Katie and Paul’s allotment

Katie and Paul were given their allotment earlier this year (2013). It’s been a little bit neglected recently, but has several mature fruit trees and is a good size. They wanted a plan to get it up and running again, and were keen to experiment a bit more with permaculture ideas.

Design brief: create a good working allotment, suitable to their needs, on the existing site.

My aim was to meet the brief, and to create an opportunity for me to learn more about permaculture design process and techniques.

I used the SADIM (Survey, Analysis, Design, Implement, Maintain) design approach to create a productive allotment design:

Survey: Client Interview

(Transcription of my interview notes.)

Katie and Paul’s main aim for the allotment is to grow food of all sorts – so the overriding design goal is to have a productive space.

Elements that they’re particularly keen to have in the design:

  • A rotation-style annual vegetable garden.
  • Fruit trees/bushes (the allotment already has several apple and plum trees).
  • A permanent herb garden.
  • Bee and butterfly plants.
  • They like the existing wild part of the allotment and would like to keep that, whilst adding bluebells and wild garlic.

Other nice-to-have elements:

  • Roses for rose hips (there are some roses nearby).
  • They’re interested in having some edible perennials.
  • Specific veggies: potatoes, garlic, beetroot, beans of most sorts, courgettes, squashes, peas.
  • They’re less keen on salad veg (though might consider growing those in their back garden) and broad beans.
  • Less keen on: salad veg (perhaps grow in garden instead?), broad beans.

Existing and potential structures:

  • There is a shed, which needs to be replaced/rebuilt/renovated.
  • They would quite like a greenhouse, although perhaps not right now.

Known problems that they’ve already come across or been told about:

  • Very heavy clay soil which seems to need a lot of improvement. The plants that went in this season don’t seem to be doing very well.
  • Waterlogged patches during heavy rain.
  • Fairly significant shade from mid/late afternoon from large oak tree.

Available resources:

  • Some budget available; happy to buy bushes etc but also to DIY where possible to keep costs down.
  • Time: a couple of hours a week. (They have lots of other commitments too!)
  • Katie noted that she is generally happier to put the effort in when there is a plan or she feels it’s going well.

Survey: Site

Most of the important basic information (water flow, wind flow, people flow) has been drawn out on the map below:

Base map and energy flows
Base map and energy flows

I also took some photos on the survey day:

Main open area, taken from the road at the south. Orchard to rear, eastern boundary path behind bean tripod, western boundary path running down left of shot.
Main open area, taken from the road at the south. Orchard to rear, eastern boundary path behind bean tripod, western boundary path running down left of shot. Note shady area in foreground.
Shot taken from SE corner, with main path through allotments just behind the camera. Eastern boundary path runs down right of shot.
Shot taken from SE corner, with main path through allotments just behind the camera. Eastern boundary path runs down right of shot.

There are quite a few existing resources onsite:

  • The small orchard on the back half of the site.
  • Physical resources: a Butler sink (although this has sunk a bit) in the orchard buried in ground; the shed and its contents; concrete path and foundation for shed; a bunch of metal poles near the shed.
  • Plant resources: Jerusalem artichoke, redcurrant bush, strawberries, rhubarb, herb plants.
  • Soil improvement: access to council ‘compost’ delivery, and free manure from nearby farms.
  • Onsite wood resources for poles etc, with a bit of cutting/coppicing.
The wild area at the far south of the allotment
The wild area at the far south of the allotment is also a great resource
Jerusalem artichoke tubers
Jerusalem artichoke tubers

Also a few problems to be solved:

  • The shed looks pretty dilapidated.
  • The orchard badly needs tidying up and pruning.
  • Soil not in good condition.
  • Existing grass cover may need to be dug over or otherwise worked.
  • Waterlogged patch in orchard and perhaps elsewhere – may need to be watched over winter before any permanent planting in that area.
  • The current beds are too large to be easily worked without walking on them.
Shed, with path leading to it
Dilapidated shed, with path leading to it
Pile of rubbish
Pile of rubbish in orchard

Analysis

The main functions for the design (as identified in the client interview) were:

  • Food (strong primary function).
  • Wildlife habitat. (Earth Care)
  • Pleasant place to be. (People Care)

Supporting these were other necessary design functions:

  • Soil improvement. (Fair Shares, Earth Care)
  • Windbreak.
  • Water/drainage improvement.

