Eviction

As you know, the limery is full of plants at the moment – chillies, peppers, melons, Cape gooseberry (Physalis), the carnivores, germinating seeds, ginger, passion flowers and tomatoes.

Hmmm… tomatoes… as some of you know, I don’t really like the tomato plants. Don’t get me wrong, I like the tomatoes, just not the plants. Peppers form lovely plants; the melons are trained to climb over the door, the Physalis are statuesque, but the tomatoes are untidy… and smelly. And because I’m not keen on them, they are the plants most likely to get a bit neglected.

Looking around yesterday, I decided that I needed a bit more space as I wanted to plant a few seeds in trays and there was not much room on the window sills. My eye immediately fell on the two most scratty tomato plants which, despite regular feeding, look very neglected and sorry for themselves. Not being keen on throwing plants on the compost heap when they are still cropping (even if only a bit), I decided to transplant them outdoors. Our newest raised bed is slowly being filled with material to compost in situ (leaves, grass clippings, cardboard, tea, paper etc) and is currently home to some impressive courgette and squash plants:

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hard to get the scale, but they are huge

However, one end is unoccupied. So, as an experiment, I have planted the two tomatoes in this area. The compost (you can’t call it soil, really) is amazing – very organic and full of worms, as well as being warm because of the decomposition that is happening remarkably quickly. Of course growing medium isn’t everything and we might be let down by the weather, but fingers crossed these will survive and continue to crop:

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you can see they are currently not very happy – I hope that will change

Elsewhere in the garden, the crops continue to be abundant:

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this morning’s harvest

And even that sad sage plant I mentioned a few weeks ago has perked up…

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it’s growing!

I hope, if you are a gardener, you are enjoying abundant crops and, whether you are or not, that there is abundance elsewhere in your life.

Piles of files

National Recycle Week – Day 5

Today it’s recycling my way!

With my half-century on the horizon (ok it’s more than a year yet, but it’s still there) I have been re-evaluating my life and some things have had to go, the latest being my teaching for the university. Finally I acknowledged Mr Snail’s repeated cries of ‘you’re being exploited’ and decided that I’d had enough. I’d fought the good fight – I’d argued the case for better treatment of ‘casual’ (their term, not mine)  teaching staff with everyone from personnel to the Vice Chancellor for the last 17 years and finally, I’d had enough. So, it’s over and I’m now looking forward to writing knitting and crochet patterns instead, alongside my usual editing work.

This change has brought with it the incentive to clear out my office… over the years I’ve accumulated loads of files and reports and they have been looming over me on my shelves for far too long. So, on Monday afternoon, whilst I was running a defrag on my ailing laptop, I decided to start the clear out in earnest.

I started on a shelf of lever-arch files, with one stuffed full of jottings from my 2002 Open University MEd module.

A small start

A small start

And then I worked my way along the shelf, realising just how much paper I have been accumulating over the years.

A few more

A few more

And so it went on, as I progressed to another shelf, which included box files

and more

and more

And then on to the pile on the floor up the corner

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and more

Until my computer was finally done and I had a break, having filled a couple of boxes  and a large bag full of paper

Just one of the boxes

Just one of the boxes

and having completely stuffed one of the liberated box files full of poly-pockets

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

Reused box file containing poly-pockets awaiting reuse

I suspect that we will never need to buy any sort of filing supplies for the rest of our lives!  And I’m only part way through.

So, what of the recycling part of this post? Well, the new raised bed is now complete and there’s a lot of it to fill. We’ve decided to treat it like a big composter for the time being and so, the bottom needs a good layer of paper and cardboard to act as a base:

A nice absorbent base - full of carbon

A nice absorbent base – full of carbon

Before being covered with greenery:

Grass clippings on top

Grass clippings on top

Several years ago we trained some of our neighbours to deliver their grass clippings to us and, right on time, a bag arrived this morning for me to add to the mix. Now, I just need to go and collect the bags of moss I have been promised and some horse muck and we’ll be well on the way to a replacement for the bed that was removed to make way for the limery. Now, that’s my sort of recycling.

Limery Update

I know that regular readers will be itching for an update on the limery (yes, that is now its official name).

I knew that building work was not likely to happen quickly, but I had hoped that it would be finished by now. Alas not… although there has been progress and it might be done by the end of next week. My builders are lovely – polite and thoughtful and happy to chat over a cup of tea. But even so, it’s terribly unsettling, and the noise of my roof being taken apart and rebuilt was not conducive to calm contemplation or, indeed, editing work or writing blog posts!

However, I have things to show…

They started laying the patio (re-used flag stones) and  building the raised bed:

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Flag stones look good as new, but they are about 20 years old!

Then we got the framework for the glass:

Then the builders dismantled part of the roof (this was VERY noisy):

and this the day before thunderstorms were forecast… fortunately they didn’t arrive.

Next they covered the new bit of roof:

Well, at least it isn't going to leak

Well, at least it wasn’t going to leak (much)

Then they came back and put the slates back on the house and attached the battens ready for the new slates… which, apparently can’t be put on until the glazing is completed:

Roof in tact and lead installed

Roof in tact and lead installed

All the flag stones for the patio were put down and the raised bed had its coping stones fixed in place:

And finally, work started on the floor inside the limery – two layers of insulation (all off-cuts from previous jobs), a drain and a concrete floor (mixed using only stored rain water) which is to support yet more reused flag stones:

And that’s where we are tonight… I have just had to create a barricade:

No entry!

No entry!

