A jangle of hoes

Every noun should have its own collective term. As in ‘ a murder of crows’ [ All This Time. The Soul Cages 1991]  – Sting was an English teacher, too.  So I propose, for my collection of hoes,  either ‘a tangle’ or a ‘jangle’. It describes the result of gathering up an armful of them, prior to assaulting some part of the garden. I rarely use a fork or a spade now – but I do seem to need about four hoes on each job.

Late last year I thought I’d better stop adding to the pile – so I took this photo of them artfully arranged on the house-well [ and showing off one of our mosaics.]

hoe collection

There are 12, counting the fork-hoe. But addictions and obsessions are hard to throw off, particularly when neighbours find out, and offer me their rusty scrap-iron for inclusion. So now there are 17.


Now many of them are so worn that I may never re-square and resharpen them – and others have functions so obscure that it may be years before I ever grow the plant that calls for their particular talents. That long one for example. It’s 1ft. 8 ins. long. And weighs 4lb. 4oz. [2kg. and 50cm.] It would take a giant to wield it – and nobody around here has a clue as to its use.

The three along the top row on the left are in frequent service – the big rectangle [ called le cantonnier, after the road-mender, employed by every canton before roads were paved] for breaking new ground – and then the leaf-shaped pair for shaping into furrows. The other two on the top row, right, can move large heaps of stones or gravel with ease – or spread and level great quantities of earth.

I never came across such variety in West Cork, back when I worked on a smallholding – hoes weren’t used at all. Here in France there’s a bewildering diversity, each with regional variations :

hoyau (long thin flat hoe), essade (your standard hoe), essadon (narrow-shouldered, widening and flairing out at cutting edge), essadonet (narrow flair), foussoir ( de Savoie – a hoe), rabassiere espagnol (wide and shallow), picole (narrow and long with curved shoulder), piquelle (pointy, leaf-shaped), bigorne, and bigard of Provence – also known as crocs (fork-hoes), and bigot (all flat two-toothed rake-hoes) – rascle (wide flat rake-like tool), râteau à remblais ou tirebillon (wide flat rake-like with 3 teeth), binette (small narrow light hoe), sape Sartene (leaf-shape like a piquelle but straight-shouldered), sape de Bonifacio (more hoe-like, but narrow at cutting edge which is concave . . .) houe de Bastia (standard hoe, but flairing in at cutting edge and angled shoulders), houe de Saone et Loire (same width and angled shoulders, but longer), houe lorraine, plain rectangular, mègle or meigle a pointed hoe of Burgundy, marre, wide and flat for onions in Brittany and in Médoc. And the bêchoir or bêchard, the féchou, the écobue,  the besoche, the déchaussoir, the moutardelle – and lastly the trinque, our local slang term here in the Midi, from the sound of it hitting the stoney ground . . . otherwise known as le cantonnier – the man and his heavy hoe an ubiquitous figure, keeping the ways serviceable for cart, and carriage – the poor and the rich alike.

le cantonnier louviers

There is a famous children’s song from the early 19th. century ‘Sur la route de Louviers’  –

sur la route de louviers

– which later gained an infamous  and lewd version, featuring a Roadmender who shagged anyone, and a Fine Lady – who also . . .

LA BELLE ET LE CANTONNIER    chanson paillarde [crude country song]
(Musique : Sur la route de Louviers)

Sur la route de Louviers (bis)
Il y avait un cantonnier (bis)
Et qui baisait (bis)
Et qui baisait comme un voyou
Au lieu d’ casser des cailloux

Un’ bell’ dam’ vient à passer (bis)
Dans un beau caross’ doré (bis)
Elle y baisait (bis)!
Elle y baisait comme un voyou
A en fair’ craquer les roues.

Elle aperçut l’ cantonnier (bis)
Dans le fond d’un grand fossé (bis)
Et qui baisait (bis)
Et qui baisait comme un voyou
Un’ fillette aux cheveux roux

Ell’ lui dit: “Brav’ cantonnier (bis)
Avec moi veux-tu monter? (bis)
Pour me baiser (bis)
Pour me baiser comme un voyou
Le préfet est mon époux”

A ces mots, le cantonnier (bis)
Laiss’ la rousse dans le fossé (bis)
Et va baiser (bis)
Et va baiser comme un voyou
La bell’ dam’ plein’ de bijoux

Le lend’main par arrêté (bis)
Fut nommé chef cantonnier (bis)
Parc’ qu’y baisait (bis)
Parc’ qu’y baisait comme un voyou
Au lieu d’ casser des cailloux

Voici la moralité (bis)
Dans la vie pour arriver (bis)
Il faut baiser (bis)
Il faut baiser comm’ des voyous
Les bell’s dam’s qui ont des sous !

