playing while the adults drank coffee and chatted. It was extremely busy and by the end of the day there was no doubt in anybody's mind that there was widespread local support for this venture. Donations and signatures were plentiful, the day had been a success!
The best thing of all was that I had absolutely nothing to do with any of the planning or organising, nada! When one of the volunteers asked with a list and pen in hand whether I would be willing to sign up to help, I could barely suppress a slightly hysterical cackle. I informed him that I actually considered it something of a personal triumph that as a compulsive activist, I hadn't gotten involved and that I had tremendously enjoyed attending an event that had been put on by somebody else. It's like having dinner cooked for you; it always tastes better than if you had prepared it yourself.
It has taken quite a few years before I stopped overcommitting myself. I've come close to burning out and suffered a lot of stress due to the impossible amount of work I would set myself and the guilt I felt when I had to admit that I had not gotten round to doing something I'd promised to do, but now I just say no. It's not easy and there are still a fair number of meetings and events every month with at least half a dozen resilience building projects under development, but it's just about manageable. How many of us transition activists learn this lesson the hard way, sacrificing health, relationships, income and general wellbeing, before we realise that our workload has become utterly unsustainable?
But just the other day, somebody mentioned maybe starting up a Transition Filmnight again in Machynlleth, that's tempting! And then there's that idea from the latest InTransition movie about asking your local people to dream about how they would like their community to develop in the future, that was so inspiring, maybe we could get some funding for that...