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So now I had a load of pallets in the garden, I could build the compost bin, except that the space for the compost bin had vanished.
I’d cleared a way through this thicket in summer and even excavated a compost bin sized shelf in the depths. With my usual brilliance I did this just before going to Japan for five weeks of prime bramble growing season.
By the time I got back, it was Brambles: 1, Guy with sycthe: 0
So last week the war on brambles was resumed with a vengeance. Now we have a way to the compost bin site, and after some digging about in the depths of the jungle, I even found some paving slabs to make it marginally less treacherous and discourage the brambles a bit.
At some point when I’ve finished the first compost bin, and I’ve got the vegetable beds prepared for next year, and built the privvy, I’ll make the ground under the slabs flat so they don’t wobble, and maybe even cut some steps.
There are a couple of other exciting developments coming along that may result in a lot more progress, and a lot of extra visitors. I’ll say more when things are a bit more certain…
We’re trying to catch up with the garden which has been doing rather well without us. We’ve found the patio again, which is useful as it doubles as a workshop, so now we can get on with making a compost bin out of pallets I’ve been collecting*. The slugs very kindly decided to let us keep the leeks in exchange for the kohl-rabi.
The boys spent some time harvesting apples until they ran out of buckets. There are several more apple trees, and some pear trees, and a lot of blackberries.
Apples are very useful things -we’re currently using a bucketful as a door stop- but I’m hoping some of you have some apple-based recipes so we can preserve some of the harvest and keep eating them through winter. In particular, all our apple chutney recipes require malt vinegar, which we can’t get. Can we just substitute other vinegars and carry on regardless?
*I can report that transporting pallets with a Bakfiets is possible, and jolly exciting down hills.
I’d given up any hope of getting anything eatable* out of the Very Smallholding this year, so you can imagine the delight when we discovered that the green stuff emerging from badly cut holes in the cardboard was not celandine and brambles but celandine and brambles and some actual potato plants.
Encouraged by this blistering success I planted our mid-season spuddies. These had been correctly chitted, by which I mean they’d got bored waiting in the bag and started growing, so they had something of a head start and we’re now several potato plants better off, which we can add to the three tomato plants that a neighbour left outside our gate one morning and which are actually producing tomatoes, and never mind that a certain small person who shall remain nameless has eaten the first red tomato.
The weed patch formerly known as the seedbed was also re-dug and planted up with leeks, kohl-rabi and something else I have yet to identify which the Greek grocer was throwing out, although they are currently in a life-and-death struggle with the slugs (note to self: take salt to garden tonight). All of which makes up for the fact that after carefully tending more than fifty spinach seeds to plants and then transplanting them, a total of one weedy yellow spinach plant is still alive.
*Except blackberries: we’ve lots of those.
Work on the Very Smallholding continues. Slowly. This is caused by a combination of cowardice, inexperience and having to split time between the ‘normal’ job, the bike shop job, three boys, the largest of whom turns nine this week, and renovating and repainting a very elderly bike for a car-free couple in the village. I’ll ramble about that later.
Right now we’re at stage one of Invasion of the Killer Mulch. We’re going for a ‘non dig’ gardening system after a day of spade wielding and potato planting resulted in mashed up clods of soil and a complete absence of anything potatoey.
The idea is that we lay cardboard where we want to have veggie and herb beds next year, and then add horse poo and a thick layer of grass clippings. The cardboard cuts off light to the plants beneath, while the horse poo and grass hold it down and spend the winter rotting down to give a perfect bed for planting next year. That’s the theory, and as it doesn’t involve digging I’m all for it.
The cardboard delivered last week is now out and already the brambles are staging a fightback and in some cases have broken through the cardboard in a bid for freedom. Obviously in a permaculture garden we aren’t going to spray even these rogue offshoots: that would be a travesty of our treehugging values. Instead, we chop as close to the cardboard as we can, and drop a paving slab on what’s left.