Now, this may all be quite entertaining and educational – but it’s only half the story. There’s the handle or shaft of the hoe to consider and the crucial question of its length – but that’s for another post.

In the meantime – check for handle lengths in the Hoe in Art and History, and The hoe at work Pages, right. If you’ve nothing more worthwhile to do, or are similarly obsessive.

Posted in hand-tools, hoes | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The hoe in art and history

With the hoe – it seems to me – we see the start of techne. In the beginning of course was the stone, and the stick -and out of the stick grew many things : the staff, the spit, the scratcher and the spear. But join the stone to the stick and we move from tool to technology.


Larry Kinsella at FlintKnapper.com made this deerhide-wrapped hoe. With use the edges become glossy, smooth and blunt – time to nap a new sharp facet.

The Chalcolithic Age saw the arrival of copper implements, soon replaced by bronze. Egyptian heiroglyphs of the Late Bronze age [16th century BC to the 11th century BC] show the hoe for the first time in writing.


These are from Gardiner’s list of Egyptian heiroglyphs of some agricultural implements – U7, U13, U20 and 21 seem to be variants of the hoe. The hoe has entered art and history.


For more – see the hoes in art and history page, right.

Posted in hand-tools, hoes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The new diggers

The struggle to build a durable irrigation scheme for the kitchen-garden has been brought to a temporary halt . . . by rain. It’s the first we’ve had for many weeks, and should last  for several days it seems. It’s gentle and penetrative, fortunately – rather than violent and productive of floods and red clay mud-slides.

It means I can return to some websites and blogs I’ve book-marked recently, and grow a few ideas, indoors.

They all seem to centre around a pivotal idea propounded a year or two back  by Jeffrey J. Brown,  an independent petroleum geologist who posts regularly as westexas on TheOilDrum.com.  His ELP Plan in the face of Peak Oil and resource depletion: Economize; Localize & Produce :
By reducing  expenses now, while you can do it voluntarily, you will at least be better prepared for whatever the future may bring. A key way to Economize is to Localize.
Try to reduce the distance between work and home to as close to zero as possible and live in smaller, much more energy efficient housing, preferably close to mass transit lines.
Integrate yourself into your local community. Get to know your neighbors. Become involved in local government, etc.
Support local food producers, perhaps via Community Supported Agriculture, and support local manufacturing and businesses.

Produce  practical and useful items that serve to enhance the first two ideas. Grow as much food as possible. Mend, repair and recycle.

In this context it was interesting to find a fellow-blogger in the region,  posting about the CapitalGrowth initiative in London, in his own admirable blog  Un Jardin Potager en Languedoc .

His subtitle describes it well : Un cahier de semis en ligne pour me simplifier la vie mais aussi des observations sur l’horticulture dans un milieu méditerranéen, un témoignage sur la culture de légumes dans un jardin du Midi qui est, à sa façon, partagé, multi-générationel, semi-bio et même un peu politique …

One of Raphael’s brothers-in-law is involved with this new London scheme. Launched at the beginning of November 2008, the Capital Growth campaign is aiming to create 2,012 new food growing spaces in London by 2012.

Raphael  adds [my translation] :

On this subject [the ‘greening’ of London], we can speak about it because we are really miraculously lucky people: as newcomers to Montpellier, without the possibility of coming up with the price demanded by estate-agents for “leisure activity land ” and even less to have a house with its own garden in the city, we managed to find – thanks to flyers posted in  letterboxes around the city – somebody keen to help our kitchen-garden project and prepared to share land.
Without this miracle, we would have had to wait to qualify for one of the  few allotments of  Montpellier – or go into debt if we had managed to find something affordable at a real estate agency.

