Obtain a yield – rethinking space

A simple permaculture principle is to ‘obtain a yield’.  I think of this in terms of providing food or shelter for other species, as well as ourselves.  Bearing this in mind, I had long been frustrated with the border of hydrangeas which we inherited when we bought the house.  Whilst they do flower in shade (and our back garden is indeed shady), the flowers don’t seem to attract any pollinator activity, and the shrubs are not dense enough for birds to nest in.  The border was also rather uninteresting to look at:

Hydrangea border, July 17

Hydrangea border, July 17

Meanwhile, I have had a constant struggle with safely storing seedlings as I try to establish new perennial edible plants from seed.  Slugs are tremendously agile and versatile, and are experts at finding young seedlings – whether you put them ‘up high’ or not.  The only thing that worked was to put seedlings on a table with its feet in water.  Other solutions, such as shelving, ended in tears as the shelves invariably blew over in the strong gales which we are now prone to.  What I really needed was a greenhouse; a safe space for my seedlings and a place to grow winter salads.  With any luck, we might get tomatoes to ripen in there as well, as our season in the North West of the UK is short.

We had a battered collection of shade-loving shrubs in the back corner of the garden, which is the lightest corner available for a greenhouse:

Shade loving shrubs in sunny place, January 2018

Shade loving shrubs in sunny place, January 2018

So we had a rethink about the space.  This decision was a difficult one, as I prefer to leave things alone.  However, I had a whole border of unproductive space, and an opportunity to redesign it with a range of more productive and visually interesting plants, providing nectar and berries for wildlife, and prickly habitat for birds.  So in January this year, we took out the hydrangeas, chopped them up, and used the woody material to beef up the ‘path’ at the back (I will write more about this later).  We (the royal ‘we’; my husband did the digging) moved the shrubs to the hydrangea border:

Shade loving shrubs moved to new location, January 2018

Shade loving shrubs moved to new location, January 2018

In its place, we planned to put a greenhouse.   The decision to do this was, in itself, full of contradictions, as I will explain in my next post.


The principles of forest gardening

This is a great introduction and thought provoking set of principles for the aspiring forest gardener.

Anni's perennial veggies

I want as many people as possible to plant forest gardens and having done so to be able to interact with them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.  However forest gardens are unlike any other gardens and cannot be ‘gardened’ in the conventional sense.  You need to understand the ecology that governs their operation and to integrate your own actions into that ecology.

When I began forest gardening it was the ecological understandings of Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier in their two volumes of ‘Edible Forest Gardens’ and Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘method’ of natural farming that enabled me to interact with my garden in a sensitive and appropriate way.  But for their invaluable guidance I would have been floundering I am sure.  After a number of years I realised that I was acting in a sort of intuitive way in the garden, but that below that apparent intuition was (probably) a…

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An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson

ladybird larvae on blackcurrent June 2017

Sometimes it’s good to pause, and consider what makes us think the way we do.  I’ve recently been re-reading the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) which I first read in 2002.  I remember that it had a significant impact on me at the time, and re-reading it has brought me to realise how much it has shaped my thinking.  Continue reading

Cooking Paul & Becky’s Asturian Tree Cabbage

Growing perennial vegetables is one thing, but knowing how to harvest and cook them is another thing altogether.   Paul and Becky’s asturian tree cabbage is a rare perennial cabbage, available from the wonderful people at Real Seeds.  I found it very easy to grow, with good germination rates and ability to recover from slug and caterpillar damage.

tree cabbage munched

tree cabbage munched

However, when it came to cooking it, I was disappointed at first.  I took nice big leaves, and cooked them, stalk and all.  It was revolting – woody and tasteless.  However, I was determined to learn how to cook it, as it is such a generous and reslilient plant.  It’s a beautiful lime-green too, and tall so it adds architectural interest to the garden.  So I did a bit of surfing on ‘how to cook Asturian Tree Cabbage’, and found this brilliant thread on Allotments 4 All.

First, you need to harvest the leaves small.  About this size:

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

asturian tree cabbage leaves harvested

The plant puts out side-shoots, and these are good for harvesting small leaves.

Wash the leaves and leave them with their stalks in water to stay fresh until you cook them.  Cut out the middle stalks which can be woody, and cut the leaves into thin strips.  Then either boil them as you would cabbage, and serve with butter and black pepper.  Or – and this is our favourite – stir fry them good and hot with plenty of garlic.

So there you have it.  Happy munching.

Miracle mycorrhizal fungi

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.  At the bottom of my leaf mold bin, these fungi appeared in early Autumn, and are still there now.

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

fungus on leaf mold bin, Autumn 2017

And I was just browsing Twitter this week, when I found this post from John Walker.  In it, he describes how mulching his garden soil with woody shreddings and leaf mold, he discovered toadstools emerging from the mulch.  Where these appeared around plants, they didn’t do them any harm at all.  In fact he found that the plants surrounded by fungal growth grew good and strong.  Digging into some of the research around fungal networks, he found some fascinating tit bits.  These fungal ‘webs’ that live beneath the soil (from which toadstools and mushrooms are the ‘fruit’) actually enable plants to communicate with each other.  They also enable nutrients to be exchanged.  Plants collaborate with each other and with the fungal organisms to share resources.  By spreading woody material and leaf mold on the garden as mulch, these fungal networks are introduced and can then develop in the soil.  It’s a good idea not to dig over the soil, because this disturbs these amazing networks.   As winter has wilted some of my garden plants, such as nasturtiums, I have nipped them off at the base of the stem and left the roots in the soil (in the case of nasturtiums, this also leaves the nitrogen in the soil that these leguminous plants have been busy fixing in their roots, making it available to other plants).  The only time I disturb the soil is for planting.  But somebody needs to tell the blackbirds about this ‘no dig’ approach!

As if to drum home this new insight, I then read this post from Flo Scott on the Permaculture Magazine website, in which her number one tip is nurturing the soil, including the use of woodchips which introduce mycorrhizal fungi.  Serendipity!

Alison and The Backyard Larder

Great guest post over on Anni’s Veggies which I am reblogging here:-

All over the place wonderful, dedicated and insightful gardeners are working away developing their own particular specialist niche in our human-gardening-ecosystem. One of these lovely people is Alison Tindale, a lifelong gardener who grows, sells and blogs about some her wonderful collection of perennial vegetables. Here in a guest post she writes about herself, her […]

via Alison and The Backyard Larder — Anni’s perennial veggies