Tag Archives: permaculture

Green, Frugal, Sustainable Round Up

What have we done this week to live sustainably!

1. Some of our neighbours came round to have another look at using our orchard to site their beehive.  They kindly brought us a box of 6 eggs from their rare breed Derbyshire Red Cap hens!  Huge thank you all round. Then, later in the week, when we went to pick up some pig feed our pig mentors also gave us eggs from their Light Sussex Hens.  We eat a lot of eggs so this was all very welcome! Since moving here we have been given lots of eggs from local smallholders and I’m looking forward to having our own flock so we can reciprocate.

2. Sock Mending – the sock mending saga continues I am now down from 13 outstanding pairs to 7 pairs. I’d have done more but I got waylaid by successful patching some jeans for the first time.  I won’t talk about that too much as I have a whole exciting How To! blog post planned.

3. A free bottle of wine! – some lovely friends of ours are moving to London and they don’t have time to drink all their homemade wine before they leave and they don’t want to take it with them… So we are the lucky new owners of a bottle of elderberry wine from last Autumn.

4. A few months ago our neighbours (with a chain saw) trimmed our ornamental Cherry Tree to within an inch of its life.  I asked them to leave the cuttings with us and earlier this week I spent one hour (of many), stripping the long straight branches into bean poles, cutting some of the bigger bits into kindling and shredding the thinnest branches into mulch for our fruit bushes.  This is part of my work to reduce what we bring on to and take off the property and trying to close the cycle of waste, my new saying… Nothing Green is Waste!

5. Filling the cake tin – I made a big pile of cinnamon sugar and thumb print biscuits for the cake tin.  We haven’t bought any cakes or sweets from the mini-tescos all week.

As well as all the other things we have already blogged about with the compost, the charity shop finds and using up leftovers.

Mostly above we have been given things rather than done things to live sustainably.  Part of sustainable living is great community.  This week we have really benefited from our community which means that in the next few weeks it is on us to find ways to support our neighbours, be generous and give back to others.  The wonderful cycle of living side by side with people.

The Good Things

Elizabeth from the Margot and Barbara blog (I can’t tell how you much I *love* that title!) has suggested people write happy posts, about The Good Things.

I wholeheartedly support the idea of recording The Good Things and so here is my first post, as unlikely as it seems…

1. Weeding the Vegetable Patch

"I think you'll find those are *my* weeds."

“I think you’ll find those are *my* weeds.”

Why, on Earth, would this be a good thing?

Well I can tell you it wasn’t always a good thing and there are still aspects of it I don’t like – namely all that bending over. But this is the first time I’ve had a vegetable patch next to a pig pen.  It is a revelation! I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to pull up a handful of weeds and casually toss them into the pen only to have the pigs race for the fresh greens as if they were the most delicious treat.  Listening to them grunt and snuffle their way through the pile of weeds is so satisfying.  Composting weeds is all well and good but having the animals get such enjoyment out of eating them is great and makes me feel closer to fulfilling my Permaculture principles – Maximum yield, minimum cost and effort.

The Good Things

My Other Shed is made of Wood

I really think that getting back into my gardening groove has helped our luck.  After yesterday’s extravaganza of planting, today I worked out a whole list of plants I can plant now to fill the gap in the brassica section (and bought some seeds to fulfil my plan), I planted 3 large pots of parsley, 1 pot of clary sage and 1 large tray of kohl rabi.  I’m starting everything in pots so I can better protect them from the evil slugs.

So the good news is that we met some lovely people today who might… might want to keep a beehive in our orchard!  This is very exciting news.  It might come to nothing but it would be so exciting to have some bees buzzing around pollinating all our vegetables. I also found a spare packet of basil seeds that I forgot about!

"Two Sheds" Josh.

“Two Sheds” Josh.

When we first moved here the house came with a shed.  But it was far too small for our needs.  Keeping pigs and planning to keep hens comes with a need to store equipment, straw and feed.  Then we have all the garden tools you would expect from people who have a huge garden and vegetable patch.  So fairly early on this year we bought a new and bigger shed to which we transferred all most of our gardening equipment and the broken chest freezer (thanks Freecycle!) we use for storing pig feed.