So – Come on : a small change in mentality, fellow citizens and elected officials! A weekend vegetable garden  for everyone! (for all those that want one, of course . . . )

Raphael is a  consultant Ingénieur en Géomatique whose potager is now up from 70 sq. m. to 240 sq.m. His approach is rigorous  :  we both are concerned by questions of water and irrigation – but he has researched the needs of various plants, and the variables in the soil’s ability to retain moisture.  But his anxieties about water remain : our region experiences long hot summers and the prevailing wind, La Tramontane [or Le Cers, as it’s known in our corner of Languedoc]  is strong and very drying. Most of the old and therefore successful potagers have tall thick wind-breaks to help combat the desiccation.

Nevertheless his results are impressive – and his photos are good too.

Here are some of mine – taken around our village recently. Every little village has such potagers – and while many are falling into disuse as an older generation retires, some are getting a new lease of life.


This walled garden at the edge of the village was started a few years ago by two middle-aged Moroccan vineyard workers. The pigeonnier is for the present, unoccupied.


Fava beans and artichokes have over-wintered well.


This plot has just been prepared by tractor – it was disused for years. There are two deep wells side-by-side that need cleaning out. And there’s a heavy old pump-engine in a hut that may require more than just a cleaning.

Below is the municipal allotment outside Lezignan,our nearby market town. It was once part of a grand domaine.


Below is the second half of the allotment. It’s mid-morning and all the men are of retirement age. Right next door is a riding school with stables – what luck!


Posted in garden, irrigation, water, wells | 3 Comments

The hoe – past and future

I’m currently enjoying ‘Land Girls’ by Angela Huth.landgirls

It’s an affectionate portrait of three young women who join the Women’s Land Army.

Much of their time is spent hoeing – and a quick stroll through internet images reveals this to be fairly universal, throughout the ages. It is largely women’s work.

I’ve gathered some of them together under the Page title Hoes in Work – seen in the side panel to the right. Paintings and posters on this theme appear on the Hoes in Art Page.

A brief study of the hoe, its history and use is on the Hoe parent page.


Prior to the Second World War, agriculture in Britain was in a state of decline. Food imports were up to 70% and in 1939 the possibility of a German Prior to the Second World War, agriculture in Britain was in a state of decline. Food imports were up to 70% and in 1939 the possibility of a German sea-blockade provoked the fear of national starvation. Women were needed to bring in the harvest and to put 2 million acres under the plough at a time when thousands of men were once more leaving the land to join the forces.

The future may see people once again filling the landscape. Technology like this prototype, from the German DFG Research Training Group (Graduiertenkolleg) 722, may be the way forward in  post-Peak Oil agriculture, where chemical weed-killers and diesel-power are too expensive.


Or possibly the present enormous agri-farms will be broken up, to be worked under village or commune control. Then a machine like this might be more suitable:


This has been developed by PhysicalWeeding – the trading name of Steam Weeding Ltd, a company that designs specialist physical weeding machinery for the European, New Zealand and Australian markets. It is owned and run by Dr Charles ‘Merf’ Merfield, an international organic horticultural scientist specialising in weed management and machinery, and Tim Chamberlain –  a pioneering and multi-award winning organic farmer from New Zealand.Visit their SteamWeeding site to see more.

You can even get a grant for it in Ireland!

Meanwhile at the big-garden or small-holding level, there’s a device that appeals to me – and to ‘Farmer Lynn’ of the friendly, modest but extremely impressive tinyfarmblog – it’s the Valley Oak wheel hoe :


and its Swiss counterpart the Glaser wheel hoe [www.glaser-swissmade.com]


They both offer various blades and attachments – and both cost about $350.

Hmm. Maybe it’s back to something I could knock together out of the bits of old vineyard equipment lying around. Like this early model – with Thomas W. Barnett wheel-hoeing onions on his small farm at Bountiful in Utah 1921.


But when it comes down to it – nothing beats a hand-hoe for simplicity and versatility and cost. And nothing beats this man for fitness and determination: he produced a ton [edit: 2.5 tons – phew!] of potatoes on his croft – plus a mountain of other vegetables – with a hoe.

field031Read his inspiring crofting blog here at Musings from a Stonehead .

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You say patatas – I say potatoes

My seed spuds are on the chitting-tray, but it’s cold and the sprouts are a long way off, and my hands are numb so I’ve come indoors to google.

patate – it can mean an idiot [invective] or a punch,  or a million old French francs, or the graphic representation of Cantor’s Set Theory.

