Well it’s been two months since my last post, and there have been quite a few days when I have taken pictures for an article, but not actually written one. There have been lots of individual reasons for that, but the simple answer is that I have been too busy, and the reason for that is that I have been trying to do too much, and that isn’t sustainable.
A little background information might be useful here. Up until five years ago, we were breeding and racing greyhounds here, so the smallholding was designed in a way that suited that purpose. It was a good system, logical, and well thought out, but it used up all of our cash to do so. About six years ago I had started to grow vegetables again. I had wanted a smallholding for a long time, but was sort of side tracked by the dogs. Once I started to grow stuff again, I knew that the racing wasn’t for me, so we re-homed most of the younger dogs, and kept about nine, mainly the older ones. Being short of cash, and having unused fenced enclosures, we utilised these existing structures for growing stuff. That wasn’t a problem for some time, but as I added to the stuff that I did, the amount of work needed to run it went up too.
This year I guess that I reached the point where I realised that something had to change. There were a number of things that contributed to that. Firstly, I increased my involvement in outside stuff. I became chairman of the Lincolnshire Beekeepers, and a member of the steering group for Transition Horncastle. I was also fortunate to get some work helping to keep bees. This was great, but took up another six or seven hours a week of my time. On top of that I was mentoring some new beekeepers, ran some scything courses, and growing a lot more experimental plants, principally in pots/modules, all of which needed watering etc. Typing up stuff for my blogs added to the workload.
I had a plan of what I wanted to achieve here, but it became increasingly obvious that I didn’t have any extra time to implement changes. In light of that, I asked some friends of mine to come up with some ideas to help me out. So the weekend before last,seven friends who did the same Permaculture Design course as me, brought their families here, camped, did some work, and contributed some ideas.
Many of the suggestions that they made were things that I was already considering, but one or two new ideas did come out, mainly whilst chatting during work. I’ve had time to think about all that they have said, and the stuff that I had already concluded for myself, and have decided on some of the steps that I’m going to take.
Firstly, I need to take some immediate action to reduce the number of hours spent on cyclical tasks (weeding, watering etc.). These steps could be permanent, or temporary. The aim is to give me some time free, which I can then use to implement longer term changes to reduce the workload. One of the ways that I can do this is to mulch the paths between the raised beds. These paths occupy nearly a third of the growing space, but due to compaction, are harder to weed. A small amount of one off work, should yield a long term reduction in labour, perhaps by as much as half, which is a saving of about six to eight hours a week. Initially I was going to use a permanent mulch (geotextile), and probably still will, but I’m not going to cut it up too much as I’m not sure how much of the growing area to retain, so would like to be able to use it elsewhere later.
This leads me to the second area to look at. I have nearly 1500 sq metres of growing area. Nearly a third of an acre, but there’s only two of us to feed, and much of what I grow is either given away or wasted. This needs to be reduced, as it is all managed alone, by hand, with no machinery or chemicals. I don’t want to just let it go back to wilderness, and I have some ideas for ways to use it that will be more efficient, using Permaculture principles, but I need to find some time, and finish the designs, before that can go ahead. In the meanwhile, I’m going to cover any space not used for growing, to cut down on the weeding. It was always my intention to grow using mulch for weed suppression, but the sheer volume of growing area made the finding, and moving of so much organic matter seem difficult. I’m going to solve that by growing more trees and shrubs close by, and using them to provide mulch material. Increasing the proportion of perennial plants will reduce the amount of sowing/watering needed, and using white clover as a living mulch should help to reduce weeding. I also need to look carefully at whether the benefits of scything three acres of grass, justify the time that it takes to do so, and to clear the grass, when I no longer have animals.
Further efficiencies could be made by creating a new protected area for plants in pots/modules, big enough to allow me to keep all of the stuff that I’m growing together, and near to roof spaces that could be used to harvest water. In the Summer, watering was taking me two hours, but nearly half of this time was spent walking between the water butts, and the plants. I’m using some of my time to help create this new area, and expect to have it up and running by the end of the year.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this for me, is that it has reminded me that it is worth spending time, energy, and money getting the placement of things right, even when I’m busy, as the long term saving of energy, is far greater than the energy expended getting it right.
On that note, I think it’s time to finish.