The Veg Plot

The Veg Plot

Theme Tune – Isolation – John Lennon

Introduction

2020 was the year I was going to focus on other areas of the farm. It was the year I was going to leave the proposed veg plot fallow, adding lots of mulch and manure to try to ‘grow’ more humus.

Then Covid-19 struck the world and my priorities shifted. Growing food for my family and sharing with neighbours became a higher priority.

Work & school were cancelled, what better time to get growing and (try to) get the kids involved in the process.

Vision

To grow vegetables and fruit that my family like whilst improving the quality of the soil and encouraging biodiversity. Plot must be minimal maintenance.

Ethics

Earth Care – Use No-Dig methods. Compost biomass, Sow wildflowers and companion plants to feed pollinators. Brew Compost Teas. Mix Perennial & Annual Veg plants. Mini-swales will ensure rainwater stays in the area as long as possible.

People Care – Grow food we want to eat; Minimal maintenance once constructed. Income stream from selling preserves/veg at the gate. Share knowledge with others.

Fair Share – Any over abundance will be shared with our neighbours and friends, either fresh or as preserves. Seeds & knowledge shared with others.

Design Framework – SADIMET

Survey, Analyse, Design, Implement, Maintain, Tweak

Client

My family

Dates

March 2020 – May 2020 (Design & Phase 1 Implementation)

Survey

Tools Used – Google Earth, Walking the site, Seasonal observations over several years

Earth

Situated approximately 270m above sea level. (Source Google Earth and https://en-gb.topographic-map.com/)

Google Earth Image of Mount Pleasant Farm
Mount Pleasant Farm – Veg Plot Location in white

Land slopes towards the west. Using Google Earth I discovered that the land had a 20% slope. Not as steep as the Hazel Plantation below the plot, but still fairly steep.

I used the AH Contour Generator app used to find contours and apply to Google Earth Map.

Veg Plot Contours
Veg Plot Contours

Soil is thin, stony and patchy. Heath like terrain. Depth generally 0.25/0.5 spade depth. 4 years ago some ‘top soil’ was spread on the site. It was very poor quality and blew away/washed away quickly. Green manures were sown, White clover was the only one to take and this has been cut as mulch since. Manure has also been added to the soil as mulch, so it has improved a little.
Soil dries out quickly, and becomes very hard.

Road above the site to the east, House is below the site to the South and there is a field with Ponies to the North. The Northen edge has a dry stone wall as well as sheep netting.

Plants in existence. Newly planted fruit trees, Docks, Coltsfoot, Nettles, Grasses and White Clover. Bilberry bushes have self sown behind greenhouse.

Air

The site is very exposed with little wind protection.
W/SW wind is the prevailing direction.
Also exposed to N & E & S winds.
There is an amazing view of the valley to the West and the North

Fire

The site receieves full sun, all day, all year round. Slight shade provided on Southern edge by the low stone wall.
The warmest month of the year is July, with an average temperature of 16.2 °C | 61.2 °F. January has the lowest average temperature of the year. It is 3.3 °C | 37.9 °F.
First/Last frosts Mid-October / Mid-May

Water

1093 mm per year (average). The driest month is usually May, with 70 mm | 2.8 inch of rainfall. With an average of 119 mm | 4.7 inch, the most precipitation usually falls in December.

No water on site.
Water butts attached to greenhouse below site, as well as water pipes (Not yet plumbed in).
Outdoor tap attached to house below site. A long hose can reach the site.

In flood events, water pours off the road through the site. This happens once or twice a year, but becoming more frequent. Video of flood footage.

The soil does not hold water well, and being a slope, drains quickly.

Wild

Potential Pests – Moles, Badgers, Deer, Rabbits, voles, mice.
Major Pest – Slugs, slugs and more slugs.
Chickens & our dog who likes to ‘help’

Existing Features & resources

  • Stone Walls & Sheep fencing – North, Small Stone wall – South
  • Wooden Fences – East & West edges, large gate to East.
  • Electricity pole & guide line in middle of site.
  • Greenhouse below site
  • Access to manure
  • Homemade compost
  • Fruit bush cuttings & exisiting veg seeds
  • Cool barn with secure space to store food (Not shown on maps)
  • I have preserving (Pickling/drying/fermenting) knowledge

