Poly-veg winter bed: update

With the single currently-active raised bed in the back garden, I experimented with a winter polyculture, or mixed-veg bed. It’s now looking very healthy, with plants in various stages of growth:

  • Some garlic poking its head up, all around the edge of the bed. Garlic is often a good choice for edging beds, as it’ll help to keep off pests (when they return in the spring). I didn’t get around to getting a decent bulb of garlic from a proper shop, so I just stuck in cloves from a bulb from the Co-op. I wouldn’t want to save any cloves for next year from this crop (since I know nothing about its parentage), but it was a quick and easy solution.

    Garlic shoots, with other greens around them
  • A row of winter lettuce seedlings at the back of the bed.

    Row of small light green winter lettuce seedlings, with some dark green rocket seedlings
  • Some very healthy-looking broccoli raab and turnips (although the turnips themselves are not up to that much; I will use the greens as well when I pull them up, to make the most of the crop).

    Thickly-sown broccoli raab and turnip plants, looking quite intertwined with each other
  • A couple of small chard plants.

    Three small chard plants, surrounded by other greens
  • You may also spot a fair few small rocket plants scattered around the bed. I had lots of rocket seed so scattered it widely. It needs some fairly aggressive thinning, as it’s over-thick, but it’s very tasty so this isn’t a hardship. Having the soil covered thickly like this with plants I do want reduces the number of plants I don’t want (weeds) which can make their way in.

In addition to that lot, there’s a few snow peas and broad beans that aren’t quite up yet, planted where there were some bare patches towards the back of the bed. Looking for bare patches as the crops start to come up, and taking advantage of them, is another principle of polycultures and forest gardening type approaches.

I’ve also constructed another couple of raised beds (one has some broad beans in, but neither are full of compost yet), and transplanted the rosemary to its new home against the fence. The soil here is not great for a Mediterranean herb like rosemary; it’s very clay-heavy, and not well-drained. To give the plant the best chance, we dug a biggish hole and dug in some compost and sharp sand at the bottom of it and around the plant. It’s a sturdy plant (and was badly outgrowing its pot), so hopefully it’ll survive the winter and get going again in the spring. The cuttings that I took (in case it does turn up its roots and die) seem to be doing well so far.

For the end of November, it’s all looking pleasingly green; and I’m still getting regular (albeit small) crops of greens from it.

Online distraction

I spent a weekend recently at the Ecolodge in Lincolnshire, an off-grid cottage in a couple of acres of meadow and woodland. Doop, the Sidney-dog, and I spent a very lovely four days reading, chatting, doing a jigsaw puzzle, snoozing, and walking around the grounds.

It gave rise to some thoughts around distractions and my ability to get things done. There’s no mains electricity at the Ecolodge, so no wireless, no 3G (we turned our phones off on arrival)… No phone calls or texts. No email. No Internet at all.

I was suddenly very aware of my reflex to reach for the refresh button (on my RSS reader, on Twitter, on one of the forums I read) every time I have a moment where I’m not doing something else. Or, more importantly, a moment where I am doing, or trying to do, something else, but in some sense don’t want to be. Something I’m procrastinating on; something I’m scared of; something I’m finding challenging. The myriad distractions of the Glorious Internet are there to help me escape every time I have a difficult moment.

If that were satisfying in itself, perhaps it might be indicate not that I have a distraction problem, but that I need to check how many of the things on my to-do list are really important to me. But it’s not; after half an hour of reading blog posts I rarely feel satisfied, or better about anything much at all. It’s not that there isn’t some great writing out there; it’s about the way I approach that writing, not as a worthwhile thing in itself, but as an escape-route.

After two days of information-detox, I noticed myself feeling calmer, and less twitchy. I even got some writing done. Two days later, though, I could feel the stress levels rising again as I switched my phone back on.

I’ve tried “offline Sundays” before and enjoyed them, but stopped again for no readily apparent reason after a month or two. I’ve tried “two working days a week offline” before, too, and whilst I enjoyed that too, it lasted barely a the fortnight. This time, I broke my attempted resolution of a week off “recreational” browsing about two hours after I got in the front door.

I don’t want these distractions. I don’t want to be numbing my discomfort every time I sit down to tackle a complicated task. I want either to get on with doing that task, or to talk to the monsters a bit and find out why I’m uncomfortable) with it. On the other hand, nor do I want to lose my online reading habit altogether. It’s still true that there is plenty of good stuff out there, and there are friends I want to keep up with.

The problem is that I still don’t know how to manage those things. I’m choosing to see it as a good first step that I’m asking the question; that I’m catching myself when I reach for that refresh button, even if all I do is observe myself allowing the distraction to take over. It’s a start.

Cargo bikes, fracking, and raspberries

I have been writing things in other places!

UK Activists Tell Energy Companies To Frack Off.

Kids and cargo bikes. (Since writing that, we’ve decided to go ahead and get the Christiania trike. I am inordinately excited, though we won’t be ordering it for a month or so.)

In ‘garden’ news, yesterday I transplanted 6 raspberry suckers (4 autumn raspberries, 2 summer raspberries) from the allotment to the western garden fence. I’m unsure how they’ll get on with the clay (I dug in a little sand and compost), but as otherwise the suckers would have been snipped up and put in the compost, it’s worth the experiment.

Self-fertile apple trees for small gardens

I’m keen to have a fruit tree in our garden, and my mind turned to what’s really the default UK fruit tree: the apple. The thing with apple trees, though (and in fact many fruit trees), is that if you want to get actual fruit, the tree needs to be fertilised. For the vast majority of apple varieties, that means having at least one other apple tree, of the right pollen group and which blossoms at the right time, planted somewhere fairly nearby. In an orchard, a big garden, or even in an allotment where you can count on other allotmenters also having apple trees, that’s fine. If, on the other hand, you have a tiny garden like mine, one tree is going to be pretty much all you can fit in.

Happily, in this modern age, you can get self-fertile apple trees; that is, trees which will pollinate themselves. Even so, they’ll do better (crop more heavily) if pollinated by another nearby tree, but you’ll get a crop anyway. For my purposes, all I want is a few eating apples, and a tree to sit under, so that’ll work fine for me.

The choice, though, is a bit limited — here’s one list*, although note that some of those (the starred ones) are only partly self-fertile, so best to avoid if you don’t want to rely on having another tree in the vicinity. In my case, it’s limited further by the fact that the apples best-liked in our household are the Cox/Russet kind of axis. I couldn’t find any self-fertile russet types, but here is my list of self-fertile Cox-types:

For me, I think it’s a toss-up between Red Windsor and Winston, with a probable bias towards Winston. I shall consult the rest of the household.

A quick note as well on rootstocks. M27 will give you a very small tree (up to 2m), but unless you’re seriously space-limited or growing in a pot, you’re probably better going for M9 (full height up to 2.5m), which is a little bigger and significantly more productive. Both M9 and M27 require permanent staking. If you have the space, M26 is bigger still, and MM106 a decent standard size, growing to 2.5-4.5m. For my 40m2 garden, I’ll be choosing M9 as a good compromise between size and productivity.

* I have noticed some disagreement between different lists on whether or not particular apples are self-fertile. I recommend cross-checking a couple of sources before buying.