I came, I sawed, I compost

There's wild flower wonder in Catalonia and Martin Kirby, who began a new life there with his family, gets his hands on the Champions League trophy.

The dagger leaves of the irises have grown to swords. A myriad of flower essences float among the birdsong. The fig trees are finally stirring with the green of life flaming from their upturned finger tips, and although cicadas dominate the dusk, chainsaws claim the dawn.

Cyclical rain and sun cast the colours of new beginnings, while the days grow longer and the time left for fires ticks away. Yet a niggling dampness lingered for weeks in mid April and we were out

of firewood save for twigs.

That won't be a problem next winter. Forest clearance after the tree-breaking snowfalls has been in full swing across the sierra, hence the grrr of saws from all quarters, and we too can cut and burn to hopefully spare us a summer torching.

It is satisfying labour because the mist of moisture that paints the valley with milky brushstrokes extinguishes all fear of an accidental fire storm, and amid the damaged woodland you can see where you have carved air.

Better still, lily of the valley and wild sweet peas, dormant for goodness knows how long, have stirred from beneath the bed of needles where the pine trees blocked light and life.

We whistle, and when the damp-down deadline of noon arrives I am invariably humming, so I jump into the shower, bramble inscriptions on my forearms and forehead; unshaven, torn-trousered, half-bearded.

Our attention swings from the vegetable patches (three this year) to hacking into the broken wilderness on the terrace above the pony corral, where as we lop and fell we ponder what to grow, and how.

We are, perchance, the most far-flung members of an English organic growers group. This is a little patch of England, after all, tended with the benefit of all manner of gleaned wisdom here and there, most recently when Maggie was back in March and attended a meeting with her mum and sister (who kindly paid for our membership) to hear James Dexter of Earwig Organics expound on dust.

This is not the stuff on your bookshelves or under the bed. What matters is rock dust, basalt and granite varieties, ideally something of the kind that has been billowing out of Eyjafjallajoekull in Iceland.

I'm not advocating volcanic dust chaos, but there is another way. During ice ages, glaciers pulverise, grind up and move rocks over vast distances. This dust re-mineralises, acting as a host to micro-organisms that enrich soil and hence sustain our whole precious environment that we are doing so much to trash. The problem is the last Ice Age melted away 10,000 years ago and now most of our soil has been drained of the broad spectrum of minerals needed to maintain its health.

The crucial significance? It has been proved that plants grown in soil re-mineralised with rock dust are so resilient they don't need any chemical concoctions – and production and goodness can rocket. Regardless of how appetising fruits and vegetables may appear in the shops, vitamin and mineral content has dropped significantly in the past 40 years, in many cases by half. This is because the ground itself is losing its goodness. So while we all wait for the dust to settle, ponder on core health issues, the crucial need for prevention rather than cure, and how the rock on which we live could fundamentally address some of civilisation's greatest ills.

Intrigued? Look up rock dust on the internet on sites like www.seercentre. org.uk. Any good Yorkshire garden centre should be able to advise. Also dig into books like We Want Real Food by Graham Harvey. Test rock dust in your window box, or back garden. And slowly but surely the world may get better, if we can deal with our obsession with profit.

As for Eyjafjallajoekull, the fallout reached us too. Ella's Romanian exchange student, Andrada, was more than set to fly home, but Hungarian Wizz Air wasn't wizzing anywhere. At first we thought she would be with us for another week, but then it was decided a 30-hour coach journey was the answer. We wait now to see if Ella's May vacation in, er, Transylvania, goes ahead.

Having three vegetable patches dotted about presents inevitable irrigation issues. Resourcefulness is watered by necessity (lack of cashflow) and stubbornness. We flatly refuse to throw away anything remotely recyclable until every last alternative use can be explored. Sometimes the consequences are crude. Sometimes they are quite charming.

Puskar suddenly decided with Nepalese vigour to dig up the small terrace in front of the house, where Maggie and her watering can had cultivated copious quantities of vegetables in our first two years. Certainly the soil there is fertile, but we had moved our patch because we bought chickens and their enclosure and afternoon free range territory was there.

We're going to need fencing and water, I said, leaning on the low wall. Then my eyes wandered to the wine-making overspill stacked against the barn, including old oak barrels that could no longer be trusted for our moonshine but are way too charming to part with.

Puskar, meanwhile, began constructing a barricade of cane, hazel and old string that has a certain something too. And it has, so far, deterred the brood from scratching out our rocket, tomato, pumpkin, pepper and melon seedlings.

This was during the second week of April, and Puskar broke off his labours to wish us "Navavarsha", Happy New Year.

"Get a grip," I said.

"No, now is our Nepalese new year. It starts very nicely now."

"Your 2010 starts in April?"

"No. The year is 2067."

A flash of white teeth. In the barn time is also flying at an alarming rate. Eighteen black Villafranca Easter chicks are filling out faster than a journalist at a free buffet. Oscillating between feeding frenzy and snoozing beneath a lamp, they reside in a straw-filled run with a removable lid made from a old bench-style toilet seat that I've been keeping. You know, wide plank of wood with a hole in the middle, perfect for dipping your arm in to top up the food and water. The chicks will bolster the flock to 29, although the uneasy plan is to cull the cockerels for meat. Could you do that? We have had to before, but it is never easy. The reasoning is inarguable, though. If you are meat eaters, then be sure that what you are eating has been well-reared and is chemical-free. I keep reminding myself.

I've sought to ease the barn overcrowding by catching and releasing (several kilometres away in the forest) the fattest rat I've ever seen. He or she outwitted me for days, lumbering between the various animal feed sacks. We are always happy to have the swallows and bats back, but the rat was seriously ugly and a potential pullet slayer. And I couldn't be sure my toilet seat would hold out.

There is animal feed all over the place because, as well as the extra chicken rations, the ponies are getting through it. Do you remember the repeated visitations by a pocket-rocket stallion with an attitude problem? He's been removed from the valley now, but he called by 16 times and both ponies appear to be in foal.

One Sunday morning we got a call to say the Barcelona trophy bus, which has been on a nationwide tour (Catalonia is a nation remember), had stopped off in town three kilometres away. Last season Lionel Messi and co, better known as Barca FC, waltzed off with an unprecedented six trophies, including the Champions League. We nearly didn't bother because, well, we knew there would be a long queue and then we'd just get a fleeting glimpse of something behind a wall of glass. But it is not something that happens every day, so off we toddled at the last minute. Blimey O'Reilly. Knock me down with a rolled-up Yorkshire Post sports section. For a surreal minute there we were, standing behind the vast haul of silverware, my hand on the biggest trophy of them all. That's typical of Barca, I have to say. I'm not entirely sure how many clubs would organise something like that, but the club is owned by the supporters, which makes a huge difference I suppose.


Martin's English novel Count The Petals of the Moon Daisy is published by Pegasus (ISBN 9781903490297)

YP MAG 8/5/10