It’s not only a question of how our food is sourced – though that is an issue: if we grew more of our own food, we would have more respect for it – but also of how much we demand and purchase in excess of our needs; thus creating waste – and inefficiency and environmental destruction at every stage of the food-production-and-consumption cycle.
This veneer of convenience sold shiny on our shelves hides so much wanton destruction to our living world, but it doesn’t take much to peel back the layer and reveal the secrets beneath. There is a reason companies, such as tobacco companies, don’t want labelling and/or images that betray the lies they are peddling: it does have an effect on their sales figures.
Therefore, it is worth, not only taking individual action to reduce our own role in this obscenity, but also to share the truths that lie behind these labels and words, to help raise awareness and hopefully have a positive influence on: other’s decisions and choices; regulators’ words and actions; and industries’ pragmatic responses.
Here in south-west Poland, we hear our neighbours ask: “What is it that you’re still growing in your garden now – in Winter?”. It’s something which we hadn’t given too much thought, in all honesty: it’s just another positive effect and outcome of last year’s No-Dig Gardening Project 2019 and crop rotation. We couldn’t be happier: picking vegetables from the garden in Winter – as we have been doing since last Summer – is such a satisfying and rewarding experience 😄
This Winter has been a particularly mild one, though, which has made it easier for us to keep the plants outdoors; fleece-protection being sufficient for those requiring it on the rare occasions when the temperature has dropped below zero. We don’t, as yet, have a greenhouse, polytunnel, or any cold frames, all of which make it much easier to grow vegetables during cold seasons – so everything that has survived and continues to thrive has done so out in the open air 💪 😀
The vegetables we’ve been growing this Winter are: cavolo nero (Lacinato kale), kale (brassica oleracea), beetroot, spinach, rucola, celeriac, carrots, parsley, parsnips, and garlic (though this is just sitting and waiting for Spring). When a frosty night is forecast, we cover with a fleece: the celeriac, parsnip, spinach, and rucola. The dormant garlic was permanently covered till mid-February.
Cavolo nero, kale, beetroots, and carrots, being quite hardy, have remained uncovered throughout and are loving their time with the elements 😄 In fact, the carrots taste even sweeter now than in November. We’ve been making sure that their roots – and those of the celeriac and beets, too – don’t stick out above the ground and have covered them with more soil, creating mini-mounds. The kales, particularly, seem to quite like the cold and are still very much producing.
We haven’t had to buy any: carrots, parsnips, celeriac, beetroots, parsley, kale, spinach, rucola, potatoes, cayenne peppers, dill, tomatoes (jarred following their final harvest of the season), or jam since last Summer – and we very much like it this way 😁
We’re planning to give our next Winter garden a proper think through this year, and grow more vegetables like kale or leafy greens, which end up in almost everything we eat or cook. So yes, all being well, more fresh vegetables next Winter and even more Summer fruits preserved 🤞👩🌾💚👨🌾
February is a very important time to get things ready before March-sowing begins. The weather is unpredictable and can be rarely favourable, so you have to try and take advantage when it is – we tried 😄
The first thing we wanted to add was a wind breaker on the east fence (this time last year, we put one on the west fence and it has worked beautifully well: protecting us, the young fruit trees, and all the vegetables from some violent gale force winds). Before doing so, it took us some time to remove any unwanted perennials from near the fence – and, boy, did they have some powerful and resilient root systems. We then trimmed the neighbour’s hedge back, where it was poking through, to prevent it from making holes in the wind breaker (and to hopefully train it to grow a little more away from from the fence to try and avoid too much future damage). Also, on this east side, we’re planning to remove the concrete slabs, which used to serve as a path there, in order to increase the amount of land and space available. For now, the slabs will be stored somewhere temporarily until another use can be found for them. In the land and space that will be freed up as a result, we’re going to distribute some organic matter and plant some annual plants/flowers to bring the microorganisms back to life 🙂
Pruning the apple trees was next, which left us with a lot of branches and twigs. Agnieszka’s Dad 🙂 chopped the small ones for us, and we cut the bigger ones. In the end, we had a lot of wood to give back to the Earth:
Small twigs are being placed around the edges of two perennial areas, and between different crops, as markers, as we start sowing and planting outdoors.
The bigger branches we dug into the soil on the western edge of the garden beds.
We stuck small twigs into the raised strawberry beds to prevent cats from using them as their toilet 😉
The smallest and thinnest twigs that were left over were used to cover the cardboard on the path between the beds
All this wood will help maintain moisture-levels in the soil during drier days, as well as starting slowly to decompose – feeding the soil and its microorganisms.
