parenting, permaculture

EC and permaculture guest posts

I wrote about Elimination Communication, peeing on the floor, and the advantages of not going nappy-free, over at Natural Parents Network last week, in The Nappy-Free Potty Pause.

Then, at The Green Phone Booth, I wrote about tips for food gardening with a toddler. (Leon is now properly a toddler — he really got the hang of independent walking at Glastonbury last weekend. Having just made my plans for summer planting, I’m now reminded that I should keep a section of the NW bed specially for him. Perhaps marked out in some way in a likely-vain attempt to keep him away from the rest of it?)

parenting, the garden project

Gardening and parenting: a note to self

If I intervene with horrified shrieking when Leon plays with dirt and hoicks things up now, he is less likely to be positive about the garden later on, at an age when he can learn the difference between ‘weed’ and ‘not-weed’. It is therefore worth sitting on my hands as dirt and plants go everywhere. (The volunteer broccoli raab from the satsuma tree pot may survive; the rocket certainly won’t but there is plenty of rocket.)

Leon pulling a handful of dirt from a large pot
Scattering dirt is fun!

A corollary: any potentially vulnerable plants that I really seriously care about are going to need some form of defence. I’m thinking in particular of my carefully-nursed autumn olive seedling, the sole survivor from a handful of seeds I stratified last winter and planted out in the spring, currently overwintering on the windowsill.

It was a lovely afternoon to be out in the garden, though. I planted peas by the fence, and Leon ate moss and dirt and threw soil around by the handful. Happy times.

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Snowy plants

Four or five inches of snow on my raised beds earlier this week, but looks like the beans, peas, & garlic at least are trucking along under there. I got my tiny garden apprentice to help me take a look under the snow, although he did try to pull up one of the beans when we located them (they’re quite firmly rooted, so it didn’t work). Garlic shoots are visible in the bed in the background.

Then he tried eating the snow, face-first, before climbing right into the bed to play snow-plough.

Last week, before it snowed, we spent half an hour out in the garden with Leon pottering around investigating things (and, um, eating dirt) while I dug in the first half of the wooden edging for the western bed, along the fence. I’ve used a couple of nice solid 2″x4″ lengths of wood from the scrap pile, as I wanted something that will be easily visible when weeding or cutting the grass. I’ll add a photo next time I’m out there. The bed edges are looking good, but more enjoyable was the sense of pottering round the garden with Leon, undertaking our own projects alongside each other. More of that when the growing season starts, I hope.

growing things

New year, new growth

I don’t really do resolutions per se (this post by Meg Barker is excellent on the matter). But if you looked out, on a bright, sunny New Year morning, at your patio (or balcony, or windowbox…) and thought about growing food in it, you needn’t put the whole thing off til spring. Sure, it’s not the time of year (in the Northern hemisphere) for doing much planting, but there are still things you can get started on now.

First up is planning. If it gets to March or April and you haven’t given any thought to what you’d like to grow, that’s fine (it’s better to throw a few random seeds in than to do nothing), but even a little thought in advance can make your space much more productive. What veggies do you most like? No point in growing things you won’t actually eat. How much space have you got? Do you need to find some containers? Can you order seeds now? The Real Seed Company are good for seeds (and browsing their website may give you ideas), and nearly anything you can put some drainage holes in the bottom of can become a planting container.

This is also a good time for planting fruit. Blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackcurrant, and the rest will all grow happily in pots. Blueberry in particular may be better off in a pot, as it is ericaceous (lime-hating) and needs specific compost or acidic soil. (If you already have a blueberry, in fact, now is a good time to pH test the soil, and add compost, or water with 1-2 tbsp of vinegar in a gallon of water, if needed.) You can buy bare-root plants and get them in the ground over winter, though you’re unlikely to get a crop until summer 2014. I confess I’ve never personally managed to make blackberries or raspberries work in pots, but I am assured that it is possible. Perhaps I needed a bigger pot.

You could also consider a fruit tree (an apple, perhaps), if you have space and ground. Fruit trees too can be grown in (large) pots; I have a satsuma tree in a pot, but it’s not doing so well. Down at Downing Road Moorings, near me, they have a lot more success with trees in containers (of sorts). If you already have fruit trees or bushes, now is a good time to prune. You usually want to lose about 15% of old growth each winter.

