A pas­sion for PER­MA­CUL­TURE

Per­ma­cul­ture is a key fea­ture of this thriv­ing com­mu­nity smallholding in mid-Wales. Ros Mor­tis, a res­i­dent at Tan-y-fron Hous­ing Co-op, tells the story

Country Smallholding - - YOUR GOOD LIVES -

Take one over­grown acre in mid-Wales, add bar­row loads of en­thu­si­asm, a pinch of hor­ti­cul­tural knowl­edge and a pas­sion for per­ma­cul­ture… and see what hap­pens! It’s less than five years since our house­hold of nine (six adults, three teenagers and var­i­ous pets) moved into a large, ram­shackle old house that came with a ne­glected or­chard and veg­etable gar­den ar­eas plus a few acres of un­man­aged mixed wood­land. With a stream run­ning down past the kitchen and a south-east­erly as­pect, the place might sound idyl­lic, but the stark re­al­ity was a for­mi­da­ble list of work pri­or­i­ties and a very mod­est bud­get.

HEALTHY HOME-GROWN FOOD

We did not set out to be­come self-suf­fi­cient, but we were de­ter­mined to pro­duce as much healthy, home-grown food as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing meat and eggs. We started with a dozen res­cued chick­ens from a lo­cal farm and were soon col­lect­ing a daily sup­ply of eggs. Since then, our flock has ex­panded to in­clude quail, ducks and re­cently, four tur­keys. To keep their food bill down, and so the birds aren’t tak­ing away valu­able grow­ing space for hu­man food, we are at­tempt­ing to in­te­grate them by grow­ing plants that we too can eat or use such as quinoa, berries, com­frey, etc. One of this sum­mer’s projects has been to cre­ate a ‘Chicken Cafe’ in our or­chard by plant­ing left­over win­ter bras­si­cas in a dis­used quail pen. The chooks go in to feed, then are shut out again al­low­ing the plants to re­cover.

GET GO­ING ON GROW­ING

We cre­ated light and room for our poly­tun­nel by felling 33 huge Ley­landii trees that over­shad­owed the property, and once the tun­nel was up we really could get go­ing on grow­ing as much and for as long a sea­son as pos­si­ble. For­tu­nately, we have easy ac­cess to plenty of well-rot­ted horse ma­nure as well as mulch chip­pings from those Ley­landii. Soil build­ing has be­gun in earnest, along with grow­ing, and the crops are com­ing in.

HANDS-ON HELPERS

A ma­jor pri­or­ity has been sort­ing out the poly­tun­nel, fenc­ing, hedg­ing, weed clear­ance, cre­at­ing beds, making chicken coops and tree main­te­nance, so we have tried to be cre­ative in rop­ing in as much help as pos­si­ble with th­ese projects.

We started off by hold­ing ‘Vol­un­teer Days’ a few times a year invit­ing friends and fam­ily to spend a day (usu­ally a Sun­day) to help us with spe­cific jobs that

could in­volve peo­ple of all ages and with dif­fer­ent lev­els of strength and abil­ity - bring­ing tim­ber down from the woods, scyth­ing the or­chard, fruit pick­ing, stream clear­ing, and so on. We have got much bet­ter at or­gan­is­ing th­ese events by get­ting the cor­rect tools and safety gear ready, plan­ning what needs to be done, and, im­por­tantly, making sure there’s plenty of food and drink ready for the day!

We are ex­tremely grate­ful to ev­ery one of our hands-on helpers, in­clud­ing our ‘Wwoofers’ (UK and over­seas vol­un­teers who stay with us for an agreed num­ber of weeks) help­ing out for a set num­ber of hours per week in ex­change for food and lodg­ings. We joined Wwoof UK nearly two years ago and the help we have had has been in­valu­able - ex­tra pairs of hands en­abled us to ex­ca­vate our poly­tun­nel to cre­ate a self-wa­ter­ing sys­tem.

GUILD­ING (sic) THE CHERRY

One ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture project has been to cre­ate our first four veg­etable grow­ing beds en­abling crop ro­ta­tion. On a very large sheet of pa­per we scrib­bled var­i­ous de­signs, guided by mem­o­ries of the Per­ma­cul­ture De­sign Cour­ses most of us have at­tended. We al­ready had two ap­ple trees grow­ing in the veg­etable gar­den area so we in­cluded two more fruit trees (a cherry and an­other ap­ple) in our de­sign and started to cre­ate four guilds, one sur­round­ing each tree. The ben­e­fits of ‘guild­ing (sic) the cherry’, or any other fruit tree, are sim­ple and straight­for­ward. Bulbs (eg daf­fodils) planted closely around the trunk of the tree dis­cour­age rab­bits, squir­rels, etc from dam­ag­ing the bark. A cir­cle of com­frey can be ‘chopped and dropped’ as green ma­nure and a cir­cle of peas, beans, onions and gar­lic help with ni­tro­gen fix­ing.