Analyse

Tools Used – Sector SWOC Analysis, Base Maps & Overlays, Venn Diagram of Veg

Sector SWOC Analysis

Earth

Strengths
Drains Well
Chickens have cleared some areas of weeds and pooped
Access to Road – easier manure deliveries
Compost Bay on site
Greenhouse near by
Not many pests
Weaknesses
Thin, hard, stony, dry soil
Prone to wind and water erosion
Perennial weeds (dandelions, nettles, coltsfoot)
Slugs
Occasional feral ninja sheep
Cunning chickens like to try to enter veg growing area.
Opportunities
Sheep netting can offer plant support
Stone Wall offers extra heat
Wildflowers like poor soil
Blank Slate
Many horses nearby = much horse manure
Next door farm has cows = cow manure
Homemade compost on site
Nettles/weeds can be used to make compost and compost teas
Challenges
Needs a lot of manure/compost – reliant on others if a large quanity is needed at once
SWOC Analysis – Earth

Air

Strengths
Trees below site will offer some shelter once they grow taller
Great views
Weaknesses
Exposed to wind on all sides
Opportunities
Plenty of space to install windbreaks
Have plenty of fruitbush, herb & shrub cuttings & seedlings.
Existing fenceposts to West may provide structure to install fabric windbreak.
Challenges
Trees take a long tome to grow,
Develop ways to filter wind.
SWOC Analysis – Air

Fire

Strengths
Receives full sun, year round
Weaknesses
No shade, not all plants like full sun
Opportunities
Space to develop shadier microclimates
Challenges
Need to develop some shadier spots to shelter plants.
SWOC – Analysis Fire

Water

Strengths
Access to water from butts and hosepipe
Weaknesses
Position means that site is above all sources of water. Not possible to use gravity.
Slope & high proximity of bedrock mean that putting in a pond is not an option.
Water drains quickly from site.
Excess flood water from road spills onto the site, eroding soil.
Opportunities
As the site is sloping, I could put in a series of mini-swales to capture rainwater & run-off
Access to mulch to help keep water from evaporating.
Challenges
Bedrock & pan are close to the surface, can’t dig down deeply.
SWOC Analysis – Water

Wild Sector

Strengths
I have 20 years understanding and observations of the area.
Green manures and horse manure have started to improve soil fertility
Food preserving knowledge
Weaknesses
Climate is becoming more unpredictable.
Badgers, Moles, Rabbits, Feral Sheep and curious Chickens are becoming drawn to the improving site.
Planning – when to plant/harvest
Opportunities
Changing Climate – warmer weather
Ponies next door can ‘prune’ the fruit trees.
Challenges
Slugmageddon
Keeping pests from destroying site.
Perennial, stubborn weeds.
SWOC Analysis – Wild Sector

Venn Diagram of Veg

There does not seem to be much point putting a lot of time, energy and resources into growing food that we won’t eat or that can’t be grown here. This is where the Venn Diagram of Veg came in. I compared the veg my children like to eat with what grow outside and against any useful or interesting veg. We did this mainly for annual veg.

Venn Diagram of Veg

Basemap & Sector Analysis & McHargs exclusion

I used Google Earth to create the Base Map, but also measured on the ground. The two measurements did not quite correspond. Having read into it, it is due to the slope of the land. I have more space available than the Satellite images show. I therefore re-measured manually using a tape measure, and re-drew the base map.

I did not include sun in the Sector Analysis. The site receives full sun, all day, all year round. There are no shade areas.

I used McHargs exclusion method to investigate best areas to plant trees and taller shrubs. The postion of walls, the greenhouse, the gate opening and the guide wire for the electricity pole all defined possible growing and tree planting areas..

List of available resources

  • Myself, mattocks, shovels & strength
  • Time
  • Currant bush cuttings
  • Gooseberry cuttings
  • Jerusalem Artichoke Tubers
  • Cardoon seeds
  • Lovage
  • Japanese quince seedlings
  • Vegetable seeds
  • Top soil
  • Horse Manure (from neighbours)
  • Strawberry plants (from neighbours)
  • Lupin seedlings
  • Fruit trees (move from existing positions)
  • Loganberry, move from existing position
  • Weed supressing membrane
  • Wooden Pallets

Design

The analysis indicated that lack of water holding properties of the soil and the exposed position were my two biggest challenges.

Providing shelter from wind and keeping necessary water on site were the key to the design. I also needed to be able to build humus and create nutritious compost.

I also wanted to use what I had (or neighbours had) and to minimise buying in of other resources

I used Mollison & Slay’s principles to guide my design.

