Soils and growing

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Sitting in the Artist Exchange meeting at Rhondda Heritage Park and in a discussion with Melissa Warren about her concern about an apparent absence of worm life in her growing space we moved to the benefits of raised beds and no dig growing to soil life including the worm population! And as the conversation continued I found myself sitting next to another artist who was considering experimenting with Hugelkultur beds!

In our orchard Garden I started to lay the beginnings of a 25ft Hugelkultur bed last year. I used large amounts of deciduous wood from pruning’s and some given to us by neighbours. I lay the wood on the surface of the soil. In the winter water runs from a spring into the orchard and I wanted to avoid channelling the surface water and ending up with a waterlogged bed! But perhaps the length of the bed meant I was being too ambitious as I ran out of soil and organic matter to top the bed off and it remains incomplete. So that’s a job for this year!

I also constructed a smaller 3 metre Hugelkultur bed in our kitchen garden. Unlike the bed in the orchard garden I dug a pit and filled it with logs and topped it with soil, well-rotted cow manure and straw. I planted squash which failed to thrive. In part to a huge invasion of slugs but also it became noticeable that the trench had filled with water. I discovered that we probably have another spring! So another job for this year!

Last year I also made a “conventional” raised bed with layers of newspaper, cardboard and straw. I covered it with hooped nett tunnels to prevent our chickens from destroying it. In December I planted it with blackcurrant bushes taken as cuttings from our mature bushes. I intend to inter crop with flowering plants for the next year – calendula and nasturtiums to bring colour and provide food for pollinators and other insects.

Which has reminded me of a description of my parents in law Jimmy and Pauline Andersons garden on Busses Farm by the cookery writer WENDY E. COOK in the introduction to her book : The Biodynamic Food and Cookbook: Real Nutrition That Doesn’t Cost the Earth

“My first introduction to a biodynamic farm was over 35 years ago, yet it made such an indelible impression upon me that I can still vividly recreate the mem­ory. Nestling in the soft East Sussex hills, Busses Farm, run by Jimmy and Pauline Anderson, was a clear demonstration of a living example of biodynam­ics.

Walking through the kitchen garden was like being in a Monet painting. The French intensive biodynamic method was being practised, with raised beds and an exuberant riot of herbs, flowers and vegetables. Patches of marigolds, tagetes and nasturtiums tangled with bright blue borage, lavender, rosemary, courgettes, cucumbers and firm-hearted lettuce. Runner beans busily twined up poles and tomatoes grew warm, sweet and ripe.

If you managed to glimpse the soil through this cornucopia it was black and crumbly, the kind that produces happy plants. Bees provided the background hum as they gratefully progressed from flower to flower, spoilt for choice between gardens and orchards. This was the first time I remember hearing about companion planting.

Out in the fields was a herd of horned Sussex cows, most with their calves, for breeding as well as some milk cows; a few fluffy sheep that looked like an advertisement for washing powder, 300 pecking and excitable hens, and a wonderful workhorse that was used for transporting heavy loads.”

Busses Farmhouse 1976.

 

 

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