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…the world isn’t going to be saved by technology, I kept working on a couple more low-tech projects this week.


For some strange reason we  hardly used the balcony for growing anything last year, which meant we had to go across the village every time we wanted a lettuce. Towards the end of the season someone I met on a permaculture course sent me a link to a pallet garden and I decided this was the answer to our narrow balcony. I scrounged a pallet from some people doing a house renovation, painted it liberally with wood preserver, and put this together.

The cardboard is to hold the soil back: the original plan says you should plant the pallet lying on the ground and then lift it up when the plants had grown a bit but I didn’t have space or patience for this. I’ll cut holes in the cardboard and push seedlings in as I go along.

The tomato plants were not part of the original plan, but you can never have too many tomatoes.

We turned the water on again, mildly surprised that none of the pipes had frozen in the meantime.


And while weeding the veg beds I found this mystery tree which I’m embarrassed to say I can’t identify. Does anyone know what it is?


The sun is shining, the rain has stopped, the steep part of the garden is no longer a mudslide, and the seedlings are growing. In fact the only blot on the joyful horizon is that I’ve pulled my biceps on both arms. This is probably the result of suddenly going from a job sitting and typing to a job which involves lugging large amounts of timber about the place. I’m now written off sick for three weeks while they sort themselves out again. My elbows have been mummified in pressure bandages and I’m taking some pretty hardcore anti-inflammatory drugs. I’m now banned from the garden except for light stuff like seed trays and painting. Doing things like unloading trailers full of roofing tiles and building materials is out of the question.




Here’s some of the family transport out in the sun being washed for spring. I really should have done this a lot earlier: not only was there the remains of rust from road salt, but some bikes had autumn leaves stuck in the mudguards.

Cleaning bikes, of course, is a pretty sure-fire way of making sure it will rain for the next day or so. While I was washing the bikes the weather went from bright sunshine to heavy rain in the space of an hour and it carried on all night, so all the jobs I had lined up for the weekend in the Very Smallholding, like finish digging over the awkward veggie bed, get the scythe sharpened and cut the Almost Hayfield while I still could see over the top of the grass, and prepare some kind of space ready to stack the wood from the monster tree when I finally get someone to cut it, etc, probably aren’t going to happen.

This is frustrating, specially as I was already getting behind with everything. So much for this being a way to drop out of the rat race and relax.

On the other hand, I can still plant a fair number of seeds in my home-made starter pots, and the boys are all growing things in containers on the balcony, so we can make a start on that as well.


Having cleaned the Xtracycle I finally got around to replacing the brake blocks. The last ones are were cheap no-name parts and made a noise like fingernails being pulled down a blackboard whenever I used them. They were also nearly through to the metal. This time I got slightly more expensive versions in the hope they last a bit longer: the blurb claimed they are made of all kinds of high-tech compounds so they work better over time instead of squeaking.

They have orange bits and mysterious letters on the side which will of course improve their performance dramatically.


So here’s the Very Smallholding. it may look as if I’m doing nothing but I’ve at least managed to get some of the weeding done*, with some help from my parents who came to visit and brought a nice stainless steel fork as a late Christmas present. If that wasn’t a hint to get moving I don’t know what is.

Last year I planted almost everything at once and ended up with a million leuttices**, half a tonne of courgettes and enough cannonball sized kohl rabi to reenact the battle of Waterloo.

Most of this, unfortunately, ended up in the compost bin: we only have so many neighbours who need seven courgettes a week.

The plan this year is to make smaller batches and plant each week. I’ve started to plant seeds in my usual home-made paper pots, but I’ll also be planting more seeds directly into the garden. Smaller things and salads will mostly stay on the balcony in the earthboxes I made a couple of years ago.


Thanks to The Boys and their friends running up and down the hill last summer, it looks like I won’t need to clear a way through the brambles as much this year, although some steps will be needed. Getting to the bottom of the garden is easy enough, if muddy.

Getting up again causes problems.


The monster tree at the bottom of the garden.  The general opinion is that this is a pear tree. Unless it is apple.

I’m still working out a way to get this up and out of the garden  so I can dry it properly and use it for something other than firewood.

*Pre-weeding view here.
**Still can’t spell ‘Lettices’.

I finally made it to the garden this weekend, this being the first weekend of the year that the road wasn’t a giant snowdrift or a waterfall. Some of the fauna grew well despite the conditions.


Unfortunately it was mostly fauna I don’t want. One of the more vivid green bits is supposed to be a vegetable bed.