Relative location; Each element performs many functions; Each important function is supported by many elements; Efficient energy planning: zone, sector & slope; Using biological resources; small-scale intensive systems; inc plant & time stacking; Accellerating succession and evolution; Diversity inc. Guilds; Edge effect; Imagination and information intensive

Map of functions
Veg Garden Functions and links

A ‘Forest Garden’ seems to tick all of these boxes. However, planting out and establishment of this system takes a long time and a significant amount of work, and my children love a lot of vegetables that need to be sown annually (and I like the magic of growing from seed). With this in mind I will incorporate elements of forest gardening with annual veg beds.

A Forest Garden is a garden modelled on a natural woodland. Like a natural woodland it has three layers of vegetation: trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. In an edible forest garden the tree layer contains fruit and nut trees, the shrub layer soft fruit and nut bushes, and the ground layer perennial vegetables and herbs. The soil is not dug, and annual vegetables are not normally included unless they can reproduce by self seeding.

Patrick Whitefield, How To Make A Forest Garden 1996

The key features of a Forest Garden are:

  • Increased Fertility – Using plants to increase fertility, such as nitrogen fixers. eg. Alders, Broom, Elaeagnus. The Nitrogen in the system enables higher production of fruit.
  • Dynamic accumulators – deep rooting plants which can tap mineral sources deep in the subsoil and raise them into the topsoil layer where they become available to other plants. When the plant is cut for mulch or dies, the nutrient rich leaves decompose and make the nutrients available to other plants with roots closer to the soil surface.eg. Coltsfoot, Comfreys, Liquorice, Sorrel (and docks!).
  • Stacking – Layering different root depths, or growing times, nutritional needs or sunlight requirements.
  • Insect attracting and repelling – The use of plants specially chosen for their ability to attract predators of common pests, eg umbellifers like Yarrow, also strong smelling plants that can help deter harmful insects
  • Groundcover – to suppress grass and thereby increase fruiting in trees as well as protecting soil from leach of nutrients and soil erosion, good groundcover is essential. The plants can be chosen according to how much sunlight exposure they need and placed accordingly in the tree guilds.
  • Mulch material and leaf litter – Builds humus, protects the soil against erosion and evaporation of moisture and helps supress undesired plants. It also provides habitat and food for worms, insects, bacteria and fungi that help cycle nutrients and improve soil fertility.

Water Management

To hold water on site I plan to use a series of mini-swales and berms, plus mulch the site as much as possible. As the ground is hard and rocky, and the layer of topsoil close to non-existant, large swale type structures will not be possible to achieve without the use of machines. I could however create mini-swales along the contour and use the berms to grow on. The smaller swales would also interfere less with the natural flow of water down hill as the site is above a steeply sloping Hazel plantation.

I plan to plant guilds of fruits, vegertables and flowers on the berms. When the roots grow, they will hold the soil. The mix of plants ensures roots at different depths. The trenches will be planted with white clover to attract pollinators and act as a green mulch.

Wind Protection

The taller trees and medium height shrubs would provide shelter from the wind, and shadier microclimates in a very exposed location.

Video demonstrating the wind pattern as the wind funnels round this sie of the house.

In the short term, I propose to build a pallet barrier that will provide some wind protection from the west. Protection from the East and North will happen slowly. In the mean time I do have access to crop netting and build-a-ball frames that could provide more immediate protection for annual crops (from pests as well as wind)

My annual veg beds will be planted with shelter in mind. For example, taller vegetables such as Kales will provide wind protection for shorter plants. They will be planted in a way that maximises sunlight to other crops. Jerusalem Artichokes will also be planted on the berms to hold soil, offer wind protection and provide mulch material.

Elevation of veg plot (including Hazel Coppice below site)

Decisions for larger trees and shrubs

The planting of larger trees and shrubs will provide shelter and structure to the site, and will define where and what else can be planted.

