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The polytunnel sporadic blog

Posted: May 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Around a year ago, we built a 110 square meter polytunnel, mostly from recycled materials. Total cost was around £300, which covered the plastic and some nuts and bolts. The wood for the 4 raised beds came mostly from the fire pile of a local sawmill (so we ended up with some beautiful pieces of oak to make the beds with), and we used a modified version of the Hügelkultur idea, which is to say that the bottom half of the approx. half meter deep beds are filled with big chunks of wood. This wood gradually breaks down over time, releasing fertility and heat to the soil above, but in the first couple of years, it robs nitrogen from the soil as the decomposition process begins. The modification to this process that we made was to add wood chip to the big pieces of wood, with the theory being that this would help initiate decomposition faster (given that smaller items rot faster). To alleviate the loss of nitrogen from the soil (as we had no good soil to begin with), we added a layer of biochar, because it’s a rich source of nitrogen. Atop that is around 30cm of any old soil we could find, typically quite heavy clay soil. The exception to that was the 4th bed, which had no soil at all, just rotted woodchip on top. That’s led to a, uh, healthy population of woodlice (I suspect there’s tens of thousands of crustaceans in that bed), but no apparent difference in the fertility of the soil. We used a lot of nettle tea (a rich source of nitrogen) on all the beds last year, so despite the poor quality soil that we started with (or even complete lack of soil, on that 4th bed), we had immediately healthy, fertile soil, with abundant growth.

That’s a potted history of our polytunnel; it took around 3 months to build, and it’s now in its second spring. We’ve got lots of greens growing, from spinach to mizuna to rocket to plain old lettuces, plenty of beans and peas, tomatoes, squash and a half dozen bathtubs full of carrots, coriander, beetroot and basil. We tried a few of the edible weeds last year, but this year the only thing that we’ve let grow (because other plants such as chickweed didn’t provide much yield) is wood sorrel, because it’s delicious! It’s got a lemony, rockety sorta flavour, and is such an unassuming little plant, I’ve let it spread where-ever it’s established itself. Which has had the fun consequence of allowing us to watch wood sorrel flower and go to seed, as we discovered that it doesn’t rely on insects or even the wind to spread its seeds; the seeds explode outwards from the seed pods as they dry out and become brittle, at which point a gentle brush sends seeds flying everywhere. We spotted them getting up to 30cm away, not bad for a tiny 1mm seed! You can just about spot them flying around in this video:

Amazing exploding wood sorrel seeds! We bagged a few seeds and I’ll help that little patch of sorrel along, as it’s in the shadiest corner of the polytunnel, suitable for a woodland plant.

Next post will be a quick tour of the polytunnel, suitable maybe for its first birthday! I’ll try to get a few photos together from the building process too, as it’s fun to see that previously unused space turn into the lush, green haven that it is now.


Back from Amsterdam

Posted: May 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

So Rich and I just spent a few days at the Food Autonomy Festival, organised by ASEED, a Dutch charity focused on GMOs and resistance to agribusiness in recent years. A most excellent time was had by all, and some good connections made. Apparently at least one person has been inspired by Grow to enthusiasm about resisting Schiphol airport expansion, and hopefully a new Bokashi bucket or two more exists in Amsterdam after the workshop we gave on anaerobic composting (better described actually as fermentation, we’ll be hosting the same workshop here within the next few weeks, keep an eye on the Facebook page), so a few days well spent. Lots of thanks to Finn, Jonny and ASEED for inviting and hosting us, our temporary accommodation definitely felt like home when I saw this in the kitchen:

 

 

When all else fails, try reverse psychology on the washing up!

On a more serious note, we met a few of the people from this neat Warsaw squatted allotment (who count Yorkley Court as among their inspirations for the project), visited a really cool aquaponics garden cafe in the main park in Amsterdam and got to know the Amsterdam squatting scene a little. Sitting through a visit by the owners of the squat we were in, showing the place off to potential tenants, while we squatters sat drinking tea, was one of the more surreal moments, but hey, it’s all in a good day’s work.

We had some interesting talks around ideas of hierarchy and leadership, and it struck me that these interactions between various eco/political/activist projects around Europe are fertile ground for new ideas; a little like edges between habitats in permaculture are generally rich, biodiverse habitats due to the input from two different ecosystems, perhaps this notion holds true for the meeting of 2 different activist cultures, too. I come away from the Food Autonomy Festival with an increased realisation of just how central to our lives our food production systems are, and with agribusiness gradually merging into ever more massive corporations (it was news to me that Monsatano was recently bought out by another agribusiness, in the biggest corporate merger in history), new visions of how to produce our food locally, sustainably and without corporate control can only be a good thing.