Spring is here. Many of the first spring flowers are starting to bloom and the cold north-east winds are slowly subsiding, and the sound birds are busying themselves gathering materials for building their homes for the season. We too are feeling the busyness of spring. We've started clearing out the garden shed and cleaning, sorting and sharpening the tools ready for a busy season in the garden. Over the colder months we've been very quiet in the garden. This will be the second growing season in this particular garden. The first summer was fairly simple and I focused mainly on garden design and soil fertility. The general layout of the garden is now in place and the chickens have helped to see to it that the soil is now bursting with life and ready to support healthy vegetation growth.
Last season, with the help of our four hens, we cleared and dug over the entire growing space. The hens did the majority of the manuring while scratching up weeds and eating pests. They are amazing worker, and not only do they do a fantastic job of clearing space, they also provide us with fresh eggs which we eat for breakfast and add to cakes and savoury treats. Once the hens scraped the surface of weeds and pests, I went in with a mattock and dug over the entire space removing any deep perennial weed roots that were left. The next step was to mark out the grow beds and paths and then add some soil conditioner. I used homemade compost, goat and horse manure just because that was what was available to me. I then mulched the growing beds with spoilt straw and bedding from the hen house. To the paths I added a thick layer of cardboard and then woodchip from a local timber yard. The majority of this work was done in early spring. and once the beds were dug, conditioned and mulched the land was then left to do its thing. The beds would never be walked on again, and the soil disturbance will be kept to a absolute minimum.
After a couple of months I checked the beds and all the hard work paid off. The soil was a dark rich colour, fluffy and teaming with life. It was time to start planting. The first season we planted potatoes, runner beans, peas, chard, kale and a few edible flowers. The idea was to plant loads of legumes (pea and bean family) to help add nutrients to the soil and potatoes just because we like and eat a lot of them, plus the manure we use to feed the potatoes will also feed the soil life. The flowers were simply to add colour and attract beneficial insects, which will help with pollination and pest control. I also started working on creating a small herb patch. I love herbs and decided to build a herb spiral at the front end of the garden, near the front door. I think herb spirals are great. They make use of vertical space, allowing you to increase the amount of yield per area without increasing the ground space, i.e. you can grow 9sqm worth in 1sqm. And to the herb spirals' design they also allow different plants which favour different conditions to grow happily together. Plus they look beautiful. Another great thing about the spiral design is that it doesn't have to be just herbs. They can be used for growing any kind of plant.
So that year, 2016, everything did amazingly well. The peas were a hit with my 18 month old son. The potato harvest was plentiful and the chard and kale leaves produced well into the winter months. And the flowers were always a welcome addition to salads which were grown be another community member. The herbs also did fantastically well. I don't think we'll be short of herbs for a very long time to come.
Once the season was over it was time to mulch again. Permaculture encourages us to give back at least as much as we take from the earth. Every time I clear or harvest a bed I add mulch in return. I am an avid composter and make compost and mulch every chance I get. During the autumn months I collect fallen leaves and make leaf mould. It makes a great seeding compost and is a great way of adding 'body' or organic material to soil. Not all the leave make it to the leaf mould bin though, some I add directly onto the growing beds as mulch. I've used many different types of materials for mulch in the past, straw, hay, grass, cardboard, and even plastic. Dead leaves are readily available (well in the autumn at least) and relatively easy to transport in bulk, and it also seems to work the best as both a weed suppressor and soil conditioner. It is what nature uses after all. I then simply let the mulch do its work over the winter months.
It's now time to start thinking about what to plant and where. My plan this season is to grow potatoes, onions, garlic, peas, beans, salads, greens, carrots, pumpkins, squashes, beetroots, cabbages, and broccoli. This time of year is when I like to start sorting out what seeds I've got and how much I need to grow. This no doubt is dependent on how much space I have and how much time I am willing to dedicate to food growing. We've got a very busy year ahead. Food growing, toilet building, course facilitating, diploma work, and spending time with the family. Spring is a very exciting and hectic time for us here on the land and I look forward to all of what the season has to offer.