In Situ
AspenAdd a tall canopy, plenty of space underneath for planting, and makes a beautiful noise.
Sweet ChestnutAdds a tall canopy, but will be coppiced for wood and to keep the size down as it is located near the road. Unlikely to produce edible fruits here.
MyrobalanJust outside the garden area, but provides fruit and blossom
Crab AppleOn edge of garden area, provides blossom and fruit
AppleHardy varieties. Seek no Further, Katy and Howgate Wonder
DamsonFarleigh. Provides shelter, blossom and fruit
HazelThird Acre Hazel planted in field below for coppice/pollarding
Sea BuckthornOn edge of garden. provides shelter, blossom and fruit. Nitrogen fixing.
ElderOn edge of garden, provides shelter, blossom and fruit
Japanese QuinceOn edge of garden, provides shelter, early blossom and fruit
Trees and Shrubs already in Situ
Proposed
PlumProvides shelter, blossom and fruit
PearProvides shelter, blossom and fruit. Self pollinating variety.
Eleagnus UmbellataLarge hardy shrub, vigorous. Good in exposed areas. Nitrogen fixing. Provides shelter, colour and fruit and scent.
MahoniaLarge hardy shrub. Provides shelter, fruit and colour.
LoganberryLarge sprawling fruit bush. Provides shelter and fruit. Moving from existing location
JostaberryProvides shelter and fruit
Japanese Wine BerryProvides shelter and fruit
CurrantsProvides shelter and fruit
GooseberriesProvide shelter and fruit

Feeding People

Using the Forest Garden idea, I envisage that crops grown will be a mix of perennial fruit vegetables and herbs wich will be expanded over time.
My children also have a liking for many annual vegetables so, these need to be incorporated. The annual vegetables will be planted in beds built on the contour (again to hold water), using the no-dig method. The Venn Diagram of veg will help me decide on types and varieties. I have access to a Greenhouse & polytunnes to help with more protected growing areas.

Feeding Plants and Earth

The Forest garden approach focuses greatly on improving soil fertility through the use of Nitrogen fixing plants, leaf litter and mulch. I also have access to a ready supply of Horse and Cow manure and weeds.

As I start to implement the design, I will use manure to build fertility and as plants start to grow, the leaf litter and dying green materials (that aren’t eaten) will either be used to make compost or left in situe. The compost can also be used to boost fertility in the undercover growing areas.

Magic potions

As a child I used to love making magic potions. Not much has changed. I plan to use the abundant weeds that grow here to make compost teas to feed and boost the plants. Many weeds are high in trace elements and making teas from them enables other plants to more readily access these essential elements. I also plan to plant more comfrey which makes great plant food, and also attracts many beneficial insects.

Accumulator PlantTrace Elelements
YarrowPhosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper
NettlesNitrogen, Potassium, Calcium, Calcium, Iron, Copper, Sulphur
ComfreyNitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Manganese
White CloverNitrogen, Sodium, Phosphorus, Molybendium
DandelionCalcium, Iron, Copper, Potassium, Magnesium, Sodium, Cobalt, Phosphorus
GarlicSulphur
Compost Teas for the Organic Grower, Eric Fisher – 2019

Nitrogen fixing plants

Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are the three nutrients that are needed by plants in the greatest quantity. Nitrogen is unique in that it is readily available in the air, and needs to be continually reintroduced to the soil. Certain plants have the ability to take Nitrogen from the air and store it. I plan to incorporate a number of these in my design.

  • Eleagnus – shade tolerant, hardy, fast growing and produces fruit
  • White Clover – Living mulch, attracts pollinators
  • Lupins – Look lovely, attracts pollinators
  • Beans – Atract pollinators, Food

Companion Planting & Guilds

Companion Planting and guilds operate through a variety of mechanisms, which may sometimes be combined. Plants can provide a symbiotic relationship, attract beneficial insects, or be offered up as a sacrificial crop (e.g. nasturtiums attracting brassica loving white butterflies). Some companion plants help prevent pest insects or pathogenic fungi from damaging the crop, through chemical means, for example, the smell of the foliage of marigolds is claimed to deter aphids from feeding on neighbouring plants.

Fruit Tree Guild

The goal of a tree guild is to underplant a fruit or nut tree, with plants that are highly useful, multifunctional, and that might naturally be found growing together. Things to take into account when creating a tree guild are

Water – It will be drier closer to the tree as the tree uses a great quantity of water, however each tree will have a drip line (at the edge of its crown circumference), so this area will be comparitively wetter.

Sun/Shade – Plants that need a greater amount of sunlight should be located to the south, in full sun. Plants that prefer shade should be planted to the North.

Time – Mix early season growers will wither once the tree canaopy is in full leaf, but these can make space for plants that flourish later in the season

Functionality – Weed suppressing or ground cover plants and plants that fix nitrogen or are mineral accumulators are essential to the abundance of the garden.