être dans les patates – to be wrong or mistaken [Québécois colloquialism]
avoir la patate – to be in good form [French colloquialism]
en avoir gros sur la patate – to be very upset about something [French, with mayonnaise on top]
faire patate –  to screw up [Québécois]


We’re going to plant these Vitelotes again this year : they are the original Quechua spuds that came over in the 16th. century and while they don’t grow big, they are massively filling and taste like chestnuts : dense and floury at the same time. They stay purple too – unlike those treacherous purple beans . . .

While preparing the lazy-bed for these multi-denominated objects I have passed through all the above stages :- some of the time I’m enraged at the folly of our leaders, and the waste of people’s hard work and savings – then I revert to being in good form, because the work is satisfying and it’s going well. Then I want to wallop someone – a politician, an economist – for their wanton squandering of my efforts and of the future of my children.

And if the graphical representation of Set Theory resembles a potato – then I realise that this is probably the point that the Whizz Kids of econo-mathematics probably got away from the rest of us – and the regulators who likewise couldn’t keep up either.

So – if I don’t want to be une patate, and would much rather avoir la patate – then I’better get on with preparing the potato-bed.


The good thing about planting spuds is that they are ideal for new ground. Little by little the lawn is giving way to the kitchen-garden – and the lazy-bed is the best crop to help break up this much-compacted area. We are unusual in this region of the hot south to have such a thing as a lush green lawn. It has been a welcome area of cool green for the Northerners who come to visit, and who don’t want to toast themselves silly in the bronzing sun. The big old trees have permitted this rare luxury, giving shade and thus requiring less watering.

We face a future where our ArtHoliday.com business will go slowly [or maybe rapidly] downhill, and we will be left with no painters and no mosaic-makers and no yoga groups and no walkers. We will have no need for the lawn. But transitions are not clear-cut. The ArtHoliday business continues, limping from crisis to crisis – and it may be difficult to tell when – if ever – the project that brought us here ten years ago and took so much of our time and all our money, is finished for ever.

So in the meantime we continue, as so many people must be : just continuing – because that’s all we know what to do. We continue and we up-date our site and we look forward to a different future. The lawn may shrink but in its place I am growing things that may have an equal or greater appeal: the garden – I am determined – must remain formal. As long as there are visitors who come to work at their art, who come to contemplate French gardening, who rate our vegetarian cooking, and who might want to see how a family can manage on a reduced diet  – of art and gardening, hard work and friendship.

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Chips with Everything

It’s been 35 years since I dug my first lazy-bed. After just two years teaching in an Inner City London Comprehensive school I’d had enough: friends were dropping out, tuning in, and getting back to the land. My friends had chosen a Bally-Go-Backwards little place in mid West Cork. It was my home for a couple of years – little cottages with no running water but lots of land.


The first thing we did was get up a lazy-bed. Digging one today brought it all back. Turning in the grassy sod to the centre is the method. Pile on the manure in the middle – then cut and heave the turf-sod to cover it. It’s all pegged lines and squares of heavy grass-turf. I miss the turfing-iron we had then: it cut so sweetly. But there’s nothing lazy about it: the word may have come from ‘laissez’, or fallow pasture.

*      A      *      B      *      C      *      D      *

*              *               *              *               *

*              *               *              *               *

*              *               *              *               *

*              *               *              *               *

You spread squares B and C with manure/seaweed/compost – then fold squares A and D over onto squares B and C, grassdown. The sprouted seed-potato is inserted down the middle about a foot apart, and a few inches of soil from the A and D channels is heaped on top. More soil then is hilled up every month, plus some nutritious mulch if you have it.

It’s known as ‘run-rig’ in Scotland, and the practice was widespread throughout the northern lands, where sun was scarce and water too abundant. By breaking into grassed-over pasture, disease and blight were avoided. By hilling-up a raised ridge-bed, sun and wind were allowed in to warm and dry the bed.  By earthing-up from the channels either side of the bed, drainage and soil-tilling were achieved. It was an efficient  practice – until fashions changed in the early 18th. century, and level-beds and animal-power came to the fore.


