Forest Garden update

My forest garden is really more of a forest fence, but nevertheless, over the winter I have started planting up. At a workshop recently someone mentioned that you should try to get a photo from the same place once or twice a year as your garden develops, so here is my first one:

20140306-151507.jpg

Very far right, in shade, is a blackcurrant bush with some daffodils by it, and to the left of that, a space where I will plant tomatoes in pots again this year as they did very well last year. (Not really part of the ‘forest’.)

In the bed right of middle, I’ve planted a fig tree against the fence, in a paving-slab box. There’s some volunteer parsley in that bed too, and some ground cover strawberries. I’m planning to plant some fennel, chard, and perhaps Good King Henry in there later this month as a herbaceous layer; and probably some rocket will show up as it does everywhere else. I may well train the fig against the fence, which is a bit against the forest garden theory but more practical in this tiny space.

The left-hand bed has a grape vine, which I will train up the fence and over to the left. There’s also a Daubenton’s Kale (looking a bit toppled-over; it seems taller than the one I have had before but we’ll see how it does), some chard and rocket, and I’ve moved my thyme in there. I’m considering moving some of the other perennial herbs in there too.

Then looking left again there are the herb pots; and since taking that photo earlier in the week, I’ve moved the mini greenhouse again so it too is against the fence. I planted a dwarf cherry tree in a pot against the fence at the other side, and an autumn olive at the shady end of the garden, so there are lots of things to keep an eye on this year. I’ll take another photo like this in late summer to see how it’s all looking.

Emergency Squash Cloche!

Somewhat to my surprise, my volunteer squash has actually produced a couple of baby squashes. (It turns out that it’s a butternut squash. Hurrah!) But as we head conclusively into autumn, there isn’t enough warm weather left for them to grow to a decent size, let alone to ripen.

Tiny butternut squash, still green, on compost
Really very small indeed

Apparently you can use unripe winter squashes (like butternut) in much the same way you use summer squashes (like courgettes), so I anticipate experimenting with Butternut Courgette in the near future. I’d still like them to get a little bigger first, though, so I raided the pile of bamboo poles, and the big stash of bubble-wrap in the garage, to construct an Emergency Squash Cloche:

Raised bed covered with bubble wrap hung on bamboo pole frame
Not the most attractive thing, but hopefully functional

I’m not sure if it’ll work, but it was free and took only 15 or 20 minutes to set up and tie together. It’s not a good long-term cloche, either, as it’s hard to get in under it, but it’ll do for the next couple of weeks to see what happens. My main problem at this point is preventing Leon from pulling it down in order to pop all the bubbles.

The Garden Project: 2013 analysis

As part of the ongoing maintenance of the permaculture design for my back garden, I made a list of the issues highlighted in my successes and problems posts:

  • Lack of time for maintenance; this led to no blueberry fruit (lack of netting and fertiliser) and a poor strawberry harvest (lack of watering).
  • Lack of time? inclination? for harvesting.
  • Snails eating seedlings (and the grape vine).
  • Some under-utilised space.
  • More of an observation than an issue: the things that have done best are the things which require the least input, and are the least vulnerable. (eg tomatoes, which largely look after themselves once the seedlings are robust enough to go outside, especially with the self-watering containers.)

After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that the maintenance and harvesting problems actually break down into three factors:

  1. Real actual lack of time.
  2. Not spending enough time out in the garden. (“The best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow”). This is largely because it is so very hot out there in good weather.
  3. Watering is a big faff: the watering can is slow to fill from the butt, and heavy to fill from the tap, and one watering can isn’t much for a whole garden.

I took a look at the permaculture principles while thinking about designing a solution. (The whole design maintenance process is about principle 4, “Accept self-regulation and feedback”.) (Italics are conclusions or things I need to add to my to-do list.)