To avoid any more of this:

Marking their territory

Marking their territory

I am SO looking forward to it being finished, so my garden stops looking like this:

Last year this was a vegetable bed

Last year this was a vegetable bed

 

To dig or not to dig

I frequently hear about the value of using a no-dig system when growing vegetables, but a recent post by Deano on his Sustainable Smallholding blog has made me think quite a bit about this issue and about the entrenched ideas that can permeate specific approaches to gardening (or any other aspect of our lives).

If you have read much of this blog, you will know that I am interested in permaculture and using this approach for designing systems in my gardening and elsewhere. Often, in the permaculture world, one finds reference to no-dig systems. The idea is that, in nature, productive systems are able to establish and thrive without any turning of the soil like we use in traditional gardening and agriculture. In order to emulate natural systems, the principle is that organic matter applied to the surface of the soil becomes incorporated into the soil structure by the action of worms and other soil fauna; just like it would in a woodland.

Woodlands produce organic matter that is incorporated into the soil by the fauna

The theory is sound, but in practice it may not be the best option. Natural systems have no ‘agenda’ – the vegetation that develops on a soil is the one that can thrive there. When we garden, however, we have specific aims and a specific time frame: it’s no good having to wait for 30 years for a deep fertile soil to develop when we need to feed ourselves now. Usually the reason for digging is to loosen the soil and to incorporate organic matter. It is true that, in some soils, worms and other soil animals can do this quite quickly, but it is not the case for all soils, as Deano has demonstrated with his heavy clay soil. Clay is a valuable component of soils as it is mineral-rich, but it is also sticky, impedes drainage and dries rock hard, and when it is abundant in soil, it creates a difficult environment for worms. Its presence is to be valued but, like most things, in moderation. Other components of soil – sand, silt, organic matter, water and air – are also important. The addition of organic matter to a heavy clay soil can help to improve aeration, fertility (including the release of chemical elements from the clay) and drainage. Given enough time, worms will do the mixing for you, but if you need it to happen this year, then some mechanical incorporation is the answer.

One of the arguments against digging (or ploughing) is that it damages the soil structure and adversely affects the habitat of the soil fauna. This is, indeed, true. For example repeated ploughing can lead to the creation of a hard, impermeable ‘plough pan‘ at the depth that the plough reaches because it smears the soil at this level. In addition, digging or ploughing causes physical damage to soil fauna and flora – potentially killing worms and chopping up fungal mycelium, mixing up soil micro-organisms, exposing buried organisms to the surface and burying those from the top layers.

So, there are pros and cons… the essential issue is that you must know and understand your soil in order to select the right way to manage it. You must also understand what you need from your soil. It’s about making informed decisions. And this is, perhaps, the real issue: we should not allow sensible ideas to become dogma. There can never be a single solution that fits all situations, and by making rules and being prescriptive will inevitably lead to disillusionment when that answer doesn’t  work.

It’s not just humans who dig!

In fact, I don’t dig my vegetable beds much because, as I have mentioned before, there was very little soil in my garden when we moved in so we build raised beds. The imported soil was light and friable and supports large numbers of worms, which do mix organic matter in quite quickly. Having said that, however, I do dig. I particularly like in situ composting involving digging a hole and burying fresh organic matter – a mix of material high in nitrogen plus something like wood chip or shredded paper to provide carbon and improve structure – especially when I’m planting runner beans or members of the squash family. And sometimes I dig in compost for a quick addition and to stop the chickens chucking it around all over the place. Talking of which, the chickens do quite a lot of digging too!

But, perhaps I need to get to know my soil better in order to make more informed choices about how I manage it and, with this in mind, I’m going to be testing the pH of my beds soon and I will be thinking a bit more about the structure and texture of the soil.

The time of gluts…

It’s normally around this time of year that we are starting to eat courgettes… every day. But not this year. The southerly placement of the jet stream is causing us to have a remarkably soggy and sunless summer here in the UK. Pretty much any UK gardening blog at the moment will include references to rain, slugs, snails, wind and a lack of vegetables.

Broadbead flowers – just need a few more pollinators

Well, I’m here to set the record straight – there are some plants growing in the UK. They may not be all the ones we expect at this time of year and some crops are certainly sluggish (if you’ll excuse the pun), but there are some things to be harvested. We are currently enjoying delicious potatoes straight out of the  planters, lettuce, rocket, mizuna and  Hungarian wax peppers. OK, so there’s not a sign of a courgette, the runner bean flowers seem to drop off before they are pollinated, I’ve brought one of the tomato plants into the house to try and encourage it not to rot and my onions have disappeared under a glorious swathe of Calendula, but there are things growing. The broadbeans are flowering abundantly if late and the bunching onions seem to be coming along nicely, as does the oca.

Breadseed poppy

As for dessert… we have raspberries and rhubarb along with a few strawberries and some red currants and blueberries just starting to ripen. On the herb front there’s mint, lemon balm, horseradish and rosemary. And the first flower of the bread seed poppies has opened.

And finally, our now well-integrated flock of hens is providing an abundance of eggs. Last night’s dinner comprised Spanish Omelette with a green salad… not quite all out of the garden , but not bad considering the dismal weather.

So the moral? Don’t rely on a single sort of crop… plant a variety of things and some will succeed. Oh, and have raised beds and containers so your plants don’t drown and can be moved indoors or into a more sheltered spot.

And have chickens so that all those vegetable-fed slugs don’t go to waste!

Hungarian Wax Peppers in the greenhouse

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