The hardest part of this entire project has without a doubt been de-rooting and turning the soil in the garden area. Considering the size of the space, a rarity in London, it has taken a lot longer and been a lot more work than we thought. However, we got there in the end, and the brambles and landfill waste have actually been sitting on what seems to be some pretty decent soil.
At a friend’s party the other day I got chatting to a girl about permaculture (as you do…) and she said if your garden is full of brambles, the key is to work with their presence, and understand that they are trying to tell you something- for example, that your soil is too acidic or alkali. You can then adapt your growing style accordingly without using litres of weed killer, which would go against the whole ethos of this project.
Generally speaking, I’ve learnt that the soil in London is usually quite clay-like and acidic, but of course, it all depends on where you live. With a bit of Google searching, you can get a pretty quick idea of what will and won’t grow well in your space.
Many Sundays later since starting off, we have now cleared the brambles, de-rooted the soil and turned it over at least once or twice to a depth of about one foot. We are now ready to set up the big squares that strike fear into the heart of any Tesco store manager… our own vegetable beds. We were lucky enough to have loads of old scaffolding planks at the bottom of our garden, which were hidden under piles of soil, grass, leopard print bras, magnets, children’s toys, plastic bags and Amstel cans (you stay classy, London). If you don’t have a huge stockpile of scaffolding planks simply lying around (!), but live somewhere urban like London, keep an eye out close to local skips, alleyways and roads for nice bits of wood that you can adapt and use- I guarantee you will find something good.
After measuring out how many beds we could build, and to what size with the wood available, we proceeded to saw them into shape and attach them with L-Brackets into squares for stability. We then ordered 800 litres of soil for the relatively cheap price of £70 from Compost Direct. It’s sort of like Sports Direct but with less fluorescent lighting and smaller pangs of dread and desperation.
The £70 should should more than pay for itself once you’ve harvested a few rounds of vegetables versus what you would have paid in your local supermarket (for Toxic Death Courgettes that cost you £1.80 a pair), so definitely a good investment if you have the space and can share with a few willing housemates. Have a garden and need something to talk to them about? Bring up soil, always a good ice-breaker.
What would I change if I could do it all again? Getting the timing of the soil delivery wrong, and having to empty a pallet’s worth at 9pm before going on holiday… #LondonProblems. Don’t do this at home kids:
The next step will be to prune and cut back the perennials (i.e. ‘annual’ plants and trees that stay up all year round) such as our amazing apple tree. My mate Harry, a tree surgeon (no, nothing like an ER episode), was telling me the other day how to treat fruit trees. When you cut back the branches, the tree sends all its energy to the tips where you’ve made incisions and removals, inspiring new growth and making your fruits healthier, larger and sweeter for the coming season. Although how these apples can get much better is beyond me, they send a Braeburn all the way down my Cox (…)
Another great thing about regenerating any outdoor space, especially in urban areas, is the ability to plant flowers to attract bees. Their populations are being decimated globally by intensive agriculture and malevolent pesticides, which spurn from a demand for more food for the world’s growing population. There is now a scientific consensus that if bees die off (a very likely scenario), hand-pollination by humans to compensate would cost trillions of pounds (and in practical terms) would be almost impossible. So any help they can get to re-establish themselves is well worth the effort.
We have therefore re-planted a honeysuckle against the wall of the garden. We’ll also be sticking some re-claimed bamboo cane in the ground to help it grow up the wall. In May/ June, we should now have a full-on bee rave taking place and I cannay wait.