But I was determined to keep the old one, it was the green thing to do after all. The new-old shed was in good working order, just a little small, and I knew we would outgrow the new shed very quickly.  We keep 2-3 bales of straw around at a time and I really wanted somewhere to put all that straw – somewhere that was not our verandah.  Verandah’s are for lounging on with cool minty drinks, not for storing straw, kindling and other bittes and oddses (ours is a work in progress!)

After successfully scavenging free concrete slabs for the base of the new-old shed, Josh was fired up to get it up as quickly as possible.  In a relatively short space of time he’d finished putting the shed up and filled it with the bales.

I feel like we have made incredible progress on our Tinyholding in just the last 6 months and having the pig hutch, the new-new shed (with water and electrics) and the new-old shed all up and working contributes a lot to that.  We are not DIY naturals but Josh in particular is getting really good and picking up new skills all the time.

Looking down the garden now I can just see the end of the new-old shed begging for a bit of bunting to cheer it up!

In other news I went up a ladder and had a good squeeze of our Parma Ham which is drying the verandah.  This is the first time I’ve dared do it (I still haven’t opened it up for a sneaky peak).  To my delight it was really solid and hard with no soft or spongy sections (which I’m assuming would imply it was rotten).  We only have about 1 month to go before eating it!

A Huge List of Things – Part 1

Make Do and Mend Year has written a blog post called “Taking Stock” which is one of the assignments on her blogging course.  It sounded like fun and I could do with some writing practice myself so I’m giving it a go.

I’ve split it into multiple parts though as it was a very long list!

Sock in progress.

Sock in progress.

Making : I have two main projects on the go at the moment.  Socks for Josh and bunting for R’s birthday. I love the speed of sewing but it requires some set up and I don’t always have a clear stretch of time to get stuck in. Bunting I can sort of do bits here and that (especially the cutting out) but my first love is knitting, portable, easy to pick up and put down and no minute of waiting at the doctors or for a bus is ever wasted.
Cooking : It’s Josh’s turn to cook dinner tonight not me but I know we are having a vegetable tortilla.  Since we have guests coming tomorrow though, I’ll be cranking up the bread machine and getting a loaf ready.  Our standard loaf is 50% strong white flour and 50% wholemeal spelt flour and it is very tasty!
Drinking : Diet coke – my main vice.  Terrible stuff and (I’m sure) horrible for the environment.  Something I am still working on.
Reading: I always have a million and one books on the go but the main thing I’m currently reading is “The Wizard Hunters” by Martha Wells.  It is part of a huge box I got from a friend when they were downsizing their book collection and it’s taken me ages to get round to reading it but it is good solid fantasy with a slight steampunk twist  and several interesting and well-drawn female characters. Just my sort of thing.
Wanting: Chickens!  We are in the planning stages for getting chickens.  First working out how big a coop to build, then sourcing the materials and building it, then buying a hen house and finally a feeder, food, water thingy and actual chickens.  We are still a way off getting them but we almost have a plan!
Looking: For some replacement Courgette plants – the slugs have done for ours and the garden centre has sold out.
Playing: We recently bought two new board games (we have a huge collection of board games and role-playing games) Race for the Galaxy and Ghost Stories.  We have been playing them a lot!  Definitely getting our money’s worth.
Deciding: How high the fences for the chicken coop should be and whether we need a lid on it.

Wishing: Death to slugs.  They are decimating the garden, I lost two most cucumbers to the little monsters this morning.  My slug traps are doing well in the veg patch but poorly up with the courgettes and it is hurting.

Garden is coming on (just ignore the weeds).

Garden is coming on (just ignore the weeds).

Much of my current garden news is above – mostly am in full blown war against the slugs. My perennial enemy.  They have now decimated 4 cucumbers, 2 courgettes, 2 squashes, all the chillis, one entire salad crop and one purslane crop.  I hates them precious.

Currently I’m deploying my standard beer traps, but the weather has been so wet and mild for so long I bet this is going to be bumper slug year.  So I’m reading this article with great interest especially the bit about Indian Runner Ducks!


Summer Trousers Completed!

For some months now I’ve been trying to finish some lightweight summer trousers for R.

A trio of summer trousers.

A trio of summer trousers.

[Did you spot the upside down patten on the front pair – too late to change it now!]

As we use cloth nappies (probably another post on it’s own!) his little baby bottom is much bigger than normal. Modern clothing is cut for thin disposable nappies, not bulky cloth and so he used to grow out of thing really fast without really growing that much. So I knew at some point that I’d want to sew a few clothes for him.

