Spring Equinox

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One of my aims for this year is to learn more about the special days of the year following the Pagan calendar. I have always been interested in the changing of the seasons and the solstice, but I want to learn more. I plan to post on each special day this year with a reflection on what is happening in my garden and what I am up to.

Today is March 20th, Spring Equinox, the point in the year when hours of darkness and light are balanced. The midpoint between the longest day (summer solstice) and shortest day (winter solstice) This year the Spring Equinox co-insides with two other special celestial events, a supermoon and a solar eclipse.

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Noticing more bird-song everywhere

Feeling over-whelmed by my to-do list but grateful to have such interesting things to do!

Wishing there were more hours in the day

Eating the first wild garlic shoots as they appear

Wondering when I will get around to planting seeds this spring

Wearing thermal leggings, thermal t-shirts and thermal socks

Watching Orange is the new black (again)

Listening To my neighbour’s music, son’s DVD, my kids rowing and wishing for silence

Drinking Not enough water and too many cups of tea

Planning My Outdoor playgroup activities

IMG_5815Yellow flowers on the Forsythia. Primroses and Daffodils are opening to splashes yellow around my garden too.

IMG_5829  The ornamental cherry tree is speckled with pink today. A few brave buds have opened their baby pink flowers and the rest are sure to follow suit as soon as we get a bit of sunshine. I cut some branches from this tree a week ago and brought them inside to hurry spring along a little. They opened within days and brightened up my kitchen just in time for mother’s day.

IMG_5823The first wild spring greens are appearing, nettles and wild garlic pop up around the margins of my garden. I love to eat both of these plants, yesterday I nibbled on a few garlic shoots straight from the earth, delicious, strong and a real sign that spring has arrived.

IMG_5822I have finally finished the new chicken run and the chucks are happy with their new spaces. I can now clear the paths and begin planting. I went mad with pruning last weekend and tidied up ready for spring. I love this time of year so much.

 

 

Imbolc

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One of my aims for this year is to learn more about the special days of the year following the pagan calendar. I have always been interested in the changing of the seasons and the solstices, but I want to learn more. I plan to post on each special day this year with a reflection on what is happening in my garden and what I am up to. This is an extension of last years project, looking at changes in my garden each month.

Today is February 2nd – Imbolc. Today marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The days are visibly lengthening now and if you look very carefully, signs of spring are starting to appear. Bulbs are pushing their shoots up towards the light and tiny buds are beginning to unfurl. It is often the coldest part of the year, we had a scattering of snow a few days ago on my birthday. I am running in the mornings with the sunrise which is always beautiful and there is time now for the kids to have a brief play in the garden after school. I have lit a candle tonight and plan to enjoy this quiet part of the year planning my activity during the warmer months ahead.

IMG_5507The view down my garden today.

Noticing the buds on the clematis opening a little more each day.

Feeling cosy sat by the log burner

Wishing for more nights of unbroken sleep

Eating vegan ‘cream of tomato’ soup with chickpeas croutons

Wondering whether to stay home or go to the farmer’s market tomorrow

Wearing always two pairs of socks

Watching River Cottage Australia and loving the beautiful coastal small holding

Listening to a woodpecker in the woods near my house

Drinking red wine again after a dry January

Planning our trip to Norfolk in a couple of weeks time.

IMG_5544Bay leaves growing well on my patio

IMG_5543 The branches of the ornamental plum-tree are looking fuzzy. This is always the first tree to have blossom in my garden. When it starts to look like this I love to cut a few branches and put them in a vase inside where the heat of the house makes the flowers open.

IMG_5541 Buds on the plum-tree and the setting sun behind

IMG_5537 Clematis and a beautiful lichen covered support

IMG_5532 The sun dropping behind a house

IMG_5513 Honeysuckle

IMG_5508 Day lilies

IMG_5552Tonight’s dinner is a new recipe kfrom the ‘Oh she glows’ cookbook. I chose this for today to fit in with Imbolc as it is the colour and shape of the sun!

