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For three summers all the hay and grass path clippings from our 2/3rd acre meadow have been brought up into the garden and composted or used as a surface mulch. It must have been several tonnes of organic material, but there is not much sign of it now – odd bits of grassy mulch are hanging around from last year. But it has entered the growing system and having started my veg plot with thin layer of poorish topsoil on a rock base, there is real evidence that the fertility is building up. I can see it in the fact that the soil is darker now and moist, we are seeing plenty of worms and the crops are simply huge – massive spinach leaves, big lettuces, wide broccoli plants – in fact these are the most vigorous vegetable plants I have ever grown! They positively ooze fecundity and abundance. Everything I am growing is prolific. All this shouts at me that there is a natural fertility boom here .

Indeed new gardens like mine, which began from scratch in 2012, take a certain amount of time to settle in and for the natural balance of organic systems to develop. The soil life here was trashed by our digger excavations, but now it should be recovering. I expect to see this evolution continue.

And I have been trying the Ruth Stout method. She bought in hay and used it as a deep mulch on un-dug veg beds. Likewise I have done that with the hay from our field. I am absolutely committed to no dig and to surface mulching, but I find that grass clippings are easier to use than the hay. The problem with hay here is that in our warm damp climate, the seeds of grasses which it bears tend to germinate and become a troublesome nuisance.

Meadow late May 14

The meadow in May

I have been told that if we soak the hay in water for 2 weeks before using it, then that will suppress the weed germination, so we are going to try that.

In fact we have plenty of grass mowings from the paths we cut in the field and these are very easy to use, and relatively grass seed free.

The piles of hay are best used here as mulches on fruit trees, fruit bushes, ornamental trees and shrubs, hedging plants and new trees.

So really the ‘Ruth Stout method’ of hay mulching is not necessary here. I feel that with grass clippings as mulch, comfrey, green manures and composting our kitchen waste I will able to maintain fertility. Like any organic garden mine should be self sustaining. The Ruth Stout model is very useful, but the flaw is that she was ‘buying in’ fertility, by purchasing her hay. Her practises of using surface mulches and no dig gardening are the ones I embrace, and will continue to use here. Taking the heavy labour out of food growing and making it fast and fun are essential for me, and Ruth inspires me to forge ahead undaunted by my physical limitations. She was hopping about growing food well into her eighties!

I certainly will never need to buy in any fertilizers or manures for vegetable growing, as we can collect enough natural fertility from the plants growing around us. Currently cleavers (the sticky bur plant) are an easy catch – they are romping away now, and I pull them up, roll them into big footballs and stuff them into the compost bins.

In addition, I have a notion about my introduction of Yellow Rattle to the hay meadow. It is already species rich, but this parasitic plant suppresses the vigour of grasses and will give the wild flowers an even better run. I have been told that when I get Yellow Rattle well established here, it will really cut down the yield of grass/ hay with the meadow becoming, much ‘thinner’ and more flowery. If this is true, then in time the hay output here will diminish. This is the first year I have established Yellow Rattle – it is growing in scattered patches.

Yellow rattle

My first Yellow Rattle plants

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I have to say how much I enjoyed watching the Big Allotment Challenge on television in April and May.

I particularly liked the way it illustrated how much skill, determination, dedication and knowledge is required to produce good food and flowers from the land. Growing your own food is a real commitment.

I enjoyed seeing both sexes tackle flower arranging, and how they took on the ‘floral display’ challenges.

The cooking challenges highlighted how ‘grow your own’ also requires dedication to ‘cook your own’. I spend a great deal of time washing vegetables and then being in the kitchen with them, making interesting things. (This week’s special is dahl soup with spinach in it).

Nigel kept asking me whether I would have been a winner – he’s so competitive! I thought I could have done very well on the growing and flower arranging but would have not been anywhere up to scratch on the cooking and preserving front!

Growing Update

My web log has had a lapse caused by family circumstances, but my story at Tin Bath House continues and I am picking up the threads. I froze through the RHS Malvern Show and Chelsea has gone past in a TV fog.

Our annual cycle of eating is completed and the hungry gap has gone past un-noticed here. In fact we have had to eat quite hard to get through the vegetables we froze last year. Just a few ratatouilles to go! The ‘gap’ here was plugged with ample supplies of cauliflower, kale, chard, perennial broccoli, purple sprouting broccoli and spring cabbages.

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Cauliflower – my best ever.

