My garden in November

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Harvesting The harvest is now over in my garden. This week I have gathered in the last few bits, a few cooking apples, some Oka, Jerusalem artichokes and chilis from the green house. The oka were an experiment, it is the first year I have grown them. From 4 tiny tubers, I harvested about 20 small and a handful of larger tubers. I am yet to try eating them and may save them and replant next year to get a bigger harvest, I am assuming this would work? Can anyone enlighten me?

Planting I have still not got around to planting out my spring bulbs, so need to crack on this very soon before the ground gets too hard. We had our first frost last week. But generally the weather has been rather mild so far.

Thinking I am loving looking out of the window onto the tree with star-shaped bright red autumnal leaves (Is it called an Acer?)  The sun catches this throughout a lot of the day and makes the leaves glow brightly. It is currently holding onto its leaves well and cheering up a dark, muddy garden! I am planning on shifting a new load of woodchip into the chickens run and putting their old stuff onto the raised beds. The chucks always look rather fed up at this time of year. Cold and damp weather doesn’t really suit them. I need to spend a few days in the garden doing a general tidy up. Shifting leaves off paths to where they can be useful as soil improver, moving summer sandpits, pushchairs and kids bikes into the shed and having a good old clear out. The wood is now chopped and stacked, so that feels good with a promise of many cosy nights in front of the log burner to come.

Feeling  I am finding the dark evenings hard. I am making a real effort to spend an hour on the park, in the garden or trudging through the woods after school with the kids. Without that bit of outdoor time we all go rather stir-crazy. By the time we arrive home at 4pm, it’s very nearly time to close the curtains and out the lights on. To help make these dull, drawn-out evenings more enjoyable and productive, I have enforced a cebeebies/ DVD ban. My kids were previously allowed an hour of screen time each evening, but this makes them restless, argumentative and difficult. There were a few objections to this ban, but generally my household is calmer and happier for it. We have discovered more time in which to chat, do homework, cook a meal together and play games. The lego, jigsaws and colouring book have been rediscovered!

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I struggled to find things to take photographs of in the garden this month. Everywhere is looking spent, muddy and dull. The richness of autumn has passed and the stark, frozen beauty of winter has not yet arrived. We are waiting in limbo for the hard frosts and real winter to begin. I am looking forward to a quiet, simple christmas period. I am planning ahead for advent, more on this in another post. My thoughts and activities are heading back indoors and leaving the garden to its own devised for a few months.

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Weather stats

Thursday 20th November 2014

After a foggy morning the sky is now a bright clear blue. It feels cold but still and dry

High 9, Low 6

Sunrise 07:35 Sunset 16:05

My garden design – Evaluation 2014

I shared one of my Permaculture designs on this blog in the spring. It was a redesign of the food growing spaces in my back garden with the aim of providing us with something to eat on four days out of each week from May till September.  Here is a reminder of how that design looked. IMG_0953

I have also been sharing my monthly garden updates to keep track of how the garden is looking and progressing throughout the year. I am now coming to the end of the growing season and have been looking back over the design and how it worked out this year. I have looked at the garden features I had planned and the foods I had planned to grow. I have done a PNI analysis. Each item has also been graded from 10-1 with 10 being best. Items scoring under 5 will not be included in my garden for 2015 unless I can justify why they deserve a second chance!