My garden design – Tweaks

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I have started this post with an image of a sunflower head as I think it fits well with my current activity of bringing all my ideas together in a harmonious way and looking to nature for inspiration.

To approach the ‘Tweak’ stage of my garden design, I revisited OBREDIMET.

Observations – I looked back at my notes for 2014. I walked around the garden and checked what needed immediate attention. I looked back over the monthly photographs I had taken of my garden.  See post here. I used my in-depth knowledge of my garden, its eco-systems and microclimates built up over the seven years I have lived here.  I looked back at my records of what I harvested from the garden and graded each crop and garden feature to access the effectiveness of my design. See more about this on this post

Boundaries– I looked at what did not work last year and needed changing. I looked at my available time, energy, assistance, resources and money to make changes. I considered the changing needs of my family, how they use the garden and what they like to eat.

Resources– I again looked at my blog posts planning the garden and read over my notes from last year. I looked at the flip-side boundaries and focussed on the positives of time, energy, assistance, resources and money I had available to devote to the design. I looked at the seeds I had left over from previous years. I looked at the garden vouchers I was given for Christmas. I looked at what I could propagate from existing plants in my garden.

 

Evaluation – I brought all of the above together and considered what my priorities were. I set myself aims for my garden in 2015. These are detailed at the bottom of this post.

Design – I looked back at my original design and created an overlay. I used a temporary pen to play around with fitting crops into spaces on the plan, using the tool ‘planning for real’ When I was happy with these I wrote them in with permanent pen. I used the Permaculture principles of ‘Least change for greatest effect’ ‘Creatively use and respond to change’ ‘ Apply self-regulation and accept feedback’ and ‘Observe and interact’

Implement – I will create an implementation plan over the next few weeks

Maintain – I will create a maintenance plan.

Evaluation – I will keep notes on the effectiveness of the design like I did during 2014 in order to evaluate it against my aims at the end of the growing season.

Tweak – I will tweak the garden again next year and continue this cycle year after year.

IMG_5497The original design

IMG_5495 The tweaked overlay

The overlay shows new planting plans for the annual vegetable beds and more focus put onto Forest garden areas. I looked back to my notes about which crops were best for the needs of my family and the environment of my garden. I have excluded lots of crops that don’t do well in my garden and plan to focus on a more limited range of crops this year. I have chosen crops we like to eat a lot of and those that taste better fresh from the garden. I also plan to use varieties that are not easily to purchase in the shops. I also plan to develop the forest garden areas.

IMG_5496This image shows the original design and overlay combined to show how the new and old designs work together.

 

Aims for my garden design during 2015

1. To develop the forest garden areas. I plan to re-read my books on Forest gardening and plan these areas carefully to be as self-sustaining as possible.

2. To focus more on perennial crops I have a lot of demands on my time this coming year which will take me away from the garden, so one aim for this year is to plant less annuals and focus more on perennials that will need less input from me to do well.

3. To ensure the chickens are safe and well cared for. To develop a new enclosed run area using the space behind the greenhouse that is currently neglected. A fox has moved into the area and took two of my chickens recently, so I am being far more wary about allowing them to free-range.

4. To experiment with new varieties of crops that I know do well in my garden.

5. To grow more edible flowers and salad crops.

6. To maintain and develop the good work I have started in the garden, especially with composting, mulching and water capture.

 

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The Lost Gardens of Heligan Cornwall

We had a fantastic day at The Lost gardens of Heligan. I had read a couple of books about these gardens. They were abandoned for many years and became overgrown and like a jungle! It must have been so exciting for the garden restorers to hack their way into the undergrowth and rediscover old paths, fallen down greenhouses and wonderful planting. The gentle Cornish climate and the unique aspect of the site makes it suitable for semi-tropical plants, so it really feels like another world. I was very impressed with the outdoor education facilities. We spend a fun few hours constructing elaborate dens out of ropes, branches and tarpaulins. So much fun, especially when it briefly rained and we took shelter in our dens to eat lunch. The kids will always remember that adventurous pack up! The walled productive gardens were something special. Every fruit, vegetable and herb imaginable planted out in the longest rows I have ever seen. It looked beautiful.

