GARDEN NOTES : FEBRUARY 2014

Perhaps the most difficult time of Lynedoch’s gardening year is now passing.  For the four months of November through February we entered a potentially productive time, coming into spring and summer.   Unfortunately, it coincides with extended School and Institute holidays, a time of no “community work” to provide the labour necessary to maintain the garden in good order, and a season when local demand for the Garden’s produce is at its lowest.   Moreover, what we had sown and planted in October was under serious threat from weeds which we didn’t have time to combat.  But we watered …. and watered those beds that had not been overtaken by weeds, in order to maintain our spinach, our follow-through winter cabbage, continuing carrots, and some mixed lettuce.    Regrettably, our large planting of butternut (from compost volunteer seedlings) could not compete with the weeds or with other vegetable demands for irrigation.  Our finely planted leeks disappeared beneath a carpet of healthy weeds, as did some successive sowings of carrots, and a new bed of spinach.  .

And so we welcomed the beginning of a new academic session, with the availability of many hands in the soil, and the prospect of local horticultural reform, with reclaimed beds, and renewed resolve, and  new seasonal veggies to follow.  The turnaround is now in process.  The older beds are once again recognisable.  The overgrown Nursery beds have been cleared for fresh planting.  Tomatoes, bringals, peppers have been freed-up to flourish.  We even discovered some very presentable cucumbers in the depths of the Nursery.  We are replanting the leeks and spring onions that have been lost to sight.  We continue to harvest carrots and spinach.   We have recommenced successive sowings of lettuce.  We harvested the last of our impressive cabbages from our deep-litter compost bed.  Sweet potatoes now occupy three beds.  Two pockets of potatoes stand- by for planting.  Most proudly, we harvested a dozen pumpkins from the compost patch, presently displayed in the Green Cafe.  We await cleared beds to sow turnip and beetroot and final plantings of beans.  In the Nursery we are sowing trays of cabbage, kale, broccoli, and fennel to plant out in May.

The largest area of the garden now awaits cultivation – these are the linear beds in the would-be olive orchard which remain overgrown.  The most efficient means would be to hire a rotovator, rip the weeds, and disturb the wild-life, including contemplative gardeners.    This is unlikely.  We would rather wait for successive “community work” sessions to deliver the changes needed.  However, we are exploring a more fundamental option, which is to install an irrigation system which could greatly extend cultivation and relieve gardeners of the full-time commitment to manual watering for extended periods of the growing year.  The main consequence would be to ensure the fullest use of the ground available for growing vegetables, and a more effective deployment of gardeners’ skills.  We have 20 linear beds (each 25m x 3m) in the “second garden”.  We are looking to begin introducing irrigation to a number of these to test feasibility and outcomes.

Within the next month, there will be some disturbance to the wetland area with the construction of a service road along the railway.   The Vertically Integrated Wetland will be decommissioned, to be replaced by a new Constructed Wetland in the area of our ponds.  This will encroach marginally on a couple of our lower beds, but will enhance that area with a wider range of vegetation than is currently there.  We will remove and replant the Wilgerbaum (Salix mucronata) which have grown so well there and which we have used as root-stock to plant other areas of wetland within the Woodland.

One possible consequence of the introduction of the Constructed Wetland may be an increase in wild-life.  The presence of a shallow surface wetland should attract birds and frogs (and other interested living species…).  Over the hot holiday period it was surprising to see a Blue Crane in the grasses in front of the SI on more than one occasion.   We look out for his/her return in quieter moments.   Most recently, a tiny Tree Frog was seen in the Vegetable Garden on one of our volunteer shrubs.   A small – even microcosmic – delight.               And a reclusive Chameleon was spotted in the School’s Zen Garden on a clump of Riet – verkleurmannetjie indeed!

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Suddenly it’s summer – unabashed, hot, dry and demanding…

GARDEN NOTES  -  December 2013

The daily priority is to water the vegetable garden in most of its parts.  Our “deep-litter” compost beds can get-by with watering every other day, as can the potatoes which require deep watering three times a week.  Otherwise, the main job is to position and rotate sprinklers until all growing needs are met.  The bore-hole is our sole sustaining source.

We have planted-out all our seedling trays of tomatoes, gem squash, baby marrow, brinjals, leeks, spring onions.  These, along with volunteer butternuts from the compost rows, now occupy beds which were formerly under green manure.  The process appears untidy.  We don’t have the “satisfaction” of turning the soil and planting in fresh-looking beds.  Instead, the flattened stems of lupin and black oats form a straw-like mat into which seedlings are placed.   Some, like the tomatoes, appear to disappear or be overwhelmed by dead vegetation, only to quickly establish their independent growth.  The squashes initially appear isolated amidst the surrounding decayed green manure, but then (with patient irrigation) extend their creeping growth to cover the bed with their large leaves, yellow flowers, and even more tendrils.

