When a friend says she loathes January and February, it only makes me realise how much I look forward to those months, all through the dark days of November and December.
As soon as Christmas is over, I start grooming Mr Mandy Sutter with talk of a fun day out. ‘How nice it will be to get outdoors,’ I say, ‘after being cooped up in the house all winter.’
He looks up from the joyless philosophy tome he forced me to buy him for Christmas. ‘Fresh air is over-rated.’
‘Is that what Schopenhauer says?’ I ask before delivering the killer blow. ‘We could take a flask. I know where there’s a stash of leftover mince pies.’
Once wellied-up, it is child’s play to lever him into the camper van. Inside, he smells a rat. ‘What are all those carrier bags for? And that spade?’
‘It’s good to be prepared,’ I say. That’s surely the kind of statement Schopenhauer makes, or would do if he had any sense.
‘Prepared for what?’ he asks.
I let the question hang: the doors are already locked and we are tonning down the A65 towards the local stables.
I’m talking hot beds. Not the sort the Daily Mail reports but the sort people have been making since the year 200 BC (before cucumber) in pursuit of the gardeners’ Holy Grail, the extension of the growing season.
It’s a piece of (horse) piss. You make an enclosure (a big slatted compost bin is fine), stuff it with fresh, as yet unrotted manure and urine-soaked straw, and indeed anything else organic that will rot down e.g. Mr MS’s jeans, vests, socks and pants, and put a cold frame on top with some compost in. Then you plant some seeds, light the blue touchpaper and retire.
Your veg go off like billio, nurtured by the steady heat from the decomposing manure beneath. I won’t go into more detail (what do you think this is, a gardening blog?) but here’s a video by hot bed king Jack First.
In winter, slugs and snails are still a-slumber in the soil, so your produce – lettuce in February, spinach in March, carrots in April – comes out glossy and hyper real, like a TV gardening programme. And by next spring, the manure and straw has turned to compost – ready to be used as the growing medium in next year’s hotbed. It’s a triumph of recycling.
But that’s in the future. For now, Mr MS is still at the stables, staring at sky-high piles, some steaming, some glittering with frost.
‘What the…’ he says.
I talk to him about the steaming pile he’ll see in early April, of new potatoes covered in butter. He frowns. I talk to him about how Dad (now 92, no longer a grower but still an eater) will enjoy the runner beans that climb down the sides of the bed after the early crops finish.
A kindly man, he wavers.
This is my cue to open a carrier bag. I hand him a spade. ‘Get shovelling that shit.’
He obeys. He loves it when I talk dirty.