permaculture, the garden project

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!

food

Winter cooking

The rosemary in the back garden is doing well enough that even at this time of year, I could go out and hack four decent-size sticks off it with no concern:

Four rosemary sticks and a pile of rosemary leaves on a chopping board, knife next to them

When I took that, I’d already put half the leaves into the roast potatoes; I’m going to leave the rest to dry on the back of the worksurface.

They were for this somewhat unusual in-season recipe: Swede On A Stick. I promised to find something interesting to cook with a seasonal vegetable. I forgot to soak the skewers, but hey, it’s been raining off and on for weeks so they were pretty damp anyway. It was very tasty! Not entirely worth the hassle (assuming you like swede anyway, which I do, and would happily just eat it plain), but a nice change.

Swede chunks on rosemary skewers in a heavy orange griddle pan on the stove

Also used from the garden, thyme for this bean and leek recipe (kidney beans worked fine instead of white beans, for the record, and conveniently we had a half-empty bottle of white wine mouldering in the fridge), and a bit of parsley to sprinkle on top. We had roast potatoes with it (is it too soon after Christmas? I thought not.).

Excellent in-season eating all round. Then I left someone else to clear up and went to have a nice bath.

growing things

DIY rooting hormone with willow bark

I had a couple of cuttings to take (it being that time of year), but wasn’t keen to get commercial rooting hormone to help them along. Someone at the EAT 2011 course in August told me that you can use willow bark as a rooting tonic, which makes a lot of sense given the notorious enthusiasm with which willow will root.

With reference to instructions for herbal decoctions and instructions for willow rooting tonic, I went for the most straightforward option: a fresh willow twig from the tree opposite the house, broken into 2″ chunks, put in a bowl, covered with boiling water, and left overnight. Initially there seemed to be no change in the water and I was a little dubious as to whether this would work. By the next day it had definitely taken something from the willow, and changed colour.

Jar of willow bark infusion, labelled with the date, expiry date, and DO NOT DRINK
Apparently it keeps in the fridge for a couple of months.

The cuttings in question are rosemary and thyme. I want backups of my current plants, as I plan to move the grown-up plants out of their pots and into the ground next to the (rapidly-growing) lawn. My concern is that the soil there is very clay, and lacks good drainage — not great conditions for herbs. In mitigation, I plan to dig a big hole and fill it up with a combination of garden compost, two-year-old potting compost (since herbs don’t like a soil that’s too rich), and a little sand to improve the drainage, before transplanting. But there’s definitely still a risk that the plants won’t survive. Hopefully if that happens, at least one of the cuttings will do and can be nursed up to replace the plan.

I took twig cuttings as usual from both plants, cutting diagonally across the stalk and stripping the leaves from the bottom half so they won’t rot in the soil. I then dipped them in the willow bark infusion before putting them in the compost, and for good measure, watered afterwards with a little of the infusion as well. Now they’re with the other potted herbs on the back patio, and I’ll see if they make it to next spring. (Green) thumbs crossed!

Two small plastic pots of compost on a bench, one with rosemary twigs in and one with thyme twigs
Rosemary and thyme cuttings.

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Teas: thyme, dandelion root, and chickweed

The other week I harvested some dandelion roots and chickweed, to try out for their medicinal properties. I also tried thyme infusion. Here are the reports.

Thyme infusion

A couple of sprigs of fresh (or dried) thyme in a mug, fill with boiling water, cover, and leave for 5-10 min. Crushing the leaves a little beforehand makes a stronger infusion, I found. It’s supposed to be a good decongestant.

It certainly tastes lovely (you can add a little honey, but I didn’t bother), and both I (a little sniffly at the time) and my cold-ridden test subject found that it did at least temporarily seem to have a de-gunking effect. Cold-ridden test subject also said it made him feel calmer.

Would voluntarily drink again!

Dandelion root decoction

Since dandelion roots are quite tough, this required a decoction, which means that instead of just infusing in boiling water, one simmers it on the stove for a while — in this case, I simmered a couple of smallish roots for about 15 min.

I was expecting bitterness, and was all set to add some honey, but in fact I found it quite pleasantly earthy, and not bitter at all. Certainly less bitter than strong black tea.

It’s supposed to have general tonic effects, and in particular to be good for the liver and kidneys. I didn’t particularly notice a diuretic effect, but I did feel a bit better after drinking it (I had a couple of glasses of wine the night before and was feeling just slightly under the weather). So might make a good hangover cure!

Would drink again but with less enthusiasm than the thyme.

Chickweed infusion

A small handful of dried chickweed; pour boiling water over, cover, and leave for 10-30 min. Supposed to be good for coughs and hoarseness. I didn’t really have either symptom, but my throat’s been a little scratchy of late.

Unlike the thyme tea, I had to strain this, as the chickweed didn’t sink enough for me to drink around it. It doesn’t taste of much at all, and it smells of wet greenery. Not unpleasant, but not actively pleasant, either. Maybe a slightly bittersweet aftertaste? (It does that strange thing whereby the thing itself doesn’t taste of much but your mouth tastes sweet afterwards.)

I didn’t particularly notice a soothing effect, although I did notice a slight degunking effect; but that can just be associated with drinking liquid of any sort. Plus it made my nose tickle.

Would try again if I had a cough or hoarse throat, but wouldn’t drink for pleasure.

I’ve also poured oil over a jar of dried chickweed and put that in the sun for a couple of weeks, to try it as a healing oil for minor skin irritation.