Archive for the ‘Low Maintenance’ Category

Thank you viewers from the Czech republic! Viewing my blog statistics recently has shown that viewers from your country have suddenly come up to be high up in the top 4 mostly viewed by country, I’m not sure why but I am grateful and hopeful that people in the Czech Republic are shifting consciousness and going back to nature and the land…

To say Thanks, here is a video of sustainable and nature friendly organic farming and farmland regeneration with Permaculturist / Farmer Petr Marada.

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Audio in Czech and sub-titles in English, Enjoy!

 

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The concept of Hugelkultur (Hugel Mound Growing) can basically be described as a self-composting bed or planting area (in the case of this article, in large pots). The gardener digs a shallow trench or pit and places logs, branches, sticks, twigs, brown leaves, nitrogen rich greens and or fresh manure, then tops these materials with the dug out earth and finally a decent layer of compost.

A good Hugel with large thick logs can be self-composting for anything up to 10 years. Read previous articles on traditional Hugels here Article 1 and Article 2.

Just the other day I realised that I can re-create the Hugel system but in large plastic planter pots, this will give you the benefit of Hugelkulturs without having to strain your back doing loads of digging!

Anyone taking on an uncultivated or fallow piece of land such as a disused Allotment Plot can always Sheet / Lasagna mulch a section, cover the result with thick impermeable black plastic sheet to kill off the perennial weeds and simply place Hugel Pots on top to ensure the land is still productive. Once you need to remove the sheet after a year and start using the ground space for planting, you can simply knock over the pots and empty the goodness to build up the humus / top layer!

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Hugelkultur Mound in Planter Pots

The general rule in terms of what can be grown on the Hugel Mound in year 1, are shallow rooted crops / plants such as various lettuces. Thereafter you can grow plants that require more nutrients and moisture and then finally on year 3  you can pretty much grow anything from Tomatoes to Pumpkins.

In the terms of the Hugel in a large pot, you can start the bottom layer either with composted or semi-composted wood chips (skip them and use soil if you have Slug / Snail problems), place a decent layer of soil (especially soil you wish to amend) on top of the latter with the Branch, Sticks, Twigs and cardboard / leaves as the carbon layer.

Follow on top with vegetables, fruit scraps, cut grass or fresh manure and then go on to adding the thick layer of soil / compost for growing in

(refer to image for general idea on layers, there are no specific rules but rather guidelines to follow) such as:

  1. Wood and wood chip need Nitrogen to break down, the plants you intend to grow need nitrogen too, the wood will suck this out of the soil and this is why we add manure or nitrogen rich fresh greens like veggie scraps and grass clippings / garden prunings, therefore, try to add as much green / manure / nitrogen rich material the more wood you have – greens decompose much quicker so stuff a lot in there.
  2. Compose the larger wood at the bottom and build up with smaller pieces until you reach brown leaves and cardboard this should ensure nice air spaces between are protected from being filled in by settling materials, these air spaces are important to ensure that the process does not become anaerobic – you could even start the logs on top of a 3-5cm thick layer of fresh grass clippings although this is not imperative.
  3. Intending on using this pot every year for the same purpose and do not intend on emptying it for a few years? then this is the time that you can use much thicker logs and branches in the bottom, if you want to empty the contents regularly (every 1 – 2 seasons) then it would be more beneficial to use thinner branches and sticks instead.
  4. Shallow rooted crops are mostly recommended in the first year however, you could easily use root crops such as carrots and parsnips provided you have a deeper layer of top soil / compost, remember that carrots and parsnips need nicely sieved compost / soil to prevent roots from ”forking”

I have written some previous posts about growing Shiitake mushrooms on logs and this year I am making it a personal goal / mission to get more than one species of mushroom as well as more than one type of wood species. I realised that the best approach is to have a few options and different wood types so that you get fruit harvest in different stages as well as the possibility of quicker colonisation.

Below is a wood type to mushroom species reference chart so you can decide what to grow depending on available wood type.

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As you can see, Oak is the preferred log due to the amount of species that it can be inoculated with however, here in the UK Oak are a preferred species and are often protected with TPO’s (Tree Protection Orders) mainly due to their benefit to wildlife and as habitat. Another consideration is also what ‘Plug Spawn’ you can get your hands on, it’s all nice to see what can be grown using the above chart but you may not be able to locate a seller who has all of these varieties and you may even have to purchase from a number of different suppliers.

