Tag Archives: Mulch

The Patchworks Family

Ely & Patch45

Ely & Patch44

The last blog update from the Patch was my birthday family mulching session back in December. I thought that now  Nina and I are settling into life in Australia it was about time for a long distance update as the Patchworks family have been at it again.

Mum, Dad, Jonny, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe revisited The Patch in June to finish off the mulch on the elaeagnus and alder hedges along with some extra mulch for the walnut and Patchworks Pippin. They took plenty of photos and as you can see things are looking really good…

Ely & Patch14

Mum mulching the elaeagnus hedge

Ely & Patch24

The native hedge in blossom

Ely & Patch27

Sea Buckthorn berry looking healthy

Ely & Patch30

Ethan doing a grand job

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Super mulchers

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Nina Eve’s medlar looking amazing!

All this green fingered work seems to have really inspired Mum and Dad.  Mum has always been a keen gardener, it runs in the family, but since retirement her and Dad have given their garden an extra boost and this year their new veg patch featured in the village open gardens 2013. Mum says she has really diversified this year with mixed companion planting and plenty of pest distractors, not to mention tonnes of comfrey! I’m sure they were happy to get a bit of help from the grandchildren.

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Mum looking very proud of her new raised beds. Good job Dad!

Open Gardens Weekend37

Cheeky smiles all round!

Open Gardens Weekend41

Phoebe definitely looks like she’s having fun!

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Stunning veg!

A couple of weeks ago Nina and I received news of another visit to The Patch by Mum and Dad. They just can’t keep away! Maybe that’s because I keep asking for photos!

Much to our surprise and delight, the latest batch of pictures revealed the first fruits of our plantings. We have pears on the Williams along with red gooseberries and white currants. It’s only 2 years since the big tree planting and we have the first signs of productivity. Mum confessed that she hadn’t checked too many of the trees as she was worried about snakes but she did manage to pick 8oz of white currants!

Patch Visit 3 Aug19

The Williams Pear in fruit!

Patch Visit 3 Aug23

Gooseberries!

Patch Visit 3 Aug22

White currants!

The Patchworks family visits, updates and photos really makes the distance between Norfolk and Australia smaller. Nina and I are truly grateful for the time and energy that you have put into the Patch. We hope that one day the fruits are abundant and that you can reap the benefits at harvest time.

We miss you

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The Patch – Remote Permaculture Maintenance

Greetings from a far

One of our big concerns once our food forest was planted, and knowing that we would be leaving the country for an unknown amount of years, was how would our little fruit trees and bushes survive the encroaching grass, blackthorn and volunteer plants.

We had no idea at the time. There was no design element that we could think of, other than expensive, non natural sheet mulching techniques. We didn’t give that a second thought. Here’s where I believe design can happen organically, not necessarily at the offset, but when an idea comes to mind due to necessity.

Winter was fast encroaching and so was my 35th birthday. I am in China. I thought everyday about how our mulberry, cherries, apples, pears and sea buckthorn berries needed tucking in for winter. A cosy, thick bed of mulch to keep them roots warm and stave of the early grass growth of 2013.

I plucked up the courage and boldly requested my family to help with the “M” of OBREDIM – Maintenance. “If we can get a farmer to drop off 20 big bales of straw I’m sure it can be done in a half day” I asked squeamishly. Mum was keen and she asked that I email through some detailed instructions…

On my birthday, December 17th, I woke in China to check my emails. Not only had Mum written a great account of their “beautiful day” at the Patch but Clare had attached a whole photo album of the proceedings. We were so happy to see that the food forest had been mulched but more importantly Mum, Dad, Clare, Ethan and Phoebe confessed that they had had a really fun and enjoyable day.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR ENTHUSIASM TOWARDS OUR ONGOING PROJECT AT THE PATCH. PLEASE FILL YOUR BOOTS WITH FRUIT IN 2013

The Family on there way...

