There’s always a lot of imagery, a lot of Spring imagery, floating about this time of year – there’s the honey eaters darting among the wattle flowers, the bees on the apricot blossoms, there’s lambs frolicking through daffodils and in the city we are skipping to trains and buses and trams singing optimistic show tunes we remember from our parent’s record collections. And it’s all as clean and fresh as a puffy cotton cloud on a bright, breezy spring day.
But there’s something else particular to this time of year, a darker, dirtier side to Spring, something market gardeners know intimately but don’t widely share, mainly because they’re too busy scraping it off their boots with their hoes and off their hoes with their boot knives and finally wiping their boot knives on their rain pants, and this of course is the Spring mud.
For farmers, vegetable growers in particular, Spring can be muddy, very muddy indeed. Down at Joe’s Market Garden in Coburg, the Merri clay has a certain sticky quality that builds up on farmer, Vince Fittipaldi’s boots in a sort of snowball effect, weighing him down, sapping his energy, so by mid-morning he’s staggering up the rows with five kilos of mud on each boot, wondering why his dodgy knee is giving him such grief and how come all of a sudden he’s feeling all of his 68 years.
And meanwhile, over at Foothill Farm in Colac this last Wednesday, after an already wet winter, Joe Sgro had 2 inches of rain, which is normally the average rainfall for the whole of September. And Joe, who at this time of year is usually worrying if he’s got enough water to get himself through the summer, now has enough of it to go sailing across some parts of his farm in a small catamaran.
But no matter how muddy and wet it gets Joe still has to get out into his fields twice every week to harvest his beets and his leeks and his rainbow chard. And the mud spins off the wheels and splashes up from the puddles and smears from muddy hands and gradually covers everyone, so Joe and his workers start to look like they’ve got carried away down in the swimming hole on the third day of a Rainbow Festival. And with all this mud Joe’s wondering when he’s ever going to be able to get his tractor into his paddocks so he can start planting his dutch cream potatoes and his bunching spinach and maybe some sweet corn.
It’s the Spring more than any other time of year that our grower/eater experiences seem to diverge most; for some there is mud, so much mud, while for the rest of us, we are blessedly free to wax lyrical about the wax eyes and the wagtails, to muse about this t-shirt weather we’re having and to wonder with each other about when we’ll have the first spring picnic in the park with our friends.