DESIGN FEATURES POSITIVE 10-6 NEGATIVE5-0 INTERESTING
Polytunnel 0 Decided against this as the site proved unsuitable as it is too shaded by overhanging trees.
New Pond 0 Again the suggested site was too close to trees so the pond would fill with leaves each autumn. Also my children created a den behind the chicken run that required access over this area.
Stepping stones 2 I put a few in by the chicken run where I had the most trouble with mud. No other paths implemented due to lack of funds and time
Sectional chicken run 7 Works great in space b the shed, can open it up to let the hens forage behind the greenhouse too. Not used for chicken tractoring as yet, but plans to do so over this winter.
Raised beds 9 Great success, easy to make and maintain, very productive, great use of sunny part of garden, kids enjoy helping me.
Key hole beds 3 The woodchip paths rotted very quickly, the space is under trees so not great for annual veg. Difficult to access. Redesign as forest garden in 2015?
Water storage and capture 7 New tanks installed and collection off shed and overflow into pond. All functions well. However my son learnt to open the taps this summer and kept draining the tanks.
Wood store 6 Lots of wood storage spaces in garden now. We don’t need to buy in any wood this winter.
Pots on patio and deck 7 Looked lovely all summer and productive for herbs and cut flowers. However, v hot sunny position so lots of watering was required.
Table and chairs 8 New table and bench seating created out of reclaimed timber. Easy to crate seats up to 12 people. Kept on patio not lawn in the end seemed more practical option.
Grapevine 6 Great at shading deck in summer and letting in light in autumn/winter. However again it needed watering more and did not produce many grapes. They grapes that did grow were eaten by birds, but gret for birdwatching from kitchen
New lower fencing 5 I lkie it as it lets more light in and hopefully it will stand up better to winter storms. Our neighbour did not like it and put up a 6 foot fence along the remaining boundary would not consider a lower fence.
PLANTING
FRUIT
Rhubarb 5 Old plant needs dividing
Black currant 8 Loads of fruit but old bush, getting unstable
Gooseberry 6 Lots of fruit but tricky to harvest
Red currant 8 Great, need to take cuttings to start new plants as per black currants
Apple trees 6 Cooking apples was great, not loads on eating apple trees. Shared harvest with neighbours
Pear trees 4 Still establishing, spots on leaves diseased?
Blackberries 6 Were cut back hard this year so smaller harvest than normal
Raspberries 8 Good crop considering 1st year
White currant 4 Tasty but didn’t harvest many
Grapevines 5 Not too many grapes set and most lost to birds. Beautiful autumn colour
Fig 9 Fantastic, 50 ish fruits this year
Strawberries 6 Kids ate them all
Alpine strawberries 7 Spreading well
Cherry trees 6 First few cherry this year
Plum trees 4 Rubbish this year
ANNUAL VEG
Courgettes 2 Rubbish in my garden for last few years
Carrots 3 Didn’t really come to anything
Parsnips 0 Forgot to sow any
Beetroot 8 Great, ate stalks and leaves too
Raddishes 4 Ok in spring, went woody v quicky
Leeks 0 Dug up by chickens
Pumpkins 1 Lots of leafy growth but no fruit
Sweetcorns 1 Only 1 cob set! Rubbish
Cucumber 3 Didn’t do much
Mange tout 7 Great value
Broad beans 6 Good but needed more
Potatoes 6 Only had a few as take a lot of space but kids enjoyed harvest
Kale 4 Too late growing, chickens ate it
Spinach 3 Bolted v fast despite being in shade of grapevine
Lettuces 6 Great early and late in season, don;t bother in midsummer
Tomatoes 8 Great, lots of good outdoor toms, lots of work though
Peas 5 Not great this year
Chilis 9 Loads and v tasty and easy to grow
Aubergine 2 Small fruits set but none harvested
HERBS, FLOWERS AND MISC
Mint 7 Loads, need to keep in check
Edible flowers 9 Lovely and useful
Herbs in pots on patio 8 Fab
Sunflowers 6 Did ok, kids enjoyed the race
Lavendar 6 Establishing well
Calendula 9 Love it
Green manure mix 4 Didn’t do much
Sweetpeas 8 Lovely
Roses 9 Fab
Clematis 8 Lovely
Spring bulbs 6 Need more
PERENNIALS
Wild garlic 9 My fav, no effort, more each year, v useful in spring cooking
Perennial leaves patch 3 Not very successful, still needs to establish, went to seed quickly
Jerusulmn artichokes 8 Useful plant, lots of tubers but I don’t like eating them and fed to hens. Useful poles in garden.
Per.onions- various 6 First year so still at trial stage but hopeful.

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I have looked back at the five key functions I wanted my garden design to fulfil. They were; food production, attracting beneficial insects, water capture and sustainable usage, soil improvement and places to sit and enjoy the garden. 

Food production See notes above and below, the garden was pretty productive for a relatively small space and I am pleased with the amount of food i was able to produce.

Attracting beneficial insects I planted lots of flowers and herbs. I left wilderness areas and log piles. I could have concentrated more on this function but I felt the ecosystem in my garden is pretty well-balanced.

Water capture and sustainable usage New water capture and storage systems installed. See table above for details.

 Soil improvement I worked on mulching, green manure, composting and sheet mulches this year and I have started to learn what works and what does not work so well in my garden.

Places to sit and enjoy the garden. New table and bench seating created. I was gifted a bench, we made seating from timber around the firepit. I definitely enjoy my garden and would often rather hang out in my outdoor space than venture out into the wider world!

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I have looked at the food diary that I kept from May-September to see if I achieved my goal of eating something from my garden four days out of each week. Most weeks did achieve this goal, excluding those when we were away on holiday. Most harvests were small, with homegrown crops being pleasing addition to a meal rather than the bulk of what we ate. Salad crops and herbs did well as did fruit especially figs, currants and cooking apples. This is what I harvested each month.

MAY – wild garlic, parsley, lettuce, radishes, lemon verbena, mange tout, mint, lovage, eggs, pea shoots.

