Summer has arrived and so have the weeds

Wow, it is all happening.

It’s been almost a month since my last post, which shows how busy it is becoming.

20130609_172608Every day we visit the allotment there is more greenery. The warm weather and all the rain have done wonders to all the plants, especially the weeds. It is proving difficult to keep on top of the weeds, especially with festivals at weekends and me now damaging my back. But that is the way of growing your own. It requires a lot of attention. I love that though. I have felt like my little vegetable plants are my little babies. Worried the slugs are destroying them and the weeds are taking their nutrients.

But luckily we are both organised and hard working enough to keep on top of it all. Now the light evenings are here, it is so much easier to pop over after work for a couple of hours to weed, scatter coffee grounds around the plants to deter slugs and best of all, pick our first crops.

A couple of weeks ago we had the delight to pick our first crop that we had grown all by ourselves. It was a few radishes, which although cannot make much of a meal, were a delicious extra to our salads at lunch time.20130603_185203

Since then we have had several amazingly fresh salads from our many rows of bright green and red cut and come again lettuce leaves and best of all, in the garlic row, Dave found two which had doubled up, with one poking out of the earth.

20130621_174340As this is all an experiment we picked it to test how long it will be until we can harvest them all.

I have never experienced such beautifully flavoured garlic. fresh garlic is without a doubt, the way forward. It has a delicate flavour, that is light and delicious. I cannot wait to harvest them all and have garlic with every meal, (although I’m sure my work colleagues probably won’t enjoy it as much.)20130621_174355

So the allotment has come on brilliantly. We have planted some more cabbage plants that Chris gave us, and all the seeds we planted are coming up now. The parsnips are coming along nicely and we seem to have a great amount of carrots. The lettuce is in abundance which is great. Some potatoes are not doing as well. The early variety, Swift, is behind all the other varieties, and some have withered away, so we have to keep an eye out for blight now.

On top of all that, we have finally planted our sweetcorn. As it needed a fair amount of space, we cleared out an area in parents old chicken run and have put manure down with black matting, planting through the mat. They seem to be doing well, with no rabbit or badger damage just yet. With some extra space in the homemade area, (we bothced together old bits of rabbit fence), we have also managed to fit in our courgette plants which were in desperate need for planting out. Hopefully we haven’t left it too late and they will fruit well.20130622_121849

There is still a little space left with the corn and courgettes so we are thinking of planting some squash there and the rest on the allotment which still has several empty patches.

Most exciting for me is that we have planted some of our tomato plants into their grow bags. My friends parents gave us around 10 plants which were ahead of ours so we now have them planted up and our ones have made it to their next stage in bigger pots. I just hope they aren’t too behind and that we will still get a crop from them.20130609_183034

And now, with the sun finally shining, I am going to battle with the weeds.

Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.  ~Lou Erickson

Nature’s colourful palette

My soul has definitely felt happier and healthier now our allotment is coming together.

Our beautifully green and growing allotment

Every time we go to check for signs of the seeds growing, I am filled with immense pride and love for our little patch. Our garlic seems to grow before our eyes, and the onions have finally picked up.

The potatoes are doing brilliantly, with gorgeous green plants bursting from the ground now. Even the main crop potatoes have some growth, especially the King Edwards. I love leaving everyday and piling the earth around them, keeping them snug from our changeable weather and protecting them until they are strong enough to hold their own against the elements.

We were a little disappointed when we first checked on the seeds to find barely a sign of life because those we had planted at home in the little greenhouse had already begun to come up. We had a few small tomato shoots, lots of lettuce, a couple of sprouts, cauliflower and several broccoli shoots at home but at the allotment only a few radish shoots were emerging from the soil.

Seedlings showing signs of life

Seedlings showing signs of life

Lettuce seedlings in the homemade greenhouse

Lettuce seedlings in the homemade greenhouse

Luckily the more we visit the more we notice some growth. Now a few broccoli and cauliflowers are poking out of the ground, and the red cabbage which was sown a couple of weeks after the rest, are already making an appearence.

