Category: Grow your own food


I’m pleased to share part of an article featuring a gardening project at my local High School, where I helped with an initial gardening group some years ago. This article, from Permaculture Magazine, decribes how Matt Willer has used ingenuity and ‘scroungeabilty’ to establish a thriving school allotment…to read the full article you need to subscribe to the magazine, which I’ve just done. It’s a great read!

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Old School Gardener

 

 

 

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Designing Regenerative Cultures

Daniel Christian Wahl
Saturday, 18th June 2016

Daniel Christian Wahl says a new generation of designers can design a world in which all can thrive and not just survive.

A new generation of designers are applying ecologically inspired design to agriculture, architecture, community planning, cities, enterprises, economics and ecosystem regeneration. Join them to co-create diverse regenerative cultures in the transition towards a regenerative society. Humanity’s impact needs to shift from degeneration to regeneration before the middle of this century. We will all have to collaborate to achieve this transformative response to the converging crises we are facing….

read more here

Local residents in Walsall hold a 'popup' event at Chuckery Village Green- one of the winning projects

Local residents in Walsall hold a ‘popup’ event at Chuckery Village Green- one of the winning projects

More than 80 unloved and neglected urban spaces across the country will be transformed into green oases for everyone to use, thanks to a share of a £1.5million dedicated fund, Communities Secretary Gregg Clark has announced.

Increasing the availability of green space draws more people outside, giving residents, particularly in urban areas without gardens of their own, more space to relax, get together with their neighbours, grow food and provide safe space for children to play.

87 Community Groups, from Newcastle in the north to Penryn in the south-west, will have the money to create their own ‘dream’ pocket parks, developing small parcels of land, sometimes as small as the size of a tennis court. Clark said:

“These winning bids all have a strong community focus at the core of their plans and their designers have thought up highly creative ideas to turn unloved urban spaces into the green lungs of their communities that will be enjoyed for years to come”

Permarin Community Group, in the south-west, plan to turn an unused area of tarmac into a native Cornish Garden with space for children to play. A Disability Group in Wolverhampton plan to turn a 30 year old tipping zone in to a natural wildlife area, working with local residents and people with poor mental health or physical disabilities to create a pocket park. And at Chuckery Village Green, in Walsall, a group plan to make the most of some cherry trees on a derelict plot by planting an edible herb and vegetable garden, using the produce to make and sell pies and jams.

Peri pocket park today- due for a major makeover

Permarin pocket park in Cornwall, today- due for a major makeover

Each community group has been allocated grants of up to £15,000 to create a pocket park, which has been defined for this programme as a piece of land of up to 0.4 hectares, although many are around 0.02 hectares.

Chuckery village Green's Cherry trees- part of the plan for food growing

Chuckery village Green’s Cherry trees- part of the plan for food growing

Graham Duxbury, Groundwork Chief Executive, said:

“We’re delighted the government is supporting communities and councils to do more. For many local groups, improving the park at the end of their street is the first step in getting much more involved in how their neighbourhood is run.”

Further information: Government Website with locations of all the winning projects

Old School Gardener

(from an original in ‘Landscape and Amenity’ Magazine, March 2016)

WP_20160130_13_10_48_ProI’ve now begun this year’s seed sowing; some early veg and some of the interesting varieties above, courtesy of my visit to Wallington Gardens last year and the RHS seed scheme…Looking at the germination requirements some of these are going to be a challenge!

Old School Gardener

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A magnificent Kitchen Garden 'out front' in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

A magnificent Kitchen Garden ‘out front’ in Drummondsville, Quebec, Canada

Front Gardens under the Spotlight

A new study to help understand what impact front gardens have on their owners and passers-by has been commissioned by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Scientists from the RHS are teaming up with academics from the Universities of Sheffield (UK) and Virginia (USA).

They’ll be employing a PhD student to help determine how gardening affects the mood and psychological health of people who have not gardened before, by helping them, amongst other things,  to ‘green over’ once paved front gardens. The societal value of gardens will also be evaluated by gathering information on the extent to which gardening encourages communication and engagement between garden owners, neighbours and passers-by. Here’s a video about the creation of the ‘kitchen garden out front’ in Quebec, Canada.

