I am having to make changes to my vegetable growing areas in order to reduce the time that it takes to manage. I currently have two areas in which I grow vegetables and grains, covering over a quarter of an acre. This has been difficult to maintain whilst at college, and will be much more difficult when I start at university. One of the principles of Permaculture is to “Creatively use and respond to change”, so that’s what I’m doing.
Vegetable growing to date
My two vegetable growing areas can be seen outlined in the sketch below.
My preference would have been for a single space, but the layout of existing hedges and fences didn’t lend itself to one vegetable growing area. One of the problems that this has given me is excessive maintenance, especially weeding. Problem weeds like couch grass and ground elder have got into the base of the fences surrounding the vegetable growing areas. This makes it hard to remove them as the fences are dug into the ground to keep rabbits out. Two smaller areas give a longer overall length of fencing, and therefore more weeding. I would like to have grown espaliered fruit trees around the vegetable growing areas but any planting of perennial plants close to the fence would interfere with the removal of these creeping weeds.
Vegetable Growing changes
The space marked as veg two on the sketch above will not be used for vegetable growing, or for grains, for the foreseeable future. Instead I am going to replace the existing fencing, expand the space, and use it to confine my chickens. This will have multiple benefits (permaculture principle: Every element should perform more than one function). It will allow the space around the house to be used for entertainment without having chicken poop everywhere. It will keep the chickens protected from foxes and my grandchildren. The reduction in free-ranging will make the chickens more inclined to eat my weeds and waste, helping to recycle nutrients. I am also hoping that they will help to maintain soil fertility in that area so that I can bring it back into production if my circumstances change.
The space marked as Hub/veg one is going to be expanded, with about 250 sq meters being added. This is less than the 400 sq meters that I am losing, but will still give me about 900 sq meters to plat with. I’ve started by suppressing the grass along the line of the new fences, as seen in the pictures below.
This is the North edge. I’ve just started laying the 5 meter membrane down, which will do most of the weed suppression. The new fence will eventually go in the middle of the strips already cleared.
This is the eastern edge. The cleared strip is easier to see.
As well as playing around with the overall space I am making a few changes to how the single vegetable growing area will be managed.
I am planning on keeping a strip of weed suppressing membrane around the whole perimeter. This should help to prevent the ingress of the creeping weeds, and make the few that venture under the membrane easier to remove. Initially I will do the same inside the fence until I’m happy that all of the persistent weed has been cleared. After a period of annual cropping to reduce the seed bank of weed seeds I’d like to get some fruit trees planted to espalier. We currently lose all of our cherries to birds, so it would be great to grow these against the fence, and use the fence to hang nets to protect the fruit, or create a permanent cage system.
I have reduced the bed size in the vegetable growing area from 5 ft to 4 ft. This is to make it easier for others to do some weeding. The path width has also been increased, which will reduce the growing space. Really this reflects my changed priority from maximising production to minimising labour time.
I have used wood chips in some of the paths for the first time. This has saved a lot of time. The chips were free, but have been so useful that I would buy them in if a free source was not available. I had hoped that we would be purchasing a decent shredder, but that isn’t looking likely at the moment.
Changes to crops and cultivation
I will have to think hard about what crops I grow for the next few years, and how I propagate them. Quite a lot of my crops are not eaten. This isn’t the place to discuss why, but there seems little point in doing all of that work for nothing. I may also have to concentrate on vegetables and grains that are direct sown. I prefer module growing for much of my vegetable growing, but it takes more time, and it may be better to accept more losses and sow direct.
Overall I’m happy with the changes that I’m making. I will potentially only grow enough grains and legumes to keep my stock of seed fresh, and may have less variety of vegetables available to me, but if I can get the labour input down to under two days a week, I should be in a great position when my University studies finish, and I’m back at home full time.