Living with the snails

My very first conclusion was that however many solutions there are to snail and slug problems, my preferred solution was to learn to live together with the snails. (Principle 1, “Observe and interact; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”) As a vegan, I can’t really justify killing the snails, who are after all only trying to feed themselves, the same way I am. Observing the plants that struggled, the ones most at risk are small annual seedlings (carrots and turnips, courgette, basil), and that grape vine. This suggests a multi-layer approach (principle 10: “Use and value diversity”):

  • Just give up growing carrots and turnips. They’re not a great crop for a small space, I’ve always struggled to germinate carrots, and I’ve never been that impressed by the taste of my home-grown ones.
  • Work on getting plants big enough to resist snail attacks. That means protecting my annual seedlings (bean, courgette, basil) better (starting in the already planned mini-greenhouse, perhaps also using copper tape for the basil pot), and planting more perennial veg, which are better able to resist attack.
  • For the grape vine, which I really want to try again: a mechanical solution. An anti-snail fence did seem to work this year, but the plant was already too damaged. Next year I can use it from the start.

Lack of time, and lack of time in the garden

My next problem was the lack of time, combined with the lack of time spent in the garden. The obvious solution to a lack of time is to grow plants that need less attention, which broadly speaking again points to perennials. (Snail-resistant and easier to grow! Principle 5: “Use and value renewable resources and services”.) A second solution is to plan what maintenance I do need (eg checking the soil pH of the blueberries, fertilising fruit trees) a bit better over the winter, ready for summer. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”; that is, use my winter energy to better direct my summer energy.) Making comfrey and nettle tea is also on my agenda.

The lack of time in the garden is strongly related to our excessively warm south-facing patio. We have a patio umbrella, but it doesn’t provide much shade, and it doesn’t shade the wall of the house which then radiates heat back out. It’s actually a difficult space to shade, because it is so very south-facing! One solution might be an awning with a ‘curtain’ falling a couple of feet around it. However, my preferred solution is another grape vine, trained over the patio. This will produce a grape crop, provide all-day shading for the house wall, and the transpiration of the green leaves will cool the space under them. I thought we would need a pergola for this (difficult to install on our concrete patio), but in fact installing strong wires should do the trick at least initially. (Principle 9: “Use small and slow solutions”, principle 3: “Obtain a yield” (of both shade and grapes!), principle 2: “Catch and store energy” (grapes store sun energy), and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate” (two functions, one solution).

There were other awkwardnesses in the patio space which I’ve already fixed and which are already meaning I spend more time out there and water a bit more, as the weather cools:

  1. The table and chairs are an awkward shape for the space — the table is too big and the chairs are in the way. However, it turns out that the chairs hang quite neatly on the otherwise-unused tall patio fence, which meant I could move the table out. It’s now much easier to navigate.
  2. Leon’s paddling pool was similarly awkwardly sized. Ebay provided a smaller, easier to manage second-hand pool.

Watering and harvesting

I’m currently working on watering and wicking solutions to make watering required less often, and easier when it is required. I’d like something in all the annual beds and anywhere else (eg the blueberry and cherry pots) it’s needed. I also need to add a longer hose to the tap for when I need to use that, to make the watering can easier to fill.

The planned perennial beds, with full ground cover, will also help retain moisture in the earth, as will adding more compost as it becomes available. I’m going to abandon the strawberry tower which doesn’t work at all well, and use the strawberries as perennial ground cover.

Harvesting: we don’t use as much rocket as we have; but as a self-seeded low-maintenance plant which gets eaten sometimes and is nice to nibble on while gardening, I’m happy to just let it keep on keeping on. I’m going to stop planting annual lettuce, but might plant a salad-type perennial leaf (low-maintenance, available if wanted).

I am going to put sticky notes on the herb jars which are for things we have outside, to remind cooks that the fresh herbs are there!

Under-utilised space

Finally, in terms of under-utilised space (principle 6: “Produce no waste”), a handful of different solutions:

  • Two small and slow solutions (principle 9): a cherry tree to replace the satsuma in the big pot (principle 3: “Obtain a yield”), and a couple of raspberry canes to go into the wild east border. The raspberries should need little maintenance once established, the cherry might need netting once it starts bearing fruit. It will also help shade the patio a little.
  • A mini-greenhouse for the sunny south wall by the door. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”). As above, this will also provide a safe place for seedlings to grow big enough to resist snails.
  • Perennial plants in both west beds, using forest-garden-style stacking underneath tall plants against the sunny fence. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”.) This also, as above, helps to solve the watering, time, and snails problems.
  • Moving some of the herbs (thyme and oregano, most notably) into the north-east raised bed next to the herb garden, where I think they will do better and will also act as ground cover. This is really part of the perennial bed planting and reduces my outlay on new plants in favour of ones we use.
  • An autumn olive in the far south-west corner, above the rhubarb, for fruit, beautiful berries, and nitrogen-fixing. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”, and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate”.)

