Watering upstairs

We have some plants on the first floor; a few on the windowsills, and a few more now on the balcony (see The Balcony Project). We do not have any water on the first floor. So far, my watering has been at best intermittent (though given the recent weather this hardly matters for the balcony); what I'd like to do is to set something up to make it more reliable.

Currently, if I want to water the indoor plants, I have to pick up the small watering can, go downstairs and fill in, come back up and water. To water the balcony, I need to get the large watering can from the back garden, fill it, come back up, water, and take the watering can back down again.

The time when it would be easiest to water, and when I'm most likely to remember, is when L is playing on the floor; but I don't want to be running up and down the stairs too much at that point. (Having said which - I could associate it with making myself a mug of tea.)

So; what might make this easier:
- having a watering can on the balcony?
- having a water container upstairs (perhaps on the desk) that I fill up on a more regular basis and then have available to water from?
- emptying half-glasses of water into one of these containers before clearing them downstairs?

So far that's it on the ideas front & I'm not very convinced by anything there. Any other suggestions?

The Balcony Project: plants for north-facing spaces

The next stage in the balcony planning is a little research on plants that will do well in north-facing areas. Given my other requirements, I'm most interested in edibles, and perennials or self-seekers (for minimal ongoing maintenance).

It's a good idea to remember the difference between different types of shade: 'open', 'medium', and 'deep' shade. I have open shade (north-facing, but nothing much overshadowing it) which makes life a little easier.

In a small space it's even more important than usual to consider height as wel as ground space, and I have a small area of wall and a railing available. Here's a few potential plants:

Climbers and shrubs

  • Oregon Thornless blackberry: can be grown in a pot (2' square x 2.5' deep, ideally) and carefully trained up a trellis. It would need regular maintenance not to overrun next door's balcony. But I do like blackberries, and in a pot it would be less of a menace than they are in the ground. It flowers on one-year-old wood.
  • Kiwi vines: will fruit in the shade, and could grow along the railing. I'd need a male and female plant, so one at each end. However, they would block the view through the railings onto the river, which is really valuable to me.
  • Honeyberry: prefers partial shade, so in that sense ideal. However, you need two plants (male and female), and they grow to 5' so need a half barrel sized pot per plant. I think it's either this or the blackberry.

Flowers

  • Plumbago: perennial, butterflies love it, but not edible.
  • Violet: edible, perennial, one of my favourites anyway.

Herbs, greens, etc

  • Mint: that old favourite for shady areas. I don't actually use it much in cooking, but mint tea is nice, and mint, apple juice, vodka and ice is a lovely summer cocktail. Smells great on the balcony, too. I have a plant in the garden so would be easy to propagate.
  • New Zealand spinach: a new one on me. Perennial, best started from transplant, and needs blanching before cooking so realistically probably wouldn't get used.
  • Chard, beets, other leafy greens: if they're on the balcony, they won't be readily harvestable for the kitchen, so we're unlikely to use them.
  • Peas: in theory the above would also apply, except that raw peas fresh from the pod taste fantastic, so could be eaten on the spot.
  • Salad greens: could be eaten on the spot, so might be worth it, especially as the baby gets bigger and might be in and out of there more. Planting in partial north-facing shade might give some resistance to bolting and mean we get a midsummer crop, which is not possible in the south-facing and very warm back garden. I have plenty of salad green seeds so may try this out.
  • Alpine strawberries: very very tasty. Definitely try these next year.
  • Rhubarb: shade-tolerant, can be grown in a pot, but we already have it in the garden and it is quite large.

I did also find a list of some other shade-tolerant edibles, but they all seem a bit big for my purposes.

Now I have the list, the next step is to construct a plan. Watch this space...

Tip o' the hat to: the Savvy Gardener on gardening in the shade, and Life on the Balcony on shade-tolerant fruit.

The Balcony Project: sector & zone analysis

I'm planning planting for our balcony, and in my last post on this wrote up the surveying. The next step is to do the analysis: some possible approaches are to consider zones, sectors, and input/output.

For this project zones aren't particularly useful. In theory it's all zone 1 (close by house, for high-maintenance plants), but in fact due to the low foot traffic (see below) I may treat it as edging towards zone 2 (lower maintenance perennials).

Sectors:
- Sun: direct sunlight only during summer evenings, otherwise shady but bright. Need shade-tolerant plants.
- Wind: comes off the river. Some protection, but plants need to be quite robust.
- People: space not very well-used. Focus planting on area visible from indoors, being careful not to block view of river through door! Minimal maintenance as not heavily used.
- Water: edges get some rain, but assume water needs to be carried up. Plants should be drought-tolerant if possible but not drought-requiring.

Input/output: required inputs are soil/compost, containers, water, fertiliser, plants or seeds. Outputs are vegetable matter for compost, perhaps some food, beauty (!), perhaps seeds or potential cuttings. The compost heap in the back garden can help link some outputs to some inputs, and I can also use seeds and cuttings from there and from my parents' garden. It may be worth considering a water butt.

Anything else I'm missing?

