growing things, permaculture, the garden project

The Garden Project: 2013 problems

Following up on this year’s successes, here are the problems that I’d like to fix for next year.

  • Two of the raised beds had ongoing problems with seeds just not germinating, or germinating then being munched by snails. The bed in the left-hand photo had a great broad bean crop at the start of the season, then the turnips and chard I planted later just didn’t come up. I’ve now replanted chard and pak choi under little cloches in the hope that that will protect the seedlings. The bed in the right-hand photo had the same problem with seedlings not germinating or being eaten. The chard from last year, as seen, did great and has now gone to seed. I’m leaving it in the hope it’ll self-seed. I didn’t plant the squash, but wherever it came from, it seems happy so I’m letting it be and hoping that there’s still enough time for a crop (not very likely, sadly).
    Raised bed with plastic bottle cloches and pots buried in soil, and some parsley.
    No sign yet of any chard or pak choi seedlings.
    Raised bed with squash and chard that's gone to seed.
    Unexpected squash is unexpected. Chard is going to seed.

  • Bamboo sticks tied together in raised bed, with one bean plant just about visible
    Only one bean that’s actually flowering
    I planted a lot of beans, and only one (and maybe a half) have grown. Again, I think this is a snail problem as I’ve seen signs of munched leaves. There’s not a huge amount of compost there but that shouldn’t have had this much impact.

  • Blueberry bush in old ceramic sink.
    No fruit this year. Birds or bad management?
    No blueberries from the blueberry. I don’t know whether this was lack of water, lack of food, or bird damage. Plan for next year: net it early on, and be more careful with watering and perhaps some home-made fertiliser (nettle/comfrey/urine might all be useful).

  • Wooden fence with a lot of green weeds and some grass in front of it
    Jungly! Note very healthy rosemary
    The west fence is under-utilised. Currently it’s going mostly wild, which is fine, but what I wanted there was raspberries. I think maybe one of the canes I transplanted last year has survived, so I’m considering getting a handful more this winter. I love raspberries and they’re a big priority for me. As you can see in the photo, though, the rosemary bush is thriving, and we also have some nice flowers including poppies.

  • Satsuma tree in ceramic pot in front of wooden fence.
    Still no satsumas
    The satsuma tree is doing well enough, but still not producing any satsumas. I’m going to dig it up in the winter (and hopefully give it away; I dislike the idea of killing off a perfectly healthy plant. Let me know if you’d like it!) and replace it with another fruit tree that will do well in a large pot and will actually produce fruit. Possibly a cherry, but I need to do a little research.

  • Dead grape vine twig in corner of raised bed
    WOE
    The grape vine died altogether. This is the thing I am saddest about! It got eaten by something (snails, I’m guessing), but even after I put in anti-snail defences, it was too badly damaged to bounce back. I really want to try again, but I am going to have to do some thinking about how to protect it come the spring.

  • White polystyrene box with chili plant and a few weeds, by brick wall
    Not a lot going on here, and no chilis
    Another space that’s just under-utilised: this box by the back door. I’m intending to build a mini greenhouse into this space over the winter.


The observant reader will have noticed that snails are my single biggest problem. My main aim for the winter is to find a solution to this problem. Ducks (or chickens? do they eat snails too?) would be ideal but sadly impractical!

I also need to think about what plants we’ve actually eaten and so what’s worth growing. I’m considering potatoes for next year as a low-maintenance crop that we really enjoy eating.

permaculture, the garden project

The Garden Project: 2013 successes

A quick round-up of this year’s garden successes, as the summer growing season comes to a close and I start thinking about autumn planting.

  • Garlic! No photo, but I got between 12 and 15 garlic bulbs, all of which are tasty and fairly easy to peel. That’s 4-5 weeks of our garlic supply, which is great. (We use a lot of garlic.) I will definitely be putting more in in November.
  • Rhubarb plants in front of fence, with grass and a few weeds.
    Doing nicely in the shady corner
    The rhubarb I transplanted from the allotment has settled in fine, despite being transplanted at totally the wrong time of year. No harvest this year as I’ve been letting it gather its strength, but looking forward to rhubarb crumble and rhubarb jam next year.

