I’m at this moment writing with fingers still numb from a trip down the allotment.
Visits these days are certainly not the sociable, relaxing events they are in warmer months – not a soul to be seen, hardly even a bird this morning as I hurriedly snapped off enough sprouts for the next few days and pulled leeks for a warming vegetable stew tonight.
Ten minutes is about my limit on such a wintry day, but then there isn’t much to do outside except ‘pick’. The big sleep is here.
Plants are in stasis, either underground or braving the elements with imperceptible growth. Plots covered in plastic, carpet or exposed roughly turned clods, seem to shiver with the cold and wet.
I know I’m always bragging, but the amount of living green stuff on mine, together with the thick mulches at least give a feeling of life going on. In fact kicking back some of the mulch this morning I found four pink wrigglers busy despite the cold.
Life is there, ticking over beneath the surface, almost as if the earth was semi-conscious. Just on mine the sleep doesn’t look quite so coma like!
This is because the no-dig Permaculture techniques I’m using mean that I try to keep the soil in productivity all year round (hence Permanent-Horticulture, one of the supposed origins for the term Permaculture).
Notice the word ‘try’ here – you have to be very well organised (and wise with experience) to manage a plot in permanent succession (see the article last issue about Fukuoka’s methods) but I’m learning and each season I seem able to grow a little bit more, both me and the plants!
Winter crops like cabbages, brussel sprouts, kale and sprouting tops which are all cropping about now tend to require a long growing period and take up a lot of space, leaving soil bare earlier on in the season.
Growing a living mulch underneath, nasturtiums for instance, works well to increase productivity. When you want to start snapping sprouts the frosts have killed off the nasturtiums and mulched them nicely, giving you access to the sprout stalks.
In the summer before your brassicas have reached very high you can easily fit in a few salad crops – but just watch out for those caterpillars, try hyssop and strong smelling herbs like rosemary and thyme nearby. This year I will be experimenting with nitrogen fixing clover under these tall winter crops, especially as brassicas are such heavy feeders.
So when I say year round growing I don’t necessarily mean edible cropping. Feeding the soil life is as vital as feeding the gardener.
I’m convinced that intensive sowing and planting, with an awareness of leguminous crop rotation and mulching, is far more enlivening than leaving the soil fallow for the winter under a sheet of plastic, or worse roughly turned waiting for the frosts.
That is soil-life in limbo in my opinion (but please feel free to send letters or e-mail on the subject!) My four pink friends this morning certainly weren’t in limbo, they were working hard on preparing the soil for the coming spring.
Preparation is the key word in winter. Just as the earth is semi-conscious, relaxing down and letting her cells renew into fresh fertility in readiness for the coming activity, us gardeners are indoors, making mental preparations for the spring.
Catalogues are browsed, new ideas forming in our minds on how to improve and learn from last year – There wasn’t enough broad beans to freeze last year so I’d better sow some more Aquadulce soon, maybe I’ll put cloches over the autumn sown ones poking through to hurry them on.
Oh and that garlic should be in by now to feel the frosts, but I can’t put it with the beans, hmmm how about under the soft fruit, currants and raspberries are good companions. Except keep clear of the strawberries. Hey look, leeks go well with strawberries!
That’s another useful winter idea – harvest leeks from the strawberry bed whilst the strawberries are dormant! Well, that’s a bit how my armchair virtual gardening goes in the depths of winter.
By the time you read this in a few weeks time we will have turned the corner though. January and February though cold and wet start to show the lengthening day light.
Did you know that it has been scientifically shown that plants begin to detect and respond to increased daylight on January 6th? (I can’t remember where this comes from in my mental library of fascinating facts – again letters on the subject very much appreciated).
Does anyone else find this coincidence – Nature’s awakening to the light on the festival of Epiphany, the time of Christ’s appearance to the Magi, and their recognition of His Light on Earth – just absolutely awe-inspiring?
Somehow, despite the bad weather, January is showing signs of hope. In the past few years we’ve had some very balmy Februaries too, only to have winter return in April and frost the blossom and seedlings.
