Reaching for the sky

The Waste of Space design is bearing fruit (and vegetables).

Permaculture designs, as this is, often incorporate use of vertical as well as horizontal space (often referred to as ‘stacking’). With this in mind I planted yellow-podded mangetout in pots alongside the fence. In order to contain chickens, last year we attached wire mesh to the wooden fence slats and thus increased the height of the structure to about 2m, just the same height that the seed packet suggests these peas grow to.

And that is, indeed, what’s happening:

Making good use of vertical space

Making good use of vertical space

Resulting in an abundant harvest (these were picked just before the photograph above was taken):

Yellow-podded mangetout

Yellow-podded mangetout

I’ve also used an old strawberry planter to make use of vertical space for growing lettuce:

Multistorey lettuce

Multistorey lettuce

In addition, we have harvested a couple of kilos of potatoes from the dumpy bags, but the majority of the harvest from them is yet to come.

This whole area, which was previously unused, is contributing significantly to our food supply this year… onwards and upwards!

How does your tarmac grow?

Very well thank you, as you can see:

Something from nothing!

Something from nothing!

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Lovely lettuce… in a strawberry planter

In fact, it’s not the tarmac that’s growing anything, but it is providing the base for various containers, all contributing to our vegetable yield this year. For those of you new to my blog, the area in the pictures used to be a complete waste of space, a corner at the end of the driveway that just accumulated junk. A bit of thought and the application of some permaculture principles, and I have turned this area into somewhere useful.

So far this year, we haven’t harvested much from this part of the garden – some lettuce, parsley and about a kilo of potatoes* – but we have high hopes.

It’s lovely to see the mangetout, having been guided by “pea sticks” to grow in the right direction, scrambling up the fence. The mesh on the fence was put there to stop the chickens escaping and wandering down the street, but it has turned out to have a second function – supporting these plants (Yellow-podded – a variety that grows up to six-feet tall).

The lettuces are in a container that was originally intended for growing strawberries. Somehow the fruit-growing was not successful, so it has found a new function – multistory leaves – which seems to be going well so far. Sometimes, success just requires some lateral thinking!

-oOo-

* It’s early for potatoes yet, but it’s possible to remove some from the edge of the dumpy bags without disturbing the root system too much. Although this will reduce our total yield, it means that I am able to supply us with new potatoes at a time of year when the ones in the shops are very expensive. Those in the soil rather than containers will be harvested later in the season when they have produced their maximum crop.

The three sisters

There is a planting scheme known as the three sisters; it comprises corn, squash and beans.

I tried it out last year in my Waste of Space plot, but the weather was so disastrous that I had little success. This year, however, I am going to try again, but in my rubbish bed – a location where squash cultivation has been particularly successful in the past. The rubbish bed has been added to over the winter and spring: cardboard, shredded paper, grass clippings, chicken bedding, wood ash and spent compost from last year’s pots in the greenhouse. The chickens have given it a good stir up and added a bit of extra fertility and so it’s ready to be planted.

Flint corn and beans ready for planting out

Flint corn and beans ready for planting out

The idea behind the combination of the three species is that they use different resources and support each other. So, for example, the beans add nitrogen to the system which can be used by the other two species; and the squashes cover the ground, thus shading roots, reducing evaporation from the soil and suppressing weeds. In theory, the corn should provide a physical support for the beans, but I am going to use bean poles in case the pace of corn growth does not match that of the beans.

Squashes - the third of the sisters

Squashes – the third of the sisters

This guild of plants, as permaculturists call it (guild means something else to ecologists) seems to be particularly adapted to North American conditions, so a little tweaking is required to suit west Wales. First, I’m growing Flint Corn rather than Sweet Corn. This corn originates from Carol Deppe in Washington State… a place much more like west Wales in terms of rainfall and light levels than much of the US. It isn’t as sweet as sweet corn, but you can use it to make things like polenta, so it seems like it’s worth a go. My beans are runner beans rather than pole beans, but these do well (usually) in west Wales, so I’m sticking to what I know. And, finally, I’m using courgettes and squashes that I know to be successful in my garden.

I have to confess that, in the past, I have had limited success with this sort of polyculture planting of annuals. My perennials in the fruit cage seem to do well, but last year’s salad leaves did not seem any more productive than if I have planted them in the usual way rather than completely intermixed… but it was such a tough growing year that I have no idea whether this is really true*. Anyway, I’m going to give this mixed bed a go and see how productive it is. At least this year, thanks to the new segregation of vegetables and hens, I won’t be fighting to keep chickens out of the beans.

