Little experiments…

Design thinking guidelines

Here I just want to jot down some little experiments, mostly to remind myself that I have done them, and to chart their success or otherwise. They are not intended to be full permaculture designs, nor will they be included in my Diploma presentation.

As I am still in the observing stage (which means observing my garden over the first year, before I do a full design), new to gardening & just learning more about the practical side of permaculture and I am definitely taking baby steps. Which means little or no intervention on the over-all plan or layout of my garden, however, I have decided to go ahead and use some of the existing space/bare soil which had already been left behind by previous tenants. Some of this can be seen in detail on my design work: my vegetable patch and the apple tree guilds. These two are conscious designs, albeit small, and I am now observing them to see what works..

But.. I have also done some other plantings.. utilizing spaces in my garden where there is bare soil and in doing so hopefully I will cut down the spread of weeds (in the short term) and bring in some elements (plants) that will attract beneficial insects, bugs and any other wildlife which may help the overall effect.

A few weeks ago a friend visited me from Portugal, I know Joao from the Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and it was very inspiring having him here, chatting about all things to do with Permaculture with an enthusiast is becoming a great thing in my life, apart from that Joao is a lovely guy ;-))

So, when there was a gap in the day when the rain had stopped, we decided to plant some seeds, I thought it would be a good omen having a permaculture friend help me, and to plant some seeds in his honor seemed like a great place to start.

Experiment 1 –  Joao helps me plant some seeds, planted on 12/5/2012

On the North end of my garden there are some of shrubs, trees, berry bushes which create the dividing line between mine and my neighbour’s garden, I had recently cut back some overgrown bushes to get access to a compost bin and in taking it out and removing debris there was a small plot of soil left exposed, with some good compost from the bin spread over it, rather than let the weeds take over, we planted some seeds. These were;

Borage, echinacea, lupin, breadseed poppy, calendula, californian mixed poppy, nasturtium, angelica, red clover, lemon grass, coriander, chinese lantern “physalis alekengi”, morning glory and a couple of artichoke seeds alongside.

Can you see the seedlings Joao??

Most of these flowers/seeds will be edible/some are medicinal (or both), I think nearly all of them will attract bees helping with the pollination of my other plantings, some will repel other ‘flying bugs’, most have beneficial effects on the soil, some are just purely for the beauty of the flowers (although they will no doubt have other benefits, and the flowers on all of these plants have their beauty) all will give me joy to see them flower and grow.

Update on 4/6/2012

The seedlings continue to come along, although this area is now getting less sunshine as the trees above have more leaves on them now, but I have observed that at certain times of the day (in the afternoon 3-7pm) then sun does fall on this exact spot!! Yesterday I decided to plant out a few squash seedlings that I had on the go, they were all looking healthy and I had to decide where to put them.. (another experiment will be detailed below) and as I had several squash seedlings I decided to plant one at the very edge of this little ‘plot’, where it gets most sunshine, just to see what will happen.

Squash, pumpkins & gourds belong to the cucurbits family, you can see a definition here:,  and they need fertile soil, lots of light/sun and are usually planted on small mounds. I have gone for something different here!!! Well I did plant in lots of horse manure, so that should give the fertility, but as I have already said this spot doesn’t get the most light or sunshine in terms of the whole garden, and I never made a mound.. so this IS an experiment. alongside it I also planted a lovely little seedling of nasturtium, because I read that it deters  squash bugs and beetles… and with all the other seedlings already planted behind the squash then I think it should be well protected from ‘pests’.. I shall keep this updated

Summer crookneck squash with some nasturtiums planted alongside, at the edge of Joao’s plantings. With recycled wire railing to prop it up!!


A few feet away, in the undergrowth of some other trees, lies another little pocket that attracts some sun, so I stuck in a seedling of Boston squash, just for good measure, and again, to see what happens!!

Just for good measure, a Boston squash seedling, planted a few feet away from Joao’s bed

I haven’t even taken another photo of this squash, because if it is naturally possible it seems to be smaller than when first planted.. wrong situation, lack of summer here in Scotland, too much rain.. who knows, but there is some life still in it ;-))

Update on the 25/6/2012

Over the last few weeks we have had very heavy rain, followed by colder weather, the pumpkins/squash don’t seem to be doing so well, however amazingly are still alive!! Watch this space. Some of the other seedlings are coming on, but not as much as could be expected.


Update on 16/07/2012

The squashes look much the same as when they were planted, a few small new leaves, but given they are getting no sun and not much dry weather it is surprising that they are still alive!!

squash still alive, but not really going anywhere!!