Overall…

Generally, my aim is to set things up so that, as much as possible, they manage themselves. It’s going to require a certain amount of work over the winter to set things up, and over the first year or two to help them get going, but in the long run this should significantly improve the way the garden works, heading towards the “harvesting as maintenance” goal.

The big part of the plan is forest-garden style planting in the two western raised beds. I’ve worked out my plan for that and will write about it in my next post.

The Waste Land For Babies!

I am in VENICE, which is ace. (Although I cannot recommend a night on a sleeper train with a vomiting baby. Having said that, I cannot think of any *better* way of travelling with a vomiting baby, so my preference for trains remains undiminished.) (Leon thankfully recovered within hours, in plenty of time to be cooed over by Italian grannies.)

Anyway, this post is not to talk about lovely Venice, but to say, if you didn’t already know, that Marna’s fabulous Kickstarter, The Waste Land For Babies (picture book edition), ends tomorrow, so pledge your pennies now! Leon got the laminated original version for his Christmas so I am confident in declaring its awesomeness. Click! Love! Back! And, in due course, read and adore.

Give It Away

The single thing that best joins together my attempts at simple living and my environmental beliefs is Freecycle and its friends: the charity shop, the sale/free-for-postage board on my favourite forum, even Ebay (though more on that in a moment).

I hate wasting things; and I hate the idea that I am contributing yet more to landfill. But I also hate unnecessary clutter. So I declutter merrily, piling up the things that no longer serve me (don’t fit me physically, don’t fit me mentally, don’t fit my life now even if they did in the past)… and then I get stuck.I reach for the black bin bag, then I stop and think, well, but they’re not broken, they could still be useful. Maybe I should just hang onto them for now, just in case. It would be wasteful to throw them out, right?

If instead I can take them to the charity shop, or list them on Freecycle, or sell them off on Ebay, suddenly I feel better about the whole thing. I’m not wasting them, or losing them; I’m letting them go, to find better lives, to make someone else happy, elsewhere. (This also helps reassure my sentimental side, which hates to let go of old friends like my college-room kettle, even if it has lived in a cupboard for 5 years.)

It works best if I can just give things away. Ebay means a little bit of cash, sure; but it also means a certain amount of effort, photographing and listing and packaging up and posting. For most things the returns barely cover the time expended. More importantly, things to be listed on Ebay pile up in corners of my room, lurking at me.

Freecycle, on the other hand — no photos, just a quick 2-sentence listing, and the minor hassle of arranging a collection time (easier these days now someone is at home with Leon the majority of the time). The charity shop means a trike ride, but the charity box lives in the garage (out of sight, out of mind) so that’s better too. And giving things away also helps me get past the temptation to save them “just in case”. I see Freecycle like a giant karmic lending library. I put my stuff out there; and if I need it (or, more likely, something different) later, there’s a decent chance that someone else will have things to spare.

Of course, the next stage is to focus a little harder on not bringing these things in the house in the first place. My consumption levels aren’t huge, but they’re higher than I’d like. And, I fear, more so when I’m tired or stressed out, a state of affairs that can is a little more frequent than I’d like right now. So my next step in both simple and green living? Learning to think for a few moments more before I hit that ‘buy’ button.

Meanwhile: I think I feel another burst of decluttering coming on…

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Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating eco-friendly living solutions into their everyday lives. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Daily Lives!

 

 

