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Today was the first and last session of our new group. Now that the seriousness of the spread of the corona virus is worryingly loud and clear we cannot continue. To physically meet as a group, even outdoors and at a 2 m. social distance would be too risky. So from now on we will continue our work and keep in touch on-line, sharing guidance and information when needed.
The original aim of the group was to take part in a six week course on Creative Landscaping, a course I have run privately on a few occasions. I decided to revive it again this year partly because I still felt there was a need to encourage engagement with the outdoors, and what better way to do this than make a garden.
That was the original plan. The course was meant to be run in conjunction with the Plough Arts Centre in Torrington but because not enough people signed up it was cancelled. However there were still 4 people interested so I decided to run it from home where we have a large garden with all the resources and working examples needed for a course like this, polytunnel, green house, raised beds, fruit trees, and the kind of fine diverse plantings that someone from Kew should have.
We arranged to meet today, Saturday 21st March. Mid March bright and dry with a cool easterly breeze. The reason why today was the first and last is because of the increasing concerns about the spread of coronavirus. We managed to maintain social distance and had a good session. First off was a bit of dry stone walling. Ruth has an earth bank between one part of her garden and the other. Her pile of stone was ideal to start the job, large ones bedded down first and then layers added with no running joints, laid to a slight angle back in to the side of the earth bank. We had time to start both sides of the bank, set the line and agree it looked ok. One questionable and unscripted interruption was a rendition of the Drystone Wallers song, hopefully there won't be a repetition of this for quite some time....
I am a dry stone waller,
Dry stone walling is my call
And of all appalling callings
Dry stone walling's worst of all......
Once we had recovered from this we decided we could leave the stone to Ruth to finish at her leisure. We moved over to parts of her garden where she had covered the ground with carpet. When it was pulled back there were white stems of Celandine. This was easy to fork up and remove. We could then fork over the soil, level it, firm it down and then plant some first early potatoes, interestingly Duke of York, so will resist the temptation to make easy, facile comments on this variety. The soil is a lovely dark loam so should be good for growing. The local soil outside of town is a brown clay loam which can be tricky to cultivate initially but is productive once the right preparation is carried out. The spuds were already chitted so could go in straight away. First early's 1 ft apart and 2 ft between the rows.
We agreed that following this first and last session we would continue on line so when I returned home I checked out a question that Ruth raised about those little slugs you get in your potatoes in summer. They are Keel slugs. I know that if the ground has not been used for a while then you will inevitably open up a repository of resting bugs and grubs that will attack the new grown vegetation you provide. When crops are grown on a rotation system you interrupt the cycle of pest and disease. When plants are growing strongly, well watered, not under stress, not competing with weeds they are better able to defend themselves. This doesn't always work of course so we do sometimes have to resort to man made controls. In the absence of slug pellets what could be used was the question. A quick google search when I got home said slugs don't like wood ash. I've got some of that from the wood burner so will save it and do some trials. Another old method was to pour boiling water onto slugs in a bucket, let it ferment and then pour it around plants. This deters them apparently. I am not advocating any or all of this but can only say that decades ago when I first got interested in gardening and would read old books from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods many of the techniques used would become incorporated into standard organic or even biodynamic methods. Much of what I saw when I visited places like Ryton gardens were methods my grandfathers would have used. Similarly the marvellous productivity that they created in the gardens at Findhorn was not new science. If ever you have spoken to the growers that show their Exhibition vegetables at village and county agricultural shows you will hear techniques that are thorough, methodical and as good as they can get.
I know I could talk for hours on this subject, it is endlessly fascinating but it's my fingers that need a rest.
Please feel free to share your experiences on this blog. If we can have a sharing collaborative community, if we can exchange our gardening skills and try to put the Earth First, we can find in the sun and wind and rain that which really matters. That is what will give our hearts hope again.
The start of the wall
A corner in my garden
Hand pollinating the outdoor peach. It always flowers early when there are few pollinators about. Most years I forget to hand pollinate, but this year there is more time to attend to this