I just wanted to write something as a bit of an update about what's happened this year. Lots has been going on out on our new concrete-free yard, but I've just not had time to write about any of it!
So the concrete came up about a year ago now - october 2012. The view out of my window is far from complete, but is vastly different from summer 2012. The old yard is now split into about five distinct areas.
The first new area, nearest to the house, is our extended back garden - a bit more lawn to act as play space for the kids. Our back garden was always raised up from the yard beyond it, so we've extended this raised area, using gabians filled with some of the concrete we stripped up to give a kind of dry stone wall effect along the outer edge. David got creative and made us a lovely curved corner to this wall by cutting and bending one of the gabians. I've set myself the challenge to plant out this area using only native species, inspired by the gorgeous gardens created by Chilean garden designer Juam Grimm. And, of course, this being a permaculture garden, I'll be wanting to include edible and wildlife friendly plants wherever I can. However, this area of the garden is one that I want to look really beautiful, being one of the closest to the house, so aesthetics will be a high priority for the plants that I choose.
Moving down from the back garden, is our new vegetable garden. The centre piece for this garden is a newly dug well, with pipe work running underground from the house to bring rainwater into it and then pipework taking any overflow water away. These pipes have drainage slits cut into their underside, allowing water to soak into the soil beneath the vegetable garden and beyond out onto the yard. For most of this year, the vegetable garden was thigh high in self seeded plants. Many of these were good tap rooting plants, which have been helping to break up our compacted soil.
To convert this area into a useable vegetable garden, I'm taking the slow, but easy going route - I've cut back all the plants and am covering with cardboard and then a thick layer of either topsoil and compost or wood chip (depending on whether it's a bed or a path). I'll green manure it for a year with deep rooting green manures, to further break up the soil. After a year, I'd expect the cardboard to be well broken up and then I'll start using the beds for veggies.
In the older part of the veg garden, I've started growing perennial vegetables. I've got my white flowered (i.e. hardy) runner beans in and am mulching them thickly to see if they'll last through the winter. These are planted out in two rows with siberian purslane (a perennial salad/spinach substitute) and self seeded red orache between the rows. I've just planted out another bed with salad burnet and clustered bellflower for perennial salad leaves along with scots lovage to add flavour to my soups.
Next in line down the yard is the forest garden area. Half of this area was quite heavily compacted and had loads of builders sand and rubble and concrete mess left behind from having builders in to help renovate the barns. The other half had sieved top soil heaped and sculpted into a bank, so wasn't in such a bad condition (although the soil beneath this bank had also been compacted by the heavy machinery we had in to dig up the concrete).
In the spring, this area filled up with self seeded plants. Some lovely surprises found their way to our soil - in early spring we had loads of lambs lettuce and then by summer, the area was filled with chamomile plants. We also had a good number of deep rooting plants and nitrogen fixing plants, all working away to improve the condition of our soil. Wonderful to see such a fab mix of plants coming in all by themselves! On top of this, I oversowed the area with a humus building seed mix - fast growing plants that are ideal for chopping and dropping - cutting back and leaving them where they fall to create humus for the soil. This should give us a good soil to grow lots of productive trees, bushes and undergrowth for our forest garden. Trees are to start going in this winter.
Beyond the forest garden is the meadow. This initially grew with self seeded plants just like the forest garden area, but differs in that it didn't get oversown with humus builder and has only just had its first cut. I'm undecided what to do with this area as yet, so I'll probably just oversow it with that humus builder seed mix to build up the soil while we get the rest of the yard in working order.
At the far end of the meadow is a small camp - we've got a camp fire area and a number of simple benches around it. I'd like to develop this area with the kids - planting berries, making willow arbours and other bits and pieces to create a nicely equipped area to sit out and cook food in the semi wild.
Lastly, we've got our coppice and wildlife zone. We've dug the beginnings of a pond, and put in some soil improving green manure over part of the area, but other than that haven't done anything here. This winter, I'd like to get some hazel in.
As well as working the yard, I've also been improving the 'forage garden' aspect of our courtyard garden and have put lots more edible plants out amongst the flower beds - including ostrich fern, scots lovage, clustered bellflower and solomon's seal.
And I've been reading about gardening with chickens and am very tempted to get that started asap!