On the day we arrived at the gite, Deb took us up behind the building to her vegetable garden plot and asked us to weed it out. At the time, it was a few small squares of turned-over and de-rocked soil bounded by a nice little slate border. Only one section still had growing vegetables -- cabbage and broccoli -- the other two, about the same size, were weed-covered and had a few last dried-out stalks of plants.
"Any rocks you find," said Deb, "just toss onto the wall. If you get a chance, you can pile the dead leaves from that big pile there onto the beds and cover the leaves with soil so they'll be ready for spring."
And so began an odyssey in soil.
Once the garden was weeded out, the soil turned, the leaves and soil piled back on, we realized that we could keep going. Beyond the prepped beds was at least three or four times as much ready space for a really big garden -- the soil just needed to be dug up and turned.
Here is a photo of David turning the soil in the existing bed on, I think, the second day. You can see the massive pile of leaves on the right-hand side of the photo. The soil under it all the way back to the far corner was mostly unturned -- Deb had turned the very corner part earlier this year, but it had gone unused and in this photo is still covered in weeds.
We had gotten good and underway when we were hit with two or three days of more or less constant rain. Although there were a couple of breaks in the weather where we could work outside, we didn't make much headway until the weather turned fine again. In the meantime, we did indoor stuff like helping around the house, looking after the kids, and cooking (OK, mostly it was David doing the cooking). I even went to a yoga class with Deb one evening!
Then a few days ago we were finally able to get back to work. This photo is pretty deceptive -- it looks like a lovely garden plot. The pile of leaves is mostly gone, there appears to be a nice soil surface.
Ah... what lies beneath...
Lots and lots of rocks. Big rocks.
At one point, a tine snapped off the garden fork. At that point, David turned to the pickaxe to manhandle the rocks out of the soil.
This worked much better, and he was able to open up trenches that really seemed more rock than soil.
He really had to get in there.
It made a mess of his jeans.
Most of the rocks were about fist-sized, ranging up to about football-sized. A good number were watermelon-sized. But every little while, David, with much cursing and muttering, would haul a real doozie out -- there were seven or eight rocks each the size of one of those old computer monitors that were such a pain to have to move every time you wanted to untangle the cords behind them -- but much heavier and correspondingly awkward to move (we mainly just rolled them with much heaving).
Here's a photo of one of the "watermelons":
Mixed in with the soil and rocks was all kinds of detritus left by the previous owner(s): mostly broken terracotta roof tile and concrete chunks, probably dumped there when one of the buildings had been renovated; but also just plain junk like plastic bottles, bits of metal, old building material packaging; and enough roots that the handsaw came in handy on a couple of occasions. Deb and David agreed there was an element of archeology to it -- we even found an old shell casing!
Finally, yesterday afternoon, the whole plot had been dug up. Our co-HelpXer, Joey, had raked more leaves that had been added to the soil. At this point, David looked (deservedly) pleased with himself.
But we were left with a huge pile of all those rocks! So our last task today was to heave them over the wall and add them to the side facing the footpath that passes by the garden. Let me tell you, I have a newfound admiration for people who construct dry-stone walls (we saw a lot of those in Ireland) and even more so for various pioneering people who ploughed entire crop fields out of stony ground. I suppose we should have realized how much stone might be lying under the surface of a plot of land lying directly under a mountain, but it all looked so innocent when we started out!
So, now... go back to that second photo in this post. Now imagine that all the rocks that lie beneath the surface are part of a newly-enhanced wall. The largest ones hem in the cabbage-patch in a small feat of decorative landscaping.
Now imagine that that entire plot of land is filled with every manner of gorgeous vegetables. That's the image we've had in our heads, thanks to what we've (half-)jokingly called "The Vision" that David started out with whem all we were doing was weeding.
We hope Jon and Deb send us photos!