Anti-snail defences

My grape vine has been getting munched up by (I assume) the snails; and one of my (still tiny) courgette plants is looking at risk too. After perusing the Organic Gardening Catalogue, I have acquired a set of little spiky fences to go around the grape vine, and some copper tape around the courgette. I will report back.

I’ve also got ants farming aphids on the apple tree. Apparently, a ring of gaffer tape, sticky side out, around the tree will solve this problem. Again: defences are in place, and I will report back.

And here’s a blog post elsewhere on permaculture and container gardening.

A final note: half of my broad beans appear to have grown without any actual beans in the pods (well: the beans are there, but they didn’t fill out). My assumption is that this is to do with the crappy weather, but I am nevertheless sad. Maybe the green beans will do better? If the sun ever comes out for any reasonable time…

Baby tipi, and another guest post

I really wanted to put a willow den in our back garden for Leon to play in.

Bamboo canes pushed into a grassy lawn and tied into a small tipi, with a sheet clipped over them, in foreground; in front of that the top of a blueberry bush, a rosemary bush to left of shot, apple tree behind, blue sky
Baby tipi between the blueberry bush and the rosemary

Unfortunately, that was scuppered by the realisation that there’s a sewage pipe running underground through the middle of the garden. You’re not supposed to plant willow within 3m of any pipes (it seeks water, and can sneak into the pipe through any cracks), and the apple tree prevented me planting further down the garden than that.

Instead, it occurred to me this week that after building the bean wigwam recently, I had lots of bamboo cane left over; and a couple of old sheets in the bottom of the airing cupboard. So now we have a baby play tipi.

Unfortunately the baby was unconvinced, because it has grass on its floor, and he is somewhat mistrustful of grass on bare feet. Hopefully as he gets steadier on his feet he may be more enthusiastic; in the meantime I might put a blanket down in there tomorrow.

Baby focussed on playing with a box of rice
Those moments of total absorption are a lesson in mindfulness.

In other news, this week I wrote about the competing pulls of parenting over at the Natural Parents Network: The Two Minds of Parenting.

Bean wigwam

Lousy weather notwithstanding, I am soldiering onwards with planting in the back garden. (And, indeed, some things are even growing.) This week, it was time to establish the new bean wigwam.

First job was to prise up some more paving slabs, as this is an area I haven’t used before. Next, to shove a few bamboo canes firmly into the ground and tie them together. Here it is, modelled by my glamorous and somewhat grubby assistants Leon and Sidney.

Dog and baby 'helping' spread sand around
Paving slabs up, sticks in, lots of sand (underneath which is London clay).

The other beds are all standard raised beds (made from pallets), but this time I haven’t had a chance to build a proper bed. So for now I’m just piling compost around the poles and planting into that. Leon helped me to trowel compost out of the bag and spread it in a circle.

Finally, after Leon was in bed (so I wouldn’t have to hoick him out of the compost heap), I dug a few spadefuls of not-yet-composted material out of the compost heap, and piled that in the middle of the wigwam. (Ideally I’d have done this before setting up the poles, but baby and dog assistance precluded.) The idea is that the beans will surround this pile as it composts down, creating new soil in the middle of the bed. Once the beans are done for the year I can also chop those off at the base, leaving their roots in place to help improve the ground, and pile the rest of the dead bean plants in over the compost to rot down further over the winter. This bed only gets sun during the summer so won’t be in use in winter anyway.

Bean wigwam and compost

French bean seeds planted around the poles, and I was all done.

Replanning the herb garden

I took advantage of a brief sunny period mid-week to go out and rearrange the herb patch.

Sadly I don’t have a very good before photo, but this one from this time last year is a reasonable representation:

Herbs in pots against a fence

This is what it looks like now:

Herbs in pots, in different configuration (see text)

Left to right: strawberry tower (transplanted the strawberries this morning); slab stack with empty pot (for basil), oregano, 2 lavender cuttings, empty pot, another lower empty pot, & a big pot of sage; bay tree at the back; another slab stack with parsley, chives, empty pot, and mint lower down; and a thyme trough at the front.

I moved the concrete slabs very slightly so they’re right back against the fence, and reorientated a couple of lower ones to provide an extra ledge for a plant pot, to make more use of the vertical space. I also repotted the oregano and bay into bigger pots, and the thyme into a shallow trough. I’ve since added a few more empty pots, for a total of 9.

My wanted herb list is:

  • Basil (lots)
  • Oregano (lots — will take a couple of root divisions now it’s in that larger pot, although this is not the ideal time for that)
  • Thyme (want another couple of plants)
  • Sage (will take cutting in the spring to fill up that big pot)
  • Chives
  • Winter savoury
  • Mint — will probably take cuttings for another pot to go at the other side of the patio, as well
  • Parsley (lots, which is fine as it has self-seeded EVERYWHERE)
  • Coriander
  • Dill
  • Strawberries (OK, not actually a herb)
  • Bay
  • Rosemary — over the other side of the garden, in the ground
  • Lavender — also planted on the other side, in the ground

With nine empty pots to fill, I make that: basil x 2, another oregano, possibly another parsley, dill x 1, winter savoury x 2 (it’s hard to buy), coriander x 1, and one spare pot in case something else takes my fancy. I’m tempted to try ginger, although it’s not cold-hardy. Any other culinary herbs you think I’m missing out on?

Garden update

Despite the erratic weather, things in the garden are moving on happily. A quick list (no photos this time, may try to add some tomorrow):

  • Apples on the apple tree! Research suggests that as this is a 3-yr-old tree, I should thin the apples a little but don’t need to remove them all. So am hoping for at least one apple from the tree this year.
  • Tomatoes now planted out. Two in a polystyrene tub, two in the back of one of the raised beds, three in self-watering containers, and I will see which do best. My bet is on the SWCs. They’re all up against a west-facing fence so should get plenty of sun.
  • The broad beans have all come out now. A middling harvest; the ones in the raised beds did fine (although hard to get at the ones at the back for harvesting), but the ones in the polystyrene tubs did quite badly. I think they really need more space for their roots.
  • Peas are growing away merrily and have just started to flower.
  • Turnips also doing very well; thinned out last week and nibbled on a few of the thinnings raw.
  • Rocket heading rapidly to seed, so very very peppery.
  • Lettuces doing great and I really must eat more of them for my lunches!
  • Nearly none of the beets or chard have come up. I am wondering if the seeds were past it? Will get new seeds to plant for chard to overwinter, anyway.
  • Courgettes flowering but not yet any female flowers, only male ones. That quite often happens initially, so I’m happy to contain myself in patience.

I have a spare half-bed that I’m not sure what to do with; and a squash in a small pot that badly needs to go down to the allotment as there’s no room for it to do well in the garden.

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!

Planting tomatoes for this year

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.

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 2×2, 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 2×2 bracing at both ends of the planks.



One of the sides, with only one end braced. Note that its 2×2 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 2×2 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!