For me it was a revelation. For the first time in my life I felt I was performing a function that fitted my body. I’m not big-built but I have big hands and a muscular body. None of this had been called on as I plodded through school and university. It was not a moment too soon: I could have lost what were actually the most precious elements of myself by staying on in teaching – become a flabby clock-watcher, with soft hands and a bad back. I’m close to 60 now, but my hands are hard and my stomach flat – and more important – I have a clear and beady eye on what is coming and what I can do about it, here and now in the garden.


Compared to flat fields, according to both researchers and farmers, the lazy beds yield more per acre with greater consistency. Lazy beds reduce gardeners’ labor time and raise the yield per acre. One year when we went to great lengths to count and weigh everything carefully, Main Brook and Conche gardeners harvested an average of 353 kilograms of potatoes from an average garden only 193 square meters in size, after investing 54-67 hours total in labor and from nothing to $78 total in cash. This yield – in a region notorious for poor farming within a province importing many of its potatoes – is more efficient with land and labor than some subsistence potato farmers elsewhere in the world. (Omohundro 1994).

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Every week around Wednesday on The Oil Drum.com the editors invite a guest to propose a topic that addresses some practical aspect of the Peak Oil situation. This week it was a guest post from Sharon Astyk (TOD reader jewishfarmer). She is the author of one current book : ‘Depletion and Abundance: Life On the New Home Front.’ and two forthcoming books.
Her essay this week was about the issues involved in adapting to the Long Emergency – it’s about adjusting to a different type of ‘city’ and lifestyle than we are currently used to.

Mary and I have tried to get our friends to take a look at what TheOilDrum.com and TheAutomaticEarth.blogspot.com have to say about our present predicament – but they don’t, and they won’t, and that is that.


One of the central points in her essay, picked up by several commenters – and of particular interest to me this winter – is the key role that water-supply will play.

Here’s a taste of the discussion:-

jewishfarmer on The Oil Drum February 4, 2009
My own feeling is that where we may end up may well come down mostly to water in the next few decades. Soil yes, but water first and foremost.

Ron Broberg on February 6, 2009
As I survey my 1/3 acre domain, it becomes quickly apparent that water is my limiting factor (Colorado Front Range).
I was telling this to my wife a couple of weeks ago when, literally the next day, a water main burst and we are on boiled water for the rest of the week.

KingPing on February 6, 2009
I guess, as I survey my small “suburban” lot I have the exact same concern–water.

Will Stewart on February 5, 2009
Richard Seager, et al, Model Projections of an Imminent Transition to a More Arid Climate in Southwestern North America, Science 25 May 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5828, pp. 1181 – 1184 DOI: 10.1126/science.1139601
“there is a broad consensus among climate models that this region will dry in the 21st century and that the transition to a more arid climate should already be under way. If these models are correct, the levels of aridity of the recent multiyear drought or the Dust Bowl and the 1950s droughts will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.”

wrighttracks on February 5, 2009
Future water availability was mentioned and truly this will be an issue. It is already an issue. All areas with large populations and anticipated water problems are suspect as being viable.

nelsone on February 5, 2009
It’s all about the water, isn’t it? Food shortages can be dealt with by slow, steady shipments of nonperishables, but how much water can you tanker in to Atlanta or LA?

Richie Gunn on February 6, 2009
Rainwater in the Southeast is the new liquid gold and it should be treasured so. We all should collect rainwater from our roof tops at the least.


Here in the Languedoc region of SW France, water has always been a major factor in rural life. There is either a drought – or a deluge. The last major flood, in 1999, killed 21 people in our immediate area. Hosepipe restrictions are a regular factor each summer. Higher up in the Corbières Hills a friend lost her vigorous little stream for several months: her isolated small-holding depended on a temporary [and illegal] pit being excavated in the stream-bed.


There is water in this valley – fed by the snow melt from the Pyrenees and a myriad of other tributaries. Little is taken out for industry – there is none. But each village is experiencing a decades-long North-South drift, and this region is expanding where others are shrinking. The water-demands of bulk wine and little suburban developments is taking its toll.

Our village, with its new station in 1856, was set to be a new market-town mid-way between Narbonne and Carcassonne. But while each big house had its own wells [we have two], and the ‘ordinary villagers’  had a constantly running fountain/horse-troughs/public pumps – this was the limit of our village’s water supply. The market town was built 7 km. away in the valley bottom. Where the floods of  ’99 hit hardest.

