Starting to think carefully about our 9 sq/mtr

16 Dec

With the home-made liquid plant feed now ferckling away nicely in its plastic barrel, and with high hopes of its suitability, and potential performance it is time for me to begin thinking about the rest of this project.

They key elements will be good planning, tightly controlled management, and carefully considered decision making; but knowing me there will also be an element of “chuck it in and try it”.

Square foot gardening is a wonderful phrase, as it conjures up an almost romantic image of perfectly formed vegetables, quaintly growing harmoniously in wonderfully shaped and artistic tubs and pots dotted about a country cottage Rose garden. In reality is no better than intensive farming practiced on large scales by the large agri-businesses: High inputs, high maintenance, high outputs. Like a modern farm the management of our 9 sq/mtr will be the essential key element, but unlike a monoculture the diversity of crops we will be growing in a given area will probably present us with even more problems that need to be resolved; albeit on a much smaller scale. However, there are advantages and the main one of those is companion growing.

I am relatively new to companion growing, as in the past I have given very little thought to what plants are growing alongside each other and why they are there. OK, I have done the marigolds and nasturtium in rows next to my vegetables to attracted predatory insects to feed upon the parasites invading my plants, but companion growing is much deeper and a lot more involved than just that. The mineral and trace element take up by the crops from the soil has to be considered, and so does root spread, leaf canopy cover, growing periods, growing rates and yields. When you begin to look into all these variables it soon becomes a complicated and initially labour intensive affair. This labour input will decrease as the chosen companion plants grow and mature, and will in effect eventually create a semi self sustaining bio system.

The idea behind using a weed and urine based tea feed is that weeds take up the existing mineral and chemical content of the soil for use during their life cycle, as I do not want weeds competing for the resources that would be better utilised by my food crops. The utilisation of my urine also has much the same effect due to the minerals and elements being removed from my body by my kidneys and that will also include other chemical compounds that may not be available naturally in our garden. An additional advantage is that the local Fox population will be discouraged by the scent of my urine spread around the garden.  By making a tea from the weeds many of these minerals and elements will be readily available and convenient to use, and their reintroduction to the soil and plant take up will be faster than applying a slowly decomposing compost. The decomposed organic detritus remaining in the barrels can then be added to the compost heap or bin for incorporation into the soil at a later date.

With our intention of keeping chickens this will also add at least another dimension to the crops that we grow. Unused leaves and thinned out vegetables can go onto the compost heap, but that will take several months until these are decomposed enough to return to the soil as a humus rich mulch. Processing this waste though a chicken’s digestive track will speed up the process, but this brings with it other problems that have to be addressed. The chickens are a must as far as we are concerned; we both like to eat eggs, and we both like to eat chicken, so a mix of 4 laying hens, and 4 meat birds growing on seems to be the ideal mix for us. With a pen area of 9 sq/metres this allows us a stocking density of 8 birds. Other livestock that we are considering to keep include a high density stocked Quail unit, and both Rabbits and Guinea pigs in a semi deep litter cage system. The aim will be to feed all the livestock with vegetable waste and plants grown in the garden, and hopefully reducing the need to buy in foodstuffs to only those that contain necessary supplements.

As a teenager all those (35) years ago, I kept, bred and supplied Rabbits to the pet, and meat trades, and guinea pigs for the pet trade. I had a stock level continuously revolving around approximately 40-50 animals, and cleared an average weekly nett profit of £4.50. This time I will not be producing for profit, but for consumption and to cover overall project costs. I will have to crunch some numbers regarding the viability of housing, feeding, welfare and maintenance costs, before buying stock animals.

Now here is a thought for you all: How many different kinds of vegetables, pulses, fruit and fungi do you eat over the year?  And I don’t mean individual varieties of a particular fruit or vegetable such as 4 kinds of mushroom, 6 kinds of tomato, or 8 kinds of potato, etc. I like to describe myself as a strict Omnivore, and will eat just about anything that is edible and that means my diet consists of approaching 100 kinds of different fruit, vegetables pulses and fungi over a 12 month period, and yet like the majority of the population it is based upon a few stalwart staples that numbers around a dozen. Factor in the individual varieties and strains and this then becomes a substantial number.  With luck, Lois & I will be growing and eating approximately 30 different kinds of vegetables and fruit, and ideally we would like to be growing 50+. We have a neighbour who grows the vast majority of the vegetables that he eats. I suffer from bouts of depression, and I am convinced that my varied diet helps me to keep my depression in check. My neighbour on the other hand restricts the vegetable part of his diet to virtually just Potatoes, Carrots, Cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels, Parsnips, runner beans and peas when in season, and he is a miserable old sod; where I have described by my friends to be closer to Tigger on speed.

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