FEED THE SOIL NOT THE PLANTS

For the past three weeks we have both been working in the garden.  I am told that it was an extraordinary wet spring and we have had a fair bit of rain since we came home too.  We lost one of our trees, a pine tree that stood at the back of the garden where water is inclined to collect.  Ian has found that the roots were totally rotten so no wonder that the storm caught and tumbled the tree.

And the garden was totally overgrown as would be expected, Ian soon had the little bit of grass in the middle of the raised beds strimmed. and the grass that was invading the path cut away.  While I started with the beds, some of which were full of Ranunculaceae with very tough roots systems.  The whole garden was also covered in Three Cornered Leeks with their lovely white flowers as usual.   One of the days I had some help from two of my small grand children and we sure had a day of fun, and yet we achieved a lot.

To our delight we found all sorts of vegetables that had survived the long winter rains and storms.  And then out of the blue I received an email from FutureLearn (https://www.futurelearn.com/)  to remind me that a course I had registered for had started, and this has been occupying my time totally these past few weeks.                             The course is called – Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food – and is run by the University of Dundee, Scotland.  It is immensely interesting and I have been enjoying every single minute of it, and learnt such a lot.  I had decided even last year that it is my soil that I should be putting time and effort into, and educate myself about what it needs, and running tests to see what it may be lacking, and what to do about it.  Anyway, all this the course taught me and more.  I also learnt about the C3 and C4 food types and how the increase in CO2 is affecting the nutrients of our vegetables and fruits, and the relationship between nutrient depletion in our soils, and less nutritious foods.  Something I knew very little about, and found interesting.

Anyway, together with Grow Observatory (https://growobservatory.org/) students were invited to take part in a communal worldwide experiment. (This was for certain areas but not my area in Ireland) so I did not take part in it.  However, the Citizen Science was also running an experiment as well as inviting us to ask our own question and in that case run our own experiment, and so I asked myself the question: What will give a better crop? If I use compost from the garden compost bin to improve both the fertility and the texture of my clay soil? Or if I use a combination of leaf mould and organic seaweed liquid?  The course took us right through all the factors that are important to carry out our tests with hypothesis, controls, variables, data taking, analysis, and so on.  My experiment is set up, my bean plants have been sown and test kits arrived by post, I’m all set up for this experiment.

The two beds are totally ready for the experiment.  One is treated with compost from the bin and the other is treated with leaf mould, and later in the experiment I wil be adding the organic seaweed fertilizer to the latter.  Hedges have been cut real low to allow maximum light reaching the beds.  A rain gauge is in place in both the beds to measure precipitation.  And I am testing the actual consistency of the soil, though I know that it is mostly clay, has quite a bit of stones in it, and as I’ve already found out not enough organic matter.  Half the beds will be planted and the other halves will be controls.  Spinach is the other crop and radish also.  It is going to take up time but will be lovely to eat all the produce and enjoy taking all the measurements and learn a lot about my soil.

Not sure where all this is going to take me but I am sure enjoying it all.

I came across this lovely quote from one of the books by Jan Shellenberger. that’s also where I took my post title from:  I quote:

“Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.”

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And the view from our back garden, the minute the hedge gets clipped – I know I need to work on it a bit more – behind that rocky hill lies the sea.

PART TWO OF A WINTER GARDEN IN CAMBRIDGESHIRE

So we had just walked through the arch and entered that part of the garden where nature does more or less its own thing, though on the right there is a productive kitchen garden, which put my own to shame when it comes to neatness. And on the left we walked across grass overshadowed by a variety of lovely trees, mostly native to the Uk, and some already fully in blossom.  This is the wilder part of the garden, it is a very important area, thinking of the many bees, bumblebees and other insects which are near extinction, or have decreased in number in recent years, it is good to have an area where they can be undisturbed and feed to their hearts delight. Here is more shadow because of the trees, it is also the quieter part of the garden, where one could sit and read, or just watch nature’s magic happen.

 

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Then in the yet another part of the garden a lot of clearing had been done just recently, overgrowth of roses from a neighboring garden had been removed. In a garden this size there is always some work to do, and this is reflected in the beauty and the variety of the plants.

Here the borders, even though it was so early in the year show a lot of different colors and textures, as reflected in my next collage.  A variety of different Hellebores is to be seen nearer the house.

 

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Ferns, and also Euphorbias make a lovely display.

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The colorful leaves of the Epimedium versicolor are a great ground cover.

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A succulent creeping among the black foliage, the black thin leaves conjure up images of being at the beach looking at some type of seaweed.

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I see boxes for a variety of birds which I am sure they are happy to use, and the white bell-like flowers add a lovely touch, all these early flowers are so important for insects, it is where they get the first nectar of the season which will help them recover after the lean winter months.  All of this has been thought of and planned for.

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 Winter scenting Sarcococca confusa sweet box

Sarcococca confusa or Sweet BoxThis is one more subject that I would like to highlight, it is called Sarcococca confusa or Sweet Box, its scent will delight anyone and perfume a whole area, and its black berries are very attractive too. I am glad that I got to learn about this plant, as one of my future plans is to bring more scent into my own garden.