Our huge house has just survived the most violent wind since ’99 – Tempête Claus – with roof intact and two trees down; quite minor. The water table [ la nappe phréatique ] is high again for the first time in years, and my fears for our kitchen-garden abate a little. The house well holds ten cubic meters of sweet water and the ‘grand bassin’ holds another seven. The swimming pool contains 80 cubic metres – but when the Economic Collapse occurs we won’t  be worrying about our ArtHoliday guests objecting to pondweed and oxygenators. The Black Swan still circles our little corner.


This is the skeleton of the water pump on our workshop barn. The other photos show the remains of wind-driven well-pumps in villages around.

Posted in crash, garden, peak oil, survival, water, wells | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One train – or the other

I was first made aware of Peak Oil by my wife Mary, nearly three years ago. She had started to read The Oil Drum which had been running for some two years. I was just getting deeper into the archaeology of this corner of south-west France : the Minervois and the Corbieres region of Languedoc. We’d sit down together at about 6 with a bottle and something to nibble – which we’ve been doing for 30 years now – and swap the latest news on Peak Wood [ – in the Bronze Age : plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose ] and Peak Oil.

At the time, Stoneleigh and Ilargi were TOD’s Canadian editors posting regularly on global economic matters. At some point a year or more back, and for reasons best known to themselves,  the editors of TOD and S & I parted company – the latter to form The Automatic Earth:-

These are the days of miracle and wonder
. . .

A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires . . .
From ‘The Boy in the Bubble’. Paul Simon. Graceland.

The information and analysis posted on TAE were every bit as urgent and compelling as those on TOD – indeed more so. I began, belatedly, to read both. They seemed to feed into eachother : the crisis in one sphere looping  feedback to the other.  But it was indeed a classic case of  ‘one train may conceal another’.


Now it just so happens to be our lot to be living in ‘interesting times’. We may be nestling at the foot of that mountain in the photo in a bucolic little village – but the trains of History pass close by. And there are not just two trains to watch out for – the collapse of capitalism and the peaking of cheap oil – there are five or more threatening a massive train-wreck.

Resource depletion – from precious metals to trees, to bees, to water, to cereals – is already upon us. Climate change is being experienced the world over. Oceanic acidification is another. But the biggest and most unstoppable one of them all is population. And it’s the one we find impossible to discuss. It is behind all the others – exerting the greatest pressure of all. It is the invisible human locomotive that will crush us all.

Of course civilisations rise and fall, cultures wax and wane – and there will always be some renaissance. It just won’t resemble anything we’ve seen before. It will emerge from the wreckage and exist in a stranger landscape than we can imagine. Some have tried to envision it – when the crisis was nuclear : say, Russell Hoban’s ‘Riddley Walker’. It’s a strange and difficult book, but then so is life and survival.

Meanwhile – before the crashes begin to run into one-another – we still have enough time to read poetry that treats words as valuable and love as precious.

One Train May Hide Another

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line–
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another–one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple–this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.

Kenneth Koch

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Compost revisited

Excuses, excuses : Work – Christmas – Family – Illness, I have enough excuses to explain away the lack of posts here. My best is this though, borrowed from a Frenchman :-  ‘Eet ees ze Lazeeness!’  – with a Gallic shrug if possible.

The work was intended to provide enough money to enable me to slouch through the bitter end of winter just reading and writing. But the weather has been benevolent, and the worsening state of the world has doubled the urgency of expanding  the kitchen garden. This is from one of LondonBanker’s last blogs:-

Deflation has become inevitable. The bankers, lawmakers, regulators and academics who collaborated in the betrayal still hold power, like the well-armed brigands in the fortress, and their continued collaboration to prevent accountability must inevitably discourage honest savers from risking further loss. Even so, it is the savers/peons who hold the ultimate power as they can starve the brigands. LondonBanker.blogspot.com  Friday, 12 December 2008

I like the idea of starving the brigands – but I don’t see it happening. And first, as a peon [albeit with too much house,  insufficient land and no savings] I must ensure that we don’t starve first.

Time to revisit the compost bins. A post from mid-october shows my carefully constructed wire-and-lino containers, and the plastic bins bought via La Mairie and part-subsidised by our village commune. Another photo shows a heap of compost made last summer.

