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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
A quick round-up of this year's garden successes, as the summer growing season comes to a close and I start thinking about autumn planting.
Garlic! No photo, but I got between 12 and 15 garlic bulbs, all of which are tasty and fairly easy to peel. That's 4-5 weeks of our garlic supply, which is great. (We use a lot of garlic.) I will definitely be putting more in in November.
The rhubarb I transplanted from the allotment has settled in fine, despite being transplanted at totally the wrong time of year. No harvest this year as I've been letting it gather its strength, but looking forward to rhubarb crumble and rhubarb jam next year.
The apple tree is doing very well, despite some concerns with the ants earlier in the year, and we should have a good dozen apples this year, assuming they keep growing and no further problems. It needs a good prune over the winter.
The tomatoes are doing wonderfully. I've just started harvesting the first few this week, and they taste great. I have about 50% large (which will mostly be cooked down into passata) and 50% cherry (which will mostly be eaten straight off the vine). The ones in the self-watering containers have once again done best, so plan for next year is to make a few more self-watering containers.
The herb garden has mostly done pretty well. I still think it's a little underutilised (not all of my pots have been filled). The basil struggled a lot, which I think might be a snail problem (see the problems post for more on snails. Main plans for next year: plant more basil and coriander, deal with snails in some way, find a way of reminding other cooks in the house that the fresh herbs are there.
We have all of the rocket in the world (this is just one of the many rocket jungles, some of which emerge from cracks in the paving slabs), mostly self-seeded. The bees like it too. The only issue is that we're not eating that much of it; I need to think about harvesting strategies for next year. However, as weeds go, I'll take rocket over most things.
The chard is also doing very well (note also more rocket). I think this lot self-seeded, but I might have planted it. I eat chard quite regularly, so it is being eaten.
The thing I note from this is that it's the low-maintenance and self-seeded plants that seem to be doing the best. Something to bear in mind when planning for next year.
I find it difficult to remember to regularly water all of my various growing spaces. Two of them (balcony and porch) don't have any water source which means watering is harder work and thus likely to happen; the back garden has water but I still struggle to remember and find the time to get out there with the watering can (time consuming in itself). So I've been looking into watering systems.
I already have most of my tomatoes in self-built self-watering containers, which work wonderfully. Mine are very basic, based around two florists buckets stacked on one another (full instructions in Permaculture in Pots!). For the third year in a row, the tomatoes in those buckets are thriving, and I want to make a couple more for next year.
I'm likely to construct more SWCs for the porch and balcony, but in the meantime I've been looking at other alternatives to use in the existing containers, as well as in the ground in the raised beds in the back garden. In the light of the permaculture approach of "make small changes and observe", here are the current experiments, all using things we already had lying around the house:
On the porch, this is just a plastic bottle upended in the soil. Opinion online seems divided on whether you leave the lid on (with a hole punched in it) or take it off. I took it off, and it seems to me that the water just leaks out again too fast. Part of the problem, I think, is that this box is too well drained; the first time I filled the bottle, it all flooded straight out of the bottom of the box. This area is entirely under cover, so I could use a container without drainage, as it can't flood with rain. I will try a non-draining container here the next time the current one is empty.
This box, out in the garden, uses the same plastic bottle system, again without a top. There's no drainage problem here (don't think this box has drainage holes!), but water still seems to drain out of the bottle very fast. I think you may need pretty damp soil to start with for it to work (so not suitable for all plants, though tomatoes grow fine with wet feet). I'll also try putting a cap on the bottle to see if that helps.
Out in the back garden again, this is a ceramic pot buried in the soil. I got this variation on a traditional African watering system from the current issue of Permaculture Magazine. Again, currently mine seems to be draining too fast. Reading the editorial again, more carefully, suggested that I need a cork in the bottom, so I'll try that. I also suspect that I've buried it a little too deep and it would do better with a centimetre showing above the surface, so soil doesn't leak in. It could do with a cover to limit evaporation, but currently it's draining too fast for that to matter.
On the other side of the same bed, I wondered whether a plastic pot with holes in the bottom would work similarly — like a cross between the ceramic pot and an upturned bottle. Again, however, it's just draining too quickly, and it takes up more space in the bed than an upturned 2l bottle would. I will try replacing it with a large water bottle, lid on, and see how that works.
I suspect that the best solution will be different in my different growing spaces, as the parameters, requirements, and limitations are different in all three areas. However, I would like to get some kind of watering solution in place across all of them before next summer. Watch this space for more experimental results!
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.