Organic veg growers obsess over how to build and preserve an open, stable soil structure with lots of pores to allow free passage of water and air. This creates the perfect environment for root growth and an ideal habitat for the invertebrates, fungi and bacteria that keep our crops fed and healthy. The better the structure, the more resilient it is to damage from machinery, livestock and pickers’ feet. However, this week our mission is to destroy soil structure; we are smashing up those delicate aggregates of clay, silt and organic matter through excessive wetting and compacting with swing shovels, bulldozers, rollers and tractors, reducing that precious structure to something as homogenous and airless as potter’s clay. When we are finished, no terrestrial plant will thrive there for 100 years; which is fine, because we are lining a leaking reservoir.
In the words of the Mercedes-driving, one legged, hazel-stick-twitching water diviner employed 20 years ago to locate a bore hole on the farm, “Water moves in strange and unpredictable ways in these parts.” I can’t remember if he got paid, but his prophecy that, “There is a river running at 150 feet,” proved unreliable; we gave up at 300 feet and have since relied on winter fill reservoirs for our irrigation water rather than bore holes. The Stetson-wearing Cornishman who built this reservoir 15 years ago found our water no more predictable in its movement; he finally gave in after burning thousands of litres of diesel, and left us with a giant leaking hole in the ground. Back in June when we got nervous about running out of water, we promised ourselves we would fix that leak. The plan is now to line the reservoir with 200mm of ‘puddled’ clay, in much the same way as our canals were built 250 years ago. Failing this, we will leave it to the tadpoles, and call it a nature reserve.
Meanwhile, last week’s prediction of a sodden November looks unfounded; the sun emerged as my fingers left the keyboard and has stayed with us since. We are busy harvesting carrots in good conditions and praying the rains hold off long enough to allow lifting of the last potatoes. Another dry week and it will be tempting to sow the winter broad beans, Guy Fawkes being the target date.