  • Small, young apple tree in small patch of grass in front of fence.
    Lots of apples but looking a bit bendy
    The apple tree is doing very well, despite some concerns with the ants earlier in the year, and we should have a good dozen apples this year, assuming they keep growing and no further problems. It needs a good prune over the winter.

  • This is just one patch of tomatoes; there are others further up the fence
    This is just one patch of tomatoes; there are others further up the fence
    The tomatoes are doing wonderfully. I’ve just started harvesting the first few this week, and they taste great. I have about 50% large (which will mostly be cooked down into passata) and 50% cherry (which will mostly be eaten straight off the vine). The ones in the self-watering containers have once again done best, so plan for next year is to make a few more self-watering containers.

  • Lots of herbs in pots, stacked at different heights on a concrete patio.
    Doing well overall.
    The herb garden has mostly done pretty well. I still think it’s a little underutilised (not all of my pots have been filled). The basil struggled a lot, which I think might be a snail problem (see the problems post for more on snails. Main plans for next year: plant more basil and coriander, deal with snails in some way, find a way of reminding other cooks in the house that the fresh herbs are there.

  • Rocket plants growing right out of their little trough
    The rocket is trying to take over…
    We have all of the rocket in the world (this is just one of the many rocket jungles, some of which emerge from cracks in the paving slabs), mostly self-seeded. The bees like it too. The only issue is that we’re not eating that much of it; I need to think about harvesting strategies for next year. However, as weeds go, I’ll take rocket over most things.

  • Chard and rocket (flowering) in raised bed.
    This all self-seeded, I think. It’s doing great.
    The chard is also doing very well (note also more rocket). I think this lot self-seeded, but I might have planted it. I eat chard quite regularly, so it is being eaten.



The thing I note from this is that it’s the low-maintenance and self-seeded plants that seem to be doing the best. Something to bear in mind when planning for next year.

Maintenance notes for next year:

  • Prune apple tree.
  • Make more SWCs for tomatoes.
  • Consider snail strategies.
  • Plant more basil and coriander.
  • Consider harvesting strategies.
permaculture, the garden project

Compost!

This week I dug out the “composting” half of the compost pile, and lo! there was a big load of beautiful rich black compost:

Nearly all dug out by the time this was taken, but you can see what's left is still good stuff.
Nearly all dug out by the time this was taken, but you can see what’s left is still good stuff.
Soil fertility in action
Soil fertility in action

I covered half of one bed with it to a depth of an inch or so, and added a couple of spadefuls to the beans and the blackcurrant beds. Very pleasing; I just hope the new “composting” half (I’ve switched them over) does its thing just as well by winter when I want to spread some more of it.

In other fertiliser news, I think comfrey has appeared in the west flowerbed, where there are a bunch of other miscellaneous things busily self-seeding. Thumbs crossed! I also harvested nettles from under the apple tree (by pulling them up; nettles are fabulous plants in many ways but not suitable for a very small garden with a toddler) and am making nettle tea at the bottom of the garden.

permaculture, the balcony project, the garden project

Watering and wicking system trials

I find it difficult to remember to regularly water all of my various growing spaces. Two of them (balcony and porch) don’t have any water source which means watering is harder work and thus likely to happen; the back garden has water but I still struggle to remember and find the time to get out there with the watering can (time consuming in itself). So I’ve been looking into watering systems.

I already have most of my tomatoes in self-built self-watering containers, which work wonderfully. Mine are very basic, based around two florists buckets stacked on one another (full instructions in Permaculture in Pots!). For the third year in a row, the tomatoes in those buckets are thriving, and I want to make a couple more for next year.