  • Green Renovating: A Lot, A Little, Not So Much Laura at Authentic Parenting ponders about the many things that have an impact on eco-friendly renovating
  • Growing Native in My Flower Beds – Destany at They Are All of Me takes the guilt out of her flower habit by switching from high maintenance flowers to native plants which not only lessens her gardening load, but also benefits the local wild life.
  • Baby Steps – Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares how her family became more sustainable, one step at a time.
  • A Greener Holiday – Sara from Family Organic discusses the overwhelming amount of “stuff” that comes with every holiday and talks about how to simplify instead.
  • Forcibly Green–Obligatory Organic – Survivor at Surviving Mexico talks about her family’s evolution from passive to active green and sustainable living.
  • Giving It Away – Juliet Kemp of Twisting Vines writes about the role of Freecycle, the giant karmic lending library, in her simple and green living.
  • Simply Sustainable – Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses her family’s attempts to live in harmony with the earth by living simply and more sustainably.
  • How Does Your Yarden Grow – Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassafras writes about an ongoing permaculture project, converting her grass lawn into a mower-free paradise.
  • Green? – Is it about ticking the boxes? sustainablemum shares her thoughts on what being green means in her life.
  • Using Cloth Products To Reduce Household Waste – Angela from Earth Mama’s World shares how her family replaced many disposable household products with cloth to reduce their household waste.
  • Going Green in Baby Steps – Joella of Fine and Fair shares some small, easy steps to gradually reduce your environmental impact.
  • Are You Ready To Play Outside?! – Alex from AN Portraits writes about gardening, and playing in the dirt, and how it’s O.K. to get dirty, play in the dirt, play with worms, for both adults and kids.
  • Lavender and Tea Tree Oil Laundry Booster – At Natural Parents Network, Megan from The Boho Mama shares an all-natural way to freshen laundry.

Pop-up raised beds

The manufacturer of these instant raised beds emailed me a while back. I haven’t tried them out myself so don’t know how sturdy they are, but they look like an interesting solution if you want raised beds in a hurry, or for an organisation like a school or community centre who might prefer a commercial type of raised bed.

The circular structure means that if you push them together you’ll lose a very little bit of space compared to a similar square bed, but there’s not much in it, and they’re clearly less hassle than the DIY pallet construction option. For ease of working the size does look good. I’d be interested to hear how they work in practice if anyone has encountered them?

(Oh, in fact I’ve just seen that you can score the sides so you could make them hexagonal and avoid any space loss at all. Neat!)

The owner of the site also sent me an idea involving DIY floor tiles and copper wire raised bed construction, pointing out that the copper would repel slugs. This was his quickly-knocked-up version:

Tile panels mostly wired together
Tile panels mostly wired together

Lined and full of compost and plants
Lined (with a plant liner of some sort) and full of compost and plants

(both images c. David Roberts)

He also mentioned the possibility of tidying it up a bit or making curved sides with a tile cutter. You would need to be a lot better than I am with a tile cutter to manage that! I am however now slightly annoyed that our left-over kitchen tiles are a) Marmoleum not slate, and b) too small to do that with anyway. Bah.

For avoidance of doubt: I have not been offered any recompense for making this post; I just think they’re an interesting idea.

Shallow growing

In the course of planning both back & front gardens, I need a list of things that will grow in shallow (6-9″) containers, as I have quite a lot of them. Herewith the results of my research thus far.

Greens:

  • Rocket
  • Lettuce generally
  • Mustard greens?
  • Peas – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Beans – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″

Other veg:

  • Tomatoes – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″
  • Carrots – not 6″, apparently ok in 9″

Fruit:

  • Strawberries

Flowers:

  • Marigolds
  • Nasturtiums
  • Pansies
  • Poppies

And some things which in my experience don’t do so well:

  • Chard (probably because it’s secretly a root).
  • Parsnips, roots generally.

I’ve had trouble with peas and beans in containers before, but it’s possible they were a bit shy of 9″, so I’ll give it another try. Unfortunately I think the majority of my containers are less than 9″ deep so planting is going to be a bit restricted. My inclination is to plant in the ground in the back garden wherever at all possible (perhaps taking a few more paving slabs up), and to keep the containers for the front balcony and porch). I will return to this at the end of the season with my findings.

Any other suggestions? I haven’t got anything particularly out of the ordinary here, nor indeed anything perennial except the pansies. I’m considering looking into the Plants for a Future database or something similar. On the other hand, time is getting on so I might just try some annuals out for this year.

Garden Diary 25.08.2012

Planted:

  • Basil.
  • Leaf coriander.

Harvested:

  • Courgettes.
  • Very tiny baby carrots.
  • Salad leaves.

Other:

  • Discovered that three of my blackcurrant bush cuttings may have taken!
  • Snails ate many of the chard seedlings; but it looks like one or two have survived.
  • Ordered some autumn/winter seeds.

To do:

  • Thin out lettuce some more.
  • Dig/set in border of long west bed properly.
  • Transplant courgette plants which I think are overcrowded.

