I declared war on nettles today. After being stung on my hands (back and front) and forearm while picking strawberries and weeding out the gladioli, I started wedding out the nettles. Damn, they sting. They also have a cute flowering cousin that doesn't sting.
It's now 10:40 and there's still light in the sky. In about 5 hours, it'll be light from the other side. I'm exhausted. My back is tired and my hands smell of garlic. It's been one of the best days I've had in a long time.
I was up at 6 to a bright blue sky. Bran flakes (yum!) and green tea for breakfast. I dressed and made lunch then headed out catch the bus to the Apricot Centre. I missed the bus--or though I missed the bus because I arrived a few minutes late, but the bus was late. Only I didn't know that so I went on and then missed the bus. So I caught the next one, 30 minutes later. Got off on Wignall Road somewhere between The King's Arms and Manningtree and walked back to Hungerdown Lane. The Apricot Centre is pretty far down that lane--past the houses and the horse farms, the wheat fields, the construction, the tomato stand, and then a few more hedges.
I walked up the drive way and saw two unfamiliar faces in the window (Di and Anne, I learned later). Are you Mary? one asked. I said I was and she gave the big bell attached to the side of the house a ring. It was a lot louder than I had expected. They rang the bell and Aidan came out to meet me.
First we picked strawberries. He warned me a few nettle plants were hanging out in the strawberry patch and said I should pull any I found. I didn't find nettles at first, but I found a ton of spiders. Everywhere. All different kinds, different shapes, colors and sizes. I disturbed one who came out to sit on top of a leaf with its egg sack. Spiders give me the creeps. So for most of the morning, I tried not to think about spiders. Picking strawberries is fun, but hard on the back and knees. I browsed through the plants, looking for red ones, leaving the eaten and moldy ones, snapping off the ready-to-eat ones. I filled a crate and a half which is about 15 trays. Aidan said that if any of them snapped off without a stem, I should eat them. So I did. They taste as beautiful as they look.
The strawberry patch is in a polytunnel. I'd been remarking for a few days how much I wished the wind would stop. It's beautiful out, but there's a constant wind which is cool so it never feels warm. Well, in the polytunnel, I found the answer to my warmth problem. It was a good deal warmer in there than outside. Within a few minutes, sweat was pouring out of every pore. It was fantastic. Finally I found the heat I was looking for and yet gained an appreciating for the cooling breeze.
The bell rang again. We were being called in for coffee. What a civilized way to farm. There was also cake: tiramisu (yum) with a brandy soaked base (ick). Getting to know Di and Anne was great fun. They're sisters and hilarious. Di told stories about her drug dealing neighbor and the bag of hash she found once in the hallway and about her pot smoking grandchild whose pot she would vacuum up not knowing or caring what it was and her other grandson who eats mushrooms--you know, the wild kind. She also told us of her dislike of garlic (makes her nauseous) and about her toilet paper collection. It was a lot of fun to hear her stories.
Then back to the plastic tunnel to finish the strawberries and weed the gladioli bed. That's where I found the nettles. Stung on the back and fronts of my hands, I asked for a pair of gloves and started tearing them by the roots. Those little stinging hairs hurt! And blister! And then itch!
After the weeding, came lunch. Then picking carrots and beet root--both of which are pretty hard to tell from the stem what size the veg at the other end is going to be. Super exciting for someone like me whose never picked anything in her life (short of a few apples and the strawberries from earlier that day) to pull a carrot out of the ground. Next to the carrots were some broad beans which are lovely and mingled in there was some New Zealand spinach. I didn't get around to the lettuce. It was getting on in the day and Aidan had to prepare some hummus and soup for an event happening over the weekend. I asked if I could help as I'd never made hummus before.
We got the chickpeas from the cold store. There was fresh raw garlic to use. Fresh garlic and a different, wetter version of the dry stuff you get in the store. It looks like a leak with a bulb at the bottom. The paper is not like paper, but rather like cabbage--wet and semi-thick. It seemed lovely. My hands still smell of it. (Good thing Di had left earlier.) Combined with some Tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and chick pea water, we made hummus. It was interesting. A sort of trial and error thing. Mix it up and add a little bit of this, a little bit of that until it tastes like something you'd want to serve to strangers. In the end, I made two batches which came out to be 4 jars of it. I got to take a bit home to taste.
It was a really wonderful first day of volunteer work at Apricot Centre. I came home with dirt covered jeans, a layer of dried sweat covering my body and I couldn't have been happier. Can't wait for Monday.
P.S. Woke up at 2 am from nightmares about spiders and itching my nettle stung hand. Took along time before I fell back asleep. Next day, legs and back are sore. It is all worth it.