My other bugbear is colours.  Even at this young age children are beginning to get colour-coded.  We work hard to ensure R enjoys a range of colours, blue to pink and everything in between – but the older he gets the more mud coloured and navy the options become. If I made some of his clothes I can give him the colour which is obviously far too daring for a 10 month old.

I use this wonderful pattern by Rae: http://www.made-by-rae.com/2010/08/big-butt-baby-pants-sewing-pattern/

It was clear, easy to follow and any problems in the execution (upside down owl leg) are mine not her pattern’s fault!

Did you say an owl on my bottom, where?

Did you say an owl on my bottom, where?

There is a 4th pair waiting to be elasticated and after that I’ve two more projects I want to try (these are both free unlike the above):

http://prudentbaby.com/2012/01/baby-kid/shirt-sleeves-into-toddler-harem-pants/ – I have a bunch of sleeves cut off men’s shirts from when I made a circle skirt (out of men’s shirts), I reckon this is a cool way to use them up.

Secondly there is Mini-magpie’s amazing tutorial on turning an old jumper into toddler trousers.  One of my old work jumpers has developed a hole is probably isn’t worth fixing so…


it will be turned into a pair of purple trousers for the Autumn.

The rest of the weekend has been mixed so far, new pigs are arriving tomorrow so we’ve been busy for the last two days, putting in a new fence, cleaning the hutch and cutting back the grass from the fence (so it doesn’t short out the electrics).  In the process of this hard work I was clearing a tussock only to discover it was also an ants nest… ouch!

Circle beds are so far mixed, I am getting some nice growth in them and they are easy to weed.  Unfortunately they also look like comfortable cat toilets so I’ve lost half my carrots already. Life of a gardener I guess.

Round Like a Circle Bed

I’ve been reading up on everything permaculture for a while and slowly drip feeding the principles into the design and construction of our vegetable garden.

Gather your ingredients.

Gather your ingredients.

One of our biggest challenges has been couch grass – it is persistent, deep rooted and in the way.  We used the first set of pigs to move a lot of it but since I’ve discovered No Dig gardening I’ve been looking for other ways to reclaim patch of ground for vegetables.  Which is where I came upon the idea of the circle bed.

The idea is simple and I constructed one and planted it up inside an hour – so time efficient when you are grabbing gardening time when the baby goes for a nap

I started with a circle of cardboard roughly 1 meter in diameter. Simply made using a drawing pin, a little over 1/2 a metre of string and a pencil.  I tied the pencil to one end of the string, attached the other to the centre of my piece of cardboard and then keeping the string taught, sketched out a circle.

Then I soaked the cardboard in water and popped it straight on the grass in the location I picked out – near the other vegetable bed but with plenty of room to move around.

The stick is just a garnish.

The stick is just a garnish.

Then I piled up 1 wheelbarrow of well rotted horse manure and then a layer of 60 litres of compost.

Well rotted Manure.  Thanks to the neighbours.

Well rotted Manure. Thanks to the neighbours.


After that it was easy to shape with a bit of watering and I patted it down like a giant sandcastle.  I made little terraces for the seeds and then smoothed them over.

You can just make out some handprints.

You can just make out some handprints.

Because the circle bed is only 1 metre in diameter and heaped in the centre you never have to walk on it (and so avoid compacting the soil).  The mound creates 3 growing areas, near the base for shorter rooted plants like lettuce, 6-8 inches up the side for longer rooted things (I’ve chose Mooli and Carrots) and the very top where I’ll probably plant a Cavelo Nero, or maybe a squash plant, or maybe a cucumber – who knows!

In the end it was a squash plant…

I'm the king of the castle... etc.

I’m the king of the castle… etc.

The first bed I made I used a straw mulch as suggested in the book.  Then I realised that the book was for Australian gardeners who use the straw to reflect sunlight (less of a concern in the UK!).  Therefore I’ve pulled it to one side to let more light and warmth in and I’m hoping it will create a slug obstacle course. When I made the second bed I skipped the straw layer entirely.

The second bed has nasturtiums plants in the top which I am hoping will cascade down the mound creating ground cover and making it look beautiful.  Cross your fingers this all works!

To Dig or not to Dig, that is the Question…


[This is the view from the butcher’s shop where our pigs have been sent.]