JUNE – Calendula, chives, beetroot stalks and leaves, onions, broad beans, basil, cucumber, nasturtiums, oregano, lettuce, raspberries, rocket, corn salad, eggs, rhubarb, strawberries, red/black/white currants, wild strawberries, gooseberries, cherries, spinach.

JULY – Broad beans, spring onions, beetroot stalks and leaves, blueberries, red/black/white currants, gooseberries, new potatoes, welsh onions, runner beans, eggs.

AUGUST – Runner beans, plums, tomatoes, chilis, figs, cucumber, courgettes, parsley, celery, purple beans, black and yellow toms, eggs.

SEPTEMBER – Figs, beetroots, courgettes, tomatoes, purple beans, blackberries, cooking apples, eating apples, raspberries, grapes, eggs, peppers, chilis, runner beans.

IMG_4924So in conclusion, my design was a great start to re-vamping the food growing areas in my garden. I have learnt a lot from this first year. All the record keeping has been manageable, enjoyable and a useful resource for me to refer back to in planning my tweaks to this design for my garden plans for 2015.

 

Diploma design for Muddy Boots- Evaluation and further thoughts on Appreciation and Reflection

The 2014 Muddy Boots season has now finished. We ended with a celebration session during which we planted bulbs to see flower next year and ate a shared lunch. We also carried out some feedback and appreciation activities. I created a photo book using images taken throughout the year to show the group. This was handed round and participants were invited to add their comments on the back-cover. IMG_4973IMG_4972IMG_4971IMG_4970

I was so touched by the wonderful comments. This is one of my favourites;

“ Muddy Boots is a huge ray of sunshine in our lives. We look forward to every session. There is so much to learn, so much to share and a lovely sense of community and sharing. I don’t know what we would do without this group”

I also asked people to add their thoughts to a group evaluation in the form of a picture. See below. This worked quite well and was more fun than yet another evaluation form. IMG_4974  

If participants had not completed the mid-point evaluation form, then I did ask them to complete one at the last session. I collected 17 forms in total and have collated the findings.

Where did you hear about the group? Emily, a friend, the FB page or the LNM FB page

Why did the group appeal to you?  location, time, ethos, values, natural outdoor play, to learn about gardening, to spend time outdoors and healthy shared snack time.

What do you/your child get out of the group? spending time together, learning about growing food, meeting like-minded parents, being outdoors, a sense of community, a relaxed atmosphere, seeing friends, learning through play, having new experiences, freedom to get dirty, space to explore, learning skills and pride in food growing, being creative, learning to care for nature. ( It was great to see so many of my key function for the group echoed in people’s experiences of attending the group)

Have you been able to help out and if so, how did you feel about being asked to do so? 8 No, 7 tea duty/ washing up, 5 pack/set up, 7 session leading. 7 happy to help out, 6 willing to help in future, 4 unable to help due to children.

Do you think the group is good value for money? All 17 said yes

Would you be wiling to pay more, how much seems fair? 1 person said £2.50, 5 said £3.00 6 said £4.00 4 said £5.00 and 1 said £5.00+

Would you be willing to travel to a different site? Is so, how far? 1 person said don’t move, 1 person said I have no transport, 1 person said yes, less than 5 miles, 7 people said around 5 miles, 1 person said more than 5 miles and 6 people were happy to follow us where ever we moved to.

Should I put a cap on numbers of families attending? 5 said no cap, 4 said cap at 10, 5 said cap at 15, 1 said cap at 20.

What have been your favourite things about Muddy Boots? Activities, planting. being outdoors, watching children play, the sandpit, growing food, meeting people, the relaxed atmosphere, the good vibes, exploring the site, learning about Permaculture.

What haven’t you liked/ what changes can you suggest? It has been too busy on occasion, need a bigger space, have a longer session, have proper mugs for tea rather than the plastic glasses, continue all year round.

What activities should I run in the future? Natural crafting, digging, nature art, mini gardens, treasure hunts, planting, songs, water/ mud play, plant identification, longer sessions, more time for free play, harvesting, stories, exploring, keeping chickens, making fires, making shelters Caterpillar/butterfly keeping, nature lanterns, nature bracelets, leaf rubbings, pumpkin carving, seasonal celebrations, mud kitchen, cooking and eating.

SO IN CONCLUSION…. people enjoy the ethos of the group, the activities and ideas behind it. They want a longer session, they are happy to move but not too far, they are happy to pay more- maybe £4-5 each session. 

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I have looked back at the 8 key functions I identified for Muddy Boots in the planning stages and reflected on how successfully they were achieved.

