So it's been just over three years now. This last year we've had some very exciting developments - we've become a trainee part of the Permaculture Association's LAND Learning Network and we have a new baby; but we've also had the ongoing disappointment and frustration at still having concrete over most of our plot. Not for much longer though!
Last year I got some proper plans drawn up for our concrete covered yard, so it's easier to visualise what it's all going to look like. I used permaculture techniques to split the site into zones, with high maintenance areas near the house (vegetable garden, compost bins...) and lower maintenance areas further away (forest garden, coppice hazel...). These plans have evolved since I first drew them up and we now plan to add a new pond and wetland garden nearer to the house. This will mean we can get frogs and/or ducks closer to the veggie garden to help keep slugs down and we can grow edible aquatic plants.
The number of foraging plants around the site is increasing all the time. The only management technique I've used over the last year to encourage them is simply to let them flower so they self seed around the site.
As well as the hedge garlic, hawthorn leaf and sorrel I mentioned earlier last year, we've also got common mallow, which has lovely mild tasting leaves, bladder campion, self seeding chamomile, borage, mountain spinach (red orache), red valerian, fennel and dill. This is an area I'd like to work on this year - introducing more forage plants into our flower beds so we've got loads of easy to grab salads, herbs and teas.
The vegetable garden was a complete disaster last year, something I'm blaming entirely on being pregnant! I just didn't have the energy to keep on top of the weeding or even on top of the harvesting! Lots of plants didn't even make it into the ground and guttingly died from lack of water in the greenhouse.
On the upside, I did manage to make two small salad beds right near to the house and near to our picnic table - ideally placed for summer meals outside. The mountain spinach I planted here looked gorgeous in tall red-leaved spires and this spring we had a wonderful display of flowering rocket in the same spot.
Having realised vegetable growing is going to be far too much work for me now I've got two kids to look after, I've made the decision to convert our vegetable beds to perennial vegetables, with a few self seeded additions as and when they come up. My initial plans have been embellished a great deal, since finding Martin Crawford's wonderful new book 'Perennial Vegetables'. I'll post something up about this when I get the chance.
I did manage to fit in a few experiments last year, despite pregnancy energy crashing. I set up an experimental strawberry bed with half mulched by comfrey and straw and the other half with just straw.
Unfortunately, this bed became quite shaded by a nearby hazel and we barely got any fruit from either half, so this is an experiment I'll have to repeat.
I also experimented with growing chamomile alongside plants prone to mildew to see if its antifungal properties could be harvested either as a companion plant or by using it as a cut and come again mulch. The jury is also out on this one. I didn't get out often enough to cut it back as a mulch and - although the gooseberry was much less prone to mildew, I'm not sure if that was because of the chamomile or because I relocated it to a more exposed and less overcrowded position. It'd be nice to repeat this experiment too when I've got more time and energy to be out on the yard more often.
Something that did work well last year was my experiment with chop and drop clover - trying to see how well it works at creating soil where I had none previously. I sowed white clover seed over gravel, which came up as a thick stand of clover plants.
By cutting this back regularly and leaving the cuttings where they fell, I did start to find soil slowly building up under all the plants. This is a technique I'm thinking of trying over the whole yard to build up the soil there (depending on what we find under the concrete). I'll be using a range of plants including clover and will be chopping and dropping to help build up our soil fertility and humus levels.
We also had good results from using a heavy duty strimmer to keep on top of our extensive nettle patches.
I've found sheet mulches work well initially in killing off the nettles, but even if clearing a big patch this way, if it is still bordered by nettles, they'll quickly move back in. The strimmer can take out much bigger areas and so far seems to do a fairly good job at keeping the nettles at bay.
Over the next couple of weeks, the concrete is coming up, terraces and ponds are being dug and the stage will be set for the forest garden trees to go in this winter! Very very excited that it's all finally about to start properly. Watch this space. And cross all fingers and toes that we'll find at least semi decent soil under the concrete!