Photos from this week

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Baby S turning one year old! (and turning into The Gruffalo)

Snowdrops

Crocus

Blowing bubbles

Ditto

More Snowdrops

Early Spring sunshine

Muddy paddling

Helebores brought inside

Planting my first seeds of the season

Washing drying outside

Rhubarb

All-in-one waterproof

Buds on the fruit trees

5 eggs everyday from our happy hens

Whoops, almost lost one!

Cheeky chap

Random assembly

Yesterday I attended the first session of a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) led by my Diploma tutor, Hannah Thorogood. I was a participant on this course two years ago and found it hugely inspiring. I am planning on going along to most of the sessions this year to help out, revise my skills and observe the tutors, with a view to possibly teaching a PDC myself in years to come. The observing of the course fits in well with my ‘Twelve principles for twelve months’ project as February is ‘Observe and Interact’ month!

We were looking at design tools, so the session was very useful for me as I am heading into this stage of my first diploma design project. I have come away wanting to use a number of design tools to help me with the analysis stage of my planning.

The first tool I have used is called ‘Random assembly’ It is a simple and fun way of beginning to consider the possible links and interactions between elements in your design.

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How to use random assembly

* Write all the elements (Annual veg/ chickens/pond/path etc) you have decided upon for your design down on a piece of paper. Place them face down on the table.

* Write six linking words down and number these 1-6 (Under/ on top of/ next to etc)

* Pick two elements at random and roll the dice to pick one linking word to place between them.

* See what you have come up with.

Some of these combinations will be good, some will be bad and some will be downright nonsense, but it is a fun process and throws up some ideas you may not have thought of. I wrote down all the ideas that were generated and used another design tool PNI (positive, negative, interesting) to grade them for future consideration.

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And some I won’t ………….IMG_7814IMG_7821

I decided to try taking this one step further and assemble multiple elements together to see if any interesting ideas were thrown up. This provides even more opportunities for nonsense, but I actually quite like the one pictured below. I can visualise this working in an area of my plot. A drain pipe off the shed leading to the pond to keep it full, overflowing to water the perennial vegetables which are planted under fruit trees. IMG_7827

My garden in February 2014

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Harvesting The chickens have upped their game. We are getting 3 – 4 eggs each day from our 10 chickens now. The longer days have been making a noticeable difference from shortly after the winter solstice. The herbs on the deck are being put to good use, as are window-ledge herbs, greek basil, mint and flat leaf parsley.

Planting I have ordered and received my seeds and am chomping at the bit waiting to get planting. I hope to plant out the seeds that need a long growing season as soon as possible. Chilis and various types of tomatoes will be sowed into seed trays and put up high in the conservatory out-of-the-way of a certain rampaging toddler. My broad bean plants are getting a bit leggy indoors, so they are in the greenhouse tonight, I just hope they are ok, it’s a chilly night out there now.

Thinking I have been thinking hard about my plans for the edible beds in my garden. I am taking this as my first design for my Permaculture Diploma. This is great as it making my diploma really relevant to my life. The additional time and thought given to layouts, plants and sustainable systems will make the garden far better than if I took my usual haphazard approach to garden planning.

Feeling I have been feeling sorry for the chickens. The storms had ripped a section of the felt off their shed roof. So the break in the weather today saw J and I clambering up the shed and nailing a new roll of felt into place. I am planning on fixing the guttering too this month and making the water run off into a tank for watering, with the overflow going into the pond to keep it topped up. I hope to rig up a soaker hose to this too and direct this around the vegetable bed in front of the chickens run. I am feeling full of ideas and enthusiasm for the garden and my Permaculture Diploma. I am also feeling frustrated not to have more time to devote to both activities. IMG_0626

Midday in my garden, on Thursday 13th Feb 2014. Bright sunshine and blue skies

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The same view at 2pm, a freak hailstorm turned the garden white in seconds!

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I have just chopped down the old growth to make way for the fresh new shoots of Fennel. This plant has beautiful skeletons I like to leave to stand all winter.