As a start to the analysis, I made lists of possible elements that might meet the various functions. (Design from patterns to details) The ones in italics are those that made it into the final design:

Function Possible element
Food Annual veg beds
Perennial veg beds
Herb garden/spiral
Orchard trees
Fruit bushes
Bee hive
Wild food to forage
Wildlife Wild area (including fallen wood)
Companion planting
Orchard space
Perennial veg area
Bee/butterfly flowers
Bee hive
Bug/bat/bird/bee boxes/hotels
Herbs
Pleasant place to be / leisure Sheltered seating (winter and summer?)
Flowers/attractive plants
Minimal maintenance/clear plan
Bee/butterfly flowers
“Forage” human food
Aesthetically pleasing, with visually productive plants – general consideration rather than element
Wind protection
Soil improvement Compost, both made on site and brought in
Manure
Compost tea
Chemical fertilisers
Plant fertilisers: comfrey and nettles
Nitrogen fixing plants (perennials?)
Urine/humanure
Mulch
No-dig methods
Green manure (can be quite high maintenance)
Windbreak Fence
Hedge
Trees
Taller semi-hedge plant area
Orchard = already providing shelter
Drainage Irrigation channels
Guttering and water butt on shed
Pond
Bog garden in swampy area(s)
Trees (dry out land)
Pump

This gave a list of main elements:

  • Annual veg area. (Obtain a yield)
  • Perennial veg area. (Obtain a yield)
  • Herb garden. (Obtain a yield)
  • Orchard. (Obtain a yield)
  • Wild area. (Earth Care)

With some associated minor elements to weave into them (Integrate rather than segregate):

  • Bee/butterfly flowers.
  • Seating area.
  • Compost.
  • Irrigation channels.
  • Fertiliser plants and nitrogen-fixing plants. (Earth Care)
  • Taller plants for a windbreak.

I next looked at the suggested main elements to make sure that they all met multiple functions, making the design as resilient as possible. (Use and value diversity)

Given that food production was the main aim of the design, and Katie and Paul explicitly want an annual veg area, that needed to be a big part of the design although it doesn’t really have multiple functions. The other elements therefore needed to support this element, and to be as multi-functional as possible.

Element Functions
Annual veg Food
[ Compost/soil improvement as very minor additional result]
Perennial veg Food
Soil improver (nitrogen-fixing)
Bee/butterfly plants
Windbreak
Orchard Food
Pleasant to be in (seating area)
Bee plants
Windbreak
Drainage
Herb garden Food
Pleasant to be in (seating area)
Bee plants
Wild area ? food
Wildlife habitat
Windbreak
Bee/butterfly plants
Compost Soil improvement (and thus drainage)
Shed Storage
Water supply

This looks like a reasonably resilient design, with multiple functions for most of the elements, and multiple elements performing each function.

Design

I looked at the connections between the main elements to help think about where to place them:

Connections between design elements
Connections between design elements

The function/element analysis helped me to choose elements with multiple functions (wherever possible) and to make sure each desired function was met by multiple elements. The connections diagram showed that the design should place the veg, compost, and greenhouse close together, and the orchard, herbs, and seating area close together. The annual and perennial veg areas also supported one another. This pointed to a design with the annual and perennial veg at the south of the plot; herbs, greenhouse, and seating in the middle; and orchard (with shed) in the north. The compost would go to one side, accessible from both veg area and greenhouse area. Ideally the shed would also have been in the middle, but as the concrete footing for the shed was already in place in the middle of the orchard, it didn’t make sense to move it.

This is the plan for the final design:

Design map
Design map

It has five main elements:

