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NATURE Dig in the New Year

Outdoor Living
Digging a ridge
Digging a ridge is an alternative way of getting fit - and will have more obvious benefits down the line.

Dig in the New Year 

Food matters
Chris Brown

HERE we go again. 2012 is up and running, a different calendar hangs on the wall, and it’s time to plan for the year ahead. January, with its short days, is the month to warm your bones beside a fire and to make New Year’s resolutions.
To get fitter is on many people’s list of things to do, so might I venture a suggestion - dig for fitness!
A garden spade and fork costs less than one pair of posh trainers and using these basic hand tools will get you firm and fit in a rewarding manner. Digging is good for both body and mind and it happens outside, where everything is real. Getting your exercise indoors, in a room full of machines that need pushing on their nice soft handles, doesn’t compare to working the soil and taking on the challenge of producing food fit for the table out in the beautiful weather of the wet and windy west.
It’s all a bit too comfortable to exercise inside, in controlled conditions and comforts, where bracing wind, sunshine and hail don’t feature; it doesn’t test your mental agility in dealing with the constant decision-making that is required in vegetable growing.

Great satisfaction
For a start there is more to gain in forming a ridge of workable soil, which hopefully contains lots of healthy plants that you’ve created, because this gives great satisfaction as you return to the kitchen clutching a basket of juicy leeks.
This sense of achievement is  missing when the lights are turned off at the inside location, a place where electricity is needed, which is a net loss of energy in a world fast running out of natural resources. Having a vegetable ridge in your care will take real commitment and regular exercise if you want to get good results; it is all too easy for things to belly-up if you don’t stick at it with weeds, slugs, caterpillars and other bothersome thugs that share an interest in what you’ve planted out to beat you to the crop. And the weather itself holds the potential to hurt your harvest; strong winds can be particularly troublesome when plants are small- so what do you do to protect your seedlings from a gale? Here lies one of many decisions facing the vegetable grower that the treadmill exercise machine doesn’t ask of you.

Get ready to dig

Out where I live one neighbour in particular comes to mind who is an excellent operator of a spade and I know that Mhaigheo and her 31 county cousins and islands contain many people that are skilled with working hand tools (a fork is often the best choice on ridges that are already established) that are needed to bring soil to a workable condition.
Offering to lend a hand to someone who is experienced in vegetable growing would be time well spent if you are unfamiliar working these time-honoured tools.
Remember not to dig for too long for the first sessions of the year, or your back will ache like a stubbed toe; twenty minutes (or less) is plenty to start with, and pay great attention to your posture, with the aim being to create a bed of soil that’s about a metre (3ft 3 inches) wide. It can be as long as conditions allow: two or three beds of about 3 metres (10ft) in length is plenty big enough and can provide lots of nutritious food created by craft of hand.
There is a current fashion to run up and down mountains for a challenge, but this leaves little end product other than to erode the soil that covers the stones. Look at the back of the Reek where the once discreet ‘back way’ up the mountain now shows the erosion of the earth’s surface very clearly. It is better to get fit by improving the soil than to get fit by damaging it and home grown vegetables are the best tasting in the world.

Next time Love the Soil

Chris Brown
is a food producer in Louisburgh. He has a particular interest in food miles and buying local.