Having inherited a glass cold frame and some plastic cloches from my grandfather I’m contemplating how I can extend my growing season this spring and offer some protection against the vagaries of our global-warming messed about weather. I shall be warming the soil from late January to try and force a really early crop of new potatoes sown in February. Year round salad is also a dream of mine – rocket and parsley always overwinter OK, but I’m hoping to be eating claytonia, corn salad and hardy lettuce this time next year from autumn sowings under cloches. The plastic lean-to green house I got for my birthday last summer will also help me give my spring sown crops a head start if I get it out of its box soon! And some of those butts I’ve collected will make excellent forcers for some really early rhubarb. Suddenly there seems an awful lot to be doing!
But back to the darker days and hibernation-time dreams of December. This is the time when I start pondering larger plans too. Last summer I renovated my severly delapidated allotment shed with scavanged bits and pieces. Now it’s got a watertight roof I’m thinking about maximising my water capture. I’ve been collecting odd tubs and butts and I’d like to connect them together.
Then comes the big ideas! If I sink my connecting water butts lower and lower, could I make water travel uphill? Unfortunately the inherited shed is sited in the most un-PC (PermaCulture, not the other PC) position at the lowest point on my gently sloping plot.
This means any water I capture off the roof I have to drag uphill, wasting my energy and making me more inclined to turn on the environmentally unfriendly hose fitted to the stand pipe at the top.
Last summer I scavanged a large fiberglass pond from the side of the road which had a note “Please, please take away” attached to it. It was obviously too big for the owners to get in the car to take to the tip, but I managed to balance it on the wheelbarrow!
(I must tell you a little anecdote – a week or so later I knocked on a door to ask if I could have some old flower pots put out for the binmen when the old chap smiled and said “Oh yes, you’re the wheelbarrow lady that goes up and down here aren’t you!” A local reputation that I’m actually quite pleased with! One day I shall get that horse and cart and a bell….)
Anyway, back to the pond, which is now a water storage reservoir. I only half sunk it, to try and raise it even higher, on the highest point. I had thoughts of being able to syphon water to my lower beds, but since then I’ve been dreaming of grander things!
Maybe I could tip buckets onto old guttering shoots to carry the water! Or hey maybe I could build my own Flow-Form cascade running down the centre, enlivening my rainwater before it reaches my beans or tomatoes!! Now that’s what I call a dream!
I’m sure you’ve all seen Flow Forms in action. They cascade water down shaped dishes that make the water swirl from one side to the other in a figure of eight shape.
Rudolph Steiner, the founder of bio-dynamic agriculture movement said that water becomes enlivened when allowed to move in natural organic rythmic patterns such as natural meandering river courses.
He also maintained that creating a vortex in water by swirling it with a stick until the water created a vortex to the bottom and then reversing the flow produced a living energy that plants thrive on, and the biodynamic preparations are made in this way.
Victor Schauberger at the same time (turn of and early part of the last century) wrote extensively on the living vitality of water which is lost when it is forced through unnatural courses and not allowed to swirl rythmically.
These priciples have been further researched by other scientists which I shan’t go into here – this article is taking on an organic meandering pattern too – but basically the ideas have been artistically echoed in the Flow Form cascade by A. John Wilkes.
You can often see them enlivening the water output from reed bed systems in Camphill Communities. This ‘enlivening’ is more than just oxygenating. In the same way as organic food can be scientifically proven these days to have an energetic ‘essence’, so can water. Natural spring water shows it – tap water doesn’t.
So where have we got to in this ambling article that’s turning out to be like a rather strange dream?
Oh yes, my plans for the coming year. Dream on I can hear myself, and probably most of you lot, saying. Still all actions have to start with a creating thought.
Who knows where my winter dreams will take me, but while the earth slumbers and lets her body dream the ‘thought’ of spring, I’ll let my imagination run riot with visions of year round ‘permanent-horticulture’ and beautiful cascades of energised water!
Sometimes your dreams do come true, if you dream them hard enough. Sweet dreams until springtime!
With the endless passion for organic living, I - Ann Sanders has come up with the idea of creating A Green Hand. Being the founder and editor of A Green Hand, my goal is to provide everyone with a wide range of tips about healthy lifestyle with multiform categories including gardening, health & beauty, food recipe,...