The next stage is getting the horse poo from a farm several kilometres away. This will be an interesting exercise with the Bakfiets.
Much physical and mental activity this week was concerned with digging a potato bed in the garden (so we at least have something growing, even if it’s a bit late) and getting the area around the slowly collapsing summer house in our newly available garden from this:
To a slightly more organised state, without the ancient kitchen appliances which were colonising it:
This involved digging out the patio, removing all the logs, and hauling several bucket loads of rubble and concrete, a dodgy gas cooker, the rotting remains of a kitchen unit, the oldest fridge I’ve ever seen and assorted large and useless items of broken garden furniture to the recycling centre. I also spent a rather unpleasant afternoon in a protective suit with face mask and gloves sorting a lot of broken asbestos sheets. I could have done this somewhat faster except that with my usual brilliance I carefully placed half the asbestos into the bag provided before realising that the bag was too heavy to carry to the road.
This has not left much energy for things like blogging.
I’ll be back next week, after some sleep…
I got an email from a friend this Monday saying they knew of a ‘very overgrown’ piece of land whose owner was desperate for someone to look after it; by Tuesday I had an appointment to go and look at the land, and by Thursday evening I was in. Considering you usually don’t get any information about land unless your great grandfather lived in the village, this is quite a shock.
The land is 13 Are, about 1300 square metres, which isn’t quite as massive as it sounds, but it’s still pretty big compared to a balcony.
It’s about 50% brambles and 100% south-west facing hill. The brambles are so rampant that I can’t get within about ten metres of the bottom edge of the property. But it isn’t overlooked by too many houses so I shouldn’t get into too much trouble with nosy neighbours with my strange permacultural ways.
Pictured is the all important privvy/outhouse. At least I think that’s what it was: at the moment it’s full of windows and shutters from some long-forgotten building project.
So this is where all my fancy talk about ecology and self sufficiency will hopefully become reality, and blog material.
Making containers for the ‘balcony growing stuff project’ while Beautiful Wife plays with the boys and some friends. After taking the picture I decided they were having far more fun so I went to join them.
Note Bakfiets in use as a hiding place.
Travelling from Stuttgart to Freiburg is a bit like going on a bear hunt: The Black Forest is in the way, and we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, and if we go through it, it’ll take half a day because the railways all go north to south, so we have to go around it and down the Rhine valley, which takes almost as long. So when I found myself with the Xtracycle in the outer suburbs of Freiburg and utterly unable to find the venue for the Permaculture course I was attending, I’d already been sitting on various trains since the small hours.
I asked for directions from a local* and they pointed beyond the town where a pine forest rose into the clouds like the gates of Mordor. “You see that hotel up there?” They asked as said clouds parted to show a building perched high up on the hillside. “Well, the road you want starts there.”
One long, winding climb later I was up in the clouds and surprised to note that my legs hadn’t fallen off, so all those hills around Stuttgart have obviously done me some good. I could still have done with some sleep before starting the course, but we had eighteen hours of lectures to get through before Sunday afternoon so what I got was shovel-loads of information about how we’re living like someone paying off debts with credit cards, and in urgent need of a reset of priorities, along with a drastic reduction in energy consumption. As agriculture uses more energy (often supplied by oil) to grow food than we get from eating it, this is a problem even for weirdo car-free types like us.
Permaculture is a sort of toolbox for a more sustainable lifestyle, which plugs into natural cycles that are already there instead of relying on oil. By the end of the four weekends we’ll have had 72 hours of this and we’ll be all set to design our own permaculture farms, gardens, or in my case balcony. I can also try and carve a niche out as a permaculture designer which is arguably a bit academic in the absence of clients or land, but all my rambling here about bicycles and simple living is a part of a bigger goal for our family to live more sustainably and start a small scale arts centre. The Permaculture training means that when we do manage to get (access to) some land, we’ll be a tiny bit more ready.
Hopefully; in theory.
*I know blokes should never do this, but it was that or ride around Freiburg for a week.