I had consulted several sources online and I felt confident that with my previous experience I could cook up a good amount much faster this time. The bins were filled with a mix of leaf and strawy horse-manure and remnants of the autumn’s kitchen and garden waste. Plus dosings of my self-generated liquid nitrogen [that’s urine] collected over the weeks to act as an accelerator.

So when it came time to undo the mesh and turn it over, I was sorely disappointed to find that little decomposition had occurred. It should have felt like a squeezed-out sponge – instead some layers were too wet, others too dry. And my precious piss had not been able to ignite the process, during the close-to-zero mid-winter months. I had to think again – and start over with a better system if there was to be enough ready for the new beds this spring.


I have reverted to a previous design that worked well enough in the past, but is not quite so neat-looking as the plastic bins [fecked into the background there] and the mesh cages. The pallets came from a building site in the village. The hose is ready to wet the dry leaves.


I reasoned that the pallet-construction gave the heap the greater volume needed to ensure sufficient insulation and combustion. In this last compartment I cut up the lino into 1 metre squares and nailed them to each inside face, to conserve heat and moisture. Each of the four compartments has a front door, hinged with a twist of wire. If compost is to be turned once a month – as recommended for a faster production – then this should make it much easier. As does the four-tined hay-fork I found in a friend’s barn: it’s light and the stuff slips easily off the prongs, where it would tend to stick on the heavier thicker gardening fork. If you’re making lots of compost then even at  40 euros[!] it’s still a good investment. You’re the head chef and alchemist of the garden – and you’re worth it.

There seems to be two schools of thought about whether to put your material directly in contact with the soil – it allows worms access to the heap – or to make a thick latticed bed of sticks beneath the material – to gain aeration. I have alternated with mine – and will report the results. Aeration is vital: an anaerobic compost heap will take 2 or 3 times as long to work -and you can end up with a smelly sludge which has simply rotted – without achieving the temperature needed to kill weeds and seeds, or producing the ‘brown gold’ of crumbly loam.

The other ingredients in the photo above are the milk-bottle of my ‘humanitrogen’ and a 20 kg. bag of sulfate de fer – ferrous sulphate – costing 10 euros from the farmers’ co-op in the village. It was recommended by a village horticulturalist – two handsfull to a bushel of material, particularly if there’s more brown-matter than fresh wet green plant stuff. It releases nitrogen [and promotes lawn growth etc.]I sprinkled it over every barrow-load of mixed-up material that I forked in, giving it all a spray from the hose [the water here is very hard/alkaline] to both dissolve the crystals and get the sponge-consistency.

Finally, I stuck a sharp rod down vertically through the heap to the base, and wiggled it about, and then drove a stake into these holes to make a wider vent-shaft. The compartments were then covered with plastic sacks with the last of the lino over everything to shed rain. Air must be allowed in but not water.

The whole enterprise took up some time – but I hope that I have set up a structure and a system that can run for some years with only the occasional replacement of rotting pallets. The aim is to have one whole year’s compost in hand. Because compost is where a garden begins.

What we are making is additional humus. In soil science, humus means any organic matter which has reached a point of stability, where it will break down no further and might, if conditions do not change, remain essentially as it is for centuries, if not millennia. The process of “humification” can occur naturally in soil, or in the production of compost. Chemically stable humus is thought to be important to the fertility of soils in both a physical and chemical sense. Physically, it helps the soil retain moisture, and encourages the formation of good soil structure. Chemically, it has many active sites which bind to ions of plant nutrients, making them more available. Humus can be described as the ‘life-force’ of the soil though it is difficult to define it in precise terms; it is a highly complex substance, the full nature of which is still not fully understood. Physically, humus can be differentiated from organic matter in that the latter is rough looking material, with coarse plant remains still visible, while once fully humified it becomes more uniform in appearance (a dark, spongy, jelly-like substance) and amorphous in structure. That is, it has no determinate shape, structure or character.

