juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

I’ve finished my Permaculture Diploma (all the designs and so on are up here)! I’ll be doing my final presentation at the London Permaculture Festival this Sunday, from 11:30-1:30. There are three of us doing a bunch of mini-talks and chatting to people about urban permaculture and the diploma, so it’s not just 2 straight hours of being talked at.

Come along if you’re free; there’s loads of stuff going on at the festival as a whole, and if you’re at all interested in permaculture it’s well worth going.

juliet: (Default)
Further to my previous posts musing on getting stuff done and the perils of the ticky-box approach, I have realised another interesting thing, which is that I can find researching and (in particular) Planning a Thing more satisfying than the actual Doing of the Thing.

The thing with planning is that you can research and consider and analyse and generally collate lots of information into a cohesive whole, and then make a considered decision based on appropriate factors. All of which is (I find) quite satisfying. And after that you can work out what needs to happen when[0], and whether you need to acquire anything, and generally, once again, consider and analyse and collate things into a Plan. A Plan is a beautiful thing.

But then comes the actual Doing, which involves hard work (physical or mental) and finding that you forgot to allow for this, that, or the next thing; and often the Doing does not entirely match up with the Planning in outcome either[1]. (Though sometimes it does, and sometimes it is better.)

And yet, Planning without any actual Doing is (probably) (right?) eventually going to be unsatisfying.

I could use getting better at Doing.

In other news, we are (hopefully) going to get solar panels! (They should be Permitted Development but due to the specifics of our covenant we have to get permission and it is proving a little more intricate than I expected. Which, really, I should have expected.) Planning the solar panels was fun, and also takes me one step closer to finishing my Permaculture Diploma which I am now aiming to finish by July. There is, inevitably, Another Plan.

[0] If you are very lucky, there may be a Gantt Chart.

[1] I often find it difficult to start writing something, for example, because in my head it exists in a whole and, it seems, perfect form, which is necessarily going to suffer when turned into cold hard words on paper. I am trying to get better at this. Also that is the point of editing, but it is still sometimes sorrow-making to read back something I've just written and realise just how clunky it is.
juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

I’m running a free Introduction to Permaculture one-day course at Burgess Park Food Project on the 26th April (2014). Contact me, or the address on the website, to book.

There’s lots of other cool stuff going on there this summer, too. (JPG only at that link, sorry; have requested text version.)

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

This year I am planning my annual veggies based on four criteria: ease of growing, how much better they taste home-grown than bought, whether we will actually eat them, and whether they’re expensive in the shops. Here’s how the analysis looks (green plus, orange maybe, red negative):

Veggie analysis

The ones with green stars to their left are the ones that make the cut: anything with one or more red minuses or no green pluses was out. After a little more debate I have ditched podded peas in favour of just growing mangetout (mostly eaten straight from the plant in the garden, mmm). Which gives me:

Vegetable Plant Harvest Bed
Potatoes Mid-March – May (earlies) 9-10 wks after planting (early June – August) South-west (once broad beans are up)
Chard Spring/self-sown Throughout year South/north-east perennial beds
Rocket Throughout year (not July) Throughout year Wherever there’s space
Misc lettuce Throughout year (not July) Throughout year North-west bed
Courgette Indoors mid-April, plant out mid-May From July/August North-west bed
Pepper Mid-Feb onwards indoors, plant ‘out’ mid-May From July/August (harvest green to increase yield) Greenhouse
Garlic Nov (already in) June In edges of various beds
Mangetout March June Next to fig up fence; in tomato pots until tomatoes ready
Broad beans Nov (already in) April-May South-west bed
Podded beans May July Square bean bed
Tomatoes March in greenhouse August/September In pots along fence

So my tasks so far look like this:

  • February:
    • Look over that list and existing seeds, buy seeds as necessary
    • Transplant herbs into perennial beds
  • March:
    • Sow rocket as necessary (wherever)
    • Chit potatoes (late March)
    • Plant peppers on windowsill / in greenhouse
    • Plant mangetout (in tomato pots / next to fig)
    • Plant tomatoes (in greenhouse)
  • April:
    • Sow chard as necessary (perennial beds)
    • Sow misc lettuce as necessary (NW bed)
    • Plant courgettes in greenhouse (mid April)
    • Pull up broad beans (late April)
    • Plant potatoes (SW bed)
  • May:
    • Plant out courgettes (NW bed) (mid-May)
    • Plant out peppers (greenhouse) (mid-May)
    • Plant podded beans (square bean bed)
  • June:
    • Harvest garlic
    • Harvest mangetout
  • July:
    • Sow chard as necessary
    • Sow rocket as necessary
    • Harvest podded beans
  • August:
    • Harvest potatoes

Next I need to work out what other tasks I need to do: fertilising, tying in fruit, peas, and tomatoes, etc. Then I can transfer it all into my calendar — thus minimising decisions to make and enabling me just to do things when I have a moment.

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

Recently I was interviewed by Stef Geyer for his 21st Century Permaculture show on ShoreditchRadio. It was good fun to do, and it’ll be broadcast live on ShoreditchRadio at 8pm on Sunday 29th Sept. After that you can listen to it (or other older shows) at the mixcloud page. I am not sure I will be able to bear to listen to myself, but have been listening to and greatly enjoying the older shows.

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

Natural Parents Network: Recycling Rubbish Into Toys for a ToddlerI wrote a post over at Natural Parents Network about recycling ‘rubbish’ into toddler toys.

However much we try to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into your house and waste that goes out of it, it seems that we are still constantly throwing things out. Meanwhile, the baby wants something to play with… In true permaculture style, I can solve two problems at once by diverting some of the ‘rubbish’ from the recycling bin to the toy box. Read on over at NPN for a few suggestions that have gone down well with Leon.

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

As part of the ongoing maintenance of the permaculture design for my back garden, I made a list of the issues highlighted in my successes and problems posts:

  • Lack of time for maintenance; this led to no blueberry fruit (lack of netting and fertiliser) and a poor strawberry harvest (lack of watering).
  • Lack of time? inclination? for harvesting.
  • Snails eating seedlings (and the grape vine).
  • Some under-utilised space.
  • More of an observation than an issue: the things that have done best are the things which require the least input, and are the least vulnerable. (eg tomatoes, which largely look after themselves once the seedlings are robust enough to go outside, especially with the self-watering containers.)

After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that the maintenance and harvesting problems actually break down into three factors:

  1. Real actual lack of time.
  2. Not spending enough time out in the garden. (“The best fertiliser is the gardener’s shadow”). This is largely because it is so very hot out there in good weather.
  3. Watering is a big faff: the watering can is slow to fill from the butt, and heavy to fill from the tap, and one watering can isn’t much for a whole garden.

I took a look at the permaculture principles while thinking about designing a solution. (The whole design maintenance process is about principle 4, “Accept self-regulation and feedback”.) (Italics are conclusions or things I need to add to my to-do list.)

Living with the snails

My very first conclusion was that however many solutions there are to snail and slug problems, my preferred solution was to learn to live together with the snails. (Principle 1, “Observe and interact; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”) As a vegan, I can’t really justify killing the snails, who are after all only trying to feed themselves, the same way I am. Observing the plants that struggled, the ones most at risk are small annual seedlings (carrots and turnips, courgette, basil), and that grape vine. This suggests a multi-layer approach (principle 10: “Use and value diversity”):

  • Just give up growing carrots and turnips. They’re not a great crop for a small space, I’ve always struggled to germinate carrots, and I’ve never been that impressed by the taste of my home-grown ones.
  • Work on getting plants big enough to resist snail attacks. That means protecting my annual seedlings (bean, courgette, basil) better (starting in the already planned mini-greenhouse, perhaps also using copper tape for the basil pot), and planting more perennial veg, which are better able to resist attack.
  • For the grape vine, which I really want to try again: a mechanical solution. An anti-snail fence did seem to work this year, but the plant was already too damaged. Next year I can use it from the start.