I’m likely to construct more SWCs for the porch and balcony, but in the meantime I’ve been looking at other alternatives to use in the existing containers, as well as in the ground in the raised beds in the back garden. In the light of the permaculture approach of “make small changes and observe”, here are the current experiments, all using things we already had lying around the house:

  • Mostly empty white plant container, with upended plastic bottle and a couple of small pea plants.
    This just drains straight out. Peas in the background, but nothing else is growing well.
    On the porch, this is just a plastic bottle upended in the soil. Opinion online seems divided on whether you leave the lid on (with a hole punched in it) or take it off. I took it off, and it seems to me that the water just leaks out again too fast. Part of the problem, I think, is that this box is too well drained; the first time I filled the bottle, it all flooded straight out of the bottom of the box. This area is entirely under cover, so I could use a container without drainage, as it can’t flood with rain. I will try a non-draining container here the next time the current one is empty.

  • Plastic bottle upended in soil, with tomato plants surrounding it.
    The plastic bottle drains very fast.
    This box, out in the garden, uses the same plastic bottle system, again without a top. There’s no drainage problem here (don’t think this box has drainage holes!), but water still seems to drain out of the bottle very fast. I think you may need pretty damp soil to start with for it to work (so not suitable for all plants, though tomatoes grow fine with wet feet). I’ll also try putting a cap on the bottle to see if that helps.

  • Ceramic pot buried in the soil, surrounded by seedlings planted under plastic bottle tops
    Ceramic pot — drains too fast. Surrounded by chard seedlings in mini cloches.
    Out in the back garden again, this is a ceramic pot buried in the soil. I got this variation on a traditional African watering system from the current issue of Permaculture Magazine. Again, currently mine seems to be draining too fast. Reading the editorial again, more carefully, suggested that I need a cork in the bottom, so I’ll try that. I also suspect that I’ve buried it a little too deep and it would do better with a centimetre showing above the surface, so soil doesn’t leak in. It could do with a cover to limit evaporation, but currently it’s draining too fast for that to matter.

  • A plastic pot buried to its rim in soil, with seedlings under plastic bottle tops surrounding it.
    Again, this is draining too fast. More chard seedlings here!
    On the other side of the same bed, I wondered whether a plastic pot with holes in the bottom would work similarly — like a cross between the ceramic pot and an upturned bottle. Again, however, it’s just draining too quickly, and it takes up more space in the bed than an upturned 2l bottle would. I will try replacing it with a large water bottle, lid on, and see how that works.



I suspect that the best solution will be different in my different growing spaces, as the parameters, requirements, and limitations are different in all three areas. However, I would like to get some kind of watering solution in place across all of them before next summer. Watch this space for more experimental results!

Rocket plants growing right out of their little trough
The rocket is trying to take over…

Meanwhile, the rocket is doing just fine anyway.

growing things, parenting, the garden project

Garlic and snails

Busy times over here, with Leon starting to walk and lots of summer fun stuff happening.

I’ve harvested my garlic, and for the first time ever got a really decent crop (14 bulbs) which look like they’ll be very usable. Unfortunately I left it a week too late and the stalks are too dry to be plaited and hung to dry, so the bulbs are drying on a plate in the kitchen and being turned occasionally. I planted these garlics from a bulb (sold for eating) from the Co-op rather than buying proper seed garlic and they’re my best ever, and I’m not quite sure what to think! I’m debating whether I should save a bulb for next year (usually discouraged I think if you’ve planted supermarket seed?), buy another Co-op bulb next year, or buy a ‘proper’ one.

Depressingly, though, my grape vine has died altogether. It got heavily munched by snails/slugs, but when I wrote to the nursery they thought it would recover. Sadly not. I am probably going to try again next year, but in the meantime I need a plan of action for dealing with the slimey beasties.

I’ve also started work on my Permaculture Diploma, which is exciting. I’m using the Back Garden Project as one of my designs, so have been pulling posts together from that and writing up my analysis more formally. Other projects on the horizon include a mini greenhouse for the back garden, a plan for the balcony and the front porch, and very excitingly, a plan for my friends’ new allotment.

I’ve also been writing about mastitis with an older baby over at Natural Parents Network, for World Breastfeeding Week.