This is the first winter that we have spent here in Wales, and we are enjoying learning about the weather on our little piece of Welsh hillside. Everyone told us that it would be wet: it certainly knows how to rain here! Whatever the weather, I’ve been busy harvesting, making new beds and planning for the garden year ahead.
My family and I are very happy here. We love the location and the spectacular sunsets.
I started creating the new garden almost as soon as we moved here, making the first no dig bed on weedy lawn in the back garden from packing box cardboard and peat free compost on March 31st. I’ve been harvesting from the beds there – now four of them – for months and they are now planted with winter brassicas, beetroot, parsnips, salads, carrots and (mostly) module sown broad beans.
The back garden no dig beds
I started the broad beans a few weeks later than usual because I forgot to sow them! So busy doing other things, they completely slipped my mind. A few years ago when I was working at Stavordale Priory running the kitchen garden, and also at Homeacres working with Charles, I forgot to sow my own carrots. I sowed at Stavordale, I sowed at Homeacres – and this seemed to trick my mind into thinking I had sown my own as well..!
I’m hoping to keep track of my sowing here this year, but there’s always something that gets forgotten.
Making another new no dig bed
In mid-January I made the last no dig bed in the back garden (there are plenty more to make elsewhere). It’s the grassy area at the bottom of this drone photograph (taken by Huw Richards in late August). Like the others in this back garden, the bed is card with compost on top.
Huw was here with his colleague Sam to make a You Tube video about the garden. Watch it here.
The “empty” beds are actually full of small transplants!
I pondered this bed for a while – should I make a narrow one with a path between it and the neighbouring bed, or one wide bed? I decided to go for one wide bed. It’s fine to walk on no dig beds and I will use this area for squash, beans and sweetcorn in the summer after a spring planting of salads.
The lawn slopes steeply after this level(ish) bed area down to the sheds, so I will be digging that to make it level with the existing magnolia tree bed, edging it with these old edging tiles that I found here in the garden. The other option would be to raise the border next to the sheds, which is a lot more work (and I lack brick laying skills!) I’ll stack the turf when it is removed to break down into compost.
Increasing biodiversity with more trees and perennial plants
In the autumn I ordered bare root trees from several suppliers, including some traditional Welsh heritage varieties, and these have now arrived. There’s a medlar, quince, pear, plum, greengage, damson, crab apple, two bird cherries, six sea buckthorns (hopefully a mix of male and female) and some more redcurrants, gooseberries and a Welsh heritage grapevine. These are all heeled into one of the orchard beds, to be planted out over the next weeks – weather permitting!
There are also potted trees and bushes brought from my previous garden, and some brought back from the Hampton Court Show Garden, to plant out this winter.
One of my plans is to plant out the area between the orchard and the neighbouring sheep field, alongside the polytunnel, which currently just has sheep fencing, and is mostly grass and creeping buttercup. I want to create a wildlife hedge with planting at different levels to increase the biodiversity here and provide more habitat and food for the wild things. It will include fruit bushes that I am not expecting to get much of a harvest from, my main fruit bushes will be under the fruit cage that is being constructed this winter.
Because it is adjacent to the polytunnel I will need to keep it at a sensible height so as not to block light in there.
I’ll be using “found” resources from my garden including old fence posts, sheep fencing wire and branches to make a “dead hedge”, as well as plants. I don’t think dead hedge is a very nice teem, because although the branches etc are not living, the idea is that the structure itself will be full of life, moving in to make it their home. (Not the sheep though – they are not moving in!)
The weather was a bit bonkers – two storms in a short space of time, a lot of rain, and it is too mild for the time of year although we have finally had some frosty days. I am still finding slugs on the brassicas, and friends are reporting caterpillars munching on theirs. Some things have got completely confused and bolted already.
The garden is very squelchy underfoot! And this blew down…. It was a screen with a wisteria growing across it.
The stones are to prevent it from flying off. I’ll reuse the wood on other projects.
Fortunately there wasn’t too much damage here after the storms. I made preparations in the pouring rain before the winds took hold, putting everything that was likely to fly about in the sheds, polytunnel and greenhouse, including the waterbutts that are yet to be attached to downpipes.