Lack of time, and lack of time in the garden

My next problem was the lack of time, combined with the lack of time spent in the garden. The obvious solution to a lack of time is to grow plants that need less attention, which broadly speaking again points to perennials. (Snail-resistant and easier to grow! Principle 5: “Use and value renewable resources and services”.) A second solution is to plan what maintenance I do need (eg checking the soil pH of the blueberries, fertilising fruit trees) a bit better over the winter, ready for summer. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”; that is, use my winter energy to better direct my summer energy.) Making comfrey and nettle tea is also on my agenda.

The lack of time in the garden is strongly related to our excessively warm south-facing patio. We have a patio umbrella, but it doesn’t provide much shade, and it doesn’t shade the wall of the house which then radiates heat back out. It’s actually a difficult space to shade, because it is so very south-facing! One solution might be an awning with a ‘curtain’ falling a couple of feet around it. However, my preferred solution is another grape vine, trained over the patio. This will produce a grape crop, provide all-day shading for the house wall, and the transpiration of the green leaves will cool the space under them. I thought we would need a pergola for this (difficult to install on our concrete patio), but in fact installing strong wires should do the trick at least initially. (Principle 9: “Use small and slow solutions”, principle 3: “Obtain a yield” (of both shade and grapes!), principle 2: “Catch and store energy” (grapes store sun energy), and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate” (two functions, one solution).

There were other awkwardnesses in the patio space which I’ve already fixed and which are already meaning I spend more time out there and water a bit more, as the weather cools:

  1. The table and chairs are an awkward shape for the space — the table is too big and the chairs are in the way. However, it turns out that the chairs hang quite neatly on the otherwise-unused tall patio fence, which meant I could move the table out. It’s now much easier to navigate.
  2. Leon’s paddling pool was similarly awkwardly sized. Ebay provided a smaller, easier to manage second-hand pool.

Watering and harvesting

I’m currently working on watering and wicking solutions to make watering required less often, and easier when it is required. I’d like something in all the annual beds and anywhere else (eg the blueberry and cherry pots) it’s needed. I also need to add a longer hose to the tap for when I need to use that, to make the watering can easier to fill.

The planned perennial beds, with full ground cover, will also help retain moisture in the earth, as will adding more compost as it becomes available. I’m going to abandon the strawberry tower which doesn’t work at all well, and use the strawberries as perennial ground cover.

Harvesting: we don’t use as much rocket as we have; but as a self-seeded low-maintenance plant which gets eaten sometimes and is nice to nibble on while gardening, I’m happy to just let it keep on keeping on. I’m going to stop planting annual lettuce, but might plant a salad-type perennial leaf (low-maintenance, available if wanted).

I am going to put sticky notes on the herb jars which are for things we have outside, to remind cooks that the fresh herbs are there!

Under-utilised space

Finally, in terms of under-utilised space (principle 6: “Produce no waste”), a handful of different solutions:

  • Two small and slow solutions (principle 9): a cherry tree to replace the satsuma in the big pot (principle 3: “Obtain a yield”), and a couple of raspberry canes to go into the wild east border. The raspberries should need little maintenance once established, the cherry might need netting once it starts bearing fruit. It will also help shade the patio a little.
  • A mini-greenhouse for the sunny south wall by the door. (Principle 2: “Catch and store energy”). As above, this will also provide a safe place for seedlings to grow big enough to resist snails.
  • Perennial plants in both west beds, using forest-garden-style stacking underneath tall plants against the sunny fence. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”.) This also, as above, helps to solve the watering, time, and snails problems.
  • Moving some of the herbs (thyme and oregano, most notably) into the north-east raised bed next to the herb garden, where I think they will do better and will also act as ground cover. This is really part of the perennial bed planting and reduces my outlay on new plants in favour of ones we use.
  • An autumn olive in the far south-west corner, above the rhubarb, for fruit, beautiful berries, and nitrogen-fixing. (Principle 11: “Use edges and value the marginal”, and principle 8: “Integrate rather than segregate”.)

