Sunday, 23 March 2014

Antics and juggling

Its been busy and I haven't had the chance to write an update until now. Spring has arrived and nothing moves so quickly. Seedlings emerge daily,  demanding attention, their leaves unfurling in that unmistakeable iridescent green. Perennials bulk out quickly sending their crowns bursting through the soil, and tasks build up, seemingly unending in their numbers. It's exciting, but it can feel daunting and rushed if we are not careful. It is always worth sitting back, making lists, watching and observing at this time of year - we can go from a beautiful Summery day to hard frosts very quickly and its important not to get caught out in our haste to get things done.

It is invaluable to have protected spaces right now - greenhouses, polytunnels and windowsills allow us to get ahead. Cold frames enable us to harden the more tender species off before they are planted in final positions outside. We can end up in a state of flux during these 'in between' weeks, moving plants in and out as temperatures fluctuate - shading and un shading, protecting from the sun and heat one minute before protecting from the cold the next.

These jobs are worth gauging and noting. Many annuals, both edible and ornamental are labour hungry - the demanding prima donnas of the plant world. We want tomatoes, Aubergines, Melons and Cucumbers, but they demand our time and this should be evaluated. Last year, all this effort produced poor results from the Melon and Aubergine crops mainly because of the late arrival of Spring. Despite a lovely, hot Summer, a long season is needed for fruition and we didn't get one, so even with all the planning in the world we can still get unstuck. A season lost due to factors beyond our control.

Asparagus crowns waiting to be buried
Perennial crops, on the other hand, can get on with it to a certain extent. Berries and fruit will generally crop with little more than a bit of pruning and feeding, Asparagus and Rhubarb simply demanding a mulch and good soil. When we look at  Globe Artichokes, not only do we have delicious, high value food, but we have a handsome plant. In fact if we want high value crops - perennials seem to be the thing.
One rule worth considering is don't take too much in the first couple of seasons, allow the plant to concentrate on growing, not just fruiting - don't expect the world from a young plant, and it will repay you when mature for years to come. These are the 'can do' crops, your dependable mate - unfussy and tough - because they have a stored energy that mature plants possess, power in their bulk. They do not need us to till the earth either - allowing the soil and the life within it to get on with what it does best - live undisturbed and reward the species within it with it's complex web of exchanges, competition and cooperation. We can see a higher resilience in these crops - certainly worth noting when resilience seems to be a highly valued trait in this increasingly uncertain climate. When we design in permaculture we should always be aiming for a system that minimises inputs and maximises outputs, and that leads us to incorporate perennial systems when it is possible. That said - I will certainly still be growing plenty of annuals. What can I say? I like the fuss.

A pregnant Michelle amongst the chaos!
As the rain died away - and Spring began to poke her head around the door, other jobs rose up the to - do list. In order to take full advantage of the season, the shack needs to be built at Chataeu Furmston, it is not merely a storage space, more a multi functional element key to the permaculture design that is my back garden with bike space. The roof will be a water harvesting zone, the walls built in such a way as to maximise solar aspect, part of the building will house more tender plants, and it will be the final retreat for a heavily outnumbered male (1 wife, 2 little girls and 2 girl lodgers at last count, with no guarantee of any redress from baby number 3). The plan is to incorporate a watering system operating under gravity using raised tanks and irrigation pipes,      and as I learn, no doubt other systems will be put in place.

When this is done, I can begin to grow in a far more effective fashion. Much of the garden sees little sun right now, and space is an issue, so vertical growing in the right areas is paramount. Catch and store energy - a permaculture principle - we will utilise that solar energy for food production and basking in the sun amongst other things. With snatched hours through the last couple of weekends, the framing is happening and we have walls. Working in a confined space means shifting materials around constantly, but that's probably my fault for insisting on using as much recycled and found bits of timber as I can - there's a lot of crap in there. Its fun, but it does complicate things. As it happens I've had to buy some posts and 4 by 2 to frame out the building, but so far, pallets seem to be working as the 'building bricks' for the walls. They are not always square, they differ in size and pulling them apart can be a right pain in the arse, but they are free, sturdy and possess a void between the front and back- enabling me to insulate if I feel the need, and certainly giving protection to the inner wall. I'm loving putting the shack together and though I'm working towards an overall plan, its certainly an incremental design, built so we can change and maintain the structure easily. I like the thought that the shape could change or the functionality could be tweaked, and its how I naturally think - nothing is ever finished, just adapted and cyclical.

So this shack is in part another support system for the use of annual cropping. Granted it will carry out a lot of other functions, but it is a support structure for tomatoes, salad leaves and beans. Without this structure results would certainly be patchy.

The beauty of this time of year is the movement, the flow that begins, with or without you. And though its definitely a beginning, with the use of perennial systems, it is also the end of hibernation and rest - the sun waking our elements from slumber. When a garden under my stewardship really begins to work, it is usually when the perennials have found their feet, and the successes have succeeded and the failures have failed. Nature edits as much as I do, and it is right to allow her to do so as to fight nature borders on insanity, and definitely leads to it. Allow the flow and incorporate elements that utilise natural rhythms, you'll have an easier time of it.

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