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This tree I think is an ornamental cherry. My husband and I have a row every year about whether to chop it down or not. It has dark leaves and casts a big shadow over the upper part of our garden all summer long. But I love it simply for its early spring flowers. You can see the buds appearing here. I like to cut armfuls of branches each February and bring them inside. The warmth of the house fools the plant into flower within days. I currently have a vase full of pink blossoms on the mantlepiece. The tree holds its place in the garden for this alone. It reminds us that spring is not far away now!

IMG_0619Tiny leaves unfurling on the Clematis.

Weather stats

Sunday 16th February 2014

A bright and sunny day with blue skies. The wind dropped leaving a still calm day

Max temp 8 degrees  Min temp 3 degrees

Sunrise 07:20  Sunset 17:18

A garden visit. The botanical gardens

Earlier this week on a rare sunny morning, I paid a quick visit to the local botanical gardens. I love this place, it is just off a busy main road, but feels like a real hideaway. Being winter, there was not that much plant life to see. The herbaceous perennials were just beginning to poke through in the long boarders. The highlights of my visit were the crocuses and the Hamamelis Mollis featured in my previous post. The bleak beauty of winter with an extreme lack of flowers and foliage, automatically focussed my eye on structures in the garden. It was good to look at how the garden was laid out and the clever creation of garden rooms, all with a different feeling about them. The formal box hedges are not usually my cup of tea, but they did look smart against the old brick paths. I enjoyed taking some time just to ‘Observe and Interact’

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I like the rough textures and patterning in the weathered brick paths throughout the garden

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The carpet of crocus was stunning. The flowers were just starting to open. They looked like a ground covering of snow when seen from a distance, then the lilac colouring caught the eye as you approached. So beautiful. I wonder how many years a show like that took to establish?

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On a sunny February morning, you can feel the approach of Spring.

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Plant Love – Hamamelis mollis

I love this plant, it is a real late winter gem. It seems to glow from within with the low February sun shining through it. I spotted this beauty on a visit to a local botanical gardens yesterday (more about this in my next post) I also love its name, Hamamelis mollis, try saying that out loud, it is almost as beautiful as the plant itself. Happy Valentines Day xIMG_0597   IMG_0592 IMG_0589 IMG_0580 IMG_0583IMG_0594

Taking stock

This week I was hoping to spend some time thinking about our food choices and looking into how we could improve how we shop and eat. However, I was ill over the weekend with a sickness bug that laid me low for 2 days and put me right off my food. I didn’t want to eat anything and I certainly didn’t fancy reading recipe books or trekking around the local shops, farmers market or supermarket. Yesterday I felt a bit better and reflected on being ill and changing my plans for the week had actually put me onto a more useful path.

There was no food in the house, or so I thought. On Tuesday a comforting bowl of plain pasta with a few fresh herbs helped to ease my stomach back into the wonderful world of food. Today I am almost back to my greedy self and Instead of doing my normal super-sized family weekly shop, I decided to be a bit more mindful. With my monthly Permaculture Principle of ‘Observe and Interact’ in mind, I decided to start by tackling the ‘there is nothing to eat’ feeling by looking at my cupboards and seeing what we actually have.

DSC_8293Citrus fruits to brighter a dull February day

I checked through my cupboards, pantry and freezer and wrote down what I found. I was going to record the entire list here, but it was an embarrassing amount of food. I am ashamed to admit quite how much we had in the house. Here are some of the highlights of what I found when I went shopping in my cupboards;

5 different types of rice, brown/ basmati / risotto /pudding /sushi

9 tins including beans/ tomatoes /chickpeas / kidney beans

5 boxes of cereal

3 loaves of bread

5 bags of different types of flour

Bags of mixed nuts/ seeds/ dried fruit

Frozen blueberries/ black and red currants/ raspberries/ plums

Vegi sausages/ burgers and two types of tofu

I could go on but I am feeling ashamed. So many people don’t have enough to eat and here we are, hording food without even being aware of it. Even as a family of five who can eat a whole bag of pasta at one sitting, I think we could comfortably survive on the rations in the house for about 2-3 weeks. Albeit eating some rather carb-heavy meals!

DSC_8294A fabulous loaf made by my clever Baker brother. He is involved in a new local bakery opening soon. The Tiny Bakery. More details to follow!