Part of the RHS campaign ‘Greening Grey Britain’, the new research will seek evidence to make the case for gardening to local and national government, supporting what many of us instinctively know- that green spaces have positive impacts on health and well-being.

On a similar theme, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year will feature four front gardens designed and created by winners of a new competition being hosted by the RHS and BBC Local Radio to design a front garden.

Anyone can enter a ‘feel-good garden, celebrating the health benefits of gardening and taking inspiration from where they live.’

See here for more information and how to enter.

Source: RHS ‘The Garden’ Magazine, February 2016

Old School Gardener

horticultural_fleeceHorticultural fleece laid over plants can bring earlier crops and other benefits.

Fleece is a finely woven material that protects crops from wind and cold, and raises soil and air temperatures slightly, all helping plants to advance faster than unprotected crops. If it is anchored in the soil properly it also protects against flying pests, such as carrot root fly.

Because fleece allows water and air to penetrate, it reduces watering requirements and increases airflow around the plants. This encourages hardier growth and discourages disease build – up. If used carefully, fleece can last for many seasons.

Being porous, fleece does not warm the soil as well as plastic cloches or black plastic sheeting. It can also lay flat in wet conditions, making germination difficult, and it can easily tear on windy sites.

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Other uses of fleece:

  • to extend the growing season, making maximum use of the garden

to improve the performance of half hardy crops, such as peppers

to produce softer, more palatable growth in vegetables that become tough with winter exposure, such as spinach and chicory.

In recent years another material called ‘Enviromesh’ has come on to the market. This fine-weaved plastic netting is strong and lasts for ages. It is fine enough to keep off small insects such as butterflies, carrot fly, flea beetles and leaf miners, and yet durable enough to keep pigeons off. It is also good frost and wind protection. I use it here in Old School Garden, both early in the season to protect young crops and also later as a useful cover for raspberries and other bush fruit which is otherwise unprotected against birds. The downside is that it is more expensive than fleece, so shop around!

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Alternatives which can do pretty much the same job are old net curtains (you can get off white ones relatively cheaply from charity shops) or builder’s netting used around scaffolding or to protect against falling debris.

Sources and further information:

Gardeners’ Advice- RHS Wisley Experts, Dorling Kindersley 2004

Alys Fowler- Netting

Old School Gardener

Old School Garden's Kitchen Garden cropping plan 2016

Old School Garden’s Kitchen Garden cropping plan 2016

It’s getting to that time of year when we ‘kitchen gardeners’ like to think about our plans for next year’s food crops. Here are a few thoughts on how to approach this with an eye on maximising what you get for your efforts and minimising costs and waste….

 

1. Grow only the crops you’ll eat (but also try out something new?)

2. Think ahead and work out how much time you can spend each week before deciding what to grow.

Maximise space by using vertical growing containers like this simple 'A' Frame made from pallets

Maximise space by using vertical growing containers like this simple ‘A’ Frame made from pallets

3. Draw up a cropping plan of what you will grow during which season and where in the plot, trying to avoid growing the same things in the same place as last year. And try to maximise the use of your plot by early sowings (e.g. Broad Bean, garlic and onion sets in the autumn) and late sowings (e.g. carrots, lettuce and other winter vegetables). Also, think about planting green manures to provide soil cover and which can be dug in as a soil feed before you sow your first crop of vegetables.

 

4. Choose pest and disease resistant varieties where available (but have an eye on quality too).

 

5. Invest in fruit cages and crop covers to protect your produce. Plastic plumbing pipe can provide a relatively cheap frame on which to fix various kinds of protection- including fleece and other material to help warm up your beds as well as keeping pests off.

 

Plastic pipes can provide a good frame for protection

Plastic pipes can provide a good frame for protection

6. Concentrate on growing fewer crops well.

7. Avoid growing too much of one thing or you’ll have waste to throw away (or perhaps pass on to neighbours). Grow small quantities at different times to avoid a glut (‘succession planting’); think about dividing up your plot into smaller parcels (maybe usuing ‘square foot gardening’) and grow varieties that aren’t ‘F1’ hybrids as their plants tend to produce at the same time.

