Return to Eden

I’ve long been attracted to all things faddy and ever since I read about the Back to Eden project in last month’s permaculture magazine, I’ve been itching to turn the plot into a forest garden, layered with inches of paper, woodchip  and manure.

Although I’m eager to dabble with the latest fad, I’m not overly keen on being outed as a crackpot so I decided to start yesterday by very gradually transforming the plot.

Just as well really, the tiny corner that I did start to cover, took one newspaper, a bag of manure, the grass clippings from both the front and back garden and the best part of a sack of bark.

wood chip from backtoedenIf I don’t call in a dumper truck of municipal wood chip this little project will take me at least a decade to complete but at least no one will notice that I’m slightly deranged.

I’ve started over the bean trench but my next patch will be over the squash bed. A little too much to drink at a recent party resulted in the opening of the seed cabinet and ended in a”squash off” challenge being set. My squash bed now needs to be lush and moisture retentive to encourage the best curcubits I’ve grown for years.

I’m holding out particular hopes for the Spaghetti Squash. After many failed and bloody attempts with the spiraliser, I’ll be grateful for a squash that comes pre-noodled.

I’ll no doubt be cutting the lawn on a weekly basis now, and may even extend to the neighbours, in an effort to gather enough mulch to turn my patch into an oasis of biblical proportions.

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The Excellence of Second Hand Sloes

Sloe PortIn search of suitable bottles for the preparation of the annual glug of sloe gin I found last years experimental sloe port.

I planned on leaving it for 2 months to mature but here we are 10 months later and I can only say that it has matured fantastically.

It is a crying shame that I have an 8am Monday morning presentation but if they knew how smooth this tipple was, I’m sure they’d forgive me for a lacklustre performance. I can only hope so anyway.

 

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Easy Watering in Times of Drought

This time of year, watering can become a major trauma on the plot. I can almost hear the squash and celery plants screaming at me to come over and flood their roots.

I rarely make it to the plot more than once a week so I’ve made efforts to increase the water retention in the soil around the most thirsty of plants. The celery, squash and butter beans have all been planted into trenches that were filled with partially rotted kitchen waste in the spring. In addition, the squash have been set into valleys so that I can tip a bucket of water around each plant without it running off to nurture the surface weeds.

Watering on allotments can be a contentious practice. Effin Frank will forcefully inform any newcomer to the site that they shouldn’t “effin water them plants or you’ll effin burn the effin roots”.

He could be right if watering means a scant drizzle from the rose of a watering can. The trick is to drench a plant if you’re going to bother watering at all. Send the roots downwards rather than encouraging them to stick close to the surface where the soil will bake in hours.

At home my problems are much greater. Most of my garden plants are in pots and although I technically ought to be able to water my plants daily, they rarely get considered from one week to the next. When I see the pathetic wilting of the entire plant I rush out with my jug of water and attempt to saturate the compost. It’s a futile effort. If you’ve ever let a pot plant dry out (I’m sure everyone has) its darn tricky to get the compost to absorb more than a thimble full of water. The rest whizzes through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot and nourishes the weeds in the cracks between the paving slabs.

Drip IrrigationI was recently sent an easy watering kit to set up amongst my pot plants and it has proved to be an ingenious way to re-saturate dried out pot plants and deliver a steady drip of water during the summer months.

You get an awful lot in your kit for the money. The drip irrigation kit I used was just under £30 and provided enough drippers for 20 pots and huge length of the main supply pipe, with connectors to allow you to cut and split the supply so you can water pots in different areas.

Easy watering drip irrigation kit

I set it up before I went away on my summer holidays and I have arrived home to find my pots looking extremely healthy, which never happens when I go away.

I’m extremely happy with this kit but if you keep your pots on different levels it takes a bit of faffing to ensure a steady drip to all pots.

Pros

  • accurately delivers drips of water direct to your plant
  • most efficient way of watering pot plants without run off

Cons

  • takes a while to install, laying out the feeder pipes, cutting out the dripper pipes and inserting the connectors
  • can lead to different rates of dripping if you have pots at different levels

Saving Water in the Garden

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Marital Harmony Returns

I have written often of the frustration of the Rotovator.  Our particular torment comes in the form of a very old and cranky Mountfield M1 Gardener:

I am beginning to hate the rotovator. It offers so much in the way of pain free cultivation but its always such an arse to use. It weighs a tonne, requires repeated muscle wrenching yanks to even hint at a splutter and then when you finally get it started it roars for a matter of seconds before choking its way to a pathetic end. Then the process repeats.  
Oct 2011

I went back to the old fashioned method of forking over the soil while Lynn continued off and on, to wrench her arm out of its socket trying to get the thing to spark.
Mar 2012

This year we treated ourselves to a secondhand Honda tiller which we were told would actually start, first time. Of course I didn’t believe it. What petrol motor with a pull cord actually starts first time? We’ve tried the M1 Gardener umpteen times, and don’t get me started on the Stihl petrol strimmer, both have resulted in near dislocations and marriage-threatening arguments.