So, in terms of permaculture principles (see below for David Holmgren principles) we could apply obtain a yield, use edges and value the marginal, use and value diversity  and it would also be safe to say that each element has many functions, another important factor in permaculture. So although this ‘experiment’ was not a fully thought out or even planned permaculture design I am able to illustrate here that I am learning and that from what I have learned so far then I am starting to put it into practice.

Here are my little diagrams describing David Holmgren’s permaculture principles (other permaculturists have other principles), these are the one’s I am using:

David Holmgren principles 1-6

David Holmgren principles 7-12

Experiment 2 – Mulching!!

I inherited a little berry patch, there are one each of gooseberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry and another unidentified berry bush (so I am told, I haven’t yet seen any berries). When I arrived in Oct 2011 the bushes looked a bit unhealthy to say the least, the previous tenants had not given them much attention, they hadn’t bore much fruit that year (according to a close neighbor) and the patch just looked abandoned.

Here is the earliest photo I have of the berry patch just after I had cut back all the dead and damaged branches;

the berry patch on 27/02/2012

A month later I cut my grass for the first time and mulched (covered the ground with organic matter) with grass cuttings, and at this stage I really didn’t know what I was doing at all, it just came from stuff I had read in books (mulching is good!!) and so I thought it was worth a try. ‘Mulching’ had also been talked about, practiced & mentioned many times on my permaculture design course but as I didn’t have a garden then, and the course was so intense, at that time I wasn’t really taking in what mulching meant or was meant for!!. So this was my first experiment with mulching!!!  When I laid the mulch there were no leaves on the bushes here is a photo two days later;

Mulching is good… or so I hear

A few weeks later the nettles were growing wild and covering the ground. Nobody told me that mulching was good for nettles!!!

So again, in the name of mulching I took ‘drastic’ measures. I did NOT want to weed, so I covered the ground around the bushes with cardboard and then added more grass cuttings on top to hold it down. I didn’t even have to soak this down as the rain started as soon as I laid it. Two weeks later I held onto the tops of huge nettle bushes and without even moving the cardboard the whole plant came out in my hand roots and all. Result!! The nettles were used as mulch on my vegetable bed, so double result really ;-))

The plants are looking really healthy, there are loads of berries starting to appear and the cardboard is almost not noticeable, to my eyes anyway (not that I am that bothered at this stage about aesthetics, I am more concerned about getting a harvest) and I feel happy that I can say that I have ‘mulched’

It’s so Berry wonderful.. 26/05/2012

Update on 25/6/2012

Well most of my berries seem to have been eaten by the birds, which tells me that i should use netting!! Some have survived, and are ripening..

More updates to follow!!

Experiment 3 – New plot, squash bed in a mini-hugulkultur

When I first moved into this house I found a large pile of rotting wood, some beautiful driftwood and other bits and pieces covered over by blue tarpaulin near the entrance of my garden, on the east side. I decided that the tarpaulin was an eye sore and little by little I have been moving the wood around the garden; as a border for my apple tree guilds, around my vegetable plot, using the flat pieces of wood as ‘stepping stones amongst the veg plot giving me easy access to all areas and some of the really beautiful pieces of drift wood I have used as ornamental around the garden and I have tucked the tarpaulin away in the hut (it could come in handy for something else later on!!)

I still had quite a few pieces of wood left over, the really rotting bits, been eaten alive by the looks of it, so I decided to use them!! A few months back I had thought of making a Hugelkultur* bed with all the wood, but after discussion with an experienced permaculturist and my tutor I decided it wasn’t the way to go for my first attempts at gardening.!!  Hence my non-conventional mixed vegetable plot and design (detailed as a document) I am just not the kind of person to do things the old fashioned way so if a hugulkultur was out then a mixed veg bed (polyculture) seemed the next best thing!! Anyway, I did have some wood left over, so thought I would do a mini-hugulkultur – which translates from the german roughly as ‘mound culture’.

* look up Hugulkultur here:

So based loosely on the idea above I set about making my mini hugulkultur ‘squash bed’.

The ground/soil where the wood had been stored/left was completely weed free but also quite compacted, being on the east side of the garden it gets the sunshine from around 12 – 6pm at this time of the year.

So, I dug out quite a bit of the soil, as my plan was to bury the rotting wood and other such things!!