The Family on their way…

Clare checking out the walnut

Clare checking out the walnut

Ethan on the pile of bales

Ethan on the pile of bales

Keen niece and nephew

Keen niece and nephew

Greetings from a far

Greetings from a far

Couldn't ask for a better birthday present

Couldn’t ask for a better birthday present

Dad handing out instructions

Dad handing out instructions

Phoebe loads a bales

Phoebe loads a bale

Relaxing in the sun

Relaxing in the sun

They're on it now!

They’re on it now!

Mum shifts the bales around

Mum shifts the bales around

A beautiful day at the Patch

A beautiful day at the Patch

Tea break

Tea break

Hot elderberry cordial

Hot elderberry cordial

Birthday message

Birthday message

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

Bit of maintenance on the tanks

A well earned rest

A well earned rest

Mulch it!!!

Mulch it!!!

Nice and thick!

Nice and thick!

A winter bed...

A winter bed…

Mum mulches the native hedge

Mum mulches the native hedge

In full mucling swing...

In full mulching swing…

Clare looks satisfied

Clare looks satisfied

Spread it about!

Spread it about!

Perfect job

Perfect job

Native hedge mulched

Native hedge mulched

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Ethan relaxes (in mulch)

Phoebe joins him

Phoebe joins him

Beauitful

Beauitful

Nearly done..

Nearly done..

Perfect, thank you so so much

Perfect, thank you so so much

News from Busso…

Today brings welcome news from Italy. The very nature of our journey means that we are connecting with, working with and then inevitably parting way with friends, couch surf hosts and wwoof hosts along the way. We wonder often how the projects are going that we leave behind. We can of course receive the odd update via email but its just not the same as seeing with our own eyes. Some of our permaculture blitz ideas were met with caution by our hosts, seen as “crazy” gardening or “cocktail” gardens. “Let’s see” was a common used phrase when a new experiment had been planted out.

Luckily Giovanni was very open to the idea of a new synergistic garden, less work, less water, less disease, no chemicals, no digging, more food were all promised once the initial set up was complete. You can read the original blog post here.

The pictures above show the set up process followed by the photographs below, just received from Giovanni, taken only last night, with the comments that it hasn’t even rained since we left – looks like that thick layer of moisture holding mulch is doing the trick…

Gorilla in the Mist

We have been in Italy for 6 weeks in total. For each new person we meet or new village we enter we wonder if we’ll ever have a truly authentic Italian experience. Some time with a family would be nice or the chance to learn about home cooked Italian food. From the comfort of our Molise farmhouse we looked through the wwoof host list once again and although we usually steer clear of agri-tourism farms there was something wooing us towards our next host. It may have been the photo’s that Nina spotted of home made pasta and freshly baked wood oven bread. In fact I’m sure it was. We contacted Giovanni and he was keen to have us for a week in Busso before we left Italy for Greece.

Giovanni kindly collected us from our farmhouse in Faifoli. He has a friend with a mill nearby and was keen to pick up some fresh flour for baking and making polenta later in the week. He hinted on route that he was recently separated from his wife and it was obvious when we arrived at his house that the agri-tourism business had been laid to rest. The topic of conversation in the car was verging on obsessive and Giovanni clearly had a new passion – truffle hunting! It turns out that we had arrived in one of the most prolific black truffle hotspots in Italy and THE only region in the world where you can find the elusive white truffle.

Giovanni got up at 4am every morning to take two of his five dogs out hunting. He mentioned to us that he watches films or listens to music at around 2am each night and he was up past twelve every day that we were there. One day we found him randomly sleeping in his car at lunchtime and on day five he confessed to insomnia which gave reason to the silver-back nature we had experienced, calm and attentive one minute and explosive and unpredictable the next. We wanted authentic and we certainly got it. Our time in Busso was very testing but also very rewarding.

Our host, also a professional chef, was keen to demonstrate his skills in the kitchen and we were baking sourdough bread and pizza within hours of arrival. He cooked pumpkin risotto, wild chicory, potato and bean pasta amongst an array of other Italian delights with home made wine with every lunchtime and evening meal. Oh yes, before you ask, we were treated to the legendary black truffles, once with egg and once with the polenta on a friendly visit to parents for lunch. There is no other taste like it in the world. Delicate fungi with a buttery warmth that when grated, raw, has a distinct texture similar to parmesan cheese. I could see how they could become addictive and maybe why Giovanni was obsessed and a bit crazy.