I am glad that I took the time to take stock before heading back out to the shops. I will try to make this a regular part of my week from now on. When I did go shopping today the only things I brought were fresh vegetables and fruit. My bags were lighter and my purse heavier!

Yesterday we had stir fry veg with tofu and rice followed by homemade plum crumble (Using lovely plums, red currents and blackberries from our garden that I had frozen and forgotten about) Tonight we will be having butternut squash soup made with heaps of garlic, chili and ginger and finishing up the crumble with ice cream for pudding. Tomorrow will be a busy evening so its quick pizzas and salad on the menu and Friday will probably be a vegetable curry.

Hellebores

In February I really need to know that spring is on its way. This winter has been amazingly mild, I can count the number of frosts we have had on one hand. But many days have been wet and windy, not the greatest of weather for heading out into the garden. So here are some photos I took at my local garden centre of their beautiful Hellebores. They represent the coming of spring for me.

I was a lucky girl and got a new camera for my birthday. I have been enjoying trying it out. I am pretty pleased with how it copes with close-ups. I intend to take lots of photos of plants this year so the close up function is an important one. I have my eye on a Macro lens too once I can afford it.

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My garden design – Beginning the design process.

The second design project that I am undertaking for my Permaculture Diploma is for my own garden. (Design number 1 is the community allotment education space design that i did for my PDC in 2012)

Designing my own garden seems like a sensible thing to do in the early stages of my diploma because I know this little patch of land so well. We have lived in this house for six years, so have spent a lot of time observing and interacting with the garden. We have made various changes over the years, some more successful than others. My design will focus on making the food production areas more efficient. I aim to be able to eat something from my garden everyday from May to October.

The photo below shows the view from the mid-point of my garden back towards the house. The plot is approximately 130 foot long (190 foot long if you include the house and front garden) by 25 foot wide. It faces south and has a small brook running along the end of the garden. It was the garden that sold us this house, we were blown away by the size and aspect of it compared to others we had looked at. The house was much the same as our old house, even slightly smaller maybe, but with scope for extensions. Now that there are five of us in the family, we fill the house almost to bursting point, but the garden still feel generous with space to tackle a new project almost every year. I love it dearly.

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I have been thinking and reading lots trying to make sense of the design process. I have drawn up the diagram below to show the stages that I intend to go through while designing the garden. I have been reading ‘Permaculture Design’ by Aranya which has been a great help in breaking down the process into manageable chunks. I am open to adding to or deduction from this design process diagram as I gain experience, but this was a useful exercise for me to get everything straight in my head. The temptation when designing a garden is to jump straight into the ‘designing’ or ‘doing’ stages, but Permaculture has taught me the importance of holding back and honoring the journey. That is very hard for an impatient person like me!

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Today I will be recording what I have done in the ‘Observe’ and ‘Think’ sections of the action learning cycle. I hope that by keeping a careful record of the process, it will help make this design more thorough and effective as well as helping clarify the stages for my future design projects. Permaculture design tools used are in recorded in bold type.

THE PROJECT – Redesign the food production areas of my garden to make them more efficient and provide us with something to eat everyday from May to October. The garden still needs to look beautiful and fulfill the needs of all family members.

OBSERVATIONS – I have been observing the garden for six years now and so I feel I know it pretty well. I have been adding a blog post every month, ‘My garden in …’ This includes images of the garden, info on my thoughts, feelings, harvest and planting. Also weather descriptions, sunset/rise times and max/min temperatures. I want to begin mapping the shade patterns at different times of the year. Rather than using PASTE (plants, animals, structure, tools, events) I used the titles suggested in Aranya’s book. Layout, access, structures, trees and plants. Details are below under Client interview and see the relevant photo of my notes. PASTE would have repeated these items so it seemed unnecessary to use both of these design tools.

MAPS – I have looked at maps of my garden on google maps and on the deeds of our house. I have made careful measurements and drawn up a base map showing the boundaries, major structures, beds, trees, brook, lawns etc. I studied geography for A level and looked at maps for part of my Fine Art degree, I love maps and find them fascinating. I mapped desire lines through my garden and noted where paths where needed. I looked at Zones and Sectors.

