Tuesday, 15 October 2013

First Year Review

It is nearly a year since we first saw our new house and the little field. In November 2012 the field was a bare paddock for a horse although was classified as agricultural land. 

November 2012
After a very wet summer one of the questions we asked was does the field flood - no was the answer. Not that it would have mattered much. The question was only asked as it seemed like one of those questions to ask.

Shortly after moving in, within days, it rained and became apparent that the field did indeed flood. Speaking to other people we found out that it always floods.
December 2012
We quickly realized that the flooding was caused by the fact that the soil was clay and years of a horse trampling over it had compacted the surface to the extent that water could not soak into the ground.

With the main priority settling in and getting ready for Christmas little work was done outside although one outdoor priority was to secure the property from the road, stopping the kids from straying. We didn't move in for 10 days or so allowing some decorating to be done. Mid January saw the first fencing go in and the start of old fencing coming down.

The main reasons for wanting a field was so that the kids would have room to play but also so that we could grow our own fruit and vegetables and start to have a more self sufficient life style, not total self sufficiency but more a case of a simpler lifestyle whereby we grow as much food as possible.   The idea of permaculture and wildlife has been in the back of our minds for quite a long time and a field gives us the opportunity of fulfilling these ideas.

The first plant went in on January 10th, a Gooseberry Bush, although this soon became rabbit fodder.

With flooding and now rabbits it became apparent that we had a few hurdles to over come, but of course the weather started to get in the way with heavy snow on the 15th of January. 

January 15th 2013
January 27th 2013

February 2013
The thawing of snow means more water and even bigger flooding. In places the depth was around 8cm so what was needed was a drainage strategy. We saw no point in fighting nature but instead working with it seemed a better idea and if there was going to be water then it needed to be managed and used as a feature. We decided to dig drainage channels which lead into a pond. The idea being that the water can sit in the channels and feed the pond but before this could happen our green house arrived. A 12ft x 6ft wooden greenhouse had been chosen with plastic poly-carbonate windows which seemed a safer choice with kids.

February 2013
The drainage channels just seemed to happen with very little overall design but in general the channels were dug from around the deepest flood areas away to the drier ground. Along the way they bent this way and that with curves and one part even formed a circle with the idea that it could form the basis of a kids den, perhaps with a living Willow fence growing up around it. 
March 2013
March 24th 2013
Potato Patch
Fruit Garden
This is at the back corner of the field with the muck heap at the top of the picture. The channel is a spade depth which gives some idea of the amount of water that we have to deal with. Other areas of flooding were dealt with by simple digging the ground to allow water to drain downwards with one of these areas turning into a potato patch. At the same time as digging we were also beginning to clear rubbish and build bonfires to clear an awful lot of wooden fences and old dog runs. Late in March more snow arrived but as it thawed the drainage outline can be seen along with the pond although the pond wasn't finished. By now we had planted a few fruit trees, Apple, Crab, Bullace and a couple of Pear. The middle of March saw the first lot of seeds sown in the greenhouse, Broad Beans, Tomatoes and Leeks and a few Herbs. The beginning of April saw the pond finished, some Hawthorn planted and a couple of Hazel bushes along with Willow to start a hedge on the left hand side of the field, as well as the fruit garden started by transferring Gooseberry, Red Current, Black Current and Strawberries from the old allotment and by 9th April the seeds in the greenhouse had germinated and our vegetable season had started. By mid April the boundary fence had been rabbit proofed with chicken wire and 1100 small plastic tie wraps to hold it onto the main stock fencing. Potatoes also go in around now as well as the Broad Beans planted out. The latter half of April sees an Onion bed go in near the greenhouse and the Chickens moved to the back corner of the field. April is mainly taken up with digging constantly which is back breaking work trying to break down clay clods. A Runner Bean bed as well as a thin bed field side of the fruit garden.

The beginning of May is still seeing frosts but despite this we have planted out Runner Bean seed as a test to see if they germinate but at the same time sow a load in the greenhouse. The main vegetable patch near the greenhouse is expanding. Around the 5th of May a few pond plants are added, Marsh Marigolds, Purple Loosestriffe, White Water Lilly, Yellow Iris and some Canadian Pond Weed (not that we particularly wanted the Canadian stuff but we'll have to see how it goes). A couple of solar fountains, one quite expensive one and also a tiny cheap thing.
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The pond had loads of packets of wild flower seeds sprinkled all over the 2 banks. Corn Cockles, Corn Flowers, Corn Marigolds, Common Fleabane, Ox Eyed Daisies, Forget Me Nots and probably 10 others. The idea is that it will not only form a sink for the drainage water but also a wildlife pond with the edges kept as wild as possible. A bit of a focal point to the garden and somewhere that sounds and looks nice to sit with a coffee. From now on we spend a lot of time sitting here as the hedge along the roadside provides fantastic cover for birds as they use it not only for nesting but also as a corridor. We are surrounded by fields and wooded scrub areas which attract no end of different species of birds, many of which use the pond for a drink. Hopefully the pond will create a lot of insects for the birds as well as a lot of pollinators. Hopefully there will be a lot of good insects that can help fight off the bad pests that will no doubt eat the vegetables. We are giving nature a chance at balancing itself so that we can attract Frogs, Toads and Newts to eat slugs as well as bees, hover flies and butterflies to pollinate. 