Our duties as wwoofers were mostly helping out around the place. We emptied a wood shed and added some new acacia uprights for roof support before re-stacking it, we put up some fencing, we helped move things around that he couldn’t have done alone, we supervised the revival of an old lawnmower and we generally kept the crazy-maker’s kitchen clean. Plus we made another round of elderflower cordial, our third batch in Italy!

Giovanni mentioned a few times that he wanted to ‘do’ permaculture in his vegetable garden. On day four he went out to visit a friend and Nina and I set about turning an unused area of his vegetable plot into a synergistic garden. I’d learnt the basics from Elena a few weeks earlier. The process of setting it up is very easy and due to the no-dig nature it only has to be done once. On the slope I pulled earth from the high ground down to form one metre terraces, leaving a path. Nina added plenty of old sheep and rabbit poo and I then added a drip irrigation pipe along the top of each terrace and we heavily mulched, paths an all. We had some seeds collected from our journey so far, some seedlings that Giovanni bought plus whatever we could find around the property, like strawberries and mint. We designed a companion pattern for each bed and packed them full of food crop and beneficial plants like borage and calendula. Giovanni was very happy with his new garden and said that he was hoping to transfer the whole veg patch into this type of ‘easy’ growing system.

We were asked along to a morning truffle hunt one day. Up and out the door before 5am. Dew-proof trousers, a big stick and sniffer dogs in cages. It was all very surreal. We drove to an area just a few kilometres away, a young forest emerging from grassland. Oaks, blackthorn, wild apples, hawthorn, poplar and dogwood were all present. Giovanni showed us areas of grass die back where he expects to find truffles and sadly areas where some very competitive truffle hunters had dug up meters of soil around the tree. They do this once they have found just one truffle in the hope of randomly finding more. Not only do they take the unripe truffles but they break the mycellium and upset the symbiotic relationship of tree and truffle and any hopes of the same area fruiting again. Our guide has no need for this illegal type of scavenging as his dogs are so good at honing in to the spot. It was great to see them nose to ground, excited by what they may find. We didn’t find a truffle that morning. He never does when he takes people with him. We heard the horror stories of poison baits being left for dogs, easy for poachers to get the upper hand once your rival dog is dead. It’s big business and Giovanni has a friend who recently sold a truffle for $23,000.

I was worried for Giovanni and I was worried for his animals. I could have counted the number of hours sleep he’d had in one week on one hand. One moment he was full of joy and enthusiasm for his new garden and the next he was whacking one of his hounds in frustration. He was relying on truffles for an income and relying on his dogs for truffles. When little Ziggy got a wheat tuft in her ear it was the cost of removing it that seemed the major concern and not the welfare of the dog. I had to remind our host that the dogs had no water in their cages, cages that they spend every moment in when not truffle hunting. It makes me think about using animals as tools for profit related business. And it makes me think about relying on one stream of income and the pressure that comes with it. The permaculture principle of redundancy teaches us not to put all our eggs in one basket. The analogy of the spiders web demonstrates this perfectly, it can still perform it’s function even when a whole bunch of links are broken. I hope that Giovanni will be inspired by his new garden and maybe he will develop it further for less reliance on truffle hunting.

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Synergistic Gardens at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

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I have just finished a week volunteering with Elena in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.  Our main focus was in the vegetable gardens.  Elena follows Emilia Hazelip’s methods adapted to a temperate climate from Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming techniques.  A term referred to as Synergistic Gardening which is a fancy way of saying self fertilising garden.  The main focus is building soil fertility.  Here are the main principles;

  • Permanent raised beds with the ability to reach the whole bed without stepping on it.  Keyholes are best use of space but if you have room strips are easy to work with
  • No bare soil – permanent soil cover using organic mulch like straw or sheep’s wool.  I believe a living mulch could work really well too.  Adding even more life to the beds.
  • No monoculture – massive diversity in plants for all the obvious reasons; Resilience, beneficial insects etc.  There is no particular planting patterns it seems.
  • No chemicals! (pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones)
  • No tilling – yes that means no digging (apart from the original prep)!
  • No added compost (with the possible exception of demanding transplants)
  • No treating plants (i.e. for insects, illness, etc).
  • No pulling out plants (except for root vegetables)

It actually seems like a lot of rules but it’s pretty simple once the beds are set up – keep it covered, mix things up when sowing and interfere with the garden as little as possible.  If you want to remove the odd weed then cut it at the base letting the roots stay.