I’ve really enjoyed my visit to this garden, there is more one could say about what grows there, I have not even touched on the herbs which grow close to the house. Of course as my visit was in winter, I am sure that there is a lot more to see in summer. I am already looking forward to my next visit. I get ideas from visiting other people’s gardens, some of which I will try and use in my own garden. I’m certainly very interested in creating colour for my garden in the winter, it would cheer us all up during those dull and misty days.

My thanks go to Ruth and Colin for their kind permission to use their garden in my blog writing.

 

 

MEDITATIONS

“Your nature is absolute peace. You are not the mind. Silence your mind through concentration and meditation, and you will discover the peace of the Spirit that you are, and have always been.”
Anonymous

I’ve been walking the garden now every night to check on the slugs.  This has turned into a real meditation which I now look forward to.  Taking my time, I go out rain or not with my torch and a jar, I check all the vegetation for the little night creatures, the garden at that time of night is usually still, so still that I can hear the slugs move, or chew on a leaf.  The scents come out too, the sweetpeas, privet, and other more earthy scents, or just the fresh air give pleasure.  In the light of the torch things become more intensely focussed, things like plants or parts of plants that are normally barely noticed, strange that.

I treasure that time now, a good ending to the day.  I guess I owe a thank you to my slugs, by creating a problem for me they gave me a gift, and that sure is very much appreciated.
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MY SISTER JOSEFINE’S TOWN GARDEN

Lier is a small but beautiful town in Belgium. Most of my immediate ancestors come from there though my mum and dad were born in Brasschaat and in Diest respectively. Goyvaerts is not a common name in Belgium, but in Lier you see quite a few signs with this name on it. I feel at home there, it’s a lovely typical Flemish town with a huge car free ‘grote markt’ and a beautiful cathedral, its bells and Carillion chiming out over the typical town houses. A most interesting beguinage dating from the 13th century, a fine library, a large school of music, the Zimmer tower with it’s astronomical clock, on it’s façade it gives the times from all around the world. And many more special cultural and scenic corners.

Anyway, my eldest sister still lives there and she has a small town garden in which I went to take some photos recently. It’s a neat garden, she has one raised bed where she already had a crop of herbs last summer, but trouble with cats is making her hold back this year, so we discussed how to make it so the cats cannot use it as toilet. But there are many beautiful shrubs and flowers in her garden. Since the soil is quite sandy and of course Belgium gets quite hot in the summer, her lavender is doing extremely well, so we did harvest a lovely bunch of these flowers to dry and use later for making sachets to use as presents. There is Turkish sage – Phlomis russeliana, growing in her garden, growing tall and showing bright yellow flowers, much loved by the bees!  Along the verge of one of the flower beds it is full of ripe wild strawberries, very sweet and tasty. An arch made of willow twigs lets you enter the rear end of the garden, a woodbine trails along it and is also in flower. Some beautifully scented roses together with the privet hedge in flower make this garden full of wonderful scents, a garden that anyone would love to sit in on a summers day.

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Phlomis russeliana (Turkish sage)

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RAINDROPS, RAIN, AND MORE RAIN

Well, after a long weekend away from home and garden, we arrived back to find a lot of destruction. Growth that had been Lush before the weekend had been blown about by the high winds and flattened by the rain, and that is still happening as we speak. The much colder temperatures have stopped a lot of the growth for the time being. Today I spent some time tying up beans and peas, a lesson for me to make sure that they are secured a lot better, I thought that the canes would hold them all right, but not so. The Borage was totally flattened, I will cut that down a bit and it will start to grow again no problem.

But the beauty of the rain droplets is amazing, and there is plenty of that at the moment, might as well enjoy it, it gives the leaves especially a whole new ‘look’. I think that Masaru Emoto might have something interesting to say about them.

We are promised a heat wave towards the end of the week, who knows, surely my plants would be happy. I guess we take what comes and be happy that we are blessed with rain regularly, it makes Ireland what it is, green and lush. A thought for the people of California and their fight against drought, it cannot be easy.
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TRYING OUT PERMACULTURE

Having some extra time over these festive days , has got me to thinking about the 2015 growing season, and what I will actually be growing as far as vegetable, herbs, or any wild plants are concerned.  BUT

I have come to see that in my 10 raised beds there are several beds that are now well covered with wild plants such as Dandelions, Plantain, Feverfew, Borage, Cleavers, Nettles, and many more.  I don’t want to uproot these plants to make space for my vegetables, neither do I want to cover the beds with too much leaf mould during the winter months so as not to kill these wild plants (they grow wonderfully well).  I forgot to mention that we are having a very mild winter so far, we only had about two nights of frost, and the temperature is between 5 and 10 Celsius during the day.  Though I am experimenting with permaculture, and so growing everything mixed, I am not sure how it is affecting my soil to have plants growing all winter and all summer.  I am rotating the plants all right.  I think though that for the coming year I am going to experiment with doing just that, grow Bean beside Dandelion, beside Cleavers, beside Lettuce, beside Nettles,  etc…..  I cannot just destroy my valuable wild plants, it makes no sense, no I am going to use them in the kitchen.  I am already getting excited when I think about it.  Cooking with wild plants as part of providing nutrition, vitamins and especially minerals is cool.  I am doing an online herbal course and learning as I go along so it should all fall into place.  Well that is what I am thinking about for the New Year.

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