Community Garden work afternoon – no.3

The 28th April saw another very busy Sunday with AJAR holding their training event at church so person power in the garden was a little low!

The good news was that we had acquired four apple trees for planting. They are maidens on MM106 rootstock and so should train into espaliers or cordons according to our requirements. The plan is to have a tunnel made out of two rows of fruit trees (probably apple and pear) outside the window of the church. This should look stunning in the spring when they are in blossom (any potential weddings at this time of year?) though you might want to wear a hard hat if you walk through the tunnel in autumn. Anyway, that is some time off yet!

So, measure up, mark out, in goes the spade and … guess what … there is that Virgin Media cable again, but fortunately not cut this time. Relocate the markers, start digging …. guess what …. more stone. The top couple of centimetres of soil has been formed from the rotting down of grass and leaves over the last umpteen years and so looks quite good but underneath the soil is either dry, dusty and stony or rock solid clay or rubble. It is going to take some time to dig this trench so I am going to have to heal in the fruit trees (stick them in some soil to keep the roots cool and moist) for a week or two.

In Permaculture our aim is to turn “spirals of erosion” into “spirals of abundance”. A spiral of erosion could also be known as a vicious cycle and they lead to resources being lost. A simple example is growing the same crop on the same bit of soil every year, the crop removes the same nutrients from the soil every year, it is then harvested and the soil gets poorer. To turn this into a spiral of abundance we have to find a “point of intervention”, a way in which we can interrupt this cycle and turn it into one of positive feedback and productivity.

We also try to identify the limiting factors – those things which stop us from making effective interventions, things that lead to a leak or blockage of resources and energies that are needed to create our spiral of abundance.

I am beginning to identify some of these now in our garden. Obviously the quality of the soil is going to be a limiting factor. To improve our soil we currently have a number of strategies:

  • we have started a compost heap which will hopefully develop into a proper two or three bin system
  • we have got the congregation to start growing legumes for the garden – peas and beans are good at fixing nitrogen in their roots which helps to improve the soil
  • we will be planting lots of green manure such as afalfa which has deep tap roots that can draw goodness up from clay deep in the ground. Green manures also cover over bare soil to stop it being eroded by the wind and rain, the roots help to break up and aerate the soil, the leaves will eventually be used as mulch or compost and the roots will die back to help form humus (organic matter) in the soil which helps to prevent erosion and to store moisture
  • we will plant some comfrey which helps to improve the soil (rather like afalfa) and can be used to make a liquid feed
  • importing some compost – one of our volunteers does some work at a local gardens where there is a surplus of compost and he has volunteered to bring some back for us

All this will take time but it has taken time for the spiral of erosion to work on the land, we can’t expect to change it overnight without a major input of energy and importing lots of materials, both of which we are trying to avoid. The major input of energy needed at the moment is to finish digging a trench to plant our fruit trees and that is the plan for next weekend!

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