And the new season of eating is well under way, with mange-tout peas coming now from plants started indoors in February and spinach as well in quantity.

Mangetout may 14 sown indoors feb

Mange-Tout Peas

February found us cutting us our hedges. Our garden has a lot of established beech hedging, which is great for wind shelter, shade and dividing up the areas. But we have discovered it also a great deal of work to cut and trim.

Of course, as usual I had not thought about how difficult it is to cut hedges which go down a slope. They become much higher at the bottom of the slope if the top is flat, and worst of all getting a ladder to any of them is really hard, because the ground is never level. For the last two years it has taken Nigel ages to do the job, messing around chocking up ladder legs on bits of wood and brick, then wobbling up with the electric hedge trimmer in one hand and one hand on the ladder. I usually steady the ladder and he slipped off once, hitting me, and I narrowly escaped being hurt.

HEDGE ONE

This ‘near miss’ prompted me to think about how to do this job better. Dave at Days Cottage had told me that Lansford Access in Gloucester sell three legged ladders, and so it was to there that I went. And indeed we now own a 12 feet long three-legged stepladder with all three legs adjustable! It makes the cutting safe and quick, the treads are wide and the overall design makes ‘access all areas’ easy. You can get close to the hedge and the wide tripod base is very stable. We can adjust each leg length so that the slope is accommodated and the ladder treads are always level for working on. Wow, how having the right equipment makes things easier – never did I see it so clearly.

I had visions originally of neat hedges with level tops, right angled steps to accommodate the slope and perfect sides. Now I realise that my ideal hedge is any shape, so long as Nigel can cut it safely – so lumps and bumps, waving tops and bulging sides are all acceptable now.

Hedge two

RASPBERRY TRIFLE

Nigel has been suffering from raspberry deprivation ever since we moved house in 2011. He has always taken responsibility for the raspberries in our life. Finally his yearning is satisfied as he gets on with terracing the raspberry beds and getting new plants in at Tin Bath House.

Of course on a slope nothing is simple. It has taken days of levelling, shovelling, wooden boxing and much swearing about stones to get the beds prepared. I did forget when we moved here how tricky a sloped garden makes everything. Never mind the amount of digging, and the stones, it costs a good deal more than I always expect to buy the wood for making beds and retaining walls.

Rasp Terraces - Copy

How it began!

 

Raspberries Nigel Planting

How it finished!

And the result is just about equivalent of an 18 feet length row of bare rooted raspberry plants in now.

I chose 3 varieties –

Glen Moy – an early fruiting (from June) newish cultivar with no spines, and a an ‘Award of Garden Merit’ from the RHS.

Tulameen – a new variety, spine free with fruit in July and August.

Polka – a new variety fruiting from August to the first frosts.

And so you can see that the under-gardener should get his raspberries from June to October in succession!

 

 

GARDENING CLASSES

My pace of work has taken a dive. Firstly I am recuperating from neurology surgery last year, so I have less energy and have to not exert myself. Secondly family duties are taking me away from home for much of my time this spring. So the indoor seed sowing season is sliding past me and I’m not getting much done yet.

Any of you who have looked on my website for this year’s gardening course dates will be disappointed – though thank you for looking. I hope to run a few of my usual ones but from a later starting point. ‘Love Wild Flowers’ will be running from June.

And if you can’t wait, there are some exciting courses at Cotswold Gardening School with Caroline Tatham at Gossington Hall near Stroud see http://www.cotswoldgardeningschool.co.uk

I am a visiting tutor on their One Year Diploma course and I am developing a programme of courses on food growing which will begin there soon. Gossington Hall is a beautiful setting, and the gardening school has great facilities and wonderful grounds. I will also be running my old hardy perennial course there ‘Know that Plant’ – a course for everyone who wants to spend their money wisely at the garden centre.

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The third Stroud Permaculture course which is now a legendary fixture will be running again from September. It attracts folks with incredible enthusiasm and eagerness to learn together and it carries a lot of energy. The group who did the first year said they had so much fun they all want to do it again!

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OH DEER!

 

It is frustrating to get trees and shrubs established and then find that venison on legs have destroyed them. I am seeing a good deal of this damage and my idea is to plant generously so that I know there will be survivors. The deer graze neatly pruned rounded tops to plants, or shred off the bark with their sharp teeth, or eat off the growing shoots completely leaving a jagged end.

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Bark stripped by deer

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