Sunday, 3 November 2013

News from the countryside

Just got back from a couple of weeks in north Wales, and what a beautiful place. We spent most of our time hiking up mountains and walking the woods, with the occasional dip in the river. The weather had been kind to us and we even had tow warm sunny days. It was nice to get away for a bit and not we back it’s back to working the land.
It’s been an interesting growing season. It’s been really good for growing and it has only just started turning. So what have we been up to? We’ve been working hard to get our new allotment in order. The site is about 75m2 but we are trying to secure a further 100 or so m2 for next season. Though we started late in the season we were still able to harvest a few crops, namely potatoes, beans, pumpkin, a few tomatoes and lots of perpetual spinach. We started working the plot in late June and most of the plants went in close to the end of July. This site posed a few challenges for us. The soil is heavy clay and thus partly waterlogged and infested with both bindweed and creeping buttercup.
The allotment in the beginning
The first step to prepping the plot was to identify the plants already growing there and where the shaded areas were. Half of the plot is in shade for the last part of the day, which is not ideal but still works. After identifying the plants and shaded areas on the plot we had to examine the soil, which I mentioned was heavy clay. We went away and came up with a simple design for the site which involved tilling, manuring, and mulching. It was hard work digging the site, but I felt it was essential for us to un-compact the soil before we attempted to grow anything. It was hard work but we managed to loosen the soil and remove most of the troublesome weeds. The next step was to find lots of manure which is easy to do here. We managed to secure bags and bags of horse manure from our neighbours and dug that into the plot together with rotted woodchip, grass clippings, and lots of chopped up nettles, all in an attempt to add some organic matter to the soil and aid drainage. We then added a mulch layer of cardboard and topped it all off with some spoilt straw. We got four large raised beds and one smaller wild herb bed.
Drying dandelion flowers for tea
We left the site to settle for four weeks before we started adding seedlings which we started off in the greenhouse. We have also been collecting lots of herbs and drying them out for teas. So far we have had nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, mint, lemon balm, calendula, elder flower, and camomile.
A selection of herbal teas
One of the most important things I consider when starting a new garden is waste. I try my best to reduce the amount of resources that leave the site. I constructed a twin compost bin in our small garden at home and all of our organic waste is recycled there and turned into high nutritious humus. We harvested our first batch of compost only 10 weeks after building up the pile. From  approx. 1m3 of composting material we managed to harvest three bags of good quality sieved compost (approx. 75lt each bag) and three bags of course mulch. I am very pleased with these results. I am always looking for ways to more efficiently deal with waste and I am hoping to build a humanure composting bin at the allotment when we eventually secure the next half of the site.
Sieving and bagging up compost
We went to visit a small community vegetable growing farm in Norwich a got inspired by the gardeners’ pallet craft. I have been using pallets to build things for sometime but had not branched out pass the odd bird house or path borders. I saw a beautiful pallet chair at the farm and immediately started designing my own in my head. I built one and it was very well received by my other half.

Pallet chair
Pallet bench
I then built a few bookshelves and a small two seater pallet bench. It’s good fun working with pallets, turning what would have been a waste product into something useful. I also use pallets to make borders around the beds at the allotment.
Building bed borders
It has been a great year for apples and here in Norfolk there is no shortage of the lovely juicy fruit. We went out apple picking and collected five sacks. We rented a small apple press and made lots of juice and currently have about 60lt of cider brewing in the garage.
Washing apples
Pressing apples
Bottling apple juice
We’ve got alot of work to do before we get to where we hope to be. We’ve got ourselves a rocket stove and are now working on building a small outdoor kitchen. We are also creating one more growing bed in the garden and installing some woodchip paths around our new home. Lots to do. I am hoping that most of these will be done over the winter months which surprisingly tend to be my most productive time of year. I’ll keep you posted in the progress.