 

Growing Mushrooms on Logs – In A Nutshell

As short as possible, you get hold of recently cut / felled logs (tree surgeons are the obvious choice to contact as they are happy to get rid of logs for free – they usually have to pay to dump woodchip). Try find out how long it has been since the logs were felled, try to have your spawn arrive or be available for use no longer than 5-6 seeks after they were cut. (Mushroom Dowels or Spores can be stored in the fridge for a period of time depending on your appliance temperatures etc, generally most suppliers recommend no more than 2 weeks)

You drill holes in a diamond formation around your logs and hammer in pre-inoculated sterilised wooden dowels into these holes and seal with how wax (there are special waxes for this). The best method for keeping logs moist came to me from one of Sepp Holzers’ books (either ‘Holzer’s Permaculture’ or ‘Desert or Paradise’) – you merely pay attention to where the top of the wood is and what was / is the bottom, so before chopping make markings pointing up representing the top. You will plant the inoculated logs into the soil (up end up) to a certain depth and the log itself should naturally draw up moisture from the soil, otherwise if you forget for a short time to moisten the logs, you could kill the mycelium inside the log and everything would be a waste of time and effort.

More detailed information on the process will always be provided by the Dowel / Spore supplier, all you will need is a drill, hammer, place to wash the logs, place to do the drilling / innoculation and something to melt wax in and a brush, (some paintbrush bristles are actually made from plastic and will likely melt in the hot wax, get real horse hair brushes).

Within 1 year to 18 months, you should have full colonisation and the starting of regular fruiting, depending on log size, you could get fruit from each log for up to 8 or so years!!

The time to cut logs is before Spring so right now would not be the best time but if the logs are already cut (by a tree surgeon for instance) then you may as well use them (it’s best to avoid cutting trees in Spring due to the rising sap which causes excessive bleeding on Trees and Shrubs).

 

Strawberries do need some frost protection during Winter and the harsh weather sometimes felt in Late Autumn and Early Spring, the mulch will gradually break down so an Acid producing material is needed due to Strawberry plant requirements.

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Pine Tree needles are great for Strawberries in that they are acidic, and take a longer than broad leaf acid leaves to decompose, one much needed benefit from the mulch is also for it to ”puff” around the plant maintaining a stronger structure which keeps the frost and snow off of the crown. Another benefit is keeping the actual berries off of the ground when they are growing / forming.

Some pine trees produce short needles which are 2.5 Inches / 5cm long which are perfect yet a little harder to rake up and collect sometimes (they are able to pierce through the gaps in your garden gloves and prick your skin, it doesn’t hurt but can be quite annoying).

The rest are much longer at about 12 inches / 30cm, these are much easier to rake and collect but they will need cutting into smaller pieces to fit around the crown and base of each plant – this is easily do-able with secateurs or even scissors.
These shorter pieces will be the base cover which will also be the first to rot due to the direct ground contact, the further topping layers can be longer pieces if you have the patience to work them around the plants nicely … Or just collect branches of Yew (Taxus baccata) and other similar coniferous trees, let sit in a dry area and merely bash the branches over a tarp once the needles are brown and dry.

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Pine Needle Mulched Strawberries

You should also Collect Oak tree leaves and leave them in a bag with some other composting materials for a couple months (longer in colder months) such as some grass clippings, brown cardboard and other fresh leaf clippings – will create an acidic compost which can be used as a feeding mulch before applying the pine needles (ensure the bag gets sunshine and shade, with holes poked in the bottom so worms can enter).

 

Many people use straw but forget to ensure an acidic (PH) environment, if straw is your preferred choice, then follow the step above with Oak tree leaves, then simply mulch with the leaf mold before adding the straw as a top layer, used tea bags (cut open and leaves poured out) either in your acidic compost pile / bag or directly around the plants will help too.

The Mulching options above are also useful for Blueberries and Cranberry. I highly recommend creating a acidic soil raised bed in which you could plant 2- 5 Blueberry Bushes, 4 – 6 Cranberries and the rest of the space covered with Strawberries as a general ground cover / living mulch. This bed would need a re-application every year of some kind of acidic organic matter as in the above paragraphs, other than that, the only maintenance is harvesting and perhaps some bird netting / slug & Snail control methods

I have been meaning for ages to post some photo’s from the last season, with the recent chilly weather, this couldn’t have come at a better time to post!

