Pickaxe planting

Yesterday I was planting daffodils with the help of a pickaxe. This wasn’t the original plan.

Three years ago, with the help of many volunteers, we planted our first daffodils as an understorey to the first apple trees. Despite never being weeded or mulched, and despite being accidentally ploughed up by a contractor one year, they have thrived – far better than any of the other understorey plantings we tried. They faithfully appear through the grass each spring with their glorious yellow flags bright in the grey of end-of-winter. It almost seems a shame to pick them.

Last year, for the first time, I ran a daffodil subscription. Rather than picking flowers, carting them in to the town, and then hoping for the best, as I had done previously, I harvested twice a week for a group of loyal customers who had already paid for a five-week share of flowers and who came to the farm to collect them on their allotted day. The system worked so well, and the customers were so appreciative, I was encouraged to plant more flowers.

The plan had been to borrow a walk behind rotovator to cultivate a single strip in the grass, to make bulb planting really quick and easy. But the rotovator I’d expected to borrow turned out to be living on the other side of Stroud, and I didn’t want to use a tractor to cultivate a much wider strip than I actually needed. There were various options and complications and logistical challenges, so that in the end I thought that, whilst planting by hand with a trowel might be a bit tedious, it was probably the best solution.

So yesterday I got down on my hands and knees in the unseasonally warm sunshine and started planting. After one and half bulbs I realised a trowel was just not up to the job on our stony soil. I wasn’t getting anywhere and had not only 200 more bulbs to get through that day, but a large box of another 400 bulbs still waiting at home in my less-than-spacious sitting room.

Luckily Shem from Oakbrook’s ZeroDig project walked past at just the right moment. By then I’d collected a wrecking bar and was experimenting with making individual holes for the bulbs, but that wasn’t working so well either. I speculated out loud that a mattock or pickaxe might do the job, and a few minutes later I was collecting one from the ZeroDig tool store. Hurrah!

It was still somewhat hard going, but, relatively speaking, I was now flying along. I cut a line with the pickaxe, then came back and popped bulbs in to the loose ground, moving stones aside and getting the trowel in there as needed. Hard brown bulbs made their way in to the earth at last, and I allowed myself a moment of satisfaction.

Standing there with sweat trickling down my back and pickaxe in hand, it was hard to believe that in a few months time I’d be back, wrapped up in thermals, harvesting beautiful flowers.

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