Sunday, 2 May 2010

First year in review

So the first year of the Oak House Permaculture Project has come to an end and we're looking ahead to the year to come, wondering how much has been achieved and what we can learn from last year's experiments.

Disappointingly, the yard itself looks quite a lot like it did last year - a lot of concrete and a lot of nettles and brambles. On the upside, we've managed to cultivate some vegetable beds through a large gap in the concrete (as shown in photo, left), we've got most of the steel barns down, we've planted three fruit trees, coppiced the hazel and planted some willow cuttings, so a few foundations are being laid for the permaculture garden that will eventually emerge.

Garden layout
As far as garden layout is concerned, a clearer idea of where we're going with the garden is emerging. I'll post an article up about it once I've got this all drawn up on paper, but for now, I'll just say that there will be:
  • A semi traditional lawn garden, bordered by a variety of wild and useful plants
  • A large vegetable garden, with attention to detail when it comes to making this attractive - companion planting veg with beneficial flowers and interplanting the lot with a few perennial plants - both edible and otherwise beneficial plants (e.g. lavender, asparagus, rhubarb and honeysuckle)
  • A forest garden, including currant and gooseberry bushes, strawberries, apple and pear trees and a variety of perennial vegetables and experimental fruit crops
  • A fertility patch - a large area growing comfrey and alfalfa to be used as a nutritional mulch for cropping plants and veg beds.
  • Areas for chickens to forage and for the potential to put pigs in at some point in the future.
  • A large greenhouse for growing the usual tomatoes, sweet peppers and winter lettuce, but also lemons and other experimental fruit - maybe melons, pineapple and kiwis.
  • A workshop mainly for woodwork. Along with the greenhouse, this is to be built from a conversion of the old brick barns, using timber reclaimed from the demolished steel barns.
Experimental techniques
As far as techniques go for maintaining the garden, through various experiments, a gardening style is also emerging.

I'm liking the no dig method. Haven't quite got mulching completely sorted yet - apart from early in the year (see photo, left)- so far I've been using mainly black sheeting. I'd rather be using biodegradable organic materials - harvested from my fertility patch ideally, so it would be great to get this patch going this year. Having said that though, I've noticed that my current method of spreading a layer of compost on the soil and covering that with black sheeting has given me some good improvements to the texture of the soil, so I'll keep this up.

I'm also liking the technique of interplanting crops with beneficial flowers. I've been growing marigold with tomatoes and beans - haven't had any problem with aphids on these crops. It's hard to say whether this is due to the marigolds or not, but they look so pretty, I'll certainly be giving them the benefit of the doubt!

Chamomile has been working really well at deterring whitefly from my brassicas (see photo, left). This year I'm going to try nasturtiums too to see if they have much of an affect on the amount of cabbage white butterflies that lay eggs on my broccoli. And I'm mixing my carrot seed with nigella and field scabious to hopefully deter the carrot fly (as well as intercropping with onion).

Composting - after a good start using the quick return compost method, my efforts kind of trailed off. I managed to harvest some compost through the year, but it was full of weed seeds - it hadn't got hot enough to kill them off. This year I'm being more careful to keep anything with seeds out of the compost bins and am using the pre-prepared quick return compost activator instead of home-made, which is available from Garden Organic.

'Do-nothing gardening' (Fukuoka style) - or basically growing crops like tomatoes and cucumbers out in wild areas and leaving them to trail on the ground for bumper crops... this didn't work! My crops quickly got inundated with weeds and the fruits, trailing on the ground, quickly rotted away (see photo, left). I won't be trying this again over the next year at least.

Plans for the year ahead
All being well, this year we'd like to get the barns converted and then we're clear to get the concrete up. Can't wait! I'd like to have my fertility patch up and running and would like to start clearing brambles and nettles from the outer edges of the yard and planting these areas up with plants that can double up as chicken fodder. It would be really great if we can also get our first few chicken in this year. Fingers crossed!

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