KEY FUNCTION WAS THIS FUNCTION ACHIEVED? EVIDENCE NOTES
To teach children about food growing I think I started to introduce ideas around this subject We planted the following; runner beans, strawberries, sunflowers, peas, courgettes, beetroot, radishes, tomatoes, peppers and herbs plus flowers and bulbs.

We harvested; much of the above list plus, cucumbers, grapes, blackberries and lettuces

The key function needed to be more specific – too general.
To inspire a love of nature and art Yes – but I do think that only parents and children who already have these interests were the people who were likely to attend this group. Art– we tried willow weaving, potato printing, hand printing, colouring in sheets, we made a beanstalk sculpture, we created food faces, we sang songs and played with instruments.

Nature – we planted seeds and bulbs, we made bird-feeders, we went on a bug hunt, we celebrated finds from the natural world each week, we played with pinecones, sand, mud and water, we learnt about animals and insects.

“Playing outdoors, getting muddy, being creative, freedom to get dirty” – we quoted as being things the attending child enjoyed most in the feedback forms.

This is really two key functions not one.
To be a safe and welcoming environment for parents and their pre-school age children Yes Safe– No accidents or injuries reported other than the normal slips and falls. One child fell off a chair once.

Welcoming– I had lots of written and verbal comments about how welcoming and friendly the group felt.

Again this is 2 key functions really.
To be a place for like-minded parents to meet and forge new friendships and networks Yes I have looked at the register and noted the following;

16 people came to only 1 session – This is a big drop off but some of these people were grandparents attending with regulars, friends from out-of-town, but also some people who just decided it was not for them.

On average we had 27 people per session – 12 adults and 16 kids.

The best attendee came 11 times out of 14

Of the top 10 attenders, the average number of sessions attended was 6 times out of 14. There was a core of 12 families who attended regularly and lots of others who dropped in and out throughout the season.

Some new friendships were forged and others re-inforced by the group. The link to LNM FB group was important, as was the formation of the MBAP FB group.

Quote from the end of season evaluation “ Muddy Boots is a huge ray of sunshine in our lives. We look forward to every session. There is so much to learn, so much to share and a lovely sence of community and sharing. I don’t know what we would do without this group”

but will these friendships and networks endure once the group ends? How can I help with that?
To keep the education space of the community allotment looking good. (I designed this space for my PDC design project in 2012) Not really There was not time factored into the sessions for general site maintainance. We did however add some lovely features like the pizza pots, tin can flowerpot and sunflowers. I had to spend extra time at the allotment to keep it looking ok and the com allot people mowed the grass etc. Positive aspect of using the com allot- is there are lots of other people to help with site upkeep. Negative aspect is I don;t feel ownership over the space.
To be a learning opportunity for myself, possibly leading onto an income generation project in future years Yes and maybe It has been a great learning opportunity and running it alongside a P design project has really helped. Yes there is a possibility of generating income from this in future years. Needs lots more thought and planning.
To be a community run group that uses and values the individual skills of the participants Yes I think this key function was met very well. I had lots of help for the more mundane jobs like setting up/ packing up/ tea duty but also six people ran sessions. There skills like music, art, baby signing and guitar playing were used and appreciated. How do I keep this community feeling while exploring the income generation potential?
For families to enjoy playing and learning together outdoors Yes Lots of positive comments along these lines in the feedback and evaluation activities.

 

A further form of feedback I have received is the post-it-note comments I gathered from the other participants on the PDC when I gave my 5 minute presentation about my design for Muddy Boots. IMG_4969

And finally I just want to share my sheet for keeping a record of who is leading each session and the topics covered. This tiny bit of design worked really well, giving flexibility in the planning and in encouraging people to sign up for jobs where they saw gaps. The sheet was A1 size and displayed on the shed during each session. IMG_4992

 

Twelve Principles for twelve months – November- Creatively use and respond to change

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How do you interpret this image? Is it the sun? Or a flower? Or something else?

Our individual perceptions can change how we view the world and shape our choices.

The Principle I am looking at during November is ‘Creatively use and respond to change’ So I will be looking at changes that have occurred or that need to occur in my life and considering how to interpret and respond to them.

1. I will be reflecting on my garden design for 2014 and planning in changes to make the design more effective for 2015.

2. I will be looking at my daily routine and rhythms and considering changes to make as we enter the darker part of the year.

3. I will be looking at positive changes to my health, diet and exercise and working on my health and nutrition design.

4. All three of my children seem to be entering new phases of development currently, so I will be researching, reading up and considering ways of helping them to cope better with their changes. I hope to limit the frustration that the kids are all feeling currently for their own unique reasons.

By the way, the image I asked you to consider at the start of this post is of the bottom of a pumpkin, it really looks like the sun to me, isn’t nature amazing and beautiful!