January 20, 2016

Behind The Hedges | January

Behind the Hedges: A monthly documentary of our allotment

In the midst of winter's bareness there is not much growing in our allotment in January. Instead we focus on building (and finishing) our recycled greenhouse and burning unwanted wood. The ashes are very fertile and will make a wonderful growing ground for our squash and pumpkins come spring.
We enjoy the quietness up here especially in winter, although the short days don't allow us to come very often. We try to make the most of the few hours that we have each weekend; piecing together the greenhouse and planning for the coming season.

January 13, 2016

Planning an Organic Garden

We are gardeners since the summer of 2013. That year the Englishman had the ingeniuos idea to gift me my very own 300m² allotment for my birthday and I have spent most of my weekends out in the mud ever since.

In the early years, however, gardening was more like an experimental hobby than a real contribution to our pantry. The site was very cluttered, had a fallen down greenhouse on it and tons of weed growing everywhere when we first took it on. We didn't really grow things then, we merely plonked gifted and donated cuttings and seedlings wherever we could find space, watered regularly and hoped for the best. The year after we started of with a plan, but then went travelling over the summer and came back to a jungle. Last year we decided deliberatly to put all our efforts into re-building the derailed greenhouse and only had some strawberries and lettuce going.

However, with the greenhouse almost finished and most of the site clutter free we are aiming this year to grow some real crops. Our short term goal is to establish an organic garden that requires minimal maintenance and offers maximum yields in the future. Long term I would like our allotment to make a real contribution to our weekly food shop, ideally with an extended growing period from early spring to mid winter. Since the allotment is a short drive from our home, I would also like to minimalise the effort of maintaining it. All in all I am hoping for a reliable, organic food source with the added fun of getting out into the weather and mud for it.

After some research into organic gardening I decided that establishing a crop rotation would be a good first step. Rotating crops is an efficient way to keep the soil healthy while providing the different crops with the growing requirements that are best for them. There are 5 growing groups altogether and each year the groups are moved on to the next plot, four years marking the full circle.

The basic rules are:
Plot 1 is for legumes such as peas, green and broad beans.
Plot 2 is for the brassicas such as broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts etc.
Plot 3 is plants from the onion family like garlic and also for zucchini, squash, pumpkins and lettuce.
Plot 4 is for root vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and potatoes.
Plot 5 is for permanent crops in our case perennial herbs like sage, thyme and rosemary.

To have a better idea of where to grow what I created a plan with coloured pencils and watercolour of our allotment. Most of the plots as well as the walk ways already exist. Only the two bottom plots still need weeding, digging and marking off. The plots used for the crop rotation are marked as 1,2,3 and 4. The permanent herbs are already in the ground and will stay in the plots nearer to the greenhouse. The pink plot is where the strawberries are which are not included in the rotation. I want to try and grow spinach alongside it though, as I read that they make great companions. The opposite green plot is reserved for potatoes. Normally potatoes would grow with other root vegetables in plot 4, however this year we would like to plant them in a no-dig bed of heaped manure which requires a lot of space.

Apart from the benefits of a healthier ground and yields throughout the year, I also really enjoy the simple yet systematic approach of the crop rotation plan. I cannot wait for our garden to unfold this year. Especially once the greenhouse is fully functional and we get to grow tomatoes too.

Do you grow organically? What does that look like in your garden?

January 11, 2016

The Great-Things-To-Come-Calendar

Oh the pleasant anticipation of great things to come… As far as the Germans are concerned it’s one of the greatest pleasures of all or as we say it “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude”.

It’s true though; great plans tend to brighten up our days and thoughts long before they begin to unfold, like the annual holidays or Christmas. Last year I decided to harness this power of happy thoughts and created a Great-Things-To-Come-Calendar for us. A wall covering calendar of the year filled only with the things I really looked forward to: date nights, Take That concert, trip to New York, visit to Berlin, meet-up with friends. The earlier planned the better/greater the anticipation and I made an unspoken vow to have at least one adventure scheduled for each quarter of the year.

Looking back at last year, there were definitely days that have been rescued from gloomy thoughts by a quick glance at the calendar. So much so, that I didn’t hesitate to repeat the magic this year.

The calendar to be honest is nothing fancy. I simply created it in Word, printed it and stuck it on the wall behind my desk (as we are renters I used the magical powers of Fixogum, holds it tight and leaves no trace!) If you would like to make your own, you can get the pdf here. You don’t really need a spare wall (although having the year at a glance is great), you could just clip them together on a cute board or pin each month on your inspiration board. Whatever takes your fancy, just be sure to have plenty of things scheduled in that you cannot wait to happen!

So far I have got a trip to the Harry Potter Warner Bro. Studio Tour planned as well as a week-end break in Cologne and some meet-up with friends in the north.

2016 is going to be good.

What great things are coming your way this year? Any fancy holidays planned, anyone?