Permaculture isn’t only about the practical; or rather, “practical” covers more than you might think. Permaculture is all about sustainability, and that includes creating environments which are sustainable for humans in respect to all their needs.
A garden needn’t just be about food to be practical, sustaining, and sustainable; it can also be about beauty, or fun, or rest. Of course, food plants can also be beautiful (rainbow chard is one excellent example; or the little blue flowers that appeared on my rosemary bush in early spring). But the beauty in non-edible plants means that they’re also a worthwhile addition to the garden, simply for the joy of looking at them. And a garden you want to spend time in is invariably a more productive garden.
Which is to say that I have a bunch of flowers in our garden now, along the western fence by the rosemary and the raspberries. The first to go in, last autumn, were winter pansies. Pansies are my favourite flower, and their January blooms cheered me up no end. More recently I put in some forget-me-nots, which are very practical flowers in that they are self-seeding, but easy to pull out, so low maintenance in both directions. As mentioned in the peas and beans post, there are also now a few pots of sweet peas to make the patio smell lovely when they flower. And finally, a few evening primroses in with the pansies, because my Mum had some spares and it would have been a shame to waste them. (Actually, all the flowers were spares from my Mum. Thank you!).
Pansies and raspberries (and some purple wild flowers that I don’t know the name of) earlier in the spring
I planted most of my broad beans last November/December, in two of the raised beds. One lot were planted in the polyculture winter veg bed, and the second lot in the bed next to it as a block on their own. Both sets, particularly the larger block, are doing very well now, and the flowers are starting to turn into small beans. A few more beans, planted at the same time in a polystyrene box, are a bit less vigorous — perhaps because their roots are more shallow? I’ve also planted a second batch in early March in another polystyrene box and those have just begun to emerge. With luck I’ll get a second later crop from them.
The broad bean jungle
In further legume news, I planted some snow peas at the back of the broad bean block, thinking that they could use the beans as a support to grow up and around. However, the beans are so jungly that I can’t see much of the peas, so that may not have been such a smart move. On the other hand, I may find lots of happy peas when I finally get to them. I’ll venture into the bean jungle to investigate when I start harvesting beans.
Hopefully the spring pea plantings, in two more polystyrene boxes (one by the west fence, one south of the raised beds), will be more straightforwardly successful. So far they’re looking good, and I’ll soon need to find some sticks and/or string for them to grow up.
Finally, I have some sweet pea seedlings from my mum in pots on the patio, which may not be food-productive, but will hopefully make it even nicer to sit there once they get going (and if we ever see the sun again…).
Also on my March planting list were green salad leaves. All of my preferred green salad leaves are cut-and-come-again types; from a permaculture perspective, that’s a more productive use of the soil as you can keep harvesting throughout the season rather than only getting a once-off harvest then returning to bare earth and having to replant. So I planted sorrel, endive, and rocket, to replace the rocket that’s been growing in the winter veg bed all winter and which will bolt soon.
I was also very pleased to discover a couple of bronze arrowhead seedlings (presumably self-seeded? I’m not sure!) springing up in the pot of my satsuma tree. Bronze arrowhead is one of my favourite lettuces, but I discovered too late that I was out of seed this year. I’ve transplanted the seedlings into the salad veg bed, as they and the satsuma want rather different water conditions, and they’re doing well.
Nothing is growing terribly fast yet, but as of a couple of weeks ago, this was the March-planted corner of my salad veg bed:
You can just about see the seedlings — sorrel and endive in the centre, rocket around the edges — between the cherry blossom fallen from next door’s tree; and the bigger and healthy-looking bronze arrowhead lettuces.
Last week, I planted the April batch of greenery in the next corner of the bed: a different type of oak leaf lettuce, and a batch of Mystery Mixed Lettuces from the Real Seed Company. I’ll be interested to see what I get from those!
It’s spring, so I’ve been doing a lot of planting in the garden. For once I actually have a month by month list, entered into my diary on a weekly basis, as the only way I’ll get things done on time while also wrangling a newborn. I feel alarmingly organised.