This weekend was a revelation. I tipped petrol into the Honda tank, flicked an assortment of switches and then grabbed the cord for a tentative pull. I wanted to start gently so I could gauge the tension before beginning the heavy duty yanking. To my complete surprise the engine spluttered and more importantly remained on. No shoulder wrenching yank-athons required.

What joy! Marital harmony may have returned to the plot. I can choose to use the tiller on a whim without risking the next 2-3 hours spent arguing over the position of the choke cable and who’s turn it is to pull the blasted starter cord.

Yes, my new Honda tiller is a dream come true, if a little bouncy.

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The Annual Broad Bean Giveaway

The beans have been tremendously successful this year which can only mean that the Annual Broad Bean Giveaway will be more challenging than usual.

Broad bean glutThis event sees us sneaking from neighbour to neighbour trying to catch them unawares so we can thrust a carrier bag of un-podded and usually unwelcome beans into their hands.

Typically the neighbours are one step ahead of us and have closed the curtains, plunged the house into darkness and feigned longterm absence.

One may wonder why I grow so many unpopular beans. I don’t much care for them myself actually, but it’s hard to turn your back on the singularly most success crop and besides I do so enjoy the groans when I put them on the teenagers dinner plates.

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Where there’s Muck

Years of following a haphazard compost cycling routine has resulted in two full heaps of uncomposted matter.

20140511-133055.jpgI was always supposed to fill one side of my pallet compost system, before flipping it all over into the other side and starting the process again. This disciplined rotation would result in an annual harvest of beautiful, crumbly, loamy compost but somewhere along the line I got confused (or lazy) and chucked my kitchen waste into alternate sides.

Faced with nowhere else to tip my waste I had to face my rubbish mounds head on.

There followed a morning of complex muck juggling. Trying to balance piles of manky brassica stems and steaming grass sods until I could unearth some good stuff from the bottom of pile number 1.

I was rather pleased with what I uncovered. There was indeed some real composted stuff at the bottom of the heap and it was ready to be transferred to the squash bed.

With the first forkful I released a remarkably shiny silver teaspoon but the second fork filled me with joy.

20140511-125356.jpgThe removal of the second forkful revealed my long lost Messermeister Vegetable Peeler.

You may not have heard of the Messermeister peeler. For some unfathomable reason they are unavailable in the UK. I had to acquire mine from the US. They are by far and away the worlds best peeler. I brought this one rather tentatively into my new relationship. It’s the sort of gadget you can’t risk losing and I was sorely tempted to create a pre-nuptial agreement to ensure that the peeler came with me in the unfortunate instance of a relationship catastrophe.

This particular peeler went AWOL about two years ago but now has returned and I am so happy.

20140511-125409.jpgThe handle appears a little worse for wear. The soft outer coating appears to have decomposed rather successfully but the blade is as sharp as ever. A little TLC and this peeler can reclaim its spot in the kitchen drawer ready to see us through our dotage.

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Hitting the Water Table

We made a flying visit to the plot this morning to deposit the kitchen compost and to rescue the last few Brussels.

Compost has become a bit of a cottage industry at our house. I have a production line that starts by the kettle with a little repository for tea bags, moves down to the lovely silver caddy on the kitchen floor and then out into the back garden where it can go one of 3 ways.

In the garden we have a large galvanised dustbin, two bokashi buckets and a multi-tiered wormery. I haven’t quite worked out the optimum route for all our waste but the initial plan was to send everything to the bokashi buckets for high speed Japanese fermenting and then on to the wormery for compost production.

I hoped the worms would produce enough soil for me to replace the bank that has slipped into the neighbours garden but they only seem to devour at the rate of 1 lettuce leaf per week.

That’s where the galvanised bin comes in handy and in truth I may as well be bypassing the bokashi and the wormery and ditching all our waste into it.

Anyhoo, we waddled on to the plot with bin and bokashi buckets in hand and I decided to dig trenches to tip it all in. That way I could plant my summer squash into a moisture retaining environment and hopefully grow championship worthy whoppers.

It’s hard to imagine that the soil would need assistance with water retention. I hit the water table at one spades depth and found myself stuck, steadfast in a squelchy clay puddle.

We considered ourselves lucky though as our neighbours on the opposite side of the plot have had to return their usual seed order and panic purchase rice.

20140203-085410.jpg

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Port and Sloe Gin Production

Most of the sloes had gone by the time we got our foraging heads on. We had to endure multiple blackthorn puncture wounds in order to get deep enough into the hedgerow to secure some berries that the birds had missed.

I still bear the scars from that day and the experience has left me wanting to squeeze the very marrow from my hard won sloes.

20131222-163812.jpgThey initially went into bottles for the traditional sloe gin but now two months later I am decanting the gin and don’t feel the sloes have reached the end of their useful lives.

Thankfully Permaculture magazine has provided me with the perfect recipe for semi-sozzled sloes. Sloe Port.

I bundled an approximate dollop of sugar and healthy slug of cognac into the drained bottle of gin soaked sloes and topped up with a bottle of bargain basement merlot. In a couple of months I should be rewarded with a very interesting bottle of port.

Either that or a bottle of pink salad vinegar.

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