Next post in this series: plants, locations, and solutions that might work.

The Balcony Project: surveying

In addition to the back garden, we also have a front balcony. Now that the garden is well under way, I want to tackle some container planting for it.

The first stage of the permaculture design process is surveying: site, resources, and client requirements.

Site

  • North-facing, though not overshadowed, so some evening sunlight especially in summer.
  • Paved.
  • First floor (so need to watch the weight!).
  • 4.5m x 1m.
  • No water supply (any water has to be brought up from the ground floor). However, there is a drainpipe at the corner (possibly shared with next door?). Slight overhang above so doesn't get much rainfall either.
  • Fairly windy, but with some protection to about a metre up.
  • Some containers, but nothing fixed.
  • Railing provides some potential support for climbing plants.

Resources

  • Plenty of containers of various sorts available.
  • Some already-planted containers: violas, primroses, pansies, evening primrose.
  • Possibility of propagating some plants from the back garden (or using some of my seed collection).
  • Some compost from the back garden compost heap, but is likely to need supplementing with bought compost (or wait for longer to plant more!).

Client requirements

  • Enough space to sit out on folding chairs.
  • Attractive when seen through balcony window -- I'd like some flowers!
  • Attractive during the winter -- at least something that will survive or even thrive through winter.
  • Nothing poisonous to dog or baby if they eat it.
  • At least one food-productive plant.
  • Minimal cost setup.
  • Neglect-tolerant / low maintenance.

The next part of the process is the analysis: sectors, zones, and input/output, which I'll consider in the next post, before coming to the design.

Flowers: permaculture and beauty

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!).

Winter pansies and raspberries against a wooden fence
Pansies and raspberries (and some purple wild flowers that I don't know the name of) earlier in the spring

Peas and beans

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.

Broad beans taking up half of a raised bed, in front of a fence
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...).

Salad plantings

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!

Potatoes, babies, and tricycles

I decided to plan for a very low maintenance allotment this year, given that I also have a new garden and (rather more time-consumingly) a new baby to deal with. Over the winter, the main beds have almost all been mulched with a double layer of cardboard to reduce weeding. The next stage was to plant potatoes (low-maintenance but tasty!) through the mulch. So, only a couple of weeks late, we headed down to the allotment last weekend to get planting.

The mulch is doing its weed-reducing job where it's been put down, but around the paths and edges the dandelions are in glorious but weedy profusion. I ignored them in favour of getting 50% of the potatoes in the ground before the baby got too grouchy. (I should note that I did not actually plant anything but was instead acting in more of a supervisory/baby-feeding capacity. Many thanks to my glamorous assistant doop.)

The trip also provided the opportunity for the first test of our baby-transporting device, chosen after researching seats and trailers/cargo bikes: a Christiania trike with a car seat strapped in. Glorious success! Leon slept peacefully all the way there, and observed thoughtfully most of the way back, until a cobbly patch near our front door upset his equilibrium.


The Christiania in action


Baby in a trike!

From pallets to shed

I spent much of February slowly constructing a shed (more of a tool cupboard, really; our garden is very small) from deconstructed pallets.

The first step was to measure up (my shed was 80cm x 60cm in footprint, and spade-height-plus-a-bit in height) and cut the pallet planks to size. I think I used about 2.5 pallets, and a hand-held circular saw (very very useful to speed things up).

I also needed four lengths of 2x2, one per corner, to attach the planks to. My design called for a sloping roof (so the rain runs off), so required two shorter lengths for the back, and two longer for the front. I nailed the back planks to the shorter lengths, and each set of side planks to one of the longer lengths (so at this point the side planks were braced only at one end).



The back wall, screwed into its 2x2 bracing at both ends of the planks.



One of the sides, with only one end braced. Note that its 2x2 rises above the planks; this is because it needed a triangular piece of planking attached later to allow for the slope of the roof.

The next step was to screw the loose ends of each side piece to the 2x2 bracing of the back piece.



Shed with three sides. Note again the space at the top of each side for a triangular piece. (Apologies for the sun flare in the photo!)



Shed corners screwed together.

I measured, cut, and attached triangular pieces for the top of each side (no photos, sorry). For the roof, I cut a piece of plywood which overlapped the sides by about 4-5cm in each direction. I intended to cover this with some thick black plastic left behind by our kitchen fitters, but my Dad came up instead with a roll of roof felt from in his garage, so I was able to do a more professional-looking (and longer-lasting!) job with that, roofing glue, and some roofing nails. Before covering the roof, I screwed in a batten at the back to keep it from sliding off.



The batten on the underside of the roof, and the roofing nails keeping the felt down. The felt was glued down on the topside of the roof.

Since installation, I've added a couple of battens at the front to keep it square and to brace the roof.

It still lacks a door (I'm on the look out for some large enough plywood), and at some point I will use a couple of L-shaped metal bits to attach the roof, rather than using bricks to hold it down. But as of now, it does the required job, and, given the high percentage of reused materials, for minimal financial or environmental cost. I'm also kind of proud that I built it at 38 weeks pregnant!