Last month was tomato-planting time, so I now have 5 pots of seeds sprouting away on the kitchen windowsill.
Two pots were from packet seeds (Lettuce Leaf, a bush type from the Real Seed Company, though it looks like they no longer stock them, and Peacevine Cherry, from a heirloom packet I got free) which I’ve liked in the past. All the seeds planted of both have germinated and are doing fine. The other 3 were seeds saved from last year’s plants; but only one of them has germinated, which I found a little disappointing.
It turns out that the problem is probably down to a cackhanded effort on my part to increase germination rates. If you’re saving your own seed, you can put the seeds in a jamjar with some water for 3 days, you can improve their germination speed. It turns out, however, that that is a strict 3 days – no more, no less. Five months in the jar? Not so good. Ah well; I have 9 baby tomato plants which is plenty, and will have to try seedsaving again this year. In fact last year’s plants started out at my old house and finished off at this one, so they might not have been the best-adapted to the new location anyway.
In other signs of spring: the apple tree has started to produce green shoots, after a couple of months of looking a lot like a stick.
That was taken a couple of weeks ago; there are more shoots now, all looking pleasingly healthy.
Last week I made a fourth raised bed for the garden; like the previous 3, the wood came from a couple of deconstructed pallets rescued from a nearby skip. It took me just over an hour (with power tools: a hand-held circular saw and a drill with screwdriver fitting; add about another 30-60 min if using hand tools), which did not include the time to deconstruct the pallets. Here’s how I went about it (apologies for the lack of as-you-go photos; I wasn’t thinking of blogging it at the time!).
Another of my raised beds, with some broad beans growing in one side. (The other side needs some more compost…)
The basic construction is 3 pallet-planks per side (for a total of 12 needed), cut to the size needed (in my case, 3 paving slab widths on the long sides and 2 on the short, to fit the intended gap). Measure up your planks, and cut them to size.
Long side of raised bed (once complete); 3 135cm planks.
Short side of raised bed (once complete); 3 90cm planks.
The next step is to attach everything together. It’s possible just to nail/screw the planks directly to one another at the corners, but that won’t be very stable. A better bet is to use a thicker piece of wood as a brace at each corner, and screw the planks to that. Happily, pallets are constructed with a couple of nice thick ribs down their middles which are ideal for this. Cut 4 corner braces from this. The length of each brace should match the width of 3 planks, so that it’s the same height as the plank-sides of your raised bed.
Take the first set of three long planks, and two of the corner braces, and screw the planks to the braces at each end. Repeat with the other set of long planks and the other two corner braces. You now have two long sides of a rectangle, each held together by the braces, but not attached to each other.
The bracing piece, shown from the inside (with both long and short sides attached).
Now screw the two sets of three shorter planks into the braces at each end, to make the short sides of the rectangle.
From the outside, planks on two sides screwed to the brace. As a rule, the long and short sides should be the same height, but my planks were slightly different widths and that didn’t quite work out. Aesthetically suboptimal but still perfectly functional!
That’s it! These should be pretty sturdy, especially once filled with soil to strengthen them. You can rest them on existing soil (in my case, where I’ve levered up the paving slabs from the garden), or, if you make them slightly deeper, you can put them straight onto concrete, put cardboard at the bottom and shovel compost in at the top, and treat them as a very large container.
Note on tools and fixings:
You can do all of this with a hand saw, and I have done in the past, but a hand-held circular saw makes it all a lot quicker (and in my case, at 7 months pregnant, makes it feasible; I’d have struggled to construct this on my own by hand).
Nails can substitute for screws, but they won’t be as secure.
Whatever the packet may say, screws go in quicker and easier if you drill pilot holes first. The screwdriver fitting on a power drill is also a godsend, but again, hand tools do the job, just a little slower.
A set-square is useful to get the cut lines straight. If you don’t have a set square, all hand saws have a right-angle marker and a 45 degree marker on the handle.