Many trees were blown over in this area, including two in the neighbouring field next to the orchard. The sheep were not harmed, and seem to be rather enjoying investigating the tree. The neighbouring sheep are an endless source of fascination, so comical. They are now very round and woolly, heavily pregnant. We’re looking forwards to the lambs being born.
The orchard food forest garden
In the orchard the beds made amongst the existing fruit trees are mostly empty, except for the beds planted with perennials. I have more asparagus plants on order for the asparagus bed, to replace those that didn’t survive the house move, and as I mention above more trees to plant.
I’ve direct sown some broad beans in an orchard bed, to see what would happen. There are voles here and other rodents, which makes direct sown beans and peas a bit risky. I sowed them in a bed of green manure (one of the mustards), which is half garlic and half beans. The beans have started sprouting and all seems to be well so far.
The yacon harvest was good and I have plenty of crowns to make new plants for this year (and to share with friends, but I don’t sell online – check out Real Seeds or Pennard Plants in the UK). I’ve also got oca saved to plant this year. These are strange kind of perennials because in our climate you need to dig them up and store in a frost free place over winter to protect against weather and pest damage (rodents love them!)
The plans for this orchard garden are still evolving, but it will include a fruit cage covered with metal mesh (against squirrels), beds filled with annual and perennial edibles and a pond. Many of the beds will be made using different kinds of mulches, and some – such as the beds I made today – out of the more typical card and compost.
Another new no dig bed
This bed (made on Jan 27th) is a bit different because I used a very thin layer of compost (mostly from the sacks of Christmas potatoes) mixed with biochar from Earthly Biochar. Once the bed has had a good soak (to help the card soften) I’ll cover it will some pre-used polythene temporarily until I am ready to plant in the spring. This is because the very thin layer of compost and card won’t be as effective at killing off the grass beneath – whereas with the addition of the plastic light excluding mulch, it will help to keep weed growth down.
I haven’t yet decided what I’ll grow there, and will assess the bed when it is time for planting to decide whether there has been enough time for the mulches to kill off the weeds. If not, I can always grow through the polythene this summer and remove it in the autumn. It helps to be adaptable when gardening because you can never quite know what will happen!
The next beds planned for this area will use mulches which are not fully composted – using the resources I have in the garden. More about that when I have made them.
First sowings of 2022
I’ll be starting most of my February sowings in a few days or so, but last week after tidying the greenhouse I decided to sow aubergines, sweet peppers and chillies. I have heat mats in the green house (electric ones with thermostats) which heat loving seeds such as these need to germinate.
The little trenches made with my finger help to keep the seeds separate to avoid confusion when pricking out. I grow a lot of aubergines (over 20 varieties!) and a lot of chillies too, not quite so many sweet peppers. There’s also some asparagus and globe artichoke seeds sown here, and nine star perennial broccoli (which is also known as perennial cauliflower). I grew that in my previous allotment but it did not survive the house move. The nine star seeds are from Pennard Plants (currently out of stock, but you can get them to email when they are back in).
When they sprout I will prick out the hardiest looking seedlings into module trays to grow on. Then, I’ll be setting up grow lights to help these plant babies grow strongly. They’ll need to stay on warmth for some time as frost will kill tender plants.
(The heat mats and grow lights are all a few years old and were brought from my previous greenhouse.)
I’ll be explaining what I am sowing in another post – and also updating it regularly on my social media, especially Instagram and my newish You Tube channel, which now thanks to Huw’s video has over 4000 subscribers!
Sorry for the lack of regular updates here in my blog. It has been such a busy time moving house as I’m sure you can imagine, and also a difficult time. Like many people in my line of work I have lots of different “strings to my bow” but had a main job. Shortly after moving here I found out that I was going to lose this employment, and that happened towards the end of September. It was unexpected, a terrible shock, and horrible for my mental health.
These things happen of course, and many people are sadly in a far worse situation than me – we’re fine, I am not asking for a whip round (!)
I’m busy making plans for the future, focusing on new ideas for work (there are some new projects in the pipeline!) and looking forwards as much as possible.
Onwards! Let’s hope that 2022 will be a fantastic and abundant year for everyone. Now, I wonder if I have ordered all of the seeds I need for the year… better check those seed boxes (again!)