And today I also want to mention a brilliant local project that I am supporting: a buffalo dairy. After failing to raise enough funds via a crowd funding website, our small local buffalo farm have launched an appeal for funds via their blog… they have great incentives and I’m certainly looking forward to raw buffalo milk mozzarella from just up the road. Check out the rewards they are offering… there are some attractive offers, and it’s a cost-effective investment if you like this sort of cheese (lactase enzyme at the ready for me!).

-oOo-

* Note to self: actually collect some data on yields this year!

A good use of space

Exactly year ago I wrote a post describing a small patch of ground at the end of our house that was completely unused and explained my plans to make it into a productive area. We had mixed fortunes with it because of the weather, but the containers that we planted up did yield good crops of both mange tout (grown up the fence) and lettuce, as well as some delicious potatoes and oca. We are hoping that we will have better growing weather this year and that this little area will provide us with lots of food again.

I've got a plan!

I’ve got a plan!

Over the past few weeks we have been planting up a variety of ‘containers’ for this spot: dumpy bags with four different sorts of potatoes in them, bags containing oca, pots of mange tout and what was previously a rather unsuccessful strawberry planter that has now been planted up with lettuce and basil. I started off with a design on paper, based on our successes last year. It’s not fully implemented yet and I have been making slight adjustments as I go, but I’m feeling very hopeful.

The potatoes are growing in a mixture of garden compost, grass clippings, shredded paper and cardboard all contained in the big bags that building materials are delivered in. As the grass breaks down it releases heat and so that should boost growth and help the plants along even if the weather is poor this summer. Rather than ‘earthing up’ we will be ‘grass and papering up’ as the season progresses.

Potatoes in dumpy bags and a strawberry planter seeded with lettuce and basil

Potatoes in dumpy bags and a strawberry planter seeded with lettuce and basil

One of the real joys here is that the only things that cost us anything were the seed potatoes (all blight resisters). In fact, the whole of this area is based around waste products, homemade items and things that we already had lying around the garden. So, fingers crossed this year for abundance in this tiny part of the garden!

Laughing my socks off

I have just returned from a few days in Devon with a small group of people who are all working towards gaining their diplomas in applied permaculture design. It was billed as a ‘support event’, which sounds like a potentially rather dull way to spend a weekend. However, nothing could have been further from the truth… I have not laughed so much for ages.

We laughed until we cried, we laughed until we were incoherent, sometimes we laughed because we were incoherent, we laughed over breakfast, lunch and dinner and late into the night. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and I think it might be addictive.

It sounds like an enjoyable way to spend some time but not very productive. The funny* thing is, though, that I have come back home inspired and with a significant amount of work done on my diploma portfolio. I did some work on my waste of space design, including a base map and an overlay for my year 1 planting along with some notes about this design. However, the most useful part of the weekend in terms of taking my portfolio forward was a discussion about my business plan.

A sock too far - no more knitting for nothing, it's my business

A sock too far – no more knitting for nothing, it’s my business

I want to generate a small income from making things. My original plan was to make and sell my knitted snails and other permaculture teaching tools, but that has rather stalled over the months and my interest has grown in items like the bath puffs and other items with a wider potential market. As a result of all the discussions, I have started to see first, that I don’t at the moment want to concentrate on teaching tools and, second, that I’ve had the wrong attitude to my creations. For example, until now, I have had a tendency to say ‘yes’ when people ask me to make something for them, even when they don’t offer to pay. I am currently knitting two pairs of socks for a friend (total knitting time about 40 hours)… and in exchange they will be very grateful and cook me dinner. It’s not exactly a fair exchange if crafting is to be my business and so it has to stop… it is a sock too far! So, the current project will be finished and handed over, and then the business will commence. I will begin by building up a stock and I will plan to sell that stock at an event… perhaps a Christmas fair.

My very wise friend Snuffkin (who was there over the weekend) has suggested what I say next time someone asks me to make something for them. She wrote to me just this morning:

I’ve just thought of the answer that isn’t ‘no’! It’s ‘yes of course I will, and they’ll be available for you to buy at **** Christmas Fayre so start saving your pennies’ !!!!!!!

Thank you Snuffkin… I can now relax about making things and I can complete my business design, start making my stock and head towards both an event and an etsy shop.

So, next time you’re stuck for a way forward, get together with some people you have something in common with and have a good laugh!

-oOo-

* Yes, the pun was intended… there were lots of those over the weekend too thanks to Corky who has a sort of punning Tourette’s syndrome!

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