About Carole

I'm a visual artist, writer, Doctor of Philosophy, and organic gardener. I write about permaculture wildlife gardening, art as research, and learning to live with a vestibular disorder. You can find me on Twitter @carolekirk

Groundings 1 – growing the soil

This year I have been going to ground.  I have been paying attention to soil.  I ask for a lot from my garden, and I can’t keep taking, taking, taking.  I have to give back.  So this year’s focus has been compost.  Over the year, I’ve developed a closed system – using everything in the immediate vicinity that I can use to bulk up and nourish the soil.  This requires space.  Below is my composting area, near the back of the house in a North-facing space where there is little light.  It is not a productive growing area.  It’s handy to access because it is right in front of the back door where we exit from the kitchen.

Compost area

Compost area

I have two ‘dalek’ bins from the council.  We use the one nearest to the back door as our current bin to empty kitchen scraps and to collect garden ‘waste’.  The second bin (by the fence) is my ‘turning’ bin.  This is where the compost breaks down.  Every couple of months, I empty the contents of the turning bin into one of the big green bags on the floor.  The bin is then empty, ready for me to turn the compost into from our current bin.  Wearing a big pair of red rubber workmans’ gloves, I lift the whole bin off the heap out of the way and scoop the pile of contents with my hands into the turning bin.  This is more gentle on the worms than using a spade or fork.  I can break up clumps and crush eggshells with my hands.  It is messy and slimy, wiggly and wonderful.  If it gets a bit too wet, I add shredded paper.  If it is too dry, I add a layer of grass clippings.  I can’t get enough of grass clippings.  The black bin liner which is shoved through the fence is for my neighbours.  They happily donate their grass clippings, which I find dumped over our fence in the bin liner.  I empty it and give them the liner back.  They love this, because it saves them a trip to the tip.  I love it, because it gives me nutritious biomass and compost activator for my heaps.  The soil loves it too.  Everybody is happy.


Kale – Pentland Brigg

Despite the current unseasonably mild weather in the UK, we have had our first frosts.  And that means it is time to harvest the kale.  This year, I’ve tried Pentland Brigg which is a short-lived perennial kale.  I got the seed from Pennard Plants, and germination was excellent.  I grew seedlings to a good size in the new greenhouse before planting out.  They were generally trouble-free.

pentland brigg seedling good shrunk

Pentland Brigg kale seedling

The plants grew well, and have become quite substantial specimens.  They are attractive, with curly edges to the leaves once they get going.

Pentland Brigg kale

Pentland Brigg kale

Mine definitely prefer good light.  The picture above is from the front garden, where they’ve done well.  They are somewhat smaller at the back, where light is more limited.  They are managing to grow though, so are an option for a shadier space.

I’ve found that the younger leaves are more tender and tasty (no surprises there) and the plants soon put on new growth.  And yes, it is absolutely true that kale is sweeter after the first frosts.  This is a lovely tasting kale, delicious stir-fried with garlic.  I hope it isn’t too short-lived a perennial, as it is certainly earning its place in my garden.

Sunshine bloggers

I was touched to be mentioned in SkyeEnt’s Sunshine Blogs post .  SkyeEnt writes a fascinating blog about land that she manages on Skye in Northern Scotland, taking a forest gardening permaculture approach.  She has recently been visiting other permaculture forest gardens, and generously shares her experiences of these.

The Sunshine Bloggers award is a way of recognising the contributions of other bloggers, and involves answering questions that the nominator poses.  For health reasons (a whole other story which I write about here), I can’t spend very long at a time reading or writing.  So I simply want to say thank you to SkyeEnt for the nomination, and in the spirit of the award, to mention a couple of other blogs that I enjoy reading, namely:

Helen at Growing out of Chaos

Nancy at Humane Gardener

Anni at  Annis Perennial Veggies

There are many others, but these (as well as SkyeEnt’s blog mentioned above) are probably my most frequently visited.  You’ve quite likely seen them yourself already, but if not, take a look and see what you think.

Autumn un-tidy

A few musings as promised on the lack of Autumn ‘tidying’ (following Anni’s post).  In theory, I should be chopping down all these seed heads …

A corner of my front border

A corner of my front border

But looking at these more closely, I observe tiny cave-like dwellings in the marjoram …

pot marjoram seed heads

pot marjoram seed heads

And lurking inside those untidy purple toadflax seedheads are nutritious black seeds, which could be a perfect snack for something on a cold day …

toadflax seeds

toadflax seeds

Where I deadheaded them earlier this year, there are hollow stems – whole tower blocks where insects could be curling up ready for the winter …

hollow toadflax stems

hollow toadflax stems

The ‘lambs lettuce’ path below is full of bits of grass, self sown cranesbill, and strawberry plants that walked out of their pots …

lambs lettuce path

lambs lettuce path

I once tried to tidy up under this hedge, pulling up the grass and intending to put bark mulch underneath.  I hadn’t got very far before I noticed a movement.  On closer inspection, I saw a tiny newt which had been taking full advantage of the warm cover that the ‘mess’ of dried grass provided.  I picked it up to check that I hadn’t injured it, feeling pretty rotten that I’d disturbed it.  It sat, blinking, on my hand. I gave up the idea of tidying, and tucked the little creature back under the hedge. 

One permaculture principle is to ‘use edges and value the marginal‘:

“don’t think you are on the right track just because its a well-beaten path” 

My untidy path is not a well-beaten one, but this edgy ‘mess’ will be a haven for wildlife through the winter.  I can still step on it to get at the lambs lettuce for winter salads.  I’ll just need to give any lurking residents a bit of warning first.

don’t do anything until you have to and then only do the minimum — Anni’s perennial veggies


This is a repost of Anni’s recent blog, with a timely reminder not to be too tidy this Autumn.  This is the time of year that I look at the things I want to ‘tidy’, and ask myself what function they might be performing for wildlife as we head into winter.  I’ll muse a bit more on this in my next post.  Meanwhile, here’s Anni’s article:

I am working on a new book and hence all my writing effort has gone into that and there just hasn’t been sufficient spare time to keep this blog up to date. Nor has there been much time to spend in the garden, but as my main maxim for interacting with the garden is (as […]

via don’t do anything until you have to and then only do the minimum — Anni’s perennial veggies

Creatures that call my garden ‘home’

I try to encourage wildlife to take up residence in my garden by growing plants in a polyculture, where edibles, flowers, herbs and wildflowers are all mixed up together.  I’m not great at photographing the little critters that move in (they don’t pose for me), but here are a few that I managed to snap this year:

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How to Green the Desert: Europe’s Heatwave and some Holistic Suggestions — The Permaculture Research Institute


In the Northern Hemisphere, the balance of light is turning ever more towards darkness as we approach the Autumn Equinox. This is following a summer which in many places was unusually hot and dry(1, 2). This is perhaps not unexpected; climate change scientists have been predicting extreme temperature spikes for a number of years(3). However, it…

via How to Green the Desert: Europe’s Heatwave and some Holistic Suggestions — The Permaculture Research Institute