My Garden in May
For most of my other gardening posts I generally tend to focus on my allotment. I suppose it stands out to me more since it’s a trip to visit my little rented plot and such hard work to keep it going. So in a way I almost take for granted all of the growing space I have around the house. However after last year’s Introduction to Permaculture course I decided to make a few changes to how I garden, one of which involves growing food like herbs and greens closer to the house. With them being so near, it’s convenient to just nip out and cut some chives or pull up a head of lettuce.
At home I have four square raised beds, a shady flower and rhubarb bed along one side of the house and two oval shaped beds in the back that I use to grow lavender, wildflowers, and Calendula. I also use a lot of containers and have them dotted around the garden and on the brick drive and patio near the front door. I’ve been trying to wean myself off of containers since they need constant watering but in reality they help to create more growing space in areas that you normally might not be able to dig.
Larger containers might be more my style though. You can grow more in them, water them less often, and they make very striking features in the garden. Two weeks ago I designed and built a strawberry planter out of a wooden pallet and the plants that went into it have been doing great and are growing plenty of new green leaves. I expect to have a decent harvest of strawberries from them but just to ensure pests don’t get to the fruit I’ll be attaching copper wire around the container’s feet and netting the whole thing once I’ve started to spot unripe fruit.
Clockwise from top left: Catnip, French Lavender, Valerian, Radishes, Garden Sage, Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings, Mullein, Chives
I have scores of herbs and flowers growing in the back garden. Some of them are culinary, others are to attract wildlife, and quite a few of them are used in my Lovely Greens products. One of my favorites in the garden in Lavender since it can be used for all three. I also grow various medicinal herbs such as Feverfew, Valerian, and Mullein. The last of those is relatively new to my garden and I plan on experimenting with making cough medicine from its leaves in the next few weeks.
With everything that I grow I’m fast running out of space and am looking at options to move into other parts of the garden without having to dig up too much of the lawn. Generally this means introducing more large containers but I’m also planning on building a dark border on the north side of the patio. It only receives a few hours of direct sun a day but there are a few things that can grow there.
Our hens provide eggs but our plants love their nutrient-rich manure
One thing I really appreciate about gardening at home is having the chickens so close. Chicken manure is loaded with nutrients that plants love and when it’s aged a bit, there’s nothing better to encourage strong green growth. Last year I kept my compost pile inside their run and I’m planning on re-building it up this afternoon. They love scratching around in the pile and droppings help start the compost action and reduce the amount of effort I expend in turning the compost manually. The relationship I’ve created between the hens and the garden is another Permaculture related idea – it’s a design that creates natural relationships in order to benefit the land, reduce costs, and break down dependence on outside materials.
This small currant bush started off as a cutting taken six months ago
At home and in the back garden is also where I do most of my propagating. Cuttings are grown both inside the house or planted directly into containers outside, like the red and black currant cuttings I took last winter. Many of my vegetables, both annual and perennial, are grown from seed inside the house then moved out to my cold frame to harden off before being taken to their final places both in the garden and at the allotment. I don’t have a greenhouse (yet) but this system works well for me and even tender plants like tomatoes can be grown this far north if given the right care and situation.
Though I direct-sow some veggies, most of my plants are started off inside the house
Hardening off plants is one of the most critical steps if you choose to jump-start your plants growth indoors. Plants started in a warm conservatory have delicate leaves that aren’t used to the cold and wind. You have to gradually introduce them to life outdoors and the best way I’ve found to do this is to place them in a cold-frame for at least a week. You leave the top down at night and when it’s cold and windy and you open it up when it’s warm. If you don’t have a cold-frame of your own yet, you can easily build one from scrap wood and an old window like I’ve done. The clear top should be constructed at a slant so that rain water can drain off and so that taller plants can be placed inside at the back.
A cold-frame is essential to starting plants off indoors and just so happens to be very easy to build.
Since sunny space is limited I’m also experimenting with vertical gardening this year. I’ve used old wire fencing to create two ‘towers’ in which I hope to grow a good crop of Pink Fir Apple potatoes. The material I’ve planted the tubers in is primarily old straw and chicken manure but there’s some compost and soil added in as well. I’ve also started throwing grass clippings and green material destined for composting inside as well. I’ve also started throwing greens not healthy for chickens in the towers – primarily onion skins and leek greens.
The very first green potato leaves are now visible and as they flesh out and become stronger I’ll continue adding more compost and material on top so that the potatoes grow up and up. The idea is that as the plant grows vertically, it’s able to produce tubers throughout the full height of the tower.
Less space in my garden means that I’m now experimenting with vertical gardening
Gardening at the allotment is a wonderful way to connect with fellow gardeners but sometimes it’s nice to just pop out the back door with only a furry friend to keep you company. Our two Korat cats follow me everywhere and have to be involved in everything. Sometimes I don’t need an extra hole being dug or a particular type of manure being added to the soil but I can’t get angry with them…they’re just so darned cute! I’m also lucky to have a husband who works from home so it’s nice to just be a shout away from asking for a nice cuppa from time to time 😉
One of the best things about gardening at home is having my little furry gardening helpers around
Now in the middle of May it truly feels like Spring and everything seems to be growing well. Within a few weeks the greens will be coming in thick and fast and before long there will be squash trailing along the patio, strawberries dangling from the new container, and peas plumping up in their pods. The area around the house is far more sheltered than my allotment so many of the plants I’ve had trouble growing up there will find new places here. It’s a wonderful thing to have so much growing space but in assessing the area I’m sure I could grow a lot more than I do at the moment. Time and experimentation will tell so I’ll be sure to post again on how my home garden grows.