SOIL AND UTILITIES – I still need to take some soil samples and will do an additional blog post about this. In my general experience of gardening on the site, up near the house it is quite clay-ish, improving the further you go down the garden. There are patches of lovely soil where old compost heaps were located. There are areas with terrible rubble, glass and junk buried in them. When we first moved here we even uncovered an old fireplace, a motorbike engine and a lovely old tin bread bin buried in the garden. The metal was recycled but the bread bin sits in my kitchen now holding magazines.

We have mains water, there is an outside tap and an old ceramic butlers sink that we salvaged. A buried water mains pipe runs across the top area of lawn. We have one light switch under the cover area by the side of the house. If electricity is required we have a few long extension leads.

 LIMITING FACTORS – I thought about the shaded sections of the garden as being a limiting factor for fruit and veg growth. The big trees could also be a limiting factor due to their roots, but they all give us a yield in other ways through fruit, places to play or shade. I am wasting a lot of water and could capture and utilise it better.We are limited by the space available. I am limited by the time I have available and a lack of funds.

RESOURCES – We often have access to free wood for building or burning. The chickens provide us with lots of resources. I have tools, knowledge, enthusiasm and the will to work in my garden. My husband and the kids are keen to be involved too. We compost our garden and food waste, either via the chickens or directly into the compost bin.

CLIENT INTERVIEW – Since I am both the designer and the client for this project, I interviewed myself. I intend to also interview my husband and the children and take their wants and needs into consideration. The photos show my scribbled notes. I took inspiration from my questions from Aranya’s book; I looked at the current situation, layout, structures, access, plants, trees, like and dislike and maintenance. Then wants and needs, values and vision and finally practicalities like timescales and finances.

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FUNCTIONS, SYSTEMS AND ELEMENTS – From the client interview I was able to identify key functions that were required of the design. I then thought about the systems that could provide these functions and the elements that made up the systems. The tables below shows my working.

IMG_0538 IMG_0539Please note that on the second photo I have accidentally reversed the titles. It should read, Function, System, Element. As the first photo shows.

Next time I will look at key functions, remedial actions required and identify SMART goals. I will then apply permaculture ethics and principles and move onto the ‘design’ stage.

Observe and Interact. A photo an hour

IMG_77408am. Spotty mug, spotty table cloth, cuppa tea

IMG_77319am. School run

IMG_772010am. Climbing the rocks at Forest school

IMG_772111am Sunshine and green hills

IMG_772812 midday A quick and chilly outdoor lunch

IMG_77291pm. Loo break and hand wash

IMG_77382pm. Driving home

IMG_77303pm. Sleeping on the school run

IMG_77464pm. Putting the chickens to bed

IMG_77505pm. Teaching my daughter how to make minestrone soup

IMG_77516pm. She did good!

IMG_77567pm. There is always washing to be done

IMG_77558pm Rediscovering an old favourite album

IMG_77629pm Bath and book

Twelve Principles for twelve months – February – Observe and Interact

Continuing on with my challenge for 2014 of looking at one Permaculture Principle each month, for February I have chosen, ‘Observe and Interact’

I plan on looking at this principle in 5 ways;

1. Observing how I spend my time and interacting by taking one photo on the hour each hour on a number of days.

2. Observing how we spend money by tracking our household incoming and outgoing for one week. Interacting by setting budgets so we can begin saving for summer holidays.

3. Observing the meals that we eat for one week and interacting the following week by thinking how I could make our meal times less hectic and our food shopping and diet even better.

4. Observing each room of my house, doing a quick PNI analysis (Positive, Negative, Interesting) and looking where I’d like to interact. Creating an action plan for each room with tasks to do ‘now’, ‘soon’ and ‘eventually’. I will try to tackle all the ‘nows’ this month.

5. Observing some gardens, either with site visits, from books or by browsing the internet. I hope this will inspire me to interact with my own garden and help me get through these dark, wet February days.

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Just to finish off, here is a totally unrelated photo, oh I guess it is me being ‘observed’ by my chicken. Her name is Smoky. She is a grey/blue laced Wyandotte. We brought her as a tiny chick last summer. She is quite wary of people but very beautiful.