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There was lots of plants, flowers and sculptures. You got a map and compass at the beginning to help you find treasure. There was also a vegetable garden that grew lots of vegetables in long long rows. My mummy loved it there. There were two sculptures and one of them was a face and another was a person lying down and they both looked really weird! They were made out of stone, plants and rocks. I quite liked the look of them.    Miss E age 8 

We build an amazing den and ate our packed lunch in it while it was raining. We walked over a high up bridge. It was high and a bit scary.                                                        Miss C age 4 

I spilt a whole bottle of water over myself in the vegetable garden so we had to go home  Master S age 1

 

The Eden Project Cornwall

We camped close to The Eden Project for our summer holiday in August. We loved it there so much that we visited twice in ten days. It was lovely seeing so many people exploring ideas about sustainability and gardening. However the site does tend to get very busy, so a good tip is to arrive just as the doors are opening at 9.30am. Not too difficult a task when you are living in a field with children who wake up at the crack of dawn! We had been before about ten years ago soon after it opened, so it was great to go back and see how much the plants had established and the site had expanded. We had a buy one get one free ticket from Gardener’s World magazine, which made it a very good value family day out. Highly recommended.

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The Eden project was really fun, but Coco was scared of the dinosaur. I thought the dinosaur was lovely, it had a baby one that walked around on someones hand everywhere as well. There was a bare-foot walk that I liked. I found a big fat caterpillar on our walk. Miss E aged 8

I didn’t like the dinosaur, he was scary, I did have a dream about him once.                     Miss C age 4

 

My garden in April

IMG_1040Apple blossom about to open

Harvesting

In my last post I wrote about the first ‘garden salad’ of the year. We should now have enough leafy salad crops to eat a salad out of the garden a few times per week. I will keep on sowing seeds throughout the year to try to keep a steady succession of salads on the go. I am slightly obsessed with greens at the moment and seem to crave fresh leafy greens on a daily basis. My other obsession is chocolate, shame I can’t grow coco beans too!

Planting

I am enjoying planning my garden flower boarders and filling in the gaps between the herbaceous perennials with plants or sowing seeds. The edible garden is slowly taking shape, with lots of plants started off in the greenhouse or conservatory window ledges.

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Thinking

I am in love with my garden. I think about it a lot and would rather hang out in it than go anywhere else most days. At this time of year, anything seems possible in the garden, I am full of plans and ideas. I am enjoying that these plans have moved away from compost, structures and paths now, towards actual exciting, beautiful, fabulous plants!

Feeling

We are all really enjoying spending days outside. Baby S is loving the freedom to romp around in the garden. I keep on finding him trying to break into the neighbour’s garden to go down their slide. He also has figured out how to climb up to the trampoline and even attempts the tree-house ladder! (He is only 13 months old) So I am feeling glad for him that this exciting new world has opened up and happy that he is a confident, exploring type of boy. But on the other hand, I am constantly worried about him hurting himself and I have to try to watch him a lot of the time. This rather restricts my gardening ambitions at the moment! But who could resist this cute little chap? IMG_1359

IMG_1335 IMG_1339 IMG_1343 IMG_1346IMG_1351Tiny plums developing behind the blossom. IMG_1349Self set bluebells. These ones are inside my compost heap. I will relocate them once they have finiahed flowering.  IMG_1002Chalk drawing by my eldest daughter.

Weather stats

Thursday 17th April 2014

Cloudy but mild day with some light rain expected later.