Back in March I started to volunteer for the Lincs Wildlife Trust and not only have I been learning about birds, plants and habitats but also the wider ecology. The ideas of Permaculture, Vegetable growing and wildlife all seem to compliment each other along with the idea of making everything relatively wild and therefore easy maintenance although to start with nothing seems easy as ponds need digging and the soil, or clay, needs improving but subsequent years should be much easier. 

7th June 2013 main Veg area
By the beginning of May Onions, Garlic, Dwarf Broad Beans are all growing and a few small raised beds have been put in since I simply can't dig enough beds for everything and the small raised beds are a quick fix.

The half acre field is split into two main areas, Veg and grass playing area nearest the house and the other half is left to grow wild, with the pond and fruit tress, muck heap and chickens. We expect the  vegetable and fruit areas to keep on growing in size each year which will slowly diminish the grass playing area. Grass paths are cut through the wild area but the whole of the main grass play area is cut each week.

End of fruit garden June 2013
The next area that is worked on is at the end of the fruit garden behind the summer house which is boxed in with 4ft old fencing. We decided to use this old herb garden for Sprouts and Broccoli since there is nowhere else for them to go right now and this'll save a lot of digging. A big fire later, many bags of compost and a lot of weeding has made a nice area.  Runner Beans were planted at the back of the summer house along with a few leaks and a Tomato plant added just to test how well it would do outside. A lot of things we do are experiment brought about by necessity. Tomatoes outside because the greenhouse is full with the others, Sprouts and Broccoli planted closely just because I have a lot of them and not much space.

11th June 2013
Fencing was replaced with chicken wire to stop rabbits but removing the old fencing brought so much more light to this area. By the 17h June the wild grass area is beginning to show a carpet of White Clover with large patches of Buttercups. Everything is now growing very rapidly with the runner bean experiment of sowing even though frosts were about has showed good results although I doubled up on all the Runner Bean stations with beans started in the greenhouse just to be on the safe side. The potatoes, broad beans and onions are obviously very happy. The wild flowers around the pond don't seem to be doing much and seem patchy at best, luckily I also started some off in the greenhouse and have planted them out. 

17th June 2013
Old Duck pond area 24th June 2013
took the decision from day 1 to take a photo from the same upstairs, dirty, window which has turned out a fantastic way to see progress but will also form a video at some stage, a bit like a time lapse video. Enlarging the photo shows the clover and at the top right the patch of buttercups. Without the time lapse things just grow without you noticing them. The old duck pond area behind the old chicken coop, the caravan, was taken down and a few beds created by putting down cardboard and then a load of manure. Instant beds which is a bit of an experiment because they are only a few inches deep and underneath is clay but once again we have not enough time or energy to dig and there are more onions needed to go in as well as the Sweetcorn which is a bit pot bound after having been started in the greenhouse. I had previously weeded most of it and dug half of it but it still needed much more work so these beds came in handy. 

1st July 2013
By the beginning of July the clover was an amazing sight and  together with the longer grass provided some height to the otherwise flat field. Most of July flew by without a great deal being done since paid work got in the way so the only time left was Sundays and that was left for mowing the grass and paths.

4th July 2013
19th July 2013
Around the 7th July the Corn Flowers around the pond started to show. Just a few but a welcome sight non the less. By mid July flowers were appearing everywhere and I remembered that I'd sown some Poppy seed as they springing up in unexpected places. I do remember now that I sprinkled wild flower seeds in some odd places, such as in the fruit garden as I thought that it would be better to have flowers rather than weeds between the Current bushes and Raspberries. The Raspberries came from the old allotment but they had their roots exposed for a few months over the winter as we had dug them up but not got around to planting them in their new home for ages. Some grew but most didn't.

Around the 19th July the carpet of clover had gone although some remained the overall effect had been diminished. Unexpectedly a couple of different Toadflaxes and Pansys appeared within the fruit garden, in the front garden and at the edge of the potato bed. We think these are left overs from a previous flower garden although possible they may have simply self seeded by other means. Very pretty though.

30th July 2013
By the end of July the pond was in full bloom and the field was probably at it's best but from now on things slowly start to look tatty. It'll be interesting to see next year when everything is more established if things last longer or perhaps we'll need to plant a few more different flowers to keep the overall look at it's best for longer.

13th October 2013
In early October the wild grass area was cut, not as short as the paths but cut enough to tidy up and hopefully allow us to seed these areas with wild flowers. Whilst cutting dozens of frogs and some toads were seen along with caterpillars which was good to see and really brought home why wildlife trusts tell you to leave areas of gardens to grow wild. The wild flower seeds were broadcast sown. The muck heap has about 4 trailer loads rapidly composting down ready for the spring, autumn vegetable patches have already been sown with Onions, Broad bean and Garlic and we are now preparing for winter, and will be digging more beds and building upon this last year.

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