Garden Notes – April 2015

We are presently coming to the end of a long dry summer season (including the driest April on record).  The Vegetable Garden has been maintained with great dedication to plant irrigation. The Woodland has struggled to hold its own, in spite of sustained efforts to water young trees battling heat and wind. The rains are due and recovery will follow but rehabilitation will be needed.

We are in transition on many fronts.  The new Constructed Wetland for site water treatment  is now established and has replaced the Vertically Integrated Filter.  It is planted-up and operating effectively.  The filtrate is being recycled for toilet-flushing in the Village, and for Woodland irrigation.  Further refinements to the system are planned.  This includes site drainage work and planting of trees to secure the new fence-line.

The major disruption to the Garden, caused by the new infrastructure installations, is being remedied.  Fresh vegetable beds are being created.  These will include work spaces for a Farming Apprenticeship Programme to commence mid-May.  This will be resourced by a recommissioned second bore-hole to service  the additional irrigation  requirements of this extension to the vegetable garden. Much is expected of the coming rains, to green parched areas, and refresh plants, birds, and other creatures, including garden visitors.

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garden Welcome back to the Lynedoch Garden after a long absence of Notes.

The attendant images provide some illustration of the disruption to the Garden over the past six months.  New sewer pipes have been laid to re-direct waste from the previous Vertically Integrated Wetland Filter to a new Constructed Wetland Filter.  This relocation was necessary in order to accommodate construction of a new access road to run alongside the railway, which cuts into the Woodland / Wetland area of the Garden and across the old filter.

Throughout this time, the Garden has been subject to extensive excavation and new site infrastructure installation resulting in earth removal, sub-soil disruption and, most critically, top-soil destruction.  Vegetable beds have had to be reconfigured and all cultivation restricted to unaffected areas.  In spite of existing statutory measures to provide for remediation, top-soil replacement could not be secured.

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And so we are back to reconstituting our soil by compost-making and careful rotational crop cultivation.  To short-cut the process, we have introduced a practice of trenching the newly formed beds, and digging in fresh kitchen-waste and of planting more-or-less directly into it.  Given the time of the year, we have been planted marrows, butter-nuts and pumpkins in these new beds with some success.  Most of the seedlings are “volunteers” transplanted from our established compost rows. Tomatoes are also growing in these conditions without much human assistance.  As soon as seed is available, we will sow green manure extensively to accelerate recovery of the soils.
In spite of the disruption to the planting programme, we have had good yields of our best lines from beds that remained productive. Carrots and leeks have grown well.  Only now some are going to seed under pressure of heat and drought.  We do need more recipes for leeks, which otherwise feel neglected in their prime.  Cabbages have been remarkable and are now exhausted with our latest harvest of some 100 heads.  The kitchen has increased its coleslaw production.  Spinach /Swiss Chard continues to be the most faithful of our growers throughout the Garden calendar.  Kale surprises with its vigour but has yet to find its place in the kitchen’s heart.  Sweet potatoes perform secretly and with great reward, which will soon become apparent.  Beetroot continue to disappoint.  Our ordinary potatoes produce small but valued crops.  And our bush beans never fail in season.  Our first harvest of tomatoes is about to begin and take over the Kitchen’s menu. A final word for the humble turnip which has grown well and sweetly, and is slowly being recognised for its qualities.

We have taken the opportunity to increase the use of hedging around and within the Garden.  It is non-indigenous Elder (we now receive garden support from the elders.…) which serves to protect our beds from the  prevailing south-easterly and provides flowers and berries for birds and gardeners and Reception and, in due course, wine and jellies for the kitchen.  It grows vigorously from cuttings / batons, and in local conditions is non-deciduous providing  a green surround throughout the year.
It is an appropriate time to consider introducing fresh approaches to garden management.  The vegetable garden area is now somewhat reduced but is still beyond the capacity of our single full-time gardener to maintain throughout the year.  Additional labour is provided, in part, by students during community work, but this cannot cover the requirements for continuity of cultivation throughout the seasons.  The second requirement is adequate irrigation to maintain plant growth and healthy soil.  The Garden requires increased irrigation, to be delivered more efficiently.

There are a number of beds (probably 15% ) which cannot be cultivated  continuously for these reasons.  If gardeners could be recruited to work these beds, the vegetable garden could become fully productive. Also, we need to commission the second bore-hole, to provide the necessary additional irrigation capacity.  This would include upgrading the Nursery irrigation system.  The filtrate from the new Constructed Wetland could also be used, subject to quality analysis.  Recruitment is underway of those who are garden-savvy and keen to get dirt under their nails.  Garden staff will advise, where necessary, and assist with watering when required.

And so we embark on another year of growing things on our small patch.  We hope to learn more about the possible, the tasty, and the beautiful. We look forward to walking the Woodland and treading the Labyrinth and offering quiet to restless souls under the  spreading Acacia at the Garden’s centre.

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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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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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