High 13, Low 5

Sunrise 06.03 Sunset 20.06 IMG_1361IMG_1393Newest chickens, Tulip and Eggy, they were Mother’s day presents from my lovely children

Plant love – Magnolia

In my Mum’s front garden there is a beautiful old magnolia tree. I spent many hours of my childhood climbing up it, swinging from its limbs and picking the flower petals to make perfume. It is blooming today and looks fabulous. I feel that magnolia trees have a fatal flaw, they flower just a little bit too early. They’re often caught by late frosts, making the petals turn brown and fall off. My fingers are crossed that the weather this year stays mild and we get to enjoy the annual spectacle of these trees in full bloom for a little while longer.

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My garden in March

Today is 20th March, the Vernal equinox, first day of spring! I usually post my garden update on or around the full moon, but this month I thought it would be nice to coincide with the equinox. IMG_0923

Harvesting The garden is pretty bare of things to eat still, but the promise of spring crops is keeping me going! There are a few leeks hanging on still as well as my trusty herbs in pots near the house. The wild garlic has just started peeping through this week, so i am looking forward to a first taste of that very soon. The chickens are laying brilliantly, 6 or 7 eggs each day from 10 hens. We are giving away or trading lots of eggs, even our kids can’t eat as many as the chucks are producing! We have a broody hen at the moment, so we are wondering about maybe buying some fertile egg and raising chicks again. That is always fun and a fascinating process for the kids to be involved in.

Planting I have been keeping a record in a diary of what I am planting. So I will start sharing photos of the diary here rather than writing all the details out twice.  IMG_7898 IMG_7900

Thinking I thought at least one of my garden posts during the winter would show a beautiful snowy garden. But here we are on the first day of spring and not a snowflake has fallen. I don’t remember a winter without any snow for a long time. It has been a very mild winter, but oh the rain! So much rain and so much mud in the garden. Things are finally beginning to dry out and we are using the garden a lot more again. I have been busy with my garden design, writing up the process and planning planting for the seasons ahead. I am starting to plant seeds now which is always an exciting time. I find April and May seem to dash away from me with the busy days of spring. Before we know it summer will be just around the corner.

Feeling Looking out of my kitchen window today, I can see four different types of blossom. The flowers make a beautifully clashing show that only lasts a few weeks at most, but I love it. It lifts my spirits every year and gets me excited about the coming year. I am feeling positive about the progress I have been making with my Permaculture diploma. I am feeling pleased that I decided to focus on my home garden for my first design and am looking forward to seeing how productive and sustainable the systems are.

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Weather stats Thursday 20th March 2014

Dry and mild day with blustery wind and rain forecast for this afternoon

Max temp 13 Min temp 3

Sunrise 06.08 Sunset 18.17

My garden design – Design process part four Design proposal

This post will share the design proposal for my garden design. The design aims to improve the food production areas in my garden and focuses on five key functions. As detailed in a previous post, they are; food production, attracting beneficial insects, water capture and sustainable usage, soil improvement and places to sit and enjoy the garden.

Food production – A lot of time has been spent on planning and developing new productive food growing spaces in the garden. I have added fruit trees and perennial crops to many of the beds. This aims to increase yields over the coming years with the minimal work possible. I have considered placements of annual crops for this summer, looking at companion planting and guilds of plants. I have added buckets and pots of food crops, placed near to the house to get lots of attention for watering and weeding and to make the most of the south-facing suntrap. I have considered what food we want to eat and planted accordingly. I have planned a polytunnel to grow more tender crops and to increase the season in which I can grow food.

Attracting beneficial insects – Flowers and herbs are interplanted throughout the garden. I have included lots of multi-use plants that are good for insects, are good companion plants, have medicinal properties, are edible and are attractive. I have included lots of self-seeding plants and will let them increase naturally in my garden over the years. I have ponds, wild areas and a diversity of planting, hoping to create a balanced and natural environment that is welcoming to insect life.

Water capture and storage – I have added water capture systems on the tool shed and the chicken shed. The chicken shed water tank will overflow to keep the pond topped up and provide water for a drip feed irrigation system into one of the vegetable beds. I have added a second tank to store water collected off the conservatory roof. I have fixed the guttering and added a water-butt to the greenhouse. I have planned a second pond to the south of the greenhouse to reflect light and heat into it.

