Like many people here in the UK I’ve been sowing seeds. I give myself extra work by growing almost all of my early plants in modules. This keeps my plants away from slugs, voles, birds, and the worst of the weather, and allows me to give the optimum tmperature for germination using electric propagators. In fact if I had been sowing seeds outside this Spring I’m not sure how many would have made it. As well as needing a bit more work, sowing seeds in modules, rather than sowing them directly in the ground, creates the need for a suitable growing medium. I had read a book which suggested that mixing dried cow manure and river sand makes a good seed sowing compost, but I don’t have either to hand. In the past I have relied on bought in ‘multi purpose’, sieved and mixed with sand, but with the volume of seedlings that I grow, and the trees and shrubs in pots, this is expensive, not particularly ‘green’, and may in fact be responsible for creating some of the disease problems that seedlings suffer from. This year I have made some changes to the way that I go about sowing seeds.
The Permaculture Principle Observe and Interact gives me a great excuse to bring out the ‘mad proffessor that seems to direct much of what I do. I love to read about a new technique, or in the case of this post an old technique, and then ‘play with it’. Yesterday I did just that with an experiment in Soil Fertility and burning.
Biochar, Burning Wood and Terra Preta
I have done a lot of reading on Traditional Agricultural practises. One technique that is or has been used all over the world is the burning of wood prior to planting crops. This is normally associated with swidden (slash and burn) agriculture. We have an image of indigenous people destroying forest to grow crops, depleting the soil of nutrients, then moving on. The reality is that this is a sophisticated way of farming that uses a period of building soil fertility under trees, and then using that fertiltiy to grow crops. In many ways it resembles the old English Two field rotation. One year crop, one year fallow. In fact it isn’t that long since the burning of stubble in grain fields was made illegal here. What I’ve also read is that in India the wood was slow burned, or charred, rather than burnt fiercely. This throws up some interesting possibilities to observe and interact .
Just three weeks ago, it seemed like there was plenty of time before things became busy in the garden, but this week I realised that not only did I need to get some more seeds sown, but also that the busy time was just around the corner. So I’ve been sowing more seeds, soaking some seeds, and germinating them on kitchen towel, and dividing perennial plants, and moving them. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas of what you could be planting now, and if you can think of something that I’ve forgotten, please comment, and let me know.
With almost all of my tree planting over, I’ve been getting the vegetable growing areas ready. Normally I would be doing this in Autumn, but I wanted to get the trees in first, and then the snow interrupted that, and so it is only now that I’m catching up on my work. In the interim, I’ve been catching up on my reading/research. So I’ll explain what I’m doing at the moment, and some of the different vegetable growing systems that I’ve been trying to incorporate into a coherent single ‘way’ for me to garden.
The frozen ground has set my plans for the Autumn/Winter work back significantly, but much of the tree planting for the new Forest Garden is finished. The jobs that have slipped are the preparation of the Vegetable beds, and wood cutting.
I had hoped to get all of the tree planting done by the end of November/early December, but the snow interrupted work, and once the ground started to thaw, I was caught up in all of the family festivities and visits.I also had to do some remedial work to a beehive that was attacked by a woodpecker, and protect the remaining hives.