Sadly, as much as the rain has helped our little seeds grow, it has hugely benefited the weeds, especially the couch grass. This week has been spent tirelessly removing the pesky couch roots, which are always so deep. It’s a shame we can’t find a use for couch grass as it grows so well. Once we have all our plants in the ground, the weeds will have much less space to take over and next year we will have a much better idea of how to manage our patch. Our desperation to start growing has meant we haven’t been able to plan as much as I would like, but once we do our PDC (permaculture design course) in September, and have much more time, next year we can produce a much more organic and companioned area.

Magnificent apple blosson

Magnificent apple blosson

We pulled out as many weeds as we could without damaging any potential seeds and decided to squeeze in another carrot row and some more lettuce and spring onions which we slotted in between more garlic.

One of our lovely friends also gave us some cabbage plants which I planted in the brassica bed and we covered them all in our DIY tunnel.

Dave had bought some 2m wide green netting and with some recycled metal rods and plastic tube, we made our own cover for the seeds and plants. We bent the tubing over the bed in an arch, with the rods as supports and cable tied the net securely, to keep out any naughty butterflies.

Next will be the runner bean plants which we have decided to buy because we hadn’t timed our sowings right with the weather.

Dave’s little apple trees are blossoming and really add life and colour to our ever growing patch.

I am completely loving being at one with nature and everywhere I am, I notice more and more. The woods where I live are stunning at the moment, with magnificent carpets of bluebells hidden beneath the sparkling green leaves that are awakening in the warm sun. Flowers are blooming in hedgerows and the garden, the leaves are fantastic shades of green. You can really feel the world waking up after winter.

“Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas” Elizabeth Murray

Spring is definitely here

Spring is definitely here

The wait is finally over, let’s get planting!

Tucked on the left are the newly sown lettuce seeds

Tucked on the left are the newly sown lettuce seeds

My mind has been filled with wonderful savory memories over the past few weeks with the sowing of all our seeds.

It has been incredibly exciting to fill the allotment with a huge variety of vegetables.

A couple of weeks after planting our early potatoes and apple trees, the April weather grew warmer and we decided it was finally time to get sowing.

Planting the first seed felt amazing. I had been waiting for the moment since November when we first took on the allotment. To be able to plant this tiny seed, knowing it would grow into something big, that bears food for us to eat is magnificent.

We managed to sow a huge variety, from radish, sprouts, broccoli and cabbage in our brassica bed, to our main potatoes in our middle bed with beetroot, parsnips and carrots and then some more carrots, spring onion, lettuce and red onion in the the top bed with our already planted onions, shallots and garlic.

We chose to sow a row of carrots inbetween a row of garlic, to see if it would help prevent carrot root fly. The stong smell of garlic should hide the smell of carrots when they are pulled. However, our garlic may be ready before the carrots so it is a bit of an experiment.

Newly sown beds

We squeezed in our spring onions behind our lone rhubarb, and the red onions at the end of the shallot and onion rows, which had originally been filled with the compost heap.

We also decided to dig out the raspberries that we had inherited, because they had so much couch grass entwined with them.

As part of our experimenting, we decided to sow the same seeds at home, in seed trays and bring them on in our homemade greenhouse. We are hoping this will give us more insight into growing, and aid us on our journey.

It was a beautiful day planting these tiny little seeds that will eventually become a life of their own.

I am truely enjoying having this allotment.

Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul.  ~Linda Solegato

Apples, potatoes and Easter eggs!

My green fingers have finally had a chance to flex. As April began to warm up, we were ready and waiting to begin our spring planting.

Our early potatoes were chitting nicely and Easter Sunday gave a reasonably warm and sunny day, so we set of for a beautiful morning at the allotment.

We dug a shallow trench along our planting line and I spread out our two varieties, eagerly awaiting the coming months of growth. Dave had picked up some leaf mulch from his cousins home where he’d been doing garden maintenance all year, so we had a great ‘bed’ for our spuds.