Helping Elena made me realise that keeping annuals can actually be very easy.  I helped her do her yearly irrigation system check, her yearly weed (by chopping at the base of the stem), yes once a year, and the rest of the time we were scattering seeds.  She likes to observe what does well in what situation rather then referring to a companion planting book.

There are a few logical sowing methods that I observed like salad plants taking up most of the edges for ease of regular picking and some larger rooted plants in the higher positions with more soil below.

Whilst walking around the gardens I thought to myself that one packet of seeds is roughly equivalent in cost to one vegetable, like a fennel or a pumpkin or something similar.  So compared with the effort that we put into annual gardening we may as well just scatter seeds and hope for the best.  If two come good then we have saved ourselves the cost of one vegetable and for the very very least effort spent.  Even less if we are saving our own seed!

Thank you for having me for a week and good luck with the continuing success of your experiments at La Fattoria dell’Autosufficienza

Patch Packdown

I’m writing this post from a blue washed rooftop in Chefchaouen, Morocco.  We arrived a week ago after a fairly hands on last week at the Patch in England.  We managed to do everything we felt we needed to do to leave it in a good place for the future.

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The Main achievement was turfing, sealing, tidying and guttering the roof and setting up the water tanks.  With the help of Dad and a few days graft we should now always have water on site to help keep the young fruit trees nourished in their early years.  Still no news on the planning application however the water tanks are essential to good harvests in years to come.  With more help this time from Mum and Nina’s tireless shit shovelling efforts we managed to sheet mulch every single tree and section of hedging that was planted last year.

Two or three soft fruits were planted around each fruit tree, and many interplanted with nitrogen-fixing shrubs, mostly, seabuckthorn berry.  We laid thick sheets of cardboard and then dumped on a good load of old horse poo and mulched around each one, joining to form islands or guilds.  Next went in comfrey root cuttings and on top we sewed a mixture of beneficial insect/bee plant seed, mineral miner seeds, herbs and basically anything we had from the seeds saved last year .  For minimum effort and a few minutes sewing we produce the possibility of plenty of beneficial plants popping up.  The alder hedge, elaeagnus hedge and the edible hedge all got heavily mulched that will hopefully kick start a growth spirt this year.

Nina put the veggy garden to bed under black plastic weighed down by tyres.  This should ensure a weed free experience when we next want to use it.  We had a general clear up and an all round nice “Bon Voyage” bonfire with Woody to mark the end of a massively productive year at the Patch.  Here’s hoping friends and family can enjoy some fresh fruit soon…

Patch Update…

Happy new year everyone!  We have not heard anything yet from the council regarding our planning application but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.  More trees arrived from Martin Crawford at the end of November and we planted the remaining food forest specimens straight away.  We also got a bunch of shrub and understory soft fruit and various other interesting bushes which we planted too.  Using cardboard we heavily sheet mulched around each tree creating small guilds and covered over with plenty of 15 year old horse poo and then green waste top dressing for mulch.  This should hopefully kill back the grass whilst providing some extra organic material to our sandy soil whilst the fruit trees are establishing.  Work on the roof continued and we’re close to finishing off now. We’ve completed the turfing and put the weather boarding around the outside. A gutter for water catchment is all that’s needed to finish off.  It’s a strange feeling putting in so much work at the patch and to be leaving it all behind but on our return to England we will have some well established fruit trees hopefully.  Best news of all is that Nina and I booked our tickets to leave England and we’ll be heading off on our first leg to Australia by bus to Morocco in 2 weeks!  From there we’ll begin to plan the rest of our journey and we’ll be doing the first of our Wwoof to Oz exchanges.

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