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The Good Life: The winter garden

As the season turns, it's time to plant new vege and grow good ideas. By Michele Hewitson.

There was ice on the chicken’s water bowl every morning last week. I have started feeding the wild birds again, as I do every winter. There is magic in winter. There is something bewitching about icy seed heads and frozen, silvery, artichokes leaves. You know the decree from Narnia’s White Witch that it always be winter, will not come true, which is a comforting thought.

But I like winter. Winter is cool. It kills the bugs. And the hellebores, also aptly known as the winter rose, will flower soon, some with lovely freckly faces, others the colour of claret. This really is magical.

I have picked almost the last of the cherry tomatoes from the glass house. The cherry tomatoes just go and go and they are the best tomatoes I have ever grown, which is not saying much. Every year I buy a couple of expensive tomato plants and they provide about six tomatoes each. Even I — who got 22 per cent in a maths exam my school set for knuckleheads in lieu of School C maths — can calculate that this is uneconomic. The cherry tomatoes are wild tomatoes. They are self-seeded from plants the previous owner left behind. So, really, they grow themselves.

I spent the lock-down properly preparing the vegetable garden. The vegetable garden is another gift from the previous owner and it is enclosed by an enormous cage. This cage is designed to keep out evil chickens and cute but pesky bunnies. I wish it also kept weeds out. I am terrifically good at growing weeds. I am not very good at growing vegetables. I am not meticulous enough, and rows of things make me yawn. And I am too fond of chucking flower seeds — poppies, nasturtiums, sweet peas — among the vege. The flowers grow, haphazardly, and the veges grow not at all.

But now that we are unemployed bums, I decided I had better get serious about growing vegetables so as to stave off starvation. The first thing I did was let the chickens in while I dug over the beds. They helped dig and they ate all the bad grubs. This is the first time the evil chickens have ever been useful in the garden, usually they just destroy things.

I soaked newspaper and used it as mulch. The chickens came by and tried to dig up my mulch. They have since been banished from the vegetable cage, and boy, are they complaining. Nothing complains as much as a thwarted chicken. Except a reluctant vege grower.

At least it gave me a job, of sorts.


There are no actual jobs left, certainly not for old crones like me. We will all have to become entrepreneurs. I don’t know how to become an entrepreneur. I am like the perennially thick Father Dougal, who, in an episode of Father Ted, has for the first time ever, a good idea. Then he panics: “I want out. I went too far too soon. I didn’t know you had to follow up a good idea with loads more little good ideas.”

My one good idea is to pinch somebody else’s good idea. I read about a brilliant one in the Guardian the other day. Some goat farmers from Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire in Britain will, for five quid, insert ten minutes of live footage of a goat into your Zoom video conference.

You get to choose your goat. Mary: Ambivalence. Limited attention span. Totally fine peeing in front of you.

Or Lisa: Passive aggressive bleating. Ferocious hunger. Lack of any form of patience or tolerance of anything.

I figure if they can turn goats into quid we can surely turn sheep into dollars.

We have yet to figure out how actually to insert sheep into video conferences, but when we do we will offer two choices of sheep: Xanthe and Elizabeth Jane.

What to expect from Xanthe: An air of knowing superiority. Constant shouting for mama Greg. Will violently head butt or kick any creature getting more attention than her.

Elizabeth Jane: Has “greed is good” ethos. Will only work fully catered events. Totally fine pooing in your gumboot.

Cronkshaw Farm also offers yoga sessions with goats. To follow up a good idea with a little good idea: how does karate with sheep sound?