Updates from our first two growing spaces. In general things are looking good, with no real disappointments besides some slow developing aubergines and broad beans that didn't survive the dry spell [update: actually it turns out that half of them did survive!].
In these two spaces we've sown a mix of garlic, onion, tomatoes, mangetout, broad/runner/french & soya beans, corn, cabbage, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, turnip, artichoke, celeriac, zucchini & kohlrabi.
Elsewhere in the garden we have a potato patch, a smaller area for more beans, and about 40—50 other tomato plants, root veg, aubergine, wild garlic, peppers, chillis, asparagus and artichoke planted around amongst the wildflowers, wild strawberries and rasperberries, shrubs, fruit tree's and old ornamental garden plants.
The Swedish for this kind of practice is “Samplantering”. It gives a dense, lush forest garden vibe to the space, and it's fucking killer for biodiversity and getting your shit pollinated.
It only takes a month for the situation to turn around. After the cold and wet Winter and the late coming Spring, we've now had a couple of weeks of dry 30-degree heat. The region is on forest fire alert which is always concerning, but so far we've managed to keep everything sufficiently watered. We only have two IBC tanks for storage though and they don't last so long when you're growing as much as we already are.
The water table in the land is very low as a result of this weather, which means the well is at risk of running dry. To offset all this we've entered water scarcity mode, catching every drop we can and recycling it back around for the plants. This kinda closed-loop system is good practice anyway; we already recycle all of our urine for watering, may as well recycle stuff like pasta and rice water too.
We're also thinking to start taking a trip to the lake in the mornings to fill up extra water canisters there, since it's an abundant resource on the doorstep.
Storms HAVE been making their way across the region but they keep breaking just before they reach us. We did get one, which hit — fittingly — on the Solstice. Standing in the pouring rain has never felt so good, or had such a.. feeling of a gift to it. I don't think you feel this connection until you're relying on the rain to keep you alive — I mean okay, we still live in fucking Sweden, we can drive to a shop in town and BUY water before we dehydrate and shrivel up — but still, ya know, a huge storm breaking over a dry and cracked land, when you've been hoping and praying for it.. well it's got that Biblical feeling innit.
In general, life here in the forest, coupled with our early attempts to close loops where we can, really pushes home how much a functioning part of an ecosystem we are, despite our best contemporary efforts to disconnect ourselves. It's easy to lose sight of this simple truth.
Our first growing space is complete! We've been working at a relatively slow pace, which hasn't been a problem because of the cold weather we've had up until recently. Things are only just starting to come to life, and we have more beds on the way, so we're in good shape for the season ahead.
When we arrived this area was a dense grove of plum saplings, grown up among an impenetrable web of greenery. I don't have photo “before” we started clearing it because the thick wall of greens and browns wasn't anything noteworthy, and we hadn't yet planned to make a growing space there.
We made these beds with a one-dig method. Roughly laying out the size and shape and digging within those borders to remove any troublesome rocks — this land is characterised by its heavy geological deposits dragged in from ice-age glaciers, which historically has made it very difficult to tend and farm — and to pull up the thick plum tree roots tangling through the earth.
Once all the unwanted matter was removed, we filled the beds with organic material — mostly leaves and Bokashi compost — and covered the top back over with soil. And that's it. If you keep your beds healthy you shouldn't ever have to dig again, there's just.. no reason to disturb the topsoil and the intricate biome any further.
Aggressive soil disruption is a major problem when it comes to modern agricultural techniques. It's a process of rapidly diminishing returns that requires you to feed nutrients back into the land to replace what you've destroyed. If you're growing on a small scale your systems should largely be closed-loops which avoid this process entirely, and you shouldn't ever need to till or plow or turn over the land. Unfortunately it's these activities performed on a mass industrial scale — combined with monocrop/monocultures and over-grazing — that are causing soil erosion and land degradation globally.
There are of course a thousand other criticisms to level at the currently prevailing forms of mass agriculture: Foreign land grabs displacing local populations, which in turn increases pressure on neighbouring — and often already less secure — food systems. The loss of arable land post-agriculture forcing food scarcity refugee migration. The ongoing erasure of indigenous peoples and cultures. The global loss of biodiversity and species as a result of the wider ecological collapse caused by soil deserts and deforestation. The list is practically endless and touches on a dizzying array of socio-economic crises.
But now we're entering critical territory where my immediate actions find little purchase. So I'll focus on my growing beds for now.. I can always write a more detailed addendum later if I feel like exasperating myself.
Finally got a break in the minus degrees and snow showers, so we're turning over some new beds for extra planting space. It's been a cold Spring so far but hopefully the weather is finally breaking; we have a lot of anxious plants inside.
This is a real quick & dirty method, providing you have a good layer of healthy topsoil. All you gotta do is cut the outline for the bed, then remove squares of ground and flip them over. If you want a raised bed, you can shift the squares to the side and flip them over onto the grass.
I think of it as a “One Dig” method. Unlike the classic “No Dig” bed you don't have to lay out cardboard or add any compost. The grass itself is rich in nutrients and it'll break down quickly after flipping; if you go for the raised bed you'll get a good double-layer of this.
Felled my first tree's by hand, using a bow-saw and hatchet. Have only taken saplings so far so this was a step-up; you don't really appreciate how much weight and force there is in a tree — even a relatively small tree like birch — until you're working with them this way.
The first came down easily but the second got trapped up in the bows of the pine, so we had to lead it down from a distance using rope. Otherwise it was a fairly quick process.
We're removing these birches to free up space for the crowded pine; its lower canopy has already started to die back and we want to minimise the risk of it getting any more out-shaded. We're also planning to have a growing space adjacent, and the roots of these will take up a lot of useful water and nutrients from the soil. Birch is a very hungry tree!