Overall…

Generally, my aim is to set things up so that, as much as possible, they manage themselves. It’s going to require a certain amount of work over the winter to set things up, and over the first year or two to help them get going, but in the long run this should significantly improve the way the garden works, heading towards the “harvesting as maintenance” goal.

The big part of the plan is forest-garden style planting in the two western raised beds. I’ve worked out my plan for that and will write about it in my next post.

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

I find it difficult to remember to regularly water all of my various growing spaces. Two of them (balcony and porch) don’t have any water source which means watering is harder work and thus likely to happen; the back garden has water but I still struggle to remember and find the time to get out there with the watering can (time consuming in itself). So I’ve been looking into watering systems.

I already have most of my tomatoes in self-built self-watering containers, which work wonderfully. Mine are very basic, based around two florists buckets stacked on one another (full instructions in Permaculture in Pots!). For the third year in a row, the tomatoes in those buckets are thriving, and I want to make a couple more for next year.

I’m likely to construct more SWCs for the porch and balcony, but in the meantime I’ve been looking at other alternatives to use in the existing containers, as well as in the ground in the raised beds in the back garden. In the light of the permaculture approach of “make small changes and observe”, here are the current experiments, all using things we already had lying around the house:

  • Mostly empty white plant container, with upended plastic bottle and a couple of small pea plants.

    This just drains straight out. Peas in the background, but nothing else is growing well.

    On the porch, this is just a plastic bottle upended in the soil. Opinion online seems divided on whether you leave the lid on (with a hole punched in it) or take it off. I took it off, and it seems to me that the water just leaks out again too fast. Part of the problem, I think, is that this box is too well drained; the first time I filled the bottle, it all flooded straight out of the bottom of the box. This area is entirely under cover, so I could use a container without drainage, as it can’t flood with rain. I will try a non-draining container here the next time the current one is empty.

  • Plastic bottle upended in soil, with tomato plants surrounding it.

    The plastic bottle drains very fast.

    This box, out in the garden, uses the same plastic bottle system, again without a top. There’s no drainage problem here (don’t think this box has drainage holes!), but water still seems to drain out of the bottle very fast. I think you may need pretty damp soil to start with for it to work (so not suitable for all plants, though tomatoes grow fine with wet feet). I’ll also try putting a cap on the bottle to see if that helps.

  • Ceramic pot buried in the soil, surrounded by seedlings planted under plastic bottle tops

    Ceramic pot — drains too fast. Surrounded by chard seedlings in mini cloches.

    Out in the back garden again, this is a ceramic pot buried in the soil. I got this variation on a traditional African watering system from the current issue of Permaculture Magazine. Again, currently mine seems to be draining too fast. Reading the editorial again, more carefully, suggested that I need a cork in the bottom, so I’ll try that. I also suspect that I’ve buried it a little too deep and it would do better with a centimetre showing above the surface, so soil doesn’t leak in. It could do with a cover to limit evaporation, but currently it’s draining too fast for that to matter.

  • A plastic pot buried to its rim in soil, with seedlings under plastic bottle tops surrounding it.

    Again, this is draining too fast. More chard seedlings here!

    On the other side of the same bed, I wondered whether a plastic pot with holes in the bottom would work similarly — like a cross between the ceramic pot and an upturned bottle. Again, however, it’s just draining too quickly, and it takes up more space in the bed than an upturned 2l bottle would. I will try replacing it with a large water bottle, lid on, and see how that works.



I suspect that the best solution will be different in my different growing spaces, as the parameters, requirements, and limitations are different in all three areas. However, I would like to get some kind of watering solution in place across all of them before next summer. Watch this space for more experimental results!