The joys of this method of minimal tillage are that weeds (those that haven’t been suppressed) can be pulled out easily by hand without major disturbance (skoffling is no longer a daily necessity), and the mulched soil retains moisture and a free texture (assuming all instructions not to tramp the beds are regarded!) which makes for easy replanting.  We are still at a beginning.   We haven’t yet been able to overtake the cultivation of all beds in this way.  The beds which were not sown with green manure have old weeds, and will require to be dug.  We may have to borrow a rotovator to rescue the beds on the margin of the wetland which were flooded for some months and are now quite overgrown. But the signs and satisfactions of this way of cultivation are encouraging.

The Woodland has an important role in the application of this method.  It provides necessary mulch to the vegetable beds by way of cut grass which is available throughout much of the year.   It is harvested and stored (much like hay) and used when required.  The trees recently planted on the Mound have also been mulched from the same source and are now establishing themselves in the face of the strong winds to which they are exposed.

The Woodland has also been memorably enhanced in recent days by the planting of a tree in celebration of the life of Madiba.  The SI’s children gathered on the morning after his passing to plant a Buddleia salvifolia, a tree which is vigorous in growth and carries generous scented blossom.

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October sights…

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…and now we are into November, and into early days of summer.

It could be that the rains have ceased, but perhaps not quite yet. Our ponds almost dried out but then were replenished recently by some welcome downpours. Regardless, we are headed into a time of long hot days, unremitting irrigation efforts, patient plant nurture, and the harvesting of much gardening endeavour, with a rich variety of vegetables, and related satisfactions from kitchen and community. The last of the winter broad beans have only now exhausted an extended season of prolific growth. They are quite our best winter crop and a very healthy contributor to Lynedoch menus, as well as supporting the garden’s soil development. The remaining un-harvested pods will be gathered to provide seed for next year’s plantings. Some cabbages continue, particularly on our “deep litter” compost bed. Our new spinach, also on a compost bed, is in excellent shape and is now regularly cropped for the kitchen. The carrots sown in a mulched bed are being harvested – the latest in our, so far, successful attempt at a serial carrot harvest. Beetroot continues to perplex and confound with tardy and poor germination and arrested growth. Our new sowings will try to break this pattern by experimenting with different seed varieties and sowing media. The leeks which we carefully planted in early-winter in pre-mulched beds, responded well to seasonal rains, and grew-on free of weeds, only to go to seed in the sudden warm conditions. We will now replace them, in a largely undisturbed bed, with the first plantings of bush beans.

The main feature of the garden over the past few months has been the dominance of green manure. One third of beds were sown with a mixture of lupin and black oats and, as expected, these have been graced with green bulk and floral beauty. Most have now been trodden or cut down and await planting. Two long beds will be left to seed themselves, to test whether that is an effective means of on-going soil cultivation. The intended cultivation of the cut beds will be to plant directly into the green manure material with seedlings or seeds. We already have “volunteer “seedlings of Butternut and Marrow in our compost rows to be transplanted. (The route taken by these is from kitchen waste, to compost bins in the Wormery, to being buried in compost rows to accelerate breakdown.) Potatoes will also be planted, although the planting method will disturb the soil to a greater extent than with other crops. Our first bed of potatoes is already in place, although not following green manure but rather broad beans. Sweet potato runners will be planted soon, when they emerge from over-wintering in the Nursery. We will continue to experiment with planting and cultivation methods which minimise soil disturbance and use local mulch materials. In these ways we would hope to maintain the cultivation of all vegetable beds throughout the summer.

One structural feature of the Garden has been enhanced recently. The dump of top soil and Village site excavation materials has been further increased and sculpted to form Lynedoch’s very own Signal Hill. It has been planted with eighty trees (Virgilia and Wild Olive), and can be accessed by path. It will enclose an enlarged Labyrinth (to be constructed by Louise and staff) which will be continuous with the Woodland. This elevated area will also serve to screen off the new junction being constructed at the rail crossing.

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LYNEDOCH GARDENS: NOTES – September 2013

Winter continues wet and cold – wetter and colder than recently remembered. For the first time in the Annals of Lynedoch, no garden community work has been possible for three successive weeks. Food Garden beds are flooded. The paths are sodden. Weeds are untouchable. But on one morning the view from the Garden was stunning. The near mountains were topped with snow and the air tingled with cold.

In all of this, our winter crops have held up. The spinach has thrived, as have our cabbages. Broad beans took a beating from high winds, but have maintained their growth and are now being harvested. Carrots continue, although recent sowings struggle. The beetroot hangs in, awaiting better times. In the Nursery, the lettuce repays its protection with a surprising serial green display. The celery looks good. The beds of green manure are flourishing in the wet and will shortly break out in refreshing colour. Our new “deep litter” compost beds are beginning to show form, with plantings of spinach and cabbage. The ponds, ofcourse, are in their element. They brim from an elevated water-table and show-off their water-lilies flagrantly (until harvested for the kitchen). The mulching programme continues whenever possible, with grass cut from the Woodland.

