New mini greenhouse

I’ve been planning to build a mini greenhouse by the back door. The original idea was to use various bits and pieces of scrap this and that to construct it from scratch, frame and all; but then my parents offered me the frame of their old one (the cover having expired).

So with a big pile of bubble wrap and some parcel tape, this is the result:

Bubblewrap Mini Greenhouse
As you can see here, there’s no proper door closure

Just in time to house my chilli pepper over winter. The highly scientific “put a hand inside it” temperature check suggests that it is doing its job in keeping things at least a little bit warm.

This was also one of my Permaculture Design Diploma projects, and you can read the first draft of the design writeup here.

This week I also harvested the last of my tomatoes, and pulled the old plants up. I have a fair few green tomatoes, but also a surprising number that had gone odd-looking — slightly brown or black, but not in a pattern suggesting blossom end rot. My only guess is that it’s been cold enough that they’re suffering from that. Certainly some of the plants have died off already, so it may just be that any surviving tomatoes died with them. I’m sure I’ve harvested this late before without problems, but perhaps it’s been warmer for longer those times. My tomatoes also started later than usual this year, due to the bad spring. I will bear it in mind for next year; and I still got a decent crop. The remainder of the red ones went in a very low oven for a couple of hours today with some oil, and became very tasty indeed.

Another go at the grape vine, with snail defences from the start this time.
Another go at the grape vine, with snail defences from the start this time.

Then today I planted a new grape vine, with full snail defences from the start. Let’s hope it’s more successful than the last one.

Planning the ‘Forest Garden’ beds

Following up from my analysis of where my garden needs some redesigning, one part of the solution was to plant up half of the raised beds as a forest-type garden; or given the size of the space, in a forest-garden-influenced style. The beds are the ones along the left-hand (western) fence in the photo below. I’ll be keeping the other two beds for annuals.

Several raised beds with paving slabs between them in most of picture, 6 foot fence to left, some grass to right, rose tree in background.
Back garden, early summer 2012

So this is what I’ve come up with:

South-west bed (the long one along the fence in the above photo):

  • Fig at back. Ideally it would be trained as a fan along the fence, but that may be more effort than I have available in terms of management and maintenance. I may instead just prune it to come forwards from the fence rather than backwards, but let it grow (a bit?) outwards. I’ll need to read up a bit more about it before the spring
  • Herbaceous perennials: Daubenton’s Kale, Good King Henry, possibly also planting some (non-perennial, but may self-seed) chard through the ground cover.
  • Ground cover: strawberries (alpine and other), sorrel, hopefully periwinkle if I can get hold of a plant.
  • North-west bed (the one just by the herbs):

    • Grape vine (again) at the back, with extensive manual anti-snail defences. To be trained up fence above the herbs.
    • Herbaceous perennials: bay, fennel, possibly others next year.
    • Ground cover: oregano and thyme. The oregano should do much better in the ground than it is doing in pots. Alpine strawberries, as I got a huge load of runners the other week. Rocket (not perennial, but self-seeds).

    There should be room for next year’s tomatoes in pots between the two beds against the fence, and then south of the south-west bed, where they’ve been this year.

    I’ve read that you can grow asparagus through ground cover as a herbaceous perennial, which if it’s true I may try the year after next. (I like asparagus, but the last time I grew it my feeling was that it took up quite a lot of space, which you couldn’t use for anything else the rest of the year, for a very small crop.) I’d also like to investigate other perennial salad leaves, but for now that is enough to get started.

    I’ve ordered my various bare-root trees/shrubs from Martin Crawford’s Agroforestry Research Trust, so am looking forward to their arrival in December!

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.

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.

Back garden fruit

Having rearranged the herb garden, I looked at the vast expanse of 6+ foot high, south-west facing fence behind it, and thought “Something should be growing across that. Specifically, a productive climber that produces something tasty…”. So last week I planted a dessert grape vine (Lakemont Golden Seedless Dessert, more info here), which I’m hugely excited about. It’s supposed to do well in this climate if in a sunny spot, so I have high hopes – and grapes are one of my favourite fruits. I need to get some organic tomato fertiliser and apply regularly this season, and read up on pruning next winter. Grapes grow on last year’s vines so nothing will set this year. Lakemont are heavy cropping, self fertile, suitable for outdoor growing, and very sweet, and harvest in London should be late September.


Grape vine hacked back to recommended three buds

Over the other side of the garden, no sign yet of this year’s autumn raspberry canes. My thumbs are crossed that they’ll spring up soon from the canes I brought in from the allotment last summer. If not, I may have to buy some more next winter.

I’ve also been thinking about the farthest end of the garden, where the compost heap and shed are, and where there is a little less sun due to the back fence. There were three major issues on my mind:

  • The compost heap, while a glorious thing in many ways, is not wildly attractive when viewed from the back door.
  • There is a couple of metres at that end of the garden that is currently still paved and underused (occupied, as it was at the time, by paving slab piles).
  • Small gardens benefit from having things to break the line of sight up. Dividing the garden up a little can make it seem bigger.

A bush of some sort in front of the compost heap, just at the limit of the shaded area, seemed the perfect solution. And since I wanted something productive, a blackcurrant bush (Ben Sarek Organic, a small-middling bush which fruits mid-to-late season) was the obvious choice. So I’ve taken up another two paving slabs and planted a tiny stick of a blackcurrant bush there. Hopefully it too will thrive. I’m a little concerned about how much sun it will get; I think it should be just about enough (the tomatoes against the fence there did fine last year) but we shall see.


I always find it difficult to imagine that a twig like this one, barely visible beside its stake, will ever grow into a big fruit bush, but hopefully…


This was previously occupied by a big pile of paving slabs. Clearly I now need to work out what else to do with it. Possibly a bean tipi this year?

One final note: I planted the grape vine in the corner of the oldest of our raised beds, put in 20 months ago when we first moved in. At that point, the soil underneath when we pulled the paving slabs up was heavy, compacted clay, which I shoved a fork into a few times before dumping compost on top. Now, I could dig right down into it with a hand trowel with no trouble, and it’s full of worms and soil life. That’s just from adding compost and green matter on top, and planting in it. An incredibly pleasing change to see!