Our first ever planting of potatoes

Our first ever planting of potatoes

Our first row of potatoes under leaf mulch and fleece, staying safe from the cold April

Our first row of potatoes under leaf mulch and fleece, staying safe from the cold April

While I was planting our little potatoes, Dave was beginning his apple project. Because we are not allowed fruit trees on the allotment, Dave had the great idea of planting step-over apples, so that they would only grow a couple of feet high. We decided the edge of the beds was the best place as we would be utilising unused space, and not creating shade for the rest of the plot.  Because Dave is a handy fencer, he built the step-overs from coppiced Sweet chestnut he had cut over the winter.

We went for three apple trees of different varieties, spacing them along the 12m length of our plot.

So Dave made three chestnut fences, each of around 3m in length. These would be spaced along the beds, with a 1.5m gap between each panel so that we can access the beds.

He also made 6 posts that would hold each rail at around 2 feet, for the apples to grow along.

All the fencing was cut to size in the woods where he coppiced them, and then brought up to the allotment where it was put together.

After digging some holes, a little manouvering and some tampering and Dave had created 3 beautiful and strong step-overs ready for our apple trees.

Dave tapping in the soil on the first step-over

Dave tapping in the soil on the first step-over

Putting together the step-over

The apple trees went in next, in the middle of each panel. Each hole was dug with enough room for the roots and to also have 2 inches of compost underneath. Because we bought apples grafted on to an M27 root stock, a very dwarfing rootstock, we had to make sure the graft was out of the soil,so that it doesn’t rot.

Apple tree hole

Apple tree with compost in the holePlanted apple tree, held into place on the step-over

After our beautiful morning of planting potatoes and apples we were lucky enough to go home to an exciting Easter egg hunt in the woods by our house. It was Dave’s first ever egg hunt which made it even more fun and the yummy chocolate was trailed around the coppice he has been cutting all winter. A lovely end to our day of adventure.

“Fingers now scented with sage and rosemary, a kneeling gardener is lost in savory memories.”  ~Dr. SunWolf, professorsunwolf.com

Zero rotation and too much precipitation.

I am hoping when Lou Erickson said: “Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration” he also meant in rain. Because it has been raining a lot, and it’s going to be raining for at least the next week.

This water lark will definitely test my patience to get onto the allotment and start planting. Sewing our little seeds in waterlogged beds is not an option so we have to wait until the weather improves. Sadly there are rumours that Easter weekend will be very very cold so we are thinking we shouldn’t sew anything until after then, just to be safe.

Fortunately I have managed to whet my appetite with our potatoes. Our early potatoes have been sat on the windowsill chitting. We have Rocket and Swift, both producing beautifully coloured green and purple chitsChitting potatoes. It’s been brilliant to watch them on their growing journey, even if we can’t get them in the ground just yet.

I’m already getting nervous about how the plants will survive and we haven’t even sewn them yet.

But luckily everything I read while I’m at work at Permaculture Magazine keeps me positive and inspired. At the moment I am reading a manuscript that will be published in November. It is about growing edible perennial vegetables. I finished reading the book today and put down the last page inspired and excited.

The pages had been filled with a very different approach to growing vegetables that I had only experienced since being at the magazine.

I have discovered over the last few weeks and in spatterings a few months before as I read through back issues of the magazine to prepare me for my internship, that there is a whole new method of growing, that uses a lot less human input, is more natural and produces higher yields.

We live in a society that tells us we need repellents, fertilisers and all the new tools and gadgets to grow fruit and vegetables. It fits into the consumer society that constantly tells us to buy buy buy.

In fact, it is possible to grow food without using any fertilisers, any chemical pesticides and without having to dig your soil with the newest, shiniest spade or fork.

There are two aspects of sustainable growing that I have noticed being used by all permaculturlists. They replicate nature, are organic and take into account care and love for the earth and the soil.