I only dug down about 20 inches (remember I like the no-dig method, normally, and I am a small girl with not much digging power!!) I then layered in the wood, two bags of leaf mould, some compost, a few more pieces of small bits of wood, then a huge sack of horse manure (fully fermenting with LOADS of worms) another finer layer of leaf mould and finally the soil I had dug up. This may sound like a lot, but it wasn’t really and I am only left with a small mound, in fact looking at the photos it is not much of a mound at all, so maybe I dug a bit deeper. This is not exact science, it is just my little experiment.

In this I have planted:

1 x Patty pan squash (seedling)

1 x Crookneck squash (seedling)

1 x Thelma sanders squash (seedling)

All the squash were dug in with another large dollop of manure

2 x nasturtiums seedlings at the far edges

1 x marigold (calendula) seedling

and  some seeds  (one or two only of each !!)  –  Borage, toa bean, wautoma cucumber, lemon cucumber, tondo piacenenza courgette

a sprinkling of garlic chives and a few scattered radishes to hopefully cover the ground a bit whilst other things take their time to come up.. and today I threw on some poppy seeds, for good measure, thought it would add a splash of colour!!

For a little plot I have managed to pack a whole lot in!!!

So, as well as my polyculture vegetable garden design I have also managed to try out a bit hugulkultur, which has cost me nothing really. The wood was there, I received the bags of manure from a nieghbour as a gift ;-)), compost from the garden, leaf mould from last autumns leaves and some seedlings (some of which I did buy) most were given to me. And it is another case of wait and see, it is liking cookng a one-pot meal, using what ingredients you have and waiting the required time to see what flavours you have created. And, in case I have planted the squash out too soon and we get more frost (I am in Scotland) then I have a few other seedlings on the go. If they are not needed I shall give put them on freecycle or offer them to a neighbour.

Update 25/6/2012

This little plot is coming along against all odds really, terrible heavy rain, wind that catches this very spot, not much sunlight and no warmth to speak of.. two of the squash are still alive, the nasturtiums are dong well, the calendula is coming on strongly, the Borage, toa bean, wautoma cucumber, lemon cucumber, tondo piacenenza courgette not really showing through, but the radishes and poppy seeds are springing up!!


Experiment 4 – growing food on the compost heap!!

Okay another experiment which is hardly original, which I have heard lots of people talk about and which I thought I should try as well. Again, using what already exists within my garden and not changing anything structurally I decided to plant some squash into last years compost heap. This compost heap was here when I arrived, I have added to it but it is mostly decomposed. The compost heap is at the south-east end of my garden and gets a fair bit of sunshine most of the day

This time I have planted less, as the compost heap is fairly close to my vegetable bed and I don”t want these plants to take over or cause too much shade over the vegetables. Saying that, if they grow successfully I could still end up with quite a bit of shading, but I am going to try and train them around the veg bed and not over it!!

Again some seedlings, in with a large dollop of manure I planted;

1 x Boston squash

1 x Thelma saunders squash

1 x Patty pan squash

(all of these squash have fairly small fruits and are best eaten young, so says the packet!!!)

I also stuck in three seeds together from a pack of mixed gourds (baby pumpkins)!!

Oh, and a nasturtium seedling (just sticking these everywhere as I had lots of seedlings!!)

And that is all, don’t want to get too keen, although it is tempting. Feel like I could plant seeds all over the place, but have to bear in mind that if they fruit then they will spread!! It is hard to control myself, I am so excited to think that these little seeds could grow me lots of food..

squash seedling on the compost heap

Update 25/6/2012

These plants have died a death.. if the weather improves I may plant some more seedlings in that I have on the go.. let’s see

Experiment 5 – homemade hanging basket with strawberries

Growing strawberries in itself is not an experiment but making my own hanging basket was. I had ran out of pots, didn’t want to spend money on a hanging basket, and found an old colander lying around in my garden (more of that later in a blog) so decided to try my hand at making the hanging basket. In it I have planted some strawberry seedlings that I planted indoors, they took ages to seed, they were planted in February and still quite small, but I have hardened them off in the last few days and decided they needed to just get out there and face the elements.. I lined the colander with some strong plastic, with holes punctured in it, then filled it with compost, before inserting the seedlings. Oh, and I added two seeds of borage, which I’d read were good for strawberries. This is a great page for companion planting;

an old colander, some gold tassles, and a dead flower head, to deter the birds, my idea, not from any book!!

close up of the strawberry seedling, with two seeds of borage thrown in for good measure

Update on 25/6/2012

Again, given the weather, torrential rain and lack of sun the strawberry plant seems to be coming on well, but doubt if it shall fruit this year.. the borage seed has sprouted though..


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