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New to permaculture, need some advice!

 
Fiona Martin
Posts: 30
Location: UK, Newcastle Upon Tyne
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Hi there,

Firstly I'd like to say, excellent forum! I've lost far too much time reading these threads!

My situation is as follows, I have a small allotment (say 20ft by 60ft) 10 mins walk from my house, we will have had it for nearly 2 years. Im based in the north east of england. The first year was a moderate success but last year was a bit of a disaster, I got a few peas and other veg but the vast majority of veg either didn't come up in the first place or just seemed to stop growing. I feel the biggest problem was the soil, although the crappy weather didn't help. The soil is a light clay and I suspect has been rotivated quite heavily in the years before I inherited it, there are no worms, likely due to lack of organic matter?

In an attempt to rectify the problem we got approx 4tonnes of farmyard manure delivered in November, it was paritially rotted but due to lack of space it had to be heaped directly on the soil.

Now it's time to start planting, I have spread a lot of the manure on the surface of the soil, about 3-4" depth, but still have some left to spread out. I had planned on starting seed in pots and transplanting as the manure is in big lumps so not really suitable for sowing seed direct. My big question is regarding polyculture, how do you go about it? Do you just chuck things in anywhere or should it be more planned, I.e. certain plants grouped together or avoided. I also really like the sound of hugelkulture but don't really have easy access to well rotted wood, I do have a privet hedge and have been using the clippings as a mulch for the paths, leaving them for a year then raking them up. Would privet clippings be suitable for hugelkulture?

I would really appreciate some advice on how to proceed, thanks for reading this post.

Fiona
 
Tom Jonas
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If it were me, I would do a soil test to see what I was working with. Most areas have a local gardening extension service of some kind who can help. Even the cheapie soil test kits can help. Also, look for soil texture; when the soil is wet, is it dense? Is the soil loose? You will need a balance between dense and loose. Too dense? Mix in materials that will aireate the soil such as chopped straw, etc. If loose and not too enriched by all the manure(your soil test will confirm this), cultivate and plant to what you want.
As far as your hugel question, your clippings will work well, but you will need a lot for a good sized hugelbed. Another idea is to use your clippings to add organic matter to the overlying soil, then plan your hugel for the next season. It sounds as if you have a delicious but rewarding challenge. All the luck from Alaska.
 
Fiona Martin
Posts: 30
Location: UK, Newcastle Upon Tyne
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Thanks for your comments!

Sounds like it will be best to save all my clippings this year then use them to make a hugelbeet when I have enough. I do have a cheapie soil test lurking somewhere which I will hunt out and test the soil, and maybe investigate more detailed testing. I did try last year putting the clippings directly on the beds as a mulch, but they just dried up and didn't really do much, however the ones which I piled up in the corner and on the paths decomposed to make a lovely leaf mould, which I will use as a mulch, unfortunately I don't have a great deal of these.

I forgot to mention in my earlier post, but I do intend to sow some clover as a living mulch, with the hope that it should balance out any loss of nitrogen from the manure still decomposing.

 
Lucas Harrison-Zdenek
Posts: 90
Location: Southeast Michigan, Zone 6a
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Another option you could explore is adding compost. We have a city supply available to residents free of charge and it makes a great top layer of organic matter to get things growing. Remember that your soil health is the first element in your garden to work on. The soil test is a great way to start. Over time, the addition of amendments like compost really add up to healthy soil, which makes for healthy plants that are pest and disease tolerant. Best of luck to you!
 
Fiona Martin
Posts: 30
Location: UK, Newcastle Upon Tyne
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Lucas Harrison-Zdenek wrote:Another option you could explore is adding compost. We have a city supply available to residents free of charge and it makes a great top layer of organic matter to get things growing. Remember that your soil health is the first element in your garden to work on. The soil test is a great way to start. Over time, the addition of amendments like compost really add up to healthy soil, which makes for healthy plants that are pest and disease tolerant. Best of luck to you!


Thanks for that tip, I've just googled council compost, it seems that I can either get 20kg bags for £2 each and collect myself, or for discounted price for allotment holders, ~1tonne delivered for £13. Definitely something to consider, I'll have to clear some space for it first though!

I think my priority this year has got to be building the soil, if I get any crops it will be a bonus.
 
Tom Davis
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Adding texture to the land, like mounds and low spots will help create diverse niches.
Put some rock piles in for heat retention and insect predator habitat.
With that clay, I would try to make a small pond, or infiltration basin, with no liner, to increase diversity. (put some fishes in there if you can seal it to eat the mosquitoes if you have any skeeters in your area).
I would plant a bunch of root vegetables: daikon, radish, turnips, carrots, beets to help break up your soil. Then leave them to rot, nevermind the smell, it will leave tons of carbon pathways for your plant roots.
I might also take a broad fork to it to get more air into the soil.
Some small swales 1' or 2' wide, filled with gravel if you don't want it to look weird or think folks might trip.
As for planting polyculture, I mix the small seed with other small seed and big seed with other big seed. At the end I have 2 mixtures: big seed and small seed. I would make the mix mostly biennials and perrennials, or annuals that perrenialize in your area.
Trees, might think about a couple of those.
Comfrey, great mulch source.
Fling away, kick or rake dirt over the top so the birds and mice don't take all.
See what does well where, watch things grow and interact.
Capture as much water as you can.
 
Fiona Martin
Posts: 30
Location: UK, Newcastle Upon Tyne
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Thanks Tom, some great suggestions there. I would love to put a pond in, but I've got a 2 year old son so maybe when he's a bit older I'll put one in. We did get a frog last year, so I'm going to create a bit of a damp area hidden away in the corner, to try and attract more frogs. I like the idea of creating mounds and hollows, it'll be a great excuse for my lack of landscaping abilities. Great tip for the seeds for the polyculture, I'll give that a go.
 
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