Thing’s that I have been up to regarding preperations for the upcoming season both in the garden as well as on the allotment include Fruit tree grafting (attaching other varieties of Apple for example onto an existing tree making the tree dual / tri fruiting). Digging and maintaining Bean trenches (I will be sure to create a post on this in the future), planting loads of Garlic, Developing Two (2) yes, T W O new Hugelkultur (Hugel Mounds) that are reasonably sized and now I can say that I have good experience with Hugel Beds after creating four over the last 3 or so years.

This last summer wealded a big increase in dry bean production, I like to grow runner beans both for fresh pods but also for the dry beans, some people may say that this is impossible in the UK climate, I say don’t listen to them! It is possible with certain varieties …

The harvest photo is of the best single harvest I had during the whole summer, unfortunately I got Tomato blight so my ‘Purple Ukraine’ variety suffered before they were ready to harvest 😦

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All Organic Permaculture Allotment Harvest 2017

I also, at some point during the hectic busy summer I had, managed to go around counting the amount of Perennials I have on site. Including tubers which re-sprout if you leave one in the planting space, I counted 22 species and this excludes the fruit bushes I have waiting planting! The compost bins have had a good part of my attention as I would really like to completely become self sufficient in terms of compost either by Summer this year or next Spring, this has included turning regularly and continual adding of some fresh greens to keep the worms fed, a compost bin can do with additional insulation this time of year and I highly recommend a black bin liner placed over the opening before putting the lid back on, this seals the heat in.

Finally,a large section that was overgrown with bind weed was lasagne / sheet mulched in preperation for a dedicated berry / fruit area.

I will (hopefully weekly) be posting part by part, all of the episodes of Living With The Land which is a series shot by the good people involved with the Permaculture scene (mainly Permaculture Media) in the UK.

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Just one example of how inside / part of a Forest Garden looks like

In this episode they discuss the concept behind Forest Gardening and how it is done, it includes some interview time with Martin Crawford who is known famously in the UK scene as he owns and has been maintaining a 20+ year old forest garden.

 

Follow my blog for updates when I post the following videos in the series, for the imaptient, you can view the series on their youtube channel from the above video.

If you are in the Northern Hemisphere then some of you may still either be waiting for Dandelions to flower or may be seeing the last flowers become seed heads, for those lucky enough, you still have time to collect the flowers for the following Recipes.

dandelions

Once you start to see the flowers appearing, a good rule-of-thumb is to keep in mind that on average, you only have a 3 week window to pick and use for your recipes, so that means multiple trips if you want to follow more than one recipe.

This was the first time I have used Dandelion for culinary purposes and started first with the Jam Recipe:

What’s Needed:

  1. A grocery store shopping bag Half Full of Dandelion flowers,
  2. 3 x cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped,
  3. 3x squeezed lemons,
  4. 600ml boiling water,
  5. 725gm jam sugar.

Method:

  1. Put the Chopped apples and around 3/4ths of the flower heads into a pan with the hot water and simmer for 10 minutes,
  2. After 10 minutes, strain the remaining results through a sieve or similar and push as much pulp through as possible using a spoon,
  3. Add the strained liquid back into your pan together with the lemon juice and sugar,
  4. Dissolve the sugar by cooking on low heat and stirring regularly, add the rest of the dandelion heads (petals only, cut off the green parts with scissors),
  5. Boil on high heat until you reach the setting point (Click here to find out how to find your setting point in jam making),
  6. Ladle into your prepared jars, this recipe made me 3 standard honey jars and 2 smaller speciality hex jars I bought online.

I really, really like the end product! This jam is delish and makes the harvesting well worth it in my opinion, this is a plant that should not be killed off and considered a weed, every part of this plant is edible and it is a perennial!
– Jeff Permie

In the coming days, I will post a Dandelion Wine Recipe, I am currently fermenting my first ever batch of this wine and so cannot give you full information right through to the taste of the end product, I am halfway through the fermenting period and will be bottling the product up in another two weeks. I feel like sharing this recipe because of the fact that some readers may still be able to harvest the flower heads, this is a proven and common recipe and I feel that it will definitely be worth it …