The third and most urgent job was turning five pallets that had been kindly donated to us into a working composter. When we have more pallets available to us, it will become the first chamber of a three-chamber-composter. In his younger days, Geoff was a carpenter and joiner, so it seemed like revision for a mini-test for him. I mainly followed his instructions and tried not to destroy anything or hurt anyone 😁 The final result exceeded our expectations 😁 We can’t wait for more pallets and more ventures into the DiY that accompanies it 😁
The container we bought last year has been emptied of the partially decomposed content which we have been adding to since October 2019. Now, it has been moved into the new composter, the process of transferring providing some beneficial aeration, where it can rest and undergo further decomposition.
The green store-bought composter can now serve as a first chamber (the one topped up and added to on a regular basis): and our latest homemade creation is now asecond ‘resting’ chamber.
To finish off, we have a couple of photos showing the spot where we distributed our home-made compost in October 2019.As you can see from the most recent picture: the texture hasn’t changed, no weeds have grown since, even the colour hasn’t changed – and it’s ever so soft and not at all compact. We’re definitely hooked on making a lot more compost 😊
So, here we are: more or less prepared for March, with the garden beds mulched and ready to welcome Spring vegetation, hoping to make a lot of good soil/compost, and begin another wonderful season 😃
At the moment we keep compost in two places: a (420L) compost container and a compost pit.
The container provides enough drainage so that last year it was possible for us to experiment on producing moist (not soggy) fertile soil. During the minimum 6-8 months it’s resting, it is turned over two or three times. We then cover the beds, preferably before Winter, using it as both compost and mulch. In Spring, without any digging, we can plant vegetables directly in it, using a small dibber.
Compost in the form of freshly made fertile soil is already a properly balanced mixture of green and brown matter. Green matter is only plant-based waste and coffee dregs. Brown matter is egg shells, cardboard, paper, straw, sawdust (untreated wood), and manure – also called by some “an activator” (more information about how we did it last year and why will appear in a separate post).
The pit is a place where, in a more traditional Polish rural household, people would put their scraps and other organic waste. In the end, although well rotten, due to relatively poor drainage, the organic matter unfortunately remains rather wet and is therefore smelly. Access to the compost is also quite difficult as most of it remains deep in the pit.
However, making use of resources already available to us before introducing any bigger changes or potential improvements somehow seems a natural thing to do. So, although soggy, smelly, and difficult to retrieve, the compost is a very good source of nitrogen – produced by green matter (mainly grass clippings and fresh leaves) breaking down – and we are more than happy to use it in the garden; any excess liquid is then used to feed the fruit trees and bushes.
Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve cleared one of the two long vegetable beds, which we then covered with cardboard (brown matter) collected from local shops and markets. The (green matter) compost from the pit has now rotted well enough, so we put a 5cm layer on top of the cardboard. Last year we placed the compost directly onto the soil and it worked pretty well.
As we’ve gained more experience, we know that the soil and earth-worms absolutely love the addition of brown matter, so it only made sense to add it to the beds. The green-matter-plus-brown-matter combo brings many benefits to the garden:
adding new layers of soil
feeding the soil
protecting the soil and the life in it from too much exposure
Around March, that once soggy, green matter will be much drier. We’ll then break down and reduce the bigger, harder pieces and remove anything that still needs further composting. By then, the cardboard will have started decomposing nicely. After that, the bed will be ready for direct planting – without any prior digging. We will add some dry pig manure at some point, and as the plants are growing we’ll feed them with our home-made nettle slurry.
Last Winter only seems like yesterday: coming back to Poland after two years of bicycle-touring, taking over my parents’ garden and beginning our 2019 No-Dig Gardening Project. Here we are again, one year later, with a bit more knowledge and experience – more than ready to start gardening once again.
It’s 05 January 2020 and the weather has been ideal to spend some time outdoors. Geoff’s been fixing tools, and I’ve been mulching the beds (laying well-rotted, green, organic matter on cardboard (brown matter)).
The soil we managed to produce as part of the 2019 Gardening Project only covered about a fifth of the beds, so the rest of them will have to be covered as described above. We will, however, try and produce more soil this year – now we know how to approach the matter 😉
As you can see in the photos, despite it being Winter, the garden is still producing some vegetables: cavolo nero, kale, beetroots, carrots, spinach, rucola, celeriac, parsnip, parsley, and garlic (some of them covered with fleece).
The process is: as we pull and eat them, the patches of soil left will immediately be covered with the cardboard-and-organic-matter combo, so no beds remain bare. Feeding and protecting the soil also leads to fewer weeds later on.
These are some of the principles behind No Dig Gardening and Permaculture.