I learned about No Dig gardening whilst on my current permaculture know how binge. It seems like an impossible dream; wildly abundant vegetable gardens without any back breaking digging.  This seems particularly important to me at the moment because (as you may remember from earlier posts) we have just started to get acquainted with our heavy clay soil. J has never been convinced but I made him watch this video and he is starting to come round to the idea.


Digging heavy clay is hard, horrible and not very rewarding so the No Dig approach seems to really help with that.  The main stumbling block seems to be manure/compost.  It seems like you need vast, vast quantities of the stuff to get started.

But I don’t think this is a bad thing, I have been saying for years that we need to be adding much much more manure etc. to our veg gardens to improve yields. We just need to get hold of it.  Firstly we live right next door to a field of horses, we have a loose arrangement that we can take as much as we need as long as the owner has enough for his allotment.  This is great but I think if we are going to adopt this approach we will need even more.  So we are composting everything we can but we are not yet in grass clipping or leaf season and so we are not producing much more than our usual veggie peelings.  Over time I’m sure things will get better – but it seems like it is going to take us a while to get up to speed.  However it is pruning season right now and that is helping a bit.

The prunings go into three piles

1. long, straight (ish) prunings go into the pea and bean cane pile – I used to buy pea and bean canes from the garden centre but thanks to a big garden with lots of trees (and the learning about permaculture i’ve been doing) I’m hoping to completely cut that cost out completely.

2. Twiggy bits of wood from the apple and cherry trees go into the kindling pile for seasoning for our wood burning stove.

3. Everything else is being shredded – so far we have produced 5 big bags of mulch which have been used on the Dogwood and the fruit bushes but any more will go on the compose heap.

Hopefully nothing will have to go into the green bin for the council to collect except the Christmas tree (my experience is that pine needles etc are rubbish for compost).  Right now compost and manure are a vital resource in this family and I can’t be giving the raw material away to the council for free!

Mud to Clay.

The pigs have done their work and the proto-veg patch has been completed turned over. All the weeds and couch grass have been eaten, even the roots – this is very good news, we have been saved days of back-breaking labour trying to double dig the site over.


As you probably know if you like in the UK we have had a wet and mild Winter.  Up here in the peak district on the higher ground we haven’t seen the terrible floods inflicted on the West Country for which I am grateful.  But watching the pigs turn over the veg patch in the last couple of months has revealed something else I suspected… our soil is a heavy clay.

I have been reading about what this means for us and how to deal with it.

So it seem that clay soil is dense, heavy and really really good at holding water (did I mention the really wet Winter).  This makes it difficult to dig, gets easily waterlogged and means crops like carrots and parsnips perform poorly.  On the other hand it is also nutrient dense.   One book on smallholding suggested that clay was so good at holding water that if you had clay soil you could make a pond without a pond liner and I’m tempted to try it.

So it seems that getting the pigs involved at such an early stage was absolutely the right decision, double digging it over would have been even worse than we realised at the time.  But there are pools of standing water now which are worrying me and I’m seriously considering getting a bucket and bailing them out!

In terms of our immediate plans we are going to have to dig in far more manure than we first anticipated, to try and improve the drainage.  We are also looking at digging some drainage ditch to see if that helps. I’ll be starting a lot more thing off in pots at this stage in the hopes that by the time I need to plant them out the soil will have dried out (at this stage the peas and beans would just rot in the ground it is so wet) and I’ll put off planting the potatoes for a week to see if that helps dry things out.

Longer term we are going to start making as much leaf mould as we can, and digging in and mulching in a serious way. Estimates say 2 inches of compost/manure/leaf mould over the whole plot every year to improve the soil’s structure. That is a LOT of compost over a 30×30 foot plot (and we may even go up to 45×45 foot as we have plenty of space.

If we want to keep having pigs then raised beds are probably out which runs the risk of the soil compacting as we walk on it.  I can only hope that having pigs once a year digging it over will deal with the worse of the compaction and they in themselves won’t make it worse. All this digging over the soil isn’t great from a permaculture perspective (something I’ve been researching a lot lately) but it is a side effect of having pigs which brings so many other benefits I can’t complain.

I can’t wait to see what does well here – this is our first year of actually growing veg up here so it is very exciting.  I’m hoping the peas and beans do well as they have always been total failures for us before, I think once the wetness issue has passed the nutrient dense soil will be really good for them.