Firstly there is the no-dig method which from the various sources I have read have shown greater yields, less work and a more nutritious soil. Manure or compost is put on top of the soil and left to be worked by the worms, insects and organisms in the soil. To briefly explain the benefits of no-dig:

  • Digging soil to remove weeds can compromise the soil structure leading to erosion by wind and rain
  • Worms and organisms use the nutrients which are left in a state that plants can then use

The no-dig method can be used in both small and large scale growing. Farmers who have chosen to not plough their soil have noticed higher yields and beautifully nutrient rich soil.

A second method that goes against the norm is polycultures. Instead of having set beds for set crops and rotating these beds yearly, all crops are mixed together. Crop rotation is used to prevent diseases building up in soil specific to certain vegetables. But in polycultures, plants with strong odours can be used to keep pests away, or attract them to another area, away from what they would usually eat.  However, growing in polycultures is replicating nature. Polycultures can be seen to look messy as they do not fit with the typical gardeners vision, but they do look natural and can be surprisingly beautiful. They fit perfectly in a forest garden, adding to the wild atmosphere.

So my next step is to incorporate these methods into the allotment. The polycultures will be very exciting and hopefully will not bother our neighbours. It has been known for allotments to see these methods as messy and not caring properly for a plot. Hopefully we can show people that this method is natural and high yielding. The no-dig method will be hard to begin with as our plot still has a lot of couch grass we want to remove. It will be a slow progress but once we have our plot clear of weeds, the no-dig process will be much easier.

“Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart.”  ~Russell Page

My new beginning

2013 is a new year. A shiny new year to begin a shiny new adventure. And 2013 has definitely started as a beautiful new start.

A year ago I was travelling around South East Asia, adoring the sunshine, the food, the seas and the lie-ins for nearly five months. My favourite part of the five and a half month adventure was the excitement for what the new day would bring and the slow pace of life where I was free to do as I pleased.

Lieing on the white beaches and swimming in the sparkly seas, I couldn’t imagine myself going home, to get a real job, to live a life of routine.

But here I am. A new year, a new job and new passions. I love waking up everyday knowing I have the life that I have. I still want to travel more and have exciting adventures, but for the moment my everyday life is an adventure.

I found a new focus in life. I have found Permaculture.

After months of hardwork I have found myself working at Permaculture Magazine. Some may think it was luck but I believe it was destiny.

The last couple of years I have found myself winding along a curious and interesting path towards environmentalism, looking after the planet and being green.

When I finally heard about Permaculture, I had a name to put to my new ways of thinking. I had something to investigate, to learn and to follow.

“Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living. It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere.” Permaculture Magazine.

But Permaculture is also commonsense. The three main aspects: People care, Earth care and Fair share are principles that people should incorporate into their lives whether they think of themselves as green and environmentally friendly or not.

Permaculture is commonsense because it gives a framework for efficiency, wasting less and re-using which should surely appeal to most people. It is for the money-savers, the allotmenteers, those who grow in pots on a windowsill and even farmers and whole countries agricultural systems.

It just makes sense.

Permaculture designs incorporate growing techniques that give high yield with a lot less effort. These techniques also take care of the soil, making it more nutritous to grow in but also preventing soil from degrading and releasing carbon into the atmosphere which adds to climate change. The designs also show companion planting and use different zones so that the food you use the most is grown closest to your living area. This enables us to live low carbo footprint lifestyles.

Learn more at www.permaculture.co.uk

PermacultuGetting the allotment ready for sewingre has given me a focus for the future which has begun with growing my own food.

My partner and myself found ourselves with an allotment  in November and we are all ready for spring to arrive and begin our new adventure.

Over the winter we cleared our beds, getting rid of a lot of annoying couch grass and weeds and planting some onions, shallots and garlic which have already started growing.

We are both incredibly excited to be growing our own food and cannot wait to watch all our little seeds peek through the soil. So the next step will be to begin sewing which will hopefully be over the next few weeks as spring arrives.

So now I just have to be patient and wait.

“Gardening requires lots of water – most of it in the form of perspiration.”  ~Lou Erickson