Friday, October 19, 2012

Polytunnel, bio-dynamics, companion planting


We're really pleased with what we've achieved in the veg garden so far. There's been plenty of failures and difficulties but plenty of successes too, a good first year. Things that didn't do well were tatties, peas, mange tout, swiss chard and spinach amongst other things. Other UK growers we chat too have mostly found it a difficult year with the endless damp and we've had problems with eel worm or wire worm and also with rats and mice. The successes have been peppers, chile peppers, tomatoes, herbs, strawberries, onions, celery, leeks, courgettes, beans and sweetcorn. It's nice to remember that many of the plants started off life on Ruth's windowsill back down in College Road. Well done us! 
Ruth's window-ledge nursery back in College Road

Ruth's tomato-polyculture: companion planting of toms with basil and flowers mulched with straw - great idea, easy to maintain and very productive

Chile peppers galore
Volunteers Ian and Alan working on the final, middle row of beds in the tunnel with Wes and I "helping"
If you plan and set up a good system of paths, gates, fences, raised beds, composting bins, polytunnels etc etc right from the start you will make life so much easier and more enjoyable for yourself. That goes for a hundred acre farm just as much as a back garden plot.
And if you're at all inclined to try growing some stuff yourself but haven't started yet just do it! I look back on all the mistakes I made back on my allotment and realise now that it was all a great way to learn, your garden soon teaches you if you're prepared to look and listen and it's really easy to research stuff via the internet now - above all, the greatest journey begins with a single step...

Some of it might seem pretty wacky at first sight but the more you look into it the more it makes sense. The cow horn procedure boosts all-important bacterial soil activity
This is one of the most interesting avenues we've been exploring in the garden here. It's about timing your gardening according to the phases of the Moon and the position of the planets, and much more. I know some people (who could well be a bit more open-minded for their own good) who dismiss the whole thing as superstitious nonsense but just think of the effect of the Moon on the oceans. Every drop of water on the Earth is being pulled and released in the tides so surely it follows that this will be true for water in plants and the ground just as much as the seas. I wonder if it's partly how water is drawn up into trees as I think I've read that this can't be fully explained by capillary attraction. My friends Steve and Caryn at Quinta Cabeca de Mata in Portugal have been working with Bio-Dynamics for years with such interesting results that they now do more and more in this way, even harvesting wood for buildings. We're going to need all the help and deeper and understanding we can get as we power-down from the Oil Age so lets check out everything that comes our way with open hearts and minds - maybe that's the biggest possible first step.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lovely fences and gates

Ha ha... cows' trampling thwarted by gate
Gate equally beautiful from the opposite direction
Our plot here has just been fenced off which is brilliant as now the cows can’t wander through it, trashing stuff and trampling the ground into a quagmire – it’s still very, very wet underfoot here, thick clayey goo that you can barely walk through. But now we can start channeling some of the water, doing some planting and carry on putting our low-impact ideas into practice. Reading about the march of the landless people in India and about the poor harvest around the world has reminded me how lucky we are to have access to this plot. It’s about a third of an acre so a very useful size when taken as an addition to the farm’s orchard and veg garden.
Lovely new gate leading from our plot into the orchard
We’ve made a good start all ready to dealing with the waste we produce and by getting a massive wood-burning stove fitted. It’s been really interesting to see just how much of different kinds of waste we do produce, plastic, metal, paper & cardboard, grey water from washing etc and of course the good old pee and poo. The real shocker is the plastic... I remember a book from the seventies, “The Waste Makers” by Vance Packard – we’ve been aware of the global waste problem for decades but it’s just got worse and worse since then. No doubt you’ve noticed how everything you buy is packaged at least once and no doubt you’ve read about the vast floating mass of plastic that has gathered in the North Pacific, reportedly the size of Texas. At the moment we’re using our own plastic waste for insulation by stuffing milk cartons with it and packing them beneath the caravan. I’m not quite sure what we do with the stuff after that but by then we’ll hopefully have reduced the amount of plastic we bring on here, reduction has got to be the general answer. Where does the plastic come from anyway?...largely from fossil fuel materials and fossil fuel energy. And there’s lots of other things to do with it like the plastic bottle greenhouse we made at Cwm Harry.
The first thing we did when we got onto the land was to fit the caravan with a composting toilet. It’s easy and simple, smells less than the old WC and will provide valuable compost for the heavy clay soil. In fact, the nitrogen in your pee is so useful in helping other things to breakdown that it seesm amazing that we ever flushed it down the drain. (Don’t worry if you’re visiting, it’ll be going into land for fruit bushes and small trees not for veg.)
I had hoped to make a rocket stove thermal mass heater instead of the wood stove which would have burned the wood much hotter and without the toxins released from smouldering logs but we’re always short of time... feeble excuse, feeble excuse... Anyway, we’ll rig the stove, which is a monster, like something out of the Queen Mary, so that it burns hot and has plenty of thermal mass in and around it. Fuel for the stove comes from trees that have blown down on the farm, plenty of those so far - though we're using chainsaws and a tractor powered log splitter to harvest them... nothing's ever just totally simple is it?