'Square Foot Gardening' can help to manage the range, timing and amounts of produce

‘Square Foot Gardening’ can help to manage the range, timing and amounts of produce

8. Avoid crops that aren’t worth the effort-  either because they’re difficult to grow, unreliable performers or where the cost and quality of what you can buy in the shops makes it sensible to buy rather than grow your own.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

rhs compostMulch- a layer of natural material spread thickly over the soil cuts down the need for watering, reduces weeding and protects and improves the soil. Mulch matting is also available from most nurseries and garden centres and can be an effective way to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.

Six types of loose mulch

  1. Bark chippings- attractive, but expensive (unless you have a supply from your own felled timber or know a friendly tree surgeon who will give you a load for free). Large chunks will last a long time and don’t blow around, though deep wood chips won’t rot quickly. Use chippings that are at least a year old as the early rotting process will ‘rob’ the soil of nitrogen.

  2. Cocoa shells- pricey but has more nutrients than most mulches. They bond together when wet so they won’t blow away.

  3. Garden compost, manure and leaf mould- free, but soon rots away. Can spread weeds unless well broken down. Compost and well-rotted manure add goodness to the soil as well as improving and protecting it, leaf mould acts as a protective layer and improves soil texture, but is less nutritious.

  4. Grass clippings- free, but turns yellow and can introduce weeds. In wet weather, they can become slimy.

  5. Composted bark- attractive, but can blow around and may support wind-borne weed seeds. Does not last as long as chipped bark.

  6. Gravel- attractive, and long -lasting, but does not add organic matter to the soil. Various grades available.

Oh, and straw can also be used around vegetables and of course strawberries (to conserve moisture and protect ground laying fruit), and if you can get hold of it, shredded paper also works!

Shredded paper mulch around dahlias

Shredded paper mulch around dahlias

No-Dig gardening, Sheet Mulching and Hugelkultur

Sheet mulching, No-dig gardens and Hugelkultur have a fair bit in common; basically using organic matter in large quantities to provide a rich growing medium without the need for digging. It depends what school of gardening you’re from as to what your preference is, coupled with your conditions.

No dig gardens rely on adding copious layers of organic material over the soil without digging it, allowing the mulch to break down and form a rich top soil, into which vegetables and fruit can be directly planted. You need lots of organic material.

Sheet mulching

Sheet mulching

Sheet mulching (or ‘lasgane gardening’) has a similar premise to no-dig. Smother the undesirable plants, mulch heavily, make a ‘lasagne’ of carbon and compost, and plant lots. A good initial burst of energy brings minimal labour further down the line!

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur (‘hill culture’) are no-dig raised beds with a difference. They hold moisture, build fertility, maximise surface volume and are great spaces for growing fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Effective mulching

Apply at the right time- mulches need to be in place by mid spring when the soil is at its wettest but is no longer cold. There is no point applying a mulch in dry summer conditions because it will stop moisture from getting to the plants and they will require even more watering than usual. Applying compost or well-rotted manure to fruit bushes and trees in the autumn and early spring will give them a boost, and applying leaf mould to bare soil in Autumn can be an effective protective layer to reduce the leaching away of nutrients in the soil during wet winters.

Apply the right thickness- to ensure effective weed control, apply a minimum thickness of loose organic material or gravel of 5cm (ideally 7cm) straight onto the soil surface.

Feed and water plants- add fertiliser before applying a mulch in spring time. Lay a seep hose under mulch matting so that you can supply water easily if needed.

Mulch in rows- when planting vegetables or bedding plants in rows, lays strips of mulch matting along the bed between the plants rather than planting them through the matting.

Problems with Mulches

  • Some mulches can be unsightly or troublesome when scattered by foraging birds

  • All mulches provide refuge for slugs and some types are a refuge for snails

  • If mulches are laid in direct contact with tree stems they can cause it to soften, making it vulnerable to disease

  • A build up of mulch can produce a hard layer, which is difficult for water to penetrate. Avoid this by only replacing mulch when it has rotted away or fork the remaining mulch into the soil

The outcome of piling mulch up around tree stems- 'volcanoes'

The outcome of piling mulch up around tree stems- ‘volcanoes’

Sources and further information:

‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

RHS- Mulches and mulching

RHS- Fruit Trees- feeding and mulching

Milkwood blog– S is for Sheet mulching

Permaculture – Hugelkultur

Proper mulching- no mulch volcanoes

Old School Gardener

Necklace Cherry Tomatoes

Necklace Cherry Tomatoes

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