Sources – https://www.tenthacrefarm.com/how-to-build-a-fruit-tree-guild/, How to make a Forest Garden, Patrick Whitefield

Tree Guild Example and Berm Guild example

The berms are will be planted with many different plants. Because of their aspects one side of the berm received morning sun, but is shaded in the evening and vice-versa.

Taller plants and shrubs act as cross site protection. White clover acts as a living mulch, covering the soil. Lupins and beans fix Nitrogen, the strawberries act as ground cover and the Dill, Calendula and Marigolds attract polliantors.

Implement

Tools Used – A-Frame & Level frame.

The children and I wanted to try out different methods of finding the contour. We started with an A-Frame, but found that the wind blew the string and weight which was very irritating. We then built a frame for a spirit level and found the contours that way. We marked out the lines, which were then used to dig trenches and form berms.

The growing areas were covered with top soil (reserved from when we dug our pond), covered this with cardboard and then covered that in a thick layer of mature manure.

Video showing the mini-swales – https://youtu.be/6XWnKf7KXwc

Costs/Inputs

Labour – Use of local builder to transfer bulk manure to site £150

Seeds – The majority of seeds and plants were from cuttings I made in previous years, seeds I had left or plants moved frm elsewhere on the farm

Shrubs and Trees – Using a local supplier of trees where possible. Max budget £150

Time – I spent many days installing earth works and shovelling soil & manure/Compost

Preparation Work

As I have observed the site over many years, some preparation has been made to the site before the design is completed.

The soil is very thin (less than half a spade depth) in places, and rocky. Manure added in quantity and white clover sown & cut to build good quality soil.

I know the site was exposed, so trees and shrubs were planted on the most exposed edge in 2018 and 2019.

Build compost bays

Chickens used to clear some of the ground.

Spring 2020

  • Use 2018’s fruitbush cuttings and existing tall plants to form multiple windbreaks, also plant Jerusalem Artichokes.
  • Plant & move existing fruit trees
  • To try to hold water on the site, and to create some microclimates, I installed a number of mini-swales. Due to the proximity of hard pan & rock, these swales aren’t very deep. The berms have been planted with a mix of plants to create wind breaks across the site and to hold the soil in place. The bottom of the swales have been sown with white clover seeds which I had to hand.
  • Construct no-dig on contour veg beds
  • Sow wildflowers, calendula and nasturtiums and also plant comfrey roots to attract pollinators, provide biomass and hold soil.

Next Steps (Summer/Autumn 2020)

  • Move chickens to woods
  • Build Pallet Windbreak Wall
  • Construct 2nd Phase veg beds
  • Install IBC to collect more water
  • Plumb in water pipes that exist in Greenhouse
  • Plant some shrubs on windy edge behind greenhouse
  • Plant more fruit trees and bushes

2021 & beyond

  • Investigate other sources of water
  • Continue to sow seed and plant out perennial plants

Maintain

Mulch, mulch & more mulch

Evaluate

The Process

I learned that mapping from Satellites does not take into account the extra land available from a slope. When measured physically the area is greater that appears from satellite images. A-Frames do not perform well with a breeze.

Knowing the sit well it was tricky not to to have ideas influence my observations, I got round this by writing down any ideas and parking them for future reference. Some of these ideas made it to the plan, others didn’t.

I need to better plan when to sow and plant for next year, keeping records from this season will input into these records

Taking videos and photographs was a good way of recording observations.

WHAT GREW WELL?

HOW DID SWALES PERFORM?

HAS PALLET WINDBREAK HELPED?

SITE OBSERVATIONS AFTER EACH SEASON

Tweak

APPENDIX

List of proposed plants

Trees

  • Pear
  • Plum

Shrubs

  • Eleagnus Umbellata
  • Japanese Wineberry
  • Mahonia
  • Gooseberries
  • Honeyberries
  • Red Chokeberry
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • White currants

Perennial Vegetables/Herbs

  • Fennel
  • Cardoons
  • Babbington Leek
  • Perennial Kale
  • Rhubarb
  • Borage
  • Mint
  • Bee Balm
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Turkish Rocket
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Salad Burnett
  • Scorzonera
  • Mitsuba
  • Nine-star Broccoli
  • Rocambole
  • Angelica
  • Perennial Sunflowers
  • Inula Magnifica

Ground Cover / Low plants

  • Garlic Chives
  • Chives
  • Calendula & Marigolds
  • Daffodils
  • Purslane
  • Wild Strawberry
  • Ajuga Reptans
  • Comfrey
  • Welsh Onion
  • Primrose
  • Violets
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