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Spanish Secrets: Garden Gladiator

“Raising my garden fork overhead and adopting the posture of a trident-armed gladiator, I waited in dread for the emergence of a forty-foot python. My heart was pounding in anticipation; my eyes focused like lasers on the pile of stones Melanie had been removing….” There’s a “shocking’’ encounter when Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie start to establish a vegetable garden at their Galician home.

A common feature of Spanish life here in rural Galicia, is the huerta. A huerta is a vegetable garden or allotment. Throughout the year, people of all ages toil long and hard in their allotment.

A great deal of time, effort and hard work is involved in preparing, maintaining and harvesting these vegetable patches. I’ve always thought that the effort involved seemed disproportionate to the rewards, and that vegetables really can come from supermarkets.

During the summer months, there are more fresh vegetables available than anyone can eat. Bulging carrier-bags will appear, as if by magic, hanging from our front gates. Depending of the time of year, these will contain: crunchy lettuce, juicy-ripe tomatoes, strongly flavoured Spanish onions, potatoes, perfectly formed and brightly coloured bell peppers, or huge marrows. Everyone has a surplus.

Even a visit to the local village shop will inevitably mean leaving the premises with twice as much produce gifted, as actually bought. With this in mind, we’ve always resisted the idea of having our own huerta, until now.

For no sensible or logical reason, we’ve decided that next year we will grow our own soft fruits and vegetables. Tucked away at the back of our neatly manicured garden, we have a small plot of land. It’s about 75 square metres. Compared with most huetas, that’s tiny.

The ground itself is uncultivated scrub, covered with brambles and thorns, and is extremely stony. It’s proving very difficult to prepare, but as our neighbour keeps telling me, “poco a poco” – little by little. It’s a sentiment that’s even more appropriate after Melanie’s recent refusal to help. Her uncharacteristic withdrawal of labour coincided with her making quite a startling discovery.

The patch of scrub-land we intend cultivating into our kitchen garden is the same piece of land that, last summer, gave me quite a slithery surprise. On that occasion and to my great relief, a metre-long snake was far more frightened of me, than I was of it. Nevertheless, with this in mind I’ve been proceeding with caution.

As I’ve been digging the ground over, Melanie has been picking the stones out. Last week during one such session and without any warning, Melanie let out a high-pitched scream. As I turned, she was staggering backwards, tripping over clumps of grass and trailing brambles, her whole body trembling as her piercing shrill continued.

Raising my garden fork overhead and adopting the posture of a trident-armed gladiator, I waited in dread for the emergence of a forty-foot python. My heart was pounding in anticipation; my eyes focused like lasers on the pile of stones Melanie had been removing.

As I prepared to strike my killer-blow, a three-inch long, little grey mouse popped out from the pile of stones. Startled and confused, it hopped over the freshly furrowed earth. In a state of terror it made its final dash for safety, leaping headlong over the ravine at our boundary edge and into the forest’s dense undergrowth.

It took Melanie some time to gather her composure. Unfortunately, I think it will take considerably more time to get her back working in the huerta.

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Copyright © 2005 Craig Briggs

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