The Woodland has been a renewed focus of attention at this time. In particular, its nature as a seasonal wetland is presently open to further adaptation and design. Our first response to the winter flooding of that area, in the early days of the Garden, was to clear and dig out old drainage ditches and create some ancilliaries. We also started to open up the ponds and to plant trees around them. One tree, in particular commended itself, Salix mucronata (Wilgerboom) as an indigenous Salix well suited to wetland conditions. A number were planted around the ponds and soon became a feature with their delicate style and as a hang-out for birds. They are now being planted along the length of the drainage ditch running through the site and in the associated wetland areas. They will contribute to site drainage and remediation and add significantly to the ecological mix. This is a no-cost development! All new trees are generated from truncheons – branches cut from existing trees and dug into wet soil, or sprouted in the ponds. To date one hundred have been planted.

Due to the wet conditions, we couldn’t plant trees during National Arbor Week, but will do so soon. The trees on order from Lynedoch projects and locals for planting, include Vergilia (blossom tree) and Olea Africana (wild olive).

When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. The second-best time? Today. (Chinese proverb)

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GARDEN NOTES – JULY part 2

It must be winter.    The ponds are filled.   Waterblumijies cover the surfaces with their flowers and floating leaves.  Spiders work their wonders in the dawn dew weaving webs which last till breakfast time.  A veil of frost lingers on from overnight on paths and mulch.  The Garden’s fire altar attracts the close interest of chilled gardeners.  And as the sun rises to dispel the damp air, the garden begins to breathe the fresh warmed air of a new day and possibilities of growth.

Almost all beds are under cultivation.  Some leek remnants remain to be harvested having slowly and patiently nurtured their maturity and now await a last round of winter soup-making.  The turnip patch is being cleared to join the soup ingredients.   Spinach continues in beds now mulched to support their growth through this season.  Winter broad beans are growing impressively on a number of beds and some can now be harvested.  There are new plantings of leeks, fresh sowings of carrots and beetroot, and continuous sowings and planting of mixed lettuce in the Nursery. 

The most obvious growth at this time is the green manure which has been sown successively on beds that have been cleared and dug during community work by our student migrant work-force.  The seed mixture is lupin and black oats, which served us well last year.  A third of all beds have now been seeded, which is more-or-less the recommended proportion for the cultivation of green manure.  So now we wait for the lupin flowers to form and grace the garden with colour and the soil with nitrogen, supported by the rich biomass provided by the oats. 

And so we have a window of some weeks to focus on the other beds, planting out and sowing, and completing the task of mulching which we have now undertaken in a serious and comprehensive way.  We started, with the onset of the rains, to cut grass in the wild wetland and immediately lay it as mulch on the growing beds.  The images in the mid-winter Garden Notes show its extent at that time.  We are now attempting to apply mulch with cut grass from the Woodland on all beds.  This will protect growing seedlings from encroachment by weeds, reduce the need for skoffling, maintain moisture for plant growth, and will result in its breakdown to future compost in situ.  It will also, significantly, reduce labour effort and increase gardening satisfaction! 

We have also created a “deep-litter”bed of raw compost, presently covered for the past month with tarpaulin to accelerate decomposition, into which we will directly plant cabbage and other heavy-feeder vegetable seedlings.  Our more mature compost has been applied generously to the olive trees for the first time, to remind them that they are part of the garden and not always neglected, and that olives are expected.   The wormery has been revisited to ensure the worms enjoy best conditions, which includes a regular diet of cow manure from Eric’s farm and fresh greens from kitchen-waste.  We aim to provide all seedling compost from our worm-workings within the Wormery.

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Garden Notes – July 2013 part 1

IMG 0507 from gwen meyer on Vimeo.

This was received from Gwen Meyer after a community work  gardening session when she had observed the activity of ants on one of our Acacias (acacia sieberiana- the paper-bark).

In a previous Garden Notes, there was reference to the mealy bug that was infesting our acacias and to our belated attempts to deal with it by the use of soap spray.  We have now seriously pruned the affected trees and look for signs of fresh life.  We have also introduced a programme of EM spray around the roots, where the mites reside, and to the whole tree, where the bark harbours mites which are later farmed by the ants for their sugars.

Ants:

The process of making decisions in human groups falls between despotic and collegial leadership.

In the world of ants, a form of distributed leadership ensures ants can take advantage of foraging opportunities flexibly and quickly. A subset of leaders have a higher level of  information about food sources than the rest of the colony. They recruit members of the colony to follow their lead.

This type of distributed leadership is more efficient than building time consuming consensus throughout the colony. It is a trade off but preferable to centralized decision making which may not have access to all information.

This group of leader ants plays a role in collective decision making. Collington and Detrain (2009) argue that it is a sufficient number for represenation. Five percent of informed group members are enough to allow for an accurate decision making  in a group( Collington as in Couzin, 2005, Dyer et al. 2009). Consensus is reached through the pool of leadership or in some cases leaders act without consulting each other. The diversity of opinion works well in foraging because its increases ant colonies adaptability to changing food sources and maintains flexibility in fast changing conditions.

Collingnon, B., Detrain, C. 2009 .Distributive leadership and adaptive Decision making in the ant Tetramorium Caespitum The Royal Society Biological Sciences

Thank you, Gwen.  Much appreciated.”

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