CART­WHEEL BEDS

Hav­ing es­tab­lished a healthy, nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment for the fruit trees, and making sure we pro­vided ac­cess to the beds by sow­ing green ma­nure path­ways (again to build good soil), we planted veg­eta­bles in the out­er­most cir­cles which meant los­ing some of a very large lawn. We have di­vided each of the four beds (al­lium, legumes, root veg and bras­sica) into ‘cart­wheel’ beds. The al­lium ‘cart­wheel’ has seg­ments planted with leeks, gar­lic and sev­eral va­ri­eties of onion along with ap­pro­pri­ate com­pan­ion plant­ing. There are mulched path­ways around the perime­ter of the veg­etable beds us­ing lay­ers of card­board or news­pa­per un­der wood chip­pings to try and keep the weeds at bay. We do not use chem­i­cals, nei­ther do we get too dis­tressed by weeds un­less they are of the per­sis­tent and deep-rooted va­ri­ety (hog­weed!) in which case they just have to be dug out. We try to cover as much ground as pos­si­ble ei­ther by in­ter­plant­ing or al­low­ing ed­i­ble ground cover such as nas­tur­tium or squash. On the rim of each ‘cart­wheel’ we are grad­u­ally in­tro­duc­ing step-over plant­ing with home­prop­a­gated laven­der, sage, thyme, etc., all cho­sen to en­cour­age ben­e­fi­cial in­sects and de­ter pests. Un­for­tu­nately, we have not found any­thing that works for Cab­bage Whites ex­cept net­ting.

DON’T EX­PECT A 100% YIELD

Grow­ing or­gan­i­cally, we do not ex­pect a 100% yield, but each sea­son we are get­ting bet­ter at pro­tect­ing crops at most risk, for ex­am­ple by us­ing non-chem­i­cal so­lu­tions such as di­luted soap spray against aphid at­tacks. We have also in­tro­duced mouse­proof hang­ing shelves in the poly­tun­nel af­ter los­ing al­most all of our first seed sow­ings. We have got much bet­ter at har­vest­ing rain­wa­ter (an im­por­tant per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ple is ‘Catch and Store En­ergy) from our size­able house roof, as well as from ev­ery other struc­ture pos­si­ble in­clud­ing the chicken house. As we are not on the mains wa­ter sup­ply (our house­hold wa­ter comes from a well) we are well aware (no pun in­tended) of the value of wa­ter as a re­source and have in­stalled a num­ber of 1,000-litre bowsers around the site, each with a hose serv­ing es­sen­tial grow­ing ar­eas; a re­cent rather quirky project has been to start grow­ing on top of the bowsers us­ing cap­il­lary mat­ting.

WHAT NEXT?

A ma­jor ad­van­tage of liv­ing within a com­mu­nity - we are a reg­is­tered hous­ing co-op - is that there is never a short­age of ideas and en­thu­si­asm, al­though there are oc­ca­sions when there is not suf­fi­cient time, money or phys­i­cal en­ergy. For ex­am­ple, we are des­per­ately keen to im­prove site drainage by cre­at­ing two grey wa­ter ponds and we hope that this sea­son’s vol­un­teers will help us to make a start on that project. We are also up and run­ning with bee­hives and a bee gar­den in our or­chard and await­ing our first swarm to pro­vide us with honey for our home­made bread, but we still need help to clear hog­weed there. The plan is to re­cruit a couple of pigs next spring to help with this. Also, the dry stone walls around the or­chard are in a sad state and over­grown with ivy. Plenty of work for will­ing hands!

There is never a short­age of ideas and en­thu­si­asm

MORE: www.per­ma­cul­ture.org.uk www.wwoof.org.uk

Some of the Tan-y-fron res­i­dents (left to right) – Diane, Ros, Ruthie, Kelly with Alex and Pete be­hind

Alex, 16, feed­ing the four baby tur­keys in the or­chard

‘Cart­wheel’ grow­ing

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