Wednesday, 5 October 2016

the heart of the garden ...

Our aim is to live lightly on the land.
We are lucky that our eco-home is central to this, conserving energy and water and feeding electricity back to the grid when sunny days see our consumption exceeded by the supply from our solar panels.
The philosophy of encouraging biodiversity is another strand and many of my blogposts have been on this theme.
But close to our heart is growing our own food. When we first acquired the Cordwood site I overheard neighbours from the nearby retirement village describing us darkly as 'Good Lifers'. To those unfamiliar with British TV, 'The Good Life' was a comedy based upon the misadventures of a couple who tried to live sustainably.
But, as Mr Bennet told Jane in Pride and Prejudice "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?" I am a Good-Lifer and proud!

I am proud that I am from a long line of gardeners, beginning growing vegetables and fruit organically in 1978 when we married. Having had our life de-railed in 2010 by the building of our home and the development of our gardens, I'm delighted that the time has come to reclaim one of the things that gives me greatest satisfaction: growing organic food.

The heart of a good garden is the soil. And taking care of the soil is the single most important job of the organic grower. If the soil is healthy, so will be the plants.

Completed compost bins look across the first phase of the Vegetable and Fruit Garden
And here's my super soil-sustainer - my six compost bins, recently completed. and all sustainably built from recycled 1200x 1000mm pallets. Giving me capacity for over 7 tonnes of compost!

Into my bins go annual weeds, grass cuttings, hen bedding, manure, kitchen waste, dampened cardboard and paper and shredding and chippings. Out comes gorgeous crumbly compost that not only provides fertility but organic matter for retaining moisture and mycelia that will improve the water absorption and mineral uptake of my plants' roots. Into the soil via the compost go myriad invertebrates too, creating a complex web of life.

Composting also has the benefit of using up material that may possibly go to landfill and the inevitable release of greenhouse gases.

Organic matter trapped within the soil acts as a carbon sink - locking carbon away and reducing global warming.

A final advantage of composting is that all the turning that the compost requires to oxygenate it gives a wonderful work out for the middle. I should have abs that Peter Andre would envy!

All of this compost will be used to improve soil quality as new beds are established over the coming autumn and winter. Where beds have been established, compost will be used as a mulch to be drawn down into the soil by busy worms, improving soil structure.

And there is a pay-off for wildlife. The soil is rich in organic matter and remains undisturbed as we use 'no dig' methods. Soil invertebrates thrive in these conditions providing food for birds, hedgehogs, amphibians and other invertebrates.

My eco-credentials are frequently tested by the incursion of moles who find this all very much to their liking. I know that up to 46% of  a tawny owls early summer diet can be juvenile moles. I love tawny owls. But having my carefully sown rows of seedlings blown apart as if by a series of land mines does test my patience.

In the meantime, on some of our farmed soils:

The Committee for Climate Change reported that Britain had lost 84% of its fertile topsoil since 1850 stating that soil degradation is due to intensive farming. The EU Joint Research Centre has said that soil biodiversity is under threat across 56% of the EU blaming 'unsustainable exploitation of soils' as the main factor.

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