Araceli’s garden

Araceli's first bean

The idea of growing our own food occurs to most of us at some time or another, but sometimes the pleasure of a tiny plot to cultivate is enough.

In these times of austerity plenty of people are thinking about having their own little parcela, a patch of land to grow a few veg to supplement the drop in income that’s be affecting almost everyone. Unfortunately, most of them don’t realise just how back-breaking it can be to prepare and look after a patch of land, how long it takes before you actually pick anything to eat, or just how much land you actually need to put the five portions of veg on your daily plate that medical opinion seems to think we need. But for city folk it isn’t necessarily for the fresh food – in fact it rarely is. As much as anything it’s the chance to get the fingers dirty once or twice a week and feel the warmth of the sun on your back.

garden in the huerta, Valencia Spain

I was chatting with my delightful friend Araceli about this very thing earlier in the week, and she surprised me by saying that last June she had started working a small plot of land in the huerta just outside the city. A self-confessed chica del asfalto (a confirmed city dweller), she didn’t know a bean from a broccoli if it didn’t come off a stall in Ruzafa market, but on a hot summer’s day she accepted an invitation from her pal Irene to take a ride out for the afternoon, spend a couple of hour’s working on Irene’s small allotment, and then nip down to the beach for a beer. She was hooked, and before she left the gardens had booked her own little plot.

So, six months later, I accepted Araceli’s invitation to do the same, and this morning found us pedalling along the cycle lane through the fields of spring onions around Alboraya to tend her plot and, hopefully pick her first crop. 

garden in the huerta Valencia, Spain

Now, when I say ‘plot’ and ‘crop’ don’t get carried away with thinking that this is some horticultural endeavour that will find Aranceli handing out fresh veg to all her friends. Her ‘plot’ is eight square meters of tilled earth, and her ‘crop’ was two pods full of runner beans. But neither let us forget the significance of her plot and crop. The former she treats with a pleasure and veneration that would be the envy of any vineyard that strives to attain the heady heights of a grand cru; the latter, the vegetables that were almost the literal first ‘fruits’ of six months work and the first ever that she had grown from tiny seedlings, cultivated in land that she had cleared, fed (with organic feed, of course), and nurtured.

When Araceli carefully opened her first pod – although not carefully enough, sadly – the first bean popped out and fell on the ground. Had it been mine, after all that hard work to grow it, I’d have picked it up, wiped it on my jumper and ate it, but Araceli is made of more elegant stuff than me, so she left it there. Irene and I were offered a sampling, and I’ve got to say that my bean was very tasty; sweet and firm and a pleasing yellowish-green. 

I think it might be a while before Araceli gets enough beans together to make a small salad, but her lettuce is well on the way, and the chap with the plot next door still has a couple of a curious local variety of winter tomatoes left which he might be persuaded to share, so it may not be that long after all.

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