I have long hankered after more growing space and was really pleased when in early spring my partner suggested that we move the decking and take up the remaining back lawn in order to create more veggie growing space. This would add approximately five metres to the size of the back garden polyculture bed – more than doubling it.
I wanted to do this in the easiest, least labour intensive way I could think of. Of course taking up turves is not exactly easy work and we did enlist the help of a friend saving my labour but obviously not his! Then all I did was to spread out the ‘part cooked’ contents of a compost bin and to upturn the turves on top. I left an edge to walk around on and piled the turves up double or even more in some places on the growing area. After that I sowed phacelia (a green manure) on most of it. The picture below shows the new beds nearing completion before the last of the grass was taken up, with my first polyculture bed at the back.
I left it as you see it, with bits of grass visible, and of course this did grow to some extent during the summer. However the phacelia outgrew it and it did not take much time to pull up grass that did take hold. As I really like leaving nature to get on with growing things I could not bear to follow the normal guidance to dig in the phacelia on the veggie area before it flowered. By July the new patch was a sea of blue, making one of the nicest yields from the garden so far this year; with the sheer loveliness of the flowering phacelia humming with bees and other insects. This photograph was taken in early July.
As the summer progressed I removed small patches of phacelia and interplanting with garlic, peas, French beans, field beans, strawberries, Welsh onion, yacon and herbs. Some lettuce and carrot seed which I just cast casually about came to nothing. The beans disappeared in the summer rain; the garlic, onion and strawberries are faring okay and the yacon loves it!
I am fairly sure that this depth of (what has now become) soil will prove to be very fertile. Certainly the phacelia plants in this area grew much, much larger than those in a front garden border where I scattered some seed on totally unimproved and shallow soil.
By the end of August the phacelia had finished flowering and was flopping everywhere so I removed it and placed it on my ‘path’ round the edge of the bed. This is in the same vein as my previously reported messy and low energy gardening (https://annisveggies.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/messy-gardens/). In a short while the plant material will decompose and start to feed the soil from above whilst also providing a place to walk on and reach into the bed.
I have gently raked over the area nearest to the decking as it was somewhat lumpy. This has been planted with herbs and will have some flowers as well next summer. The next thing is to sprinkle some seeds for winter greens on the remaining part of the new bed. There are already some self sown lamb’s lettuce plants coming up in the new patches but as I was not able to gather any seed I have bought some to ensure a plentiful supply of this easy and valuable winter salad. I will also sow land cress from saved seeds and probably claytonia. Bittercress has sown itself and is doing very well. Obviously that is a ‘weed’ to many people, but it is edible, with quite a hot flavour, and I have picked some to go with my lunch today.
The picture below shows the patch for the winter salad plants, with two yacon plants in view (back left and back right). The messy bits are my ‘path’ strewn with phacelia plants and the strong growth of bittercress is visible to the right of the bean wigwam. I am sure many people would think this is no fit state to leave a garden in for winter, but I am sure it will be fine!
There are no firm plans for what comes next in the spring in the new patch. I am really keen to grow as many roots / tubers and beans as possible as they are staple foods and it seems sensible to concentrate on them as part of my stated aim of obtaining as much as I can from the garden (https://annisveggies.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/collecting-as-much-food-as-i-can-from-the-garden/).
This time last year I made a tiny polyculture bed beneath the trees in the front garden (https://annisveggies.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/creating-a-new-polyculture-bed/), plus another similar bed in deep shade beneath a greengage tree. It is too soon to report on how these have done as they are planted with oca that is not yet ready to harvest.
And so by degrees the garden as a whole progresses and I learn new things about it. Although I have grown less than I hoped might be possible this summer (mainly due to the loss of many dozens of bean plants) there is usually something to pick and eat most days if I make the effort to go out and look. In addition there is a harvest of roots and tubers to come which I am eagerly anticipating – certainly the above ground growth of the oca, mashua, yacon and Jerusalem artichokes is strong and healthy; and the perennial kales have also sprung back into greater productivity with the coming of cooler, wetter conditions.
One other thing to note is that I have used virtually no time or energy to create this additional growing area. This year I have been recording all my time spent in the garden and will write more in due course about this as it is surprisingly little even to me!