There’s a Boggart on my land...

Onion and beetroot bottoms, lettuce and spinach tops

Onion and beetroot bottoms, lettuce and spinach tops - Credit: Charles Sinclair

Storyteller Janet Dowling writes for the Herald on behalf of the Sid Valley Biodiversity Group.

Janet Dowling, Sidmouth-based storyteller

Janet Dowling - Credit: Janet Dowling

During lockdown I invested in trugs and raised beds to grow fresh vegetables.

It had to be 'no dig'. I don’t do digging. Last year we had peas, tomatoes, potatoes, courgettes, butternut-squash, carrots, beets and a variety of salads.

This year I told my long-suffering partner that I would do 'tops and bottoms' again as it kept the diversity.

He was a little confused! “Don’t worry," I said, “I know a story that will make that all clear.”

Jack and Mary met a farmer who was selling some land very cheap.

“It’s a bit out of the way,” said John, “but the land is good and fertile.” The farmer was quick to take their money.

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“We can make a profit,” said John, “and then start to build our own farm.”

BOOM!! “What’s this? Growing crops on MY land?”

Behind them was a very strange man, with shaggy hair, bulging eyes and long arms. A boggart. A trickster. A creature of the earth.

“This is OUR land,” said Mary. “We have all the legal papers.” The Boggart laughed. “That means nothing – this is MY land. This is where I have lived for centuries.”

John and Mary realised why the land was so cheap.

“Let’s share it.” said John. “I’ll plant the crop, tend the field, and come harvest we will split it – half each.”

“Hm,” said the Boggart, “you do all the work and I get half the crop. Done!”

Mary chipped in. “To be exactly fair- lets split each individual plant in two. Do you want the tops or the bottoms?” “The tops are best!” said the Boggart.

At harvest-time John, Mary and the Boggart stood in a field full of turnips.

Every one that Jack pulled out of the ground was carefully cut it so that the leaves, the “tops,” went into the Boggart’s pile while the turnips, “the bottoms”, went into Jack’s pile.

“That’s not fair!” cried the Boggart. “You agreed to having tops,” Mary reminded him.

“Then next year I’ll have bottoms!”

“That’s fair enough,” said Jack, “I’ll have tops!” So he planted barley.

When the Boggart came, he got the bottoms- bits of stubble and roots.

The Boggart stamped his foot. The earth shuddered. “You are cheating!” he said. “Next year you grow wheat, and then we will both scythe it. The one who has cut most, takes the whole crop AND the land!”

Mary asked, “Where will you start- the north or the south part of the field?”

The Boggart laughed. “The south, where the sun is best!” and then disappeared.

“He is much bigger and stronger than me,” worried John. “He will take it all.”

Mary smiled, “I have a plan.”

She asked the blacksmith to make 100 iron rods the size of a wheat stalk. Then they ‘planted’ the iron rods on the southside of the field.

At harvest both John and the Boggart were ready with their scythes.

At first the Boggart was ahead. Then there was something wrong with his scythe. He’d sharpen it, scythe and then it was blunt again. John just kept scything away. The more the iron rods blunted the scythe, the more the Boggart got angry. He couldn’t see the iron rods. When he looked up, John had already scythed over half the field. “I win!” he laughed.

“You cheated me,” screamed the Boggart.

Mary and John looked at him. “We have won three years in a row- it’s time for you to go!”

The Boggart stamped his foot, threw his scythe on the ground- where it broke in two. “This is a horrible piece of land. It doesn’t like me. Good riddance!” And with that he stormed off, muttering to himself.

“So, what shall we plant next year?” asked John. “I think tops AND bottoms,” said Mary. “It keeps it more diverse. We never know what might happen!”