I made a start on tidying up and moving the bean poles to a different bed and put the beginnings of a kill mulch on one of the most overgrown bed, so it at least looks like we’re doing something now. I tried taking a picture but it was at the twilight hour when trolls are abroad, so it didn’t come out very well.

I’ve still got a lot to do before I can plant anything, and I’ve still got a ten metre high tree lying on its side in the bottom of the garden waiting to be removed.

Speaking of planting, do any gardeners have ideas for red bean varieties that like waterlogged clay soil?

I appear to have stalled on the garden front. A combination of changing my work situation right when I should have been harvesting, and inexperience meaning I planted everything at once so I ended up with more Kohl-Rabi than anyone will ever need, and left half a dozen things too long so they got caught by the frost and pulped, meant that  despite a good start, we didn’t finish so well this year. We’ll probably have a lot more on the compost bin than in the carefully stored jam jars.

And the brambles made a comeback.

We live and learn, and hopefully I’ll still remember all of this by next spring.

A major problem is that we live across the village from the garden, and there’s still no shelter apart from our rather ramshackle shed which is breeding leaks. It’s hard to get the boys enthusiastic to go to the garden if they have to run about in the mud all the time just to keep warm. It’s also a pain that when it turns cold or starts raining/snowing/blizzarding, I’ll have to drop everything and ride home in foul weather.

What we need is a decent garden house so we can spend a day at the garden whatever the weather is doing. A privvy would be good as well.

Which means I need to think about what, for me is a pretty daunting construction project. But if we’re going to get any further in sustainable living, I’ve got to face up to this sooner or later, and as I progress on the carpentry course I’ll be running out of excuses not to have a go.

First step is to go and find out what we are actually allowed to build here, which means going to yet another office…

Feel free to give me a kick up the blog if I keep procrastinating on this one.

Not being a spreadsheet minded person I can’t give the full, in depth, results of the garden, but I can report that although the carrots came out interesting shapes and most of the Kohlrabi turned out like cannonballs in taste and texture, we won’t ever be short of aubergines this winter. The potatoes did pretty well too: Being of a lazy disposition, I’d planted them in the ‘no dig’ beds in the hope that they would break the soil down nicely and for once my cunning plan worked. The resulting spuddies tasted good as well, so next year I’ll be getting a few more kilos*, and use them to break down the beds where the courgettes and pumpkins clobbered the weeds this year. Collecting the order from the farmers shop will involve climbing up the Hill of Doom with bike full of seed potatoes, which I suspect will generate a blog entry in itself.

The other goal of the year was to start collecting seeds, so to this end I deliberately avoided F1 varieties (cross bred plants which are meant to combine the best properties of both previous plants) as apparently the advantages don’t last to the next generation, and last week I started drying out the seeds while I still can and getting them ready to store for next year. This is my excuse for why several lettuces and most of the spinach have bolted: it’s so I can collect the seeds, honest, not because I was in the UK and then too sloppy to harvest the things.

The flip side of this cunning plan is of course that I can only collect seeds from what grew well, so if I want any French beans, basil, or tomatoes, I’ll have to order them, whereas I have enough seeds to grow more yellow courgettes than any right thinking person would ever want…

*Obviously I can’t remember what variety they are. What do you take me for, a proper gardener?

So there I was fretting about how to clear brambles from around the fallen pear tree, when Eldest Son solved the problem for me by inviting his friends around for the last few weekends. His friends mostly live in apartments or houses with carefully manicured suburban gardens, and spent Saturday climbing on the fallen tree, using dangerous things like garden shears to hack the brambles down and discovered an apple tree in the middle we never got near before. This was denuded of all fruit and a pack of happy boys were delivered home at dusk, a bit muddy, but ready for bed and with all the apples they could carry.

The fallen tree is now a ‘spaceship’ so I have to wait until the mission is completed before cutting the branches back.

(Update: one of the lads just appeared with two bottle of apple sauce made from our apples. I could get used to this system…)

Warm summer afternoon, three boys relaxing on the only vaguely grassy part of the Very Smallholding.

Went out with The Boys to ‘Haus Des Waldes‘; a permanent, interactive exhibition about forests, ecosystems, biodiversity, and their role in our lives. They like making sculptures of of natural materials and this one cropped up since our last visit.

I’d like to think I could make something like this in the Very Smallholding, but I probably wouldn’t have the determination to collect all those sticks.

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