The Garden Project: one year in

It’s now just over a year since we moved in to our new house and I started working on the garden.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of what it looked like when we moved in. However, the first things we did were to decide which side the grass would be and which side the raised beds would be. Here’s what it looked like after I’d put in the first raised bed and a couple of polystyrene containers, and we’d started taking up paving to put the grass in.

Before that, the whole thing was paving slabs or brick all over, so it was already looking much greener.

Once that experimental grass section proved successful, we got up the paving slabs and the surprise! concrete underneath (thanks to some very hard work from Pete and doop), and got the rest of the grass and wildflower seed down.

With the addition of the herbs and tomatoes in pots from our old balcony, it was looking quite good by October:

(Note also the compost heap at the bottom of the garden by the rose tree, built from the bricks we’d taken up from next to the fence.)

The winter-veg bed did well through the autumn. Over the winter, we put in an apple tree, some raspberries from the allotment, and I built another 3 raised beds from pallets.

I also finished a small shed, also from reconstructed pallets, in February while 38 wks pregnant. (This may have been a form of nesting; 600l of compost for the remaining raised beds also arrived two days before the baby did after a last-minute order.)

And over the spring I planted salad leaves, tomatoes, carrots, turnips, peas and beans, courgettes, more raspberries, rhubarb, and some flowers. In June, it was all doing rather well.

And a year on, it looks like this.

Not bad going, I think.

The Balcony Project: plants for north-facing spaces

The next stage in the balcony planning is a little research on plants that will do well in north-facing areas. Given my other requirements, I’m most interested in edibles, and perennials or self-seekers (for minimal ongoing maintenance).

It’s a good idea to remember the difference between different types of shade: ‘open’, ‘medium’, and ‘deep’ shade. I have open shade (north-facing, but nothing much overshadowing it) which makes life a little easier.

In a small space it’s even more important than usual to consider height as wel as ground space, and I have a small area of wall and a railing available. Here’s a few potential plants:

Climbers and shrubs

  • Oregon Thornless blackberry: can be grown in a pot (2′ square x 2.5′ deep, ideally) and carefully trained up a trellis. It would need regular maintenance not to overrun next door’s balcony. But I do like blackberries, and in a pot it would be less of a menace than they are in the ground. It flowers on one-year-old wood.
  • Kiwi vines: will fruit in the shade, and could grow along the railing. I’d need a male and female plant, so one at each end. However, they would block the view through the railings onto the river, which is really valuable to me.
  • Honeyberry: prefers partial shade, so in that sense ideal. However, you need two plants (male and female), and they grow to 5′ so need a half barrel sized pot per plant. I think it’s either this or the blackberry.

Flowers

  • Plumbago: perennial, butterflies love it, but not edible.
  • Violet: edible, perennial, one of my favourites anyway.

Herbs, greens, etc

  • Mint: that old favourite for shady areas. I don’t actually use it much in cooking, but mint tea is nice, and mint, apple juice, vodka and ice is a lovely summer cocktail. Smells great on the balcony, too. I have a plant in the garden so would be easy to propagate.
  • New Zealand spinach: a new one on me. Perennial, best started from transplant, and needs blanching before cooking so realistically probably wouldn’t get used.
  • Chard, beets, other leafy greens: if they’re on the balcony, they won’t be readily harvestable for the kitchen, so we’re unlikely to use them.
  • Peas: in theory the above would also apply, except that raw peas fresh from the pod taste fantastic, so could be eaten on the spot.
  • Salad greens: could be eaten on the spot, so might be worth it, especially as the baby gets bigger and might be in and out of there more. Planting in partial north-facing shade might give some resistance to bolting and mean we get a midsummer crop, which is not possible in the south-facing and very warm back garden. I have plenty of salad green seeds so may try this out.
  • Alpine strawberries: very very tasty. Definitely try these next year.
  • Rhubarb: shade-tolerant, can be grown in a pot, but we already have it in the garden and it is quite large.

I did also find a list of some other shade-tolerant edibles, but they all seem a bit big for my purposes.

Now I have the list, the next step is to construct a plan. Watch this space…

Tip o’ the hat to: the Savvy Gardener on gardening in the shade, and Life on the Balcony on shade-tolerant fruit.