The Gate Lodge

It’s been 18 months since we said goodbye to Mulvey Park and now we have finally found a rental to setup again in Wicklow. The site is about 0.6 of an acre with a small cottage, large shed and gardens. Another 1/4 acre of untended young fruit orchard and a 20 x10 foot polytunnel are also part of the equation located across a field from the house.

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The best soil is in the garden while the orchard and tunnel has quite a few rushes, thistle, dock and scutch grass. I’m slowly feeling my way into an approach so I decided to do the obvious moves first and let each step reveal itself as I get to know the place better and how we use the space. So I began by knocking up a bird feeding table from some wood on site. It’s positioned to be viewed while eating breakfast.  So far blue tits, great tits, greenfinch, robin, house sparrow and chaffinch are feeding. Buzzards are seen and heard almost daily hunting over the surrounding fields. Their cry  upsets the rooks and jackdaws in the trees near the house. The view through this window looks south into an almost enclosed space with a slight north slope. Measuring 40×40 feet it’s a sheltered part of the site bounded by a masonary wall to the north, a shed to the east, the house to the south and a laurel hedge to the west. A large portion of the site boundary has been planted up with Laurel ? I’m not keen on invasive Laurel but it is serving an important role in wind protection. This space is entered from the kitchen so it will be the location for some herbs and flowers as well as some perennial planting. There are plans to extend and develope the house in a few years time and having seen these I am trying to tie into this with what I do also.

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The small patio off the kitchen is a sun trap sheltered from the prevailing south westerly winds by the corner of the house. We put a small bench here.

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A track on the grass leads up to the rear of the shed where a small orchard of apple and pear is enclosed within 6 foot high masonary wall. It’s a well sheltered space with butterfly bush, blackthorn brambles and ash. Perennial Nettle and chickweed as well as lesser celadine grow in various spots. The back wall of the shed some 8 metres long is south facing and has potential for growing fruit and or be the location for a small homemade greenhouse. This area could also easily be used to keep chickens beneath the fruit trees and would require minimal fencing across the entrance of just 12 feet to do this.

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I dug these beds just to remind myself how much work digging involves especially with all the scutch and why I like to mulch.

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I mowed the long grass to show the routes I use around the garden and have a think about the location of various elements such as water catchment, composting and keeping animals. Behind the shed are a number of dog kennels. The shed with its missing down pipe is the obvious rainwater catchment point and a tap is located on the sheds eastern wall which can be used to top up as needed.

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A mate of mine inherited a mountain of pallets so a few of these were useful to knock together a simple 3 bay compost system. I’m planning on having multiples of this to build in a large capacity for taking in “waste” to compost. Compost and soil is everything to gardening. I,m filling in a number of trial holes with woodly material and these will be used as hugelculture mounds.

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The composter is located to the south of the site and orientated so the wind will blow materials into the bays.

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To Build fertility I am bringing in “weeds” and bulky organic material in large quantities from work and other sources. The lads have been bagging them up as we do a spring cleaning in the tunnel.

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Some nice clean beds ready to start planting up in the coming weeks.

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Into the compost in layers of browns and greens.

IMG_8724 I have access to a large amount of wood and other materials on the land so I put some old 16 foot timbers to good used by making 4 large raised beds. The local petrol station had a few bales of cardboard ready to go. I knocked up the frame into position and slid the cardboard underneat overlapping it by up to 200mm. If using newsprint 15 layers are recommended. I spent quite a bit of time getting the layering in place.  Soak the card and paper before filling.

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Here I’m putting in the 1st of 8 bags of well rotted manure into each bed

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I tread it in a bit to get it to settle

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The two back beds are 6 inches while the 2 front are 4 inches so for the first planting the front beds will have onions and brassica salads while the back will have potato and legumes. Below the beds are all at various stages. I had a delivery of  soil compost mix from Landscape depot, it’s a 70:30 mix (soil: compost) and a good way to kick start things. I will add another 2 beds in the coming weeks one without manure for carrots and parsnips. Wind exposure will be an issue in this location so it is likely that I will have to erect a wind break on the south side. For every 1 metre height this will give 10 metres of protection. I have planted Jerusalem artichokes to provide some wind protection from the west. The bed ends will have perennials to give some protection with the annuals between these.

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If proof were required that excluding light is a good way to clean soil before planting this is it. The ground beneath this membrane was virtually clean. I will use this technique below to clear other parts of the garden ready for planting up on a phased basis as the project evolves.

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The tunnel is orientated east- west . The land to the south is quite wet.

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This is how I found the tunnel totally dry and dusty. Previously the tunnel was used to grow ocra, tomato and some salads. It will become an invaluable place to grow seedlings for my school visits also.

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My bro the gardener.

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I pulled in some timbers to play around with making up beds. As this is a low tunnel taller crops like tomato and cucumber are going to be difficult along the outside. I went with 3 central beds on a 3 year rotation separate to a 4 year rotation on the outside beds.

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This is the layout I settled on . Inside the door an area for sowing, sitting etc. Opposite this a propagation area. The outside beds are 2 foot wide, the paths are 18 inches and the central bed is about 820mm.

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Outside there was some very straw rich 2 month old manure and while not suitable for use on the beds it is good to give some gentle heat to young seedlings and seeds. I stacked some flatpacks and filled these with the manure and there is a gentle heat rising up off the pile. An old door frame from the dog kennel slots over the top nicely. I’m germinating heat lovers such as aubergine, chilli , tomato in the vitapod up at the house. In time I would hope to move the propagation area up to the garden by installing a small glasshouse within the herb/flower garden specifically for this.

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A little liquid gold is helping to raise the temperature in the heap to 20 degrees plus. A compost thermometer is helpful to check the heat.

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The propagator in work consists of some heated coils buried in sand on a table. A bit of wavin over the top and some white plastic to keep the moisture levels up. Once germinated they are moved to a second heated table without a cover. It’s incredibly quick.

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Next up is some fruit pruning and maintenance in the young orchard. I just got the planting map today and there are some unsuitable variety for Ireland in there such as Cox’s Orange. The summer fruiting rasberries were not cut out after fruiting last year and the scutch is smothering everything. I dont know how long we will be here but I’m going to enjoy living here and treat it as if were are staying long term. Moving out into the country has been a great decision.

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