Rocket plants growing right out of their little trough

The rocket is trying to take over…

Meanwhile, the rocket is doing just fine anyway.

juliet: (Default)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

I’ve just cleared out three of the raised beds in the back garden (some failed crops – no sign of turnips this year; some that are over – broad beans and winter lettuce) and need to plan my summer planting. To the seed lists!

  • Greens:
    • Pak choi
    • Tatsoi
    • Tsoi sim (a good catch crop as it is only 3 wks to harvest)
    • Mixed and oak leaf lettuce
    • Winter lettuce from August
    • Rocket

    I also have broccoli raab and mustard greens, but previous experience suggests that we just don’t eat these, so there’s no point in growing them. I’m actually a little ambivalent about the lettuce, but I’ll give it another go.

  • Veg
    • Carrots (til end July)
    • Petrowski turnip

To avoid the perils of the monoculture, the planting plan looks like this:

  • NW bed: rocket, lettuce, pak choi (all broadcast)
  • SE bed: carrots, pak choi, tsoi sim in between the rows (to come up in 3 wks to make more room for the other veg as they grow)
  • SW bed: turnips, tatsoi, lettuce between the rows (to come up as microgreens / mini greens to make more space as the other veg grow)

Normally I’m all about the succession sowing, but I think this time I’ll get it all in at once, and see what’s come up and where there’s space in two or three weeks, and decide then whether to plant more.

juliet: (get an allotment)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

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.

juliet: (waveform tree)

Mirrored from Twisting Vines.

Having rearranged the herb garden, I looked at the vast expanse of 6+ foot high, south-west facing fence behind it, and thought “Something should be growing across that. Specifically, a productive climber that produces something tasty…”. So last week I planted a dessert grape vine (Lakemont Golden Seedless Dessert, more info here), which I’m hugely excited about. It’s supposed to do well in this climate if in a sunny spot, so I have high hopes – and grapes are one of my favourite fruits. I need to get some organic tomato fertiliser and apply regularly this season, and read up on pruning next winter. Grapes grow on last year’s vines so nothing will set this year. Lakemont are heavy cropping, self fertile, suitable for outdoor growing, and very sweet, and harvest in London should be late September.


Grape vine hacked back to recommended three buds

Over the other side of the garden, no sign yet of this year’s autumn raspberry canes. My thumbs are crossed that they’ll spring up soon from the canes I brought in from the allotment last summer. If not, I may have to buy some more next winter.

I’ve also been thinking about the farthest end of the garden, where the compost heap and shed are, and where there is a little less sun due to the back fence. There were three major issues on my mind:

  • The compost heap, while a glorious thing in many ways, is not wildly attractive when viewed from the back door.
  • There is a couple of metres at that end of the garden that is currently still paved and underused (occupied, as it was at the time, by paving slab piles).
  • Small gardens benefit from having things to break the line of sight up. Dividing the garden up a little can make it seem bigger.

A bush of some sort in front of the compost heap, just at the limit of the shaded area, seemed the perfect solution. And since I wanted something productive, a blackcurrant bush (Ben Sarek Organic, a small-middling bush which fruits mid-to-late season) was the obvious choice. So I’ve taken up another two paving slabs and planted a tiny stick of a blackcurrant bush there. Hopefully it too will thrive. I’m a little concerned about how much sun it will get; I think it should be just about enough (the tomatoes against the fence there did fine last year) but we shall see.


I always find it difficult to imagine that a twig like this one, barely visible beside its stake, will ever grow into a big fruit bush, but hopefully…


This was previously occupied by a big pile of paving slabs. Clearly I now need to work out what else to do with it. Possibly a bean tipi this year?

One final note: I planted the grape vine in the corner of the oldest of our raised beds, put in 20 months ago when we first moved in. At that point, the soil underneath when we pulled the paving slabs up was heavy, compacted clay, which I shoved a fork into a few times before dumping compost on top. Now, I could dig right down into it with a hand trowel with no trouble, and it’s full of worms and soil life. That’s just from adding compost and green matter on top, and planting in it. An incredibly pleasing change to see!

June 2017

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