I think it’s time now to hear from a world-famous horticultural expert :-

“My whole life had been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that lets you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap.” Bette Midler [no kidding] New York. 2006

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The man with the hoe

It’s a comfortable 68F./20C. here, at 8 pm, with the doors and windows open on a still evening. Tomorrow we’ll go walking the hills, it’ll be 70+, the warm low 20’s of an early summer’s day. But there’s a chill wind forecast for monday – and it won’t be just a leaf-storm blowing:

” . . . we are witnessing the two stages of a tsunami. The current disappearance of wealth in the form of debts repudiated, bets welshed on, contracts cancelled, and Lehman Brothers-style sob stories played out is like the withdrawal of the sea. The poor curious little monkey-humans stand on the beach transfixed by the strangeness of the event as the water recedes and the sea floor is exposed and all kinds of exotic creatures are seen thrashing in the mud, while the skeletons of historic wrecks are exposed to view, and a great stench of organic decay wafts toward the strand. Then comes the second stage, the tidal wave itself — which in this case will be horrific monetary inflation — roaring back over the mud flats toward the land mass, crashing over the beach, and ripping apart all the hotels and houses and infrastructure there while it drowns the poor curious monkey-humans who were too enthralled by the weird spectacle to make for higher ground. The killer tidal wave washes away all the things they have labored to build for decades, all their poignant little effects and chattels, and the survivors are left keening amidst the wreckage as the sea once again returns to normal in its eternal cradle.
So, that’s what I think we will get: an interval of deflationary depression followed by a destructive wave of inflation that will wipe out both constructed debt and constructed savings, scraping the financial landscape clean. There’s no question that stage one is underway. But we can be sure the giant wave of money recklessly loaned into existence, in just a few weeks time will wash back through the global economy leaving a swath of destruction.”

That’s my favorite doomer, James Kunstler, writing the other day. Ilargi on  TheAutomaticEarth is no less worried. And then this is from the Mainstream Media:

The financial crisis gripping world markets is “the worst in human history” and we are only just beginning to feel the fallout, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England has warned.

Do our rulers know enough to avoid a 1930s replay?
Events are moving with lightning speed as the global credit freeze evolves into something awfully like a classic trade-depression.
The commodity and emerging market booms are breaking in unison, leaving no more bubbles left to burst. Almost every corner of the world is now being drawn into the vortex of debt deflation.

Shipping is slowing as fast as it did in the grim months of late 1931. “The crisis is now in full swing across the entire world,” said Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister. “It is hitting the real economy, the productive forces of industry. It’s global, it’s total, and it’s everywhere.”
The world stole prosperity from the future for year after year, with the full collusion of governments, regulators, and central banks. Now the future has arrived.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Daily Telegraph Oct 20 2008

I feel profoundly shaken by all this, transfixed and aghast – and simultaneously stirred into action. These momentous upheavals are being played out far from here : meetings in Washington, London, Paris, and the People’s Great Hall in Pekin. Millions are being spent on the American election – and thousands on wardrobes and makeup. Drama and melodrama, tragedy and farce, anger and pathos – all on an epic, on a global scale.

But I certainly don’t feel helplessly apart from it all. I have not been standing by in dumb incomprehension these last few months, waiting like cannon-cattle for my call-up papers. I signed up some time back – possibly 30-odd years ago when I dropped out and ‘Went Back to the Land’ leaving my teaching job in London to join a small commune in south-west Ireland.

The Phoney War is over – billions of dollars have been thrown onto the wrong fire -and soon the real damage will become apparent. What does the ordinary foot-soldier do? Well last weekend I armed myself with a mighty weapon – the heaviest forged-steel hoe I’ve seen around.

heavy hoe and new acacia-wood shaft

heavy hoe and new acacia-wood shaft

I bought it from my antique tool-seller friend, Monsieur Sargatt, at another vide-grenier. It weighs in at a whopping 4 lbs./< 2kg. and has a thickened cutting section. Paired with the extra-long shaft I trimmed from a local Robinia tree, it is a murderous weapon – capable of separating the head of any Wall Street pirate from his well-tailored torso.

old tools at a vide grenier

old tools at a vide grenier

But as is usually the case, when Great Events of History become just too much to digest – the simple action of shaving the wood to fit, and hefting the tool to do its job was enough to dispel my maddened frustration with the folly of our Leaders.

new hoe and new bed

new hoe and new bed

This hoe is just the job for breaking new ground – look right to the Hoe Page for more examples of this versatile tool at work in the world – and in history and art.

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