Soil improvement – I have created a sectional chicken run that can be formed in many arrangements, fitting behind the chicken shed or over the raised beds. This will be used for chicken tractoring on a small-scale. This can also be used in the wilder areas of my garden in the future to bring more of the garden into productive use. I have been mulching the beds with chicken bedding and manure. I am experimenting with sheet mulching. I am composting all household food scraps and garden waste. I am adopting a no-dig approach in the garden. I am using green manures to retain cover on all available soils.

Places to sit and enjoy the garden. – I have plans to move the table and chairs onto the lawn, possibly onto a hard-surface eventually. This position will make the most of the evening sun in my garden. I would like to get hold of a second table and chairs for the terrace for morning coffee. We have some seating made out of chainsaw carved timber under the apple tree around a fire pit. I intend to tidy up this area and enjoy sitting here during the warmer months. The edges of the raised beds make good places to perch and watch the chickens or observe the changes occurring in the garden.

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The design – The full garden design is on the image on the left hand side of the paper. Changes made as a result of carrying out the design process are shown in red. The main food production area is shown at an increased scale on the right.

 

 

My garden design – Design process part three.

The write up for my garden design now enters the ‘Design’ stage. This post will cover; Ethics and Principles, web of connections, placements and pattern, companion planting and guilds.

Ethics IMG_0903I have considered where my design fulfilled Permaculture ethics. I drew this out in the form of the three ethics circles. I also considered where garden elements touched on two of the ethics simultaneously and included this in the overlap areas.

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The diagram above shows how my design fulfils Permaculture principles. Some principles were focussed on more than others, but I have considered each principle at least briefly during the design process.

Web of connections

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All of the garden elements are linked with at least a few of the others. The web of connections represents this visually. I can instantly see that water capture, perennial vegetables, chickens and the greenhouse have many connections. So this was considered during the placement stage.

Placements and pattern.  I talked about placement of man-made elements such as paths, chicken run, water catchment and table and chairs in my previous post. I  used Random assembly to consider placements and connections. This is also detailed in a previous post. For natural elements, in particular the planting, I looked at the Permaculture Principle ‘Design from pattern to detail’ to help me consider how to place the elements required in my garden. I drew out the current planting and marked where the spaces were for new or additional planting.

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I then chose to focus on the mid section of the garden as this was the most intensive food production zone. This includes the 7 raised beds, 2 key hole beds, greenhouse and chickens. I drew out this section of the garden at a larger scale.

IMG_0908IMG_0906The overlay shows this section of the garden and the pattern of the beds labelled in their most simple terms, ie, the pattern,  annual veg, kids bed, chickens etc.

IMG_0907This overlay adds detail, with existing planting marked in and details of mulching done over the winter.

IMG_0905Even more detail can be seen when the two overlays are viewed together. Gaps for planting are easily seen alongside the broad plan for what type of planting I have in mind.

Placement of plants. I used the design tool, Planning for real to decide where to plant my crops. This is a great way of trying out various combinations and moving them around until you find a layout you are happy with. The plants were written onto post-it notes and shuffled around on the maps and overlays. The photo below shows the process

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Companion planting and Guilds. I created a Web of connections to help me to think about companion planting. I wrote crops that I wanted to grow around the edge of a sheet of paper, then drew lines to connect plants that grow well together. I found this a very useful tool to depict visually a lot of information in a simple way. I’d like to do this again for a future project, adding more plants and connections. I could also include information on plants to keep apart (maybe by colour-coding the connection lines?) IMG_0913

IMG_0915 I noted ideas for good companion planting schemes for crops I wanted to grow.

IMG_0914I thought about guilds, specifically for around the young fruit trees. I intend to replicate elements of this guild around each young fruit tree in my garden. The left hand page of my sketch book above shows the guild plants and their purposes. The right hand page shows some initial ideas for the new keyhole beds.

My next post will share my design proposal.