  1. Annual veg beds.
    • Nine annual veg beds, 1.2m wide, with 60cm paths between them.
    • To be planted on a standard rotation system (not included in this design).
    • Shallow drainage trench dug through the beds to carry water from the ditch by the path. Planks may be needed on the paths to cross the trench. (Use and value resources)
    • Compost heap, with comfrey planted next to it, at northern end of this area. (Use and value resources, Earth Care, Produce no waste)
    • This autumn, mark out the new beds, then apply a layer of manure topped with a layer of council soil improver across them all, to improve the soil quality as quickly as possible. This may lead to forked root veg in the spring this year.
  2. Perennial veg area.
    • Planted at eastern edge of annual beds. (Use edges and value the marginal)
    • Will provide nitrogen-fixing, some drainage, bee/pollinator attractors, and wind protection for annual beds. (Use and value diversity, Integrate rather than segregate)
    • Shrubs, ground cover, and herbaceous perennials (see below for specific recommendations).
  3. Herb garden.
    • To be planted in L-shape with seating area in the middle. (Integrate rather than segregate, People Care)
    • Space for a possible future greenhouse to the west, which for now can be left as grass/strawberry cover. (Use small and slow solutions)
    • Currently this area is grass. Options for clearing it include digging it, or laying down compost topped with soil improver to suppress the grass, and planting into that.
  4. Orchard
    • Needs to be pruned/tidied and the rubbish cleared, but otherwise mostly fine already. (Use small and slow solutions)
    • More ground cover (ramsons/bluebells?) could be planted at its edge.(Use edges and value the marginal)
    • Extra fruit bushes at the southern edge. (Use edges and value the marginal)
    • Seating area in sunny patch for summer. (People Care)
    • Shed to be assessed after pruning! It should be possible to fit a gutter and water butt to it. (Use and value resources)
    • Acquire an orchard ladder.
  5. Wild area.
    • Basically left alone, after clearing out any rubbish. (Earth Care, Use small and slow solutions, Use edges and value the marginal)

Perennial veg area – recommended plants

  • Ground cover
    • Bird’s Foot Trefoil – nitrogen-fixing; good for bees and beneficial insects; no maintenance.
    • White Clover – nitrogen-fixing; good for bees; tolerates foot traffic; no maintenance.
  • Herbaceous Perennials
    • Russian Comfrey – sterile; mineral accumulator. Plant by compost as well.
    • Jerusalem Artichoke – annual tuber crop (dig up but you always miss some so it will return!); bee-friendly.
    • Fennel – self-fertile; mineral accumulator; bee-friendly; edible; attractive.
    • Daubenton Perennial Kale / 9-Star Broccoli – edible; pest-resistant; bee-friendly.
    • Lemon Balm – bee-friendly; mineral accumulator; edible herb.
  • Shrubs
    • Autumn Olive – edible berries; nitrogen-fixing; some are self-fertile. Needs pruning to remain at shrub height.
    • Goumi – edible berries; nitrogen-fixing; some are self-fertile (notably Sweet Scarlet).
    • Pepper Trees (Zanthoxylum spp) – peppery fruits (esp Szechuan pepper) which can be used in a pepper-grinder; self-fertile; bee-friendly.

Near orchard – recommended plants

  • Ground cover
    • Nepalese Raspberry – edible fruits; bee-friendly; tolerates foot traffic; very shade-tolerant.
    • Wood Sorrel – edible leaves; mineral accumulator; no maintenance; prefers shade.
    • Ramsons – edible leaves; prefers shade.
    • English Bluebells – pretty!
  • Shrubs
    • Gooseberry – self-fertile; edible; bee-friendly.
    • Redcurrant – self-fertile; edible; bee-friendly.
    • Raspberry – self-fertile; edible; bee-friendly.
    • Blackcurrant – self-fertile; edible; bee-friendly.
    • Blueberry – for sunken Butler sink.
    • Rhubarb – move existing crown.

See the appendices for more information on all of the above. They’re not all essential, although an allotment containing all of them would work well. It’s fine to select a few plants from each section initially and add more as time progresses. (Use small and slow solutions) (See the implementation section below.)

Implementation

This list shows which jobs need to be done, and when, to implement the design as above. As the ‘by month’ list shows, it’s quite intensive to set up, but the aim is that once established, most of this (with the inevitable exception of the annual beds) should require little maintenance. (Catch and store energy, People Care)

List arranged by area

Mark out new beds Annuals Oct
Manure/compost mulch Annuals Oct/Nov
Dig trench down from path Annuals Oct
Build and site compost bins (build from pallets?) Annuals Nov/Dec/Jan
Plan annual vegetable area and buy seeds as needed Annuals Jan
Order bare root bushes/shrubs Perennials Oct
Plant bare root bushes/shrubs Perennials

Jan
Plant herbaceous perennials Perennials Jan-Apr
Plant ground cover Perennials Mar-Apr
Mark out/create herb garden Herbs Nov
Move herbs Herbs Dec
Get fruit ladder!

