Monthly Archive May 2013

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Allotment Update

Sea Kale starting to flower

Sea Kale starting to flower

This is my first allotment post with photos (sadly taken on my phone – so low quality). It is not all that neat at the moment, but it is maintained (honest!). I have been pretty good with the hoe recently, but judging by the photos clearly not good enough.  Things are starting to come together – I have interplanted edibles with nitrogen fixing flowers, have sown compost crops such as broad beans and clearly I am starting to produce food – but my mission to grow enough greenery (and brownery) to make at least 48 buckets of compost is not quite coming together. The grass paths and comfrey are filling up the compost pile very, very, quickly, and it is not even June yet. However, I have no brown material such as corn stalks or straw to make proper compost. Read More

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Scorzonera by Root Division

This was a bit of an experiment that didn’t quite work out, though it didn’t totally fail either. For those who haven’t heard of scorzonera it is a root vegetable that is a perennial, not a biennial like carrots and parsnips, and that doesn’t get woody with age. Its leaves are also edible and some permaculturists suggest it can be a lettuce substitute, but I’m not so sure it’s that tasty. The root itself is really tasty and used to be really popular before the first world war. Like a lot of once really popular veggies this vegetable is practically unheard of today, but you may find some for sale at farmers’ markets, etc. Read More

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Backyard Update

Chives in flower

Chives in flower

It’s a lovely sunny day, summer is here I think (touch wood). I’ve been busy in the allotment but I took the time, when I get back home, to take some photos of the back garden to record what is going on by season. Note that all the oriental leaves I overwintered have bolted so I’ve pulled them up and replaced them with summer vegetables such as squashes. I hope it is not too early (snow next week?)…. Read More

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Picking Leeks, Eating Scapes and Replanting Offsets – Making Biennial Leeks Perennial

The leeks I grew last year have started to send up flowering shoots so I need to either eat them quickly or let them flower so I can propagate leeks for next winter and spring. I’m keeping a dozen or so of the best plants in the ground for another few months until the flower buds open. Unlike most people I am not after seed but the grass or pips that grow amongst the seed which are basically mini leek clones that can be ripped off the plant, bunged in the ground and grown on for next year. All my leeks picked this spring were grown using this process. I go into more detail about this here. Read More

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Instant Beginner’s Urban Permaculture Garden Part Two (updated)

This is part two to a previous article on the subject. The vast majority of gardening books tell you sowing seeds, potting up, feeding, training, dividing and propagating is easy. I maintain it is very difficult, that it is easy to take your eye off the ball and watch your seedlings succumb to damping off or cats dig up the plants you have nurtured for two months because that fine tilth that Monty Don showed you how to do reminds them of quality cat litter. Read More

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Taking Cuttings From Daubenton Kale and Chinese Broccoli (Kailaan / Gai Lon)

My Daubenton Kale, sent over from Kent, is racing away in the back garden. Part of its mode of growth – and the reason it is often called a bush kale – is to branch out. Taking cuttings is the main method of expanding your collection of Daubenton Kales because the beast very rarely (if ever) flowers. I’m assured by so many sources that this is how it is done that I am going ahead and doing a write up before actually doing it and proving it to myself. The cuttings do seem to be doing alright, after a brief wilting they have perked up. I’ll shall keep you all updated as and when I see growth. To take cuttings from a Daubenton, simply rip a shoot off the main stalk and plonk it in the ground, or pots of compost as I have done. Read More

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Perennial Leek Dividing Itself (poireau perpétuel)

This is very exciting for me as I spent a fortune getting it sent over from France (thanks Christophe). It is reproducing be creating mini versions of itself next to its bulb and expanding into a clump. What this means is that all I have to do is wait for the offsets to get bigger and pull them off (with a bit of root if possible) from the mother plant and start creating my own british collection of a wonderful French plant.

I’ll update this as the mother and baby leeks get bigger so I can share with you what I have learnt about the species.

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Not So Instant Beginner’s Urban Permaculture Garden

The world’s sustainability problems will be solved by planting more trees. See, that was a glib statement wasn’t it? We are urban gardeners with very little space so where does that leave us and why can’t we use other plants instead of trees (say clovers and comfrey)? Well first, let us examine why trees are so important: trees prevent soil erosion, trees root deeply bringing up nutrients from deep underground that are otherwise lost, trees drop their leaves on the ground providing food for microbes, trees create an environment that co-operates with other organisms, trees create microclimates and act as windbreaks. Of course trees are perennials, more so than we ourselves are, which means we don’t have to keep sowing seed each year to get a return.

You may react to this by saying that you only have a few square feet and you are certainly not going to waste it by bunging in a bloomin’ great tree. Well how about a hedge? A hedge acts as a windbreak and creates a microclimate. If it is big enough and thick enough it may have dickie birds living in it, which in turn thank you by dropping nitrogen on your garden either via droppings or by being ripped to shreds by your cat. Make your hedge out of nitrogen fixing trees such as alder, eleagnus ebbingei(evergreen), sea buckthorn or Siberian pea shrub and your hedge will feed your garden. Or at least its trimmings will.

What is wrong with some dwarfing fruit trees? These are cheaply bought at B&Q. They may not root deeply but they do help with soil erosion and provide habitats and microclimates. For those of us who are interested in growing high calorie foods for the pot we have chestnuts which according to Martin Crawford compare favourably with potatoes or corn, though I really don’t want a 20m tall tree even if I ought to have one. We have hazelnuts, if we can keep the squirrels off them, so that we can make “future burgers” as John Jeavons puts it. We can even grow almonds, apparently thanks to global warming.

Us urban permaculturists can’t plant forest gardens because we don’t have enough space. And besides some of us are very sceptical of the calorie value of forest garden products. But there are other sustainable permanent options in the agroforestry arsenal. The hedge option just described is called “alley cropping” in some parts of the world. Another option could be to underplant an “orchard”, ie, 3 or 4 dwarfing fruit trees in your back garden could be underplanted with crops. If the trees are spaced widely it should work.

So why can’t we use low growing sustainable fertility plants like comfrey or clover, instead?. We can, and lots of organic gardeners do. But we are trying to lower our inputs of fertility (even eradicate) so size matters. Go vertical to maximise biomass, and if you choose the right plants, nitrogen rich biomass for mulching or composting. Go trees!

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Watercress Cuttings

Watercress Cuttings (Before)

Watercress Cuttings (Before)

Watercress Cuttings

Watercress Cuttings (After)

In the spirit of actual empirical discovery that other sustainable gardeners are undertaking, this is the result of my watercress cuttings. They were cut on the 8th April with not much in the way of roots. Watercress often likes to put out roots halfway down a stalk, but on these cuttings there were one or two hairs only – very meagre. I popped them in wet compost and kept that compost wet. A month and a bit later and the cress has put down roots and grown. Read More

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