Thursday, April 21, 2011

Before.... and after! (Spring planting)

I nearly didn't do any planting this year. Every time I went out to the field, I was focusing on the house build and the veg beds were running wild, apart from some very tasty broccoli that I planted last summer:

And of course the ubiquitous rhubarb which grows all by itself so magically:

But then a beloved gardening friend said she'd like to come and see how we were doing, which spurred me on to start doing something! And here's the result.

Bed four was full of red cabbages that had gone to seed. I wish we'd harvested them and used them/ given them away, but when that needed doing we were definitely otherwise engaged.

So I got the fork in and pulled everything out, then fed it with wood ash/ compost and planted some peas and beans.

I built these deep beds into the hillside when I was pregnant with my fourth child nine years ago, and have never regretted it. I had visions when I was doing that work, of her running around the pathways in future years, playing while I worked. This does happen, especially now she's got a younger sister to run with, but it took a while!

Mostly the beds are good because I hardly ever have to stand on them, so the soil doesn't get compressed, and because of the hill they're at table-top height for working when you stand on the lower path. I also find them to be a manageable space - any bigger and I'd feel overwhelmed by the size of the weeding/planting/digging jobs involved. I get overwhelmed anyway, but at least with beds this size (roughly 10ft x 2½ft) no job is going to take longer than an hour or two, however intense the work. In theory, it means I can keep up with jobs like weeding. In practice it means I sometimes do! The main drawback to these beds is the slugs that hide/breed in the walls. I'm thinking of mortaring the stonework to both stabilise the walls and to give the dreaded slimy things fewer hiding places. Last year they ate all of my peas and beans! It's just too far from the house for me to be constantly monitoring them and picking them off, and I won't put poison down.

Bed three on the left in this picture contained onions last year:

It's dug out now, fertilised with composted manure and planted with potatoes.

Not seed potatoes though. In previous years I've bought those and carefully chitted them in egg boxes on windowsills. Then one year I planted some extra that I had in a veg basket from the supermarket, which were starting to sprout and they grew just as well as the seed potatoes I'd bought. So this year I've just used the kitchen surplus and haven't bothered with seeds at all. This year is all about efficiency for me, about which more later.

I think this one is my favourite. This year's leaf bed (number two):


And after:

Those are some Brussels sprout seedlings in front and I've seeded more broccoli behind, because we've enjoyed that so much this year and it was so easy to grow. It's fertilised with the contents of one of the kitchen compost bins - the one that was filled last year and has been left alone to break down since then while we filled the other one this year. After a year of being left alone, the contents are black, crumbly and odourless. Also because of where they are and the crop rotation system I use, the bin I'm emptying is usually right next to the bed it's scheduled to feed - which certainly makes things easier!

Something else I did this year was make creative use of our council wheely bin. They delivered it in all its glory and at first I didn't know what to do with it. I certainly don't want to be worrying about what day to put my rubbish out and so on, or dragging the big ugly thing around the driveway all the time. In days gone by when we used the rubbish collection service bags would get torn and rubbish strewn, so we haven't used it for years, preferring to take it to the recycling centre ourselves when we're driving past. (Did you know that you have to have a car to do this and that according to the rules, you're not allowed to use the recycling centre as a pedestrian? Monstrous!)

But then I realised I was short of a big container in which to make my nettle plant food. Stinging nettles contain a lot of nitrogen as well as sulphur, magnesium, iron and other minerals. And our field has lots of them. I use them fresh myself as a tea to help keep anaemia at bay, but in the course of land clearing I pull far more than I can use that way and hate leaving them to 'waste' on the dry midden. So last year they all went in the council bin, and I left the lid open so that rain water would collect in there too. (Beware: this concoction gets very smelly! It was useful to be able to shut the lid sometimes!)

Anyway, after about nine months of mashing, here it is:

No way did it need nine months - about three weeks usually does the job - but I was only ready to use it this week and I don't think the extra mashing time did any harm. I fished out the solid stuff and put it in a wheelbarrow.

And used it to top off the second kitchen compost bin (the one we've been filling this year):

Then that bin was put to bed for a year. (We need stones up here - the wind blows plastic bin lids away. And the bins themselves, if they're not weighed down with stone.)

I used the remaining 'tea':

to water in the peas and beans I'd planted in bed four. I don't think any other seeds would take such a strong feed, but for peas and beans it's probably exactly what they needed. There's some left: I'll dilute it down and use it on bigger plants. I loved the efficiency and relative ease of this: we have no water supply in the field, so in previous years I've had to carry buckets of water from the house with which to irrigate seeds. This was so much easier. I've got plans for collecting the run-off from the new house drainage and channeling it to the crops, or at least keeping it stored in the field for filling buckets, but meanwhile the council bin will do the job well enough.

Finally, the other half of bed one - the one with the broccoli - needed digging and planting. Here it is - I've just put some beetroot seedlings in there for now. Might transplant some carrots and onions across later, which I'll probably start off in peat pots on the driveway near the house. They need more fussing over than they'll get in the field.

Beds one and two look like this now:

and I just need to mow all the paths today. And the play area over there...

And the sitting area here...

And the little garden here...

And, and, and.....


Blogger HolisticHumanist said...

Loving this blog Gill. I am also trying to create a veg garden, play area & seating area but in a much smaller space but with the same end in mind I think... as much self-sufficiency as my life & available space will allow for! Very interested in the nettle plant food, think I might give that a go. Glad to see it's all coming along so well for you. xxxxxxxxxxx

April 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Gill said...

It's incredibly kind of you to call this an 'end'! We've lived here for 14 years and yet it still feels very much like a 'beginning', LOL. I've still got *so* many plans. (Though in my defence I have been busy with other things, in and amongst.)

" much self-sufficiency as my life & available space will allow for" sounds like an excellent plan and yes, I suppose it's exactly what we're doing here. Not as much as I'd like necessarily, but as much as life will allow for just now.

I hope your plans go well. xxxxxxxxxx

April 22, 2011 at 11:46 AM  
Blogger lucy.web said...

Beautiful, and inspirational.

April 22, 2011 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Lucy xx

April 22, 2011 at 12:52 PM  

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