Sunday, 3 June 2007


Paul and I had our mulching day last week. We probably learned more from the group that attended than they did. It’s amazing what individuals know about gardening! We would like to thank everyone that turned up for the enjoyable day.

One method of gardening we covered was Permaculture. I remember I picked up a book by Bill Mollison, (the Australian who came up with the idea in 1978) a few years ago. Permaculture is a system where people and the land live in harmony together. This can include energy efficient housing, composting toilets, wind power etc. Permaculture uses a no dig policy on the land and no pesticides are used. This idea in gardening isn’t new though I have a book on my shelves called Gardening Without Digging written by A.. Guest which was published in 1947 which covers the same basic ideas (It’s still in print but costs £5 instead of 2 shillings!). I’ve no doubt these ideas go back thousands of years, as most of them are common sense. Anyway, as this is Paul’s last week with us I’ll pass you over to him to explain about the practicalities of permaculture.

Paul’s parting ponderings
How does permaculture work in practice? We have been doing some work on the site at Clonbeg to prepare for next years vegetable plot and incorporating some of the ideas. After all if you like the look of something the next thing to do is try it out for real. The outcomes are not entirely predictable, it’s bit experimental and I think any venture that incorporates the ideas of the perma-culture advocates will always be, as artists say, “a work in progress”. Instant success is good and a spur to further exploration but lessons learnt when the unexpected happens are also very useful and serve to increase our understanding.

First of all we looked at the area to be worked .It is an informal vegetable plot covering about 100 m2 that has become overgrown with couch grass, docks and nettles. The drainage is quite poor but it’s encouraging to see how many worms wriggle for cover when a spadeful of soil is turned. The lushness of the unwanted plant growth shows that the site has obvious potential, being extremely fertile.and sheltered from the prevailing weather. There are no obvious pests and the surrounding area supports a healthy population of small birds. There are frogs living in the near by wet areas.

We decided that the best way to achieve the highest yield for the least effort on the site is to build raised beds. These allow easy access for cultivation, don’t waterlog and enable a “no dig approach to be taken. .We used scrap planks to build three of them rescued from a landfill; a fourth was an old bed frame. The beds were lined with cardboard, newspapers and woolen carpet underlay We filled them with a mixture of yukky stuff that included spent mushroom compost, seaweed, horse manure, leaves, hair, uncomposted kitchen waste, old paperbacked books and some very ancient and tatty but muched loved jeans after all some sacrifices have to be made. We topped them off with the contents of old hanging baskets and mulched them.

To study which mulches would be most successful we tried three different types. One bed is covered with eight inches of oat straw, one is covered in black plastic recovered from old potting compost bags, one is covered with old carpet underlay and one has been planted with winter field beans as a green manure. The beans will fix nitrogen and take up nutrients that would otherwise be washed out of the soil by winter rains. In the spring they will be chopped down and used as a mulch or composted. Decisions will then have to be made about how all the beds will be worked with, and what vegetables will be the most productive.

In an attempt to keep the invasive perennial weeds at bay (if that’s possible!) we have surrounded the beds with old carpets retrieved from landfill, a strip of kitchen floor covering and a mulch of deep straw from some spoiled bails. These serve as paths and when the nettles, docks and couch grasses drive through, they will be covered with more straw or have their heads chopped off and composted. ( That will teach them!) To increase the space we have for growing and use height as well as width we have built a hazel arch between two beds for climbing plants to scramble over. We used thinnings from a coppicing job for this.

Phew! All this has been a great deal of hard work and has taken hundreds of cups of tea to accomplish. Tea bags have played an important role in filling the raised beds. The plot has been transformed and we have managed to put all the hard ware in place using materials that someone else has thought of as rubbish. (One of the interesting books I found in the Buncrana library ecology box calls rubbish “secondary resources”, I like to think of it as anything we have not found a use for …yet!) With luck and a bit of help from the weather next year our planning should pay off and in the autumn we should be able to look back on a bumper harvest grown with the minimum of effort. It is said that the best gardener is the one who is happiest with his or her garden and enjoys it the most. If some of this works we will be very happy and whatever happens we have enjoyed ourselves.

It is also important to encourage helpful wildlife to live around the site so we have fastened an old tin teapot in a tree hoping a robin will build a nest in it in spring. We intend to put up enclosed nesting boxes for blue tits. From hatching to flying a brood of young blue tits scoffs its way through twenty thousand caterpillars (I don’t know who counted) saving the need to use sprays on early plants. They are also very keen on varying their diet with a few greenfly. It would be good if a hedghog decided to join the team. He would hoover up the slugs, which could be a problem in a garden that relies so much on deep organic mulches, protecting and feeding the soil to help the plants grow successfully.

If we have managed to whet your appetite and you want to know any more about what we are working towards Ian is always happy to talk about his project. You also might have lots of advice for him, as there is always something new to learn in gardening. I’m off back to Nottingham on Monday and will be working on a community orchard scheme for a few weeks.


No comments:

Other stories

Related Posts with Thumbnails