Orchard Sept
Order fruit bushes and bulbs

Orchard Oct
Plant bluebell bulbs

Orchard/Wild area Oct
Tidy up rubbish

Orchard Oct/Nov
Prune fruit trees

Orchard Nov/Dec
Plant fruit bushes

Orchard Jan
Transplant rhubarb

Orchard Jan
Plant ground cover

Orchard Mar-Apr
Assess shed: fix or replace?

Misc Nov/Dec
Shed: do fixing/replacing, add water butt

Misc Nov-Mar

Same table arranged by month

Mark out new beds Annuals Oct
Dig trench down from path Annuals Oct
Order bare root bushes/shrubs Perennials Oct
Get fruit ladder Orchard Oct
Order fruit bushes and bulbs Orchard Oct
Plant bluebell bulbs Orchard/Wild area Oct
Manure/compost mulch Annuals Oct/Nov
Tidy up rubbish Orchard Oct/Nov
Mark out/create herb garden Herbs Nov
Prune fruit trees Orchard Nov/Dec
Assess shed: fix or replace? Misc Nov/Dec
Site compost bins (build from pallets?) Annuals Nov/Dec/Jan
Move herbs Herbs Dec
Shed: do fixing/replacing, add water butt Misc Nov-Mar
Plant bare root bushes/shrubs Perennials Jan
Plant fruit bushes Orchard Jan
Move rhubarb Orchard Jan
Plan annual vegetable area and buy seeds as needed Annuals Jan
Plant herbaceous perennials Perennials Jan-Apr
Plant ground cover Perennials Mar-Apr
Plant ground cover Orchard Mar-Apr

Costing and resources for full implementation

Manure Free if can go and get from farm £0.00
Compost Free from council delivery £0.00
Compost bins Free if build from pallets £0.00
Water butt for shed http://www.waterbuttsdirect.co.uk/product/sbb210-210l-standard-barrel-water-butt (or look for free option?) £50.00
Fruit ladder Proper tripod ladder (or tall stepladder around £50-70) (or borrow one for free?) £150.00
Subtotal £200.00
Autumn olive Agroforestry Research Trust £8.80
Goumi Agroforestry Research Trust (but out of stock) £9.00
Pepper trees Agroforestry Research Trust (but out of stock) £8.00
Raspberries Agroforestry Research Trust (price for 10 canes) £13.20
Gooseberry Agroforestry Research Trust £6.00
Blackcurrant JK can provide cutting £0.00
Redcurrant Agroforestry Research Trust £6.00
Blueberry Agroforestry Research Trust £11.00
Subtotal £62.00
Daubenton’s Kale Agroforestry Research Trust (or free cutting from JK next year) £8.00
9-Star Broccoli Agroforestry Research Trust (but out of stock) £6.00
Russian comfrey Agroforestry Research Trust £1.20
Fennel JK has spare seed £0.00
Lemon balm Agroforestry Research Trust £6.00
Jerusalem Artichoke Already onsite £0.00
Subtotal £21.20
Alpine strawberries JK can provide £0.00
Regular strawberries Already onsite £0.00
Nepalese raspberry Agroforestry Research Trust £5.00
Ramsoms (seed) Agroforestry Research Trust £2.15
Wood Sorrel Shipton Bulbs (20 bulbs) £8.50
Bird’s Foot Trefoil (seed) Agroforestry Research Trust £2.15
White Clover (seed) Victoriana Nursery Gardens £2.50
Bluebells NatureScape (50 bulbs) £8.80
Subtotal £29.10
TOTAL £307.30
TOTAL (plants only) £107.30

I would recommend a staged implementation (Use small and slow solutions), planting the available shrubs (one or two autumn olives) this year and reserving the goumi and pepper tree for next year, since ART are sold out now. Similarly, it might be sensible to plant a couple of herbaceous perennials this year and more next year.

The major cost here is for a fruit ladder and water butt. It might be possible to borrow a fruit ladder and to keep an eye on skips for a suitable water butt. (Use and value resources, Produce no waste)

Maintenance

Watch this space… I’m not yet sure how much of the design Katie and Paul will choose to implement, but I intend to review it in autumn 2013.

(Summer 2014) Unfortunately so far very little of the plan has been implemented. They have put in a better set of permanent beds in roughly the plan I suggested, and done some tidying up of the orchard area. I’m told that they would still like to implement some of the other suggestions at some point. I don’t have a costings update but I don’t think they’ve spent much as they’re still focussing on annual veg at the moment. I think this underlines that this was a very ambitious design, and suggests that it was perhaps a bit beyond what the clients really wanted (a lack of People care in the design).

