Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Thought Excercises 1 Part 1

Well, it's been a long, wet, dreary winter here on the west coast of Ireland. We've been getting quite cabin fever-ish because we have not been able to get out into the garden for any real length of time, so for the last couple of days I've been putting down on paper one of the ideas I've been having for a property I know. 

To let you readers know the surroundings, this property is very exposed. It is on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean with zero windbreak to the North and only a few Celesters (Phormium tenax) and some houses to all other sides. There are no trees in any direction. The winter wind comes from the North, the most prevailing wind comes from from the West and the South. Most of the property is on sand, but there is good soil on the lower Southern side. However, there are extremely dense, extremely hardy grasses thickly covering the ground. The hydrology is very promising further down, between the large rocks and the dense grasses covering thick, peaty soil but more on that in a later post.

I've been wanting to finalise part of a design to make use of these opportunities. The owners want to dig in a standard, bare soil vegetable garden this year just for a few bits and pieces. However, due to the mats of grass (seen in Fig 1.), I expect the on-going labour to be substantial, i.e. it will be extremely hard to keep the garden weed-free and will require continuous vigilance. I'm not personally a big fan of having to spend every day weeding so I have been pursuing this exercise to offer an alternate method of growing food and is based using a pre-existing South-SouthEast slope along the curve of the house. 

Fig 1: Slope as is, facing W-NW

The beds would climb up the slope in tiers (fig. 2). To ensure stability and, indeed to make the planned shape, the slope would initially need to be dug down. The sod would be placed at the bottom, upside down and covered in a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper. This would lead to the grass rotting back under the beds and providing their nutrition to the soil. Cardboarding at the same time as placing the box sides will mean the cardboard can be tucked securely under the wood. This is an important consideration when building for a long-term garden as otherwise the grass will work itself up after a couple of years. The soil can either be mixed with compost at this point, or when it is put into the boxes. Given that seaweed is an abundant resource at this location, it can certainly be used to thickly mulch the top of the boxes.

Fig. 2 Birds-eye view schematic

To ensure safe and comfortable access to the garden, steps would be needed on both sides of the tiered beds from the path around the house at the top, to the level ground at the bottom. I would recommend them to be shallow enough to navigate with full arms and wide enough for a wheelbarrow. A path leading to the shed (located out of the lower left corner of Fig 2) would also make certain tasks easier. 

The form of the beds came about for both aesthetic and functional reasons. As most human adults can comfortably reach to 60cm or 2foot, there should be no place in the beds that is more than 60cm or 2foot from an access point. With this logic, the dimensions of the B boxes could be the same as the As, but that would cut down on the room to manoeuvre in the middle, which is quite important. There is a 15cm or 6inch step up from the bottom level of the A boxes to the bottom of the  B boxes, but the top of the B boxes are 60cm or 2foot above the top of the A boxes (see Fig. 3 for clarification). This gives much more depth potential for the B boxes. There are also extra options for these boxes which I will go into under Part 2 (because this post is running rather long!).

From the inside access area, Box C is 1.2m or 4foot high. This is reachable by most adults, but a bench could certainly be added to act as a step. On the path side it would be approx. 30cm or 1foot high to prevent washout from the path as well as stray footsteps. The house has sufficient gutters to not worry too much about water cascading from the roof.
The 'Optional Feature' indicated in Fig. 2 is not necessary but can be a cupboard for handtools, gloves and other miscellaneous items, maybe with a seat on top. It could also be a stand-alone herb-tower, or a place for cascading flowers. 

Fig 3: Impression of side-view, facing roughly East

Fig 3. is both an impression of what the 3-d shape should look like from the side (please excuse my attempt at curves) and a visual of what crops I would expect to do well in each box, (of course, definitely not a comprehensive list). I am a big fan of Companion Planting as you may have already guessed from previous posts and the plants are grouped to reflect this. The list that I mainly work from can be found here if you wish to browse through them and make your own in preparation for spring planting.

Okay, that's it for now, stay tuned for the second part of this Thought Exercise and as always if you have any questions or comments or need for clarification on any point, use the comment button below. Till then, have a great one!

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