A little survey work

Dublin mountain garden: Survey

Back in the mountains I’ve started a little garden by setting up a compost pile and sowed some seeds in trays for veg into the autumn and winter. The objective is to grow as much as we can instead of buying it in the shops. I’ve managed to negotiate the sunniest spot available to make a little garden. Conditions are far from ideal as its on a North facing slope on thin soil that sits over granite. To have any chance with vegetables up here I will have to create a microclimate and use a raised bed style approach to increase soil depth. It’s also on a slope so that’s a consideration. From our discussions we identified this spot and a number of other areas within the half acre site as possibilities.

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veg bed location

In permaculture design we approach any project with a survey.

The inlaws: We are living with my wife’s family for the moment and not sure for how long. They are very keen gardeners themselves, mainly growing ornamentals and have 40 years experience of what will and wont grow up here. They laughed when I said I recon I could get some vegetables to grow but I’m gonna try anyway. They are happy for me to try something but have concerns over how it might look and what will happen to it when we move on. The garden maintenance up here is ongoing and if they have less work to do then that would be very positive. They are also really keen on getting a share of the produce if there is any.

For a number of weeks now I have been slowly enquiring about different parts of the garden, what areas need the most work and helping out with maintenance. We identified there are simply too many beds in the front garden to look after and I could use some of those. The dogs in the back garden make it very difficult to work without being disturbed and they often dig up plants. One dog in particular is totally mad. It is common to get snowed in up here during the winter which is also a concern.

Surveying the Site: The site is divided into two distinct gardens with the house in the middle. The back garden is built completely of raised beds in rockeries directly down onto granite. The southern boundary is at the top of the sloped site and beyond the fence is a Coillte forest leading up onto Cruagh mountain.

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Only in the summer does the sun get above the treeline here but it is quite shelted from strong winds. There is a small fenced vegetable and fruit garden to the rear of the house but it has always been a struggle with germination and growing of vegetables and has almost been abandoned due to the dogs and soil conditions. Fruit on the other hand does quite well.

The front garden is more exposed to the Northern winds but does receive more light being further away from the treeline. When the foundations for the house were excavated the soil was moved down the sloped lawn in front of the house and the soil depth here is about 12 inches before you hit rock. I’m waiting on a soil test at the moment.

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Surveying the neighbours veg patch: I called into the neighbours veg patch down the road to take a look at what they were managing to grow. This would be the closest vegetable patch to the garden but I am sure the soil conditions here are completely different. As you cross the road in front of the house and look down hill you see fields of cattle and horses grazing on much more fertile land with deeper soils. Cruagh road marks a boundary between this and the much poorer acid soils up the hill. On this better soil they are able to grow peas, broadbeans,potatoes, beetroot, lettuce etc. They buy transplants from a garden centre. Fruit like raspberries do best here and are rampant.

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Rainfall and water collection: water is currently collected from the roof of the garage and stored in a 220 litre drum. There is a second barrel beside the composters. Both are above the proposed area for veg growing and could be linked by a hose connection. The bed adjacent to the proposed veg area is prone to becoming waterlogged especially in winter. Iris grow here.

Plants growing in and near the veg area:  On the sloped lawn above the veg bed Selfheal, mosses and  lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) grow in the grass. the upper slope is supposed to be a meadow but the lady’s mantle is causing problems. The bed I have been given to work with is approximately 20 x 4 feet  and curretly growing are hebes, geraniums more ladys mantle and Bergenias among grasses. The soil is thiner here than on the slope as it has been cut away to make it level.

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The neighbouring bed to the west has a large Newzeland flax plant which can be harvested for making ties for support frames etc. To the north across the drive way a leyland cypress hedge provides some shelter from the north winds.

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Resouces available: Locally there are horse stables that can supply fresh manure. They are happy to give this away but it would need to be composted or used in creating a hot bed. Granite Rock and fallen timber is in abundance and both could be used to make raised beds. There is a lot of woody compost available in the existing composters onsite as a result of years of rabbits and guineas pigs being kept as pets. The material is not suitable for vegetable growing but could be considered as a surface mulch. Green materials for composting such as nettles, leaves cleavers and woody material are in abundance.

Pest: Slugs have never been a problem up here, the main pests are rabbits and birds (blackbird) . All fruit needs to be netted if you want a harvest. By far one of the biggest pest is midges and working outdoors with them. In the evening if the weather is calm as the temperatures drop they come out of disturbed grass. I have been eaten alive over the past few weeks especially at the backs of my legs and lowerback and have been forced into wearing a head net and covering all skin.

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rabbit dropings on lawn

Wildlife: There are a number of ponds in the garden which support frogs, perhaps why slugs have never been an issue even on plants like hostas. The garden location by a forest attracts red squirrels, jays , Redpoll, greenfinch, chafinch, great tit, among others observed daily from the kitchen window. Bird feed is regularly put out.

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woodwasp

Plants and trees growing locally: Species include beech, rowan, elder, hawthorn, bilberry, marsh thistle, soft rush, foxglove, lesser bur dock, wood sorrel, sheeps sorrel, bramble, honeysuckle, crab apple, ash, willow, bracken, gorse, heather, meadow grasses, sitka spruce, norway spruce

Propagation area: There is little space indoors for propagating plants. Window ledges and a small back porch are already crammed with pots.

Time constrains: no rush

Chemical use on site: Glyphosate based herbicides are being used on the driveways and stone paths to the rear of the site.

What we don’t have and would like to grow: salads, leafy green vegetables, potato, tomato, courgette, garlic, onion, carrots more herbs and some edible flowers.

What we forage or have: range of muchrooms including ceps, chanterelle, birch bolete, brown deceivers, amathist deceivers, pedistal  puff balls, wild strawberry, sorrels, variety of berry including hawthorn, rowan, elder, blackberry for jams etc. Nettles, dandelions, plantains, rose hips and petals.

Who will do the work: I,m working on my own with this project but 3 others will be happy to help me eat what grows. I want to use available resources and come up with something which can be maintained into the future.

Composting:  while there is an abundance of suitable materials available this needs to be started immediately to build soil fertility. The organic matter content of the soil sample looks to be very low. A couple of straw bales could be used to capture and store nitrogen if you get my drift.

Other general survey observations: There is far less insect activity in the front garden,it’s much more exposed to the wind and these is much less diversity of plants and animals seen here. The close proximity of the veg bed to the camper will help to deter rabbits. Finding soil to increase soil depth without resorting to buying it in will be difficult.

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