Reflections

After completing the project, I reflected on what I thought went well, what I would do differently another time, and any points of interest.

What went well?

  • I like the integration of perennial and annual areas (though haven’t yet seen it in practice!). (Integrate rather than segregate)
  • I think the implementation plan is thorough.
  • I achieved my learning objectives (see below).

What would I do differently?

  • Pulling slightly clearer and perhaps more measurable goals out from the client interview would help to support the analysis, design, and the final presentation of the design to the client. (People Care, Apply self regulation and accept feedback)
  • I don’t think I measured very accurately. I could use a proper measuring tape, but more importantly, I need to be prepared to take my time more. I felt a little self-conscious this time around.
  • It’s difficult to assess flows across a site on a single visit; but I wanted to get the design done fairly quickly so Katie and Paul could start implementing it over autumn if they choose to. Taking a longer overall time to visit again, especially in or after wet conditions, and at a different time of day, would have helped inform the design. (Slower solutions…) Alternatively, I could use a toolkit of ways to get around limited information. (I did do this to some extent, talking to Katie and Paul about what they’d observed.)
  • The presentation was quite bitty, and I don’t think I did justice to my proposal. Next time I present a project, I would like to think more carefully about how I talk about the process, the design, and the justification of the design, to make it clearer to the client. (People Care, Apply self regulation and accept feedback)
  • I think I gave too much detail on my design process, making the presentation confusing. Another time it might work better to show the client my written-up notes from the client interview early on (in case it sparked any more ideas), but when presenting the plan, keep the analysis information to a minimum and focus on the plan itself and on offering a clear vision of that.
  • Having a template for the design process and the presentation might help (this idea generated after seeing other apprentice’s templates at the 2013 Diploma Gathering).

Learning objectives:

  1. To learn more about forest gardens. I feel that I did do that, and made some informed suggestions in the design.
  2. To improve my application of the design process. I followed the SADIM approach quite carefully and feel I am now more familiar with this method.
  3. To practice the client interview and presentation. I did get practice, and hopefully will do a better job next time accordingly!

Appendix 1

Sources for plants / seeds (inc Real Seeds for annuals)

  • Agroforestry Research Trust: http://www.agroforestry.co.uk/
  • NatureScape: http://www.naturescape.co.uk/
  • Shipton Bulbs: http://shiptonbulbs.co.uk/
  • Victoriana Nursery Gardens: http://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/
  • Real Seed Catalogue (for annuals): http://www.realseeds.co.uk/
  • Organic Gardening Catalogue (for annuals): http://www.organiccatalogue.com/

Appendix 2: information on recommended unusual shrubs

Elaeagnus multiflora, GOUMI

  • Self-fertile to self-sterile, so be careful when choosing cultivars to pick a self-fertile one such as “Sweet Scarlet” (or plant two).
  • Plant bare-rooted in winter.
  • Grows 2-3m high and wide (can be pruned to keep smaller).
  • Fruits ripen in early August, and can be eaten fresh or turned into jam (need to remove the seed).
  • Secondary uses: Bee plants; hedging; nitrogen-fixing.
  • Little maintenance required.

Elaeagnus umbellata, AUTUMN OLIVE

  • Some cultivars self-fertile.
  • Plant bare-rooted in early to mid winter. Tolerates most conditions.
  • Grows 5m high and wide; can be pruned to keep smaller.
  • Fruit ripens in September/October, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Harvest when fruits are dark red, even if still astringent.
  • Secondary uses: Great plant for wild /bumble bees. Very good nitrogen fixer.
  • Little maintenance needed.

Zanthoxylum spp., PEPPER TREES

  • Self-fertile.
  • Plant pot-grown in winter. Tolerates most soil conditions, though needs sun.
  • Grows 3-4m high and wide (can be pruned smaller).
  • Fruits in autumn (after 3-4 yrs), and the fruits are used as a peppery spice. Pick and dry when skins begin to split – the papery skin is the peppery part so dry the fruits whole. Use in a pepper mill for spice.
  • Secondary uses: bee plant.
  • Little maintenance required, though pruning out crossing branches makes harvesting easier.

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