The transcendent edge

Anni Kelsey got me thinking about edges, and here is another thought-provoking post about ‘edginess’ …


Edgy folk are defined by their openness to experiment and novelty of all kinds. This openness to meta-physical and material evolution crosses over to permaculture in a popular, transcendence-inducing topic called theedgeeffect. Simplyput an edge is a junctional area between two ecological zones, which attracts bio diversity as these borderlands combine the qualities and species of the two zones that meet here, often leading to the evolution of micro climates and new species.

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Obtain a yield

Our tiny front garden had a bird cherry tree growing in the middle of the lawn when we bought the house:

bird cherry June 2017

An ‘interesting’ choice of tree for a small garden.  We left it there because it gives character to the street and because the birds like it.  I’d much rather it was a smaller and more productive tree – a dwarf cherry or apple.  However, uprooting it seems like a very disruptive intervention.  So I’ve been trying to think about our tree in terms of what it is good at doing.  As you can see, it was in need of a haircut, and I recently read that bird cherry used to be popular for coppicing.  That wouldn’t be practical in our garden, but it did give me an idea …

bird cherry prunings June 2017

All those leafy prunings are pretty good at making leaves for compost, and also …

bird cherry sticks June 2017

… sticks for the garden.  I’m always looking for sticks to support things, or to disuade cats from digging.  So I spent a boiling hot afternoon sitting in the shade stripping leaves off sticks.  The other thing I’ve noticed about the bird cherry is that the ants farm aphids on it.  I found quite a few ladybird larvae on the leaves (they got dropped into the garden to finish turning into ladybirds).  And no doubt the blue tits have also been having a feast on the aphids.  The tree also provides some shade, and a steady release of water to the wild strawberries beneath it after rain.  So it might not be as productive as a fruit tree that we can guzzle on, but if we think of our family as the wider ecological community, it does provide a generous yield.

A closer look at ‘pests’

Have you ever seen how a ladybird is born?  Now is the time to go out and look, because the ladybird larvae are transforming into the loveable little bugs.  I had noticed that my blackcurrant bush was all curled up at the tips.  A closer look revealed that the ants were busy farming aphids up there, in their enclosures of folded leaves.

ants farming aphids on blackcurrant June 2017

ants farming aphids on blackcurrant June 2017

The other day, I looked over to see how it was getting on and look who had arrived!

ladybird larvae on blackcurrent June 2017

Ladybird larvae on blackcurrant

This, believe it or not, is the larvae of a ladybird.  They are very good news, because they eat A LOT of aphids.  More than their adult future-selves do.  A closer look at the blackcurrant revealed this happening elsewhere:

larvae turning into ladybird blackcurrant june 2017

larvae transforming into a ladybird

Is it just me, or is that magic?  My blackcurrant ‘pests’ are fuelling the birth of lady-bugs.

Meanwhile, in the annual polyculture bed, the slugs have had a ball:

chewed kale june 2017

kale seedling being munched

As I said in my last post, I’m leaving nature to do its thing and am recording this here so that I can trace the progress (or slow death) of the kale.  It is hard to see in this photo because it is surrounded with grass clippings and chopped up clover, which are  mulching and hopefully adding slow release nitrogen to the soil.  The only thing with mulching is that nobody tells you about the blackbirds.  They LOVE mulch.  They jump up and down gleefully and chuck it everywhere.  I take this as a sign that there is lots of wriggling life down there (including happy and well-fed slugs), and therefore a healthy soil.  Here is the whole bed:

polyculture bed june 2017

annual polyculture bed June 2017

I am telling myself that it will look quite different in July.  And that, as I said in my post over on Anni’s blog, ‘pests’ are essential to a fully functioning ecosystem.  Meanwhile, on the project to include more perennials, here are the pots with seeds all sown:

new perennials no sign yet june 2017

no sign yet … June 2017

But I do have some baby Asturian Tree Cabbage on the way:

baby tree cabbage june 2017

tree cabbage and red orache June 2017

The troughs are protected with copper tape to deter slugs.  In theory.  They can have a ball over in the polyculture bed.  And if the slugs have a ball, then we also have happy hedgehogs, thrushes, frogs … after all, one person’s pest is another creature’s lunch.

Back to perennials …

I have been battling a little to get my annual polyculture established.  Here’s how it was looking before the slugs and the cats got going on it:-

young annual polyculture end May

Kale red winter, rainbow chard, red orache, and cosmos

I raised the plants in troughs with copper tape around the edge to deter slugs:

cosmos and chard in trough May 2017

Cosmos and rainbow chard raised in a trough

I had to remove the protective mesh which I had balanced on top to deter cats because it was damaging the plants.  Naturally, a few days later there was a big hole in the middle of the bed.  Some seedlings had roots exposed and some were buried.  However, as cats are a fact of life, I’ve taken some steps to recover from this.  After doing my best to save the seedlings, I thought to myself ‘the problem is the solution’.  I needed to cut down some sweet rocket that had finished flowering.  I need LOTS of twiggy bits to deter cats.  So I chopped up the rocket stems and pushed them in all over the bed.  (I just have one nagging concern that they might take root.)  I’ve also mulched the bed again with chopped up clover and grass clippings so there is no bare soil.  There is also a fair bit of slug activity, but I’m deciding to let nature take its course.  I need to be patient and give the plants a chance to recover and get their root systems established.  I’ve got more young plants left, but constantly pulling up old ones and replanting new ones just repeats the process.  They need to be left alone.  I always overplant anyway, so the plants that do survive will probably have enough room for once.

I also have a sore lower back.  Hardly surprising with all this stooping to replant seedlings and faff about with mesh.  I think my back is telling me that there is an easier way.  Think perennial!  So – I am redoubling my efforts to increase the number of perennial vegetables that I grow.  I put my thinking cap on, and came up with these:-

perennial seeds June 2017

Seeds: salad burnet, bronze fennel, lovage, and seakale

They are now sown into pots.  If they grow, I only need to plant them out once.  Thereafter, I just need to give them plenty of mulch and compost.  Much kinder on my back.  Much kinder on the soil.  And a stronger plant that can shrug off slugs.  And perhaps I’ll feel more kindly towards cats.  I defy them to dig up a fully grown fennel.

The ‘Garden Room’ border — Anni’s perennial veggies

In permaculture edges are regarded as valuable spaces, having the properties of the two areas they border. Most of my growing spaces could be regarded as edges, but in particular those round the house. All the way round the sides and back are narrow borders into which I have crammed many different edible polycultures. I […]

via The ‘Garden Room’ border — Anni’s perennial veggies

Great post from Anni – it’s got me thinking about edges.  One to ponder while I’m thinking about my own growing space.