Finally, it’s never too cold and dark to try planting a tray of microgreens. Get sme rocket or any other green-leaf seed (mizuna is nice), plant it in a shallow tray on the windowsill, and wait until the second set of leaves (the first set of “real” leaves) appear. Harvest with scissors and eat.

See my book for more detail on any of the above, and ideas for getting going with permaculture container gardening whatever time of year it is. And watch this space for an update on my own plans for my garden this season; I’m planning to sit down with a notebook this weekend.

growing things

Tidying up the garden for the winter

At the weekend I hoicked out the tomatoes (getting a fair crop of green tomatoes in the process), courgettes, gone-to-seed lettuce, and a bundle of unexpected carrots, to clear some space before winter.

I also dug over the compost and found huge bundles of happy worms and woodlice doing their thing in there. (I should really have taken a photo, shouldn’t I?) I felt a bit bad upsetting them all in order to extract some of the lovely dark compost-y compost from the bottom of the pile. There was enough to spread over a single bed; hopefully by the spring there’ll be another bed’s worth as well. There’s something very satisfying about compost; all that waste turned into lovely rich stuff to help your plants grow. It just looks productive.

Winter lettuce is doing nicely and needs thinning soon; chard also doing well; pak choi suffering from slug/snail depradations.

I also planted one whole bed and an extra row of broad beans, and two rows of snow peas. By getting the beans in now, they have a chance to get going in the spring before the ants and the aphids move in. Which also means that after the first crop in the spring, I may as well hoick them out again as by then the ants and aphids have overrun the plants. That, in turn, means I can plant nearly as many as I like since by the time I want to put other things in, they’ll be out. Succession sowing is also very satisfying!

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River of Flowers

I came across River of Flowers recently: a project aiming to plant and encourage urban wildflower meadows to help the flow of pollinators across London. (It’s now spread to elsewhere in the world.)

As someone who’s trying to create her own little wildflower meadow in the back garden (all 12 or so sq m of it), I found this a lovely idea. Unfortunately it looks like signup on their London map is just for parks, allotments, gardens etc, but browsing those is fun too. There’s also a list of urban meadow partners, and mention of an Urban Meadows Kit to encourage people to grow mini-meadows in their front gardens, though it looks like that isn’t available right now.

There’s also some information on helping pollinators, which reminded me of a talk I was at this week, on solitary bees. I already knew that they are deeply fascinating creatures, but now I am even more convinced of it! There’s much more info via the Bees, Wasps, and Ants Recording Society, including basic info and more detailed information sheets. We already have a nice pile of dead wood at the bottom of the garden to provide insect-housing; I’m now intending to make some more solitary bee homes this winter. And to visit Roots and Shoots over in SW London to see their awesome Trellick Bee Tower. All hail the bees!

(More on helping bees in another post….)

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Garden diary 18.08.2012

In an attempt to keep better track of what happens in the garden, a new weekly note-to-self.

Planted:

  • 1.5 rows of turnips in SE bed.
  • 2 rows pak choi in SW bed.
  • 1 row chard in NE bed.
  • Handful of mustard greens in NW bed (I think… it was only yesterday and already struggling to remember!).
  • Mint cuttings and nasturtiums in box on front doorstep.
  • Nasturtiums in box by back door.
  • Strawberry runners into a little pot.

I made labels from takeaway cartons with permanent marker for all of these except the mustard greens.

Harvested:

  • Two courgettes.
  • Handful of chard.
  • Handful of salad leaves a couple of times.
  • Handful of baby carrots.

Other:

  • Moved tomatoes from polystyrene box to SE bed by fence, as they weren’t doing very well.
  • Pulled out a bunch of gone-to-seed rocket to make room for turnips and chard.
  • Misc weeding.
  • Moved chilli pepper from living-room windowsill to outside back door in hope that it will do a bit better.
  • Sorted out water butt / drainpipe diverter which wasn’t functioning at its best.

To do over next week:

  • Water plenty during the hot weather!
  • Thin out lettuce some more before it goes to seed.
  • Dig/set in border of long west bed properly.