Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Magic Beans

Hi all. I bet you think this post is going to be about beans... nope. I recently joined a local FB community for swapping produce, preserves, seedlings and plants, etc - foodstuffs that have been foraged, grown, produced, or preserved by the individual, no purchased foods, and no money to change hands. It is called Magic Beans.
Although, as my regular readers will know, I have a good garden, it seldom produces excess - with the exception of rhubarb and herbs. So I offer my preserving skills instead - people can give me their excess produce, and I will return some of it as some kind of preserve - e.g plums can be returned as plum sauce, plum chutney, pickled plums, or plum jam; pumpkins I will process into a sweet puree which can be used for pie fillings, puddings, and pumpkin bread, or a savory puree for soup. The puree is packed into snaplock bags, you pop it in the freezer, then take out what you need as you need it.
The lovely lady who set it all up, Anneliese, dropped some jars off for me yesterday, and really liked my small-space garden, so asked if I would share pics and a little info. I thought rather than put a big post on the FB page, I would post a few pics and some basic info there, but do a full size blog post here for those interested in more info. So here we are.

I live in the front flat of a set of three connected flats, and have a small front yard that goes with it (middle flat has no yard, back flat has a back yard). When I first moved here, the yard was surrounded by large, untrimmed ornamental trees, which spread over most of the yard, and shaded the rest. The soil was so barren that not even grass grew, and there were no earthworms to the 3 feet down that I dug in various places. I cut down the trees on the sunward side, and trimmed back the trees on the other side, and slowly started establishing the gardens.

The first gardens I put in were the tire gardens. Six tires put side by side in two rows of three each for one tire garden. I put in three of these, which I brought with me from my last place of residence. 
There is a lot of controversy and conspiracy theory, based on anecdotal evidence only, surrounding the use of tires for growing food. But actual peer-reviewed scientific studies show that the rubber in tires is inert. It does not absorb toxins, and it does not leach toxins into the soil or plants.
Originally these were used to grow veggies in, but now I use them to grow my biennial and perennial herbs and veggies.
The first set of six tires has: wild Greek oregano (so much more fragrant and flavorful than the standard variety), Mexican marigold mint (something new I'm doing this year), Italian flat leaf parsley, mitsuba (Japanese parsley, another new one), Shiso green (another Japanese herb and another new one), and garlic chives.
The second set has: Asparagus (I grew these from seeds), anise hyssop (in theory - I'm not having a lot of luck with germination, this is also a new herb for my garden this year), French tarragon, pizza thyme and golden marjoram share a tire, winter savory (a must for anyone who cooks a lot of beans), and arugula (yes, this is a perennial, although it is usually treated as an annual).
The third set has: knotted marjoram (also known as sweet marjoram), French thyme, Texas tarragon, horseradish, sorrel, and lemongrass.
I also have a set of four tires that I put in two years ago, which I use to grow odds and ends veggies that I hadn't planned for, or ran out of space for in the main plots. This year I have sunflowers and komokomos in them.

They look a little bare at the moment, as some of them are newly planted.

Next I put in four main beds, for my annual crops. These beds are slightly raised, and are 4ft by 7ft (I had originally planned for 8ft, but when I went to get the wood for it, they had 7ft planks at a really good price - substantially cheaper than it would have cost to get 8ft ones, or two 4ft ones, so I went with those). These size beds are great - the middle can be reached from either side, and the dimensions allow for square foot gardening, short rows (in the 4ft direction), or long rows (the 7ft direction). Which ever way you prefer doing it. You can also put stakes in at the corners to drape bird netting or frost cloth over them.

You can grow a LOT of variety in these.
This year's autumn crops (I have already started planting out seed in the back two beds) will be: 
BED 1: peas, brussels sprouts - red, daikon radish,onions - red cipollini , radish - purple plum, miner's lettuce (not actually a lettuce), spinach - bloomsdale, beans - dwarf yellow, onion - borettana, radish - watermelon, salsify
BED 2: spinach -santana, shallots, rocket, chichory - sugarloaf, cauliflower - yellow, onions - red brunswick, brussels sprouts - green, komatsuna, endive, Dutch cornsalad, silderbeet - yellow stemmed
BED 3: broad beans, mustard streaks (salad green), rocket, mustard - purple wave (cooking veg), mibuna, radish - easter egg, radicchio, beans - dwarf green, tat soi, spring onions, chervil, cutting celery (different from standard celery)
BED 4: dill, onion - purplette, kale, carrot - pusta (a sweet, deep purple variety), spinach - santana, pak choi, radicchio, coriander, leeks, beetroot, radish - fire candle, carrots - nutri red, lettuce

There is a Mayer lemon tree in one corner of the yard, and Old English mint and apple mint growing under it, with self-sown borage doing its thing in a little area I leave kind of wild, by the overflow compost heap - I have a compost bin but at certain times of the year there is more than it can handle.

In the border gardens, along the edges of the yard, I grow a variety of flowers for the bees, and a few fruit bushes and trees - a blueberry bush, a blackboy peach - which should start producing in a year or two, a Seville orange and a blood orange - both of which are still a few years off from producing, a pomegranate tree, and a redcurrant bush and a blackcurrant bush - both of which are only starting to produce. Also lemonbalm, pinapple sage, chocolate mint, and comfrey (that's new this year).

In a small area by the flat I set up a little sitting area, and have put a trellis up with passionfruit planted on it, to eventually give a privacy screen from the neighbors. Underneath the passionfruits are some strawberry plants, and behind the seating are a couple of pepinos. In an old bathtub, I have Chinese water chestnuts growing.

There is also a small garden under the kitchen window which has lavender, rhubarb, Purple sage, green sage, rosemary, and a key lime that I just planted this year (so it is a few years off from producing).

I had wanted to include a beehive or two, but sadly I am highly allergic to bees, and while there would be no problem having them on the property (bees only sting if provoked or stepped on), I wouldn't be able to manage them or harvest the honey because of the sting risk.

As you can see, you can get a LOT of variety in a very small area. Not a lot of any one thing, or enough for preserving (for most things), but enough to keep you in fresh food.
So if you have only a small space, go ahead and give it a go. And remember, it doesn't all have to be done at once. I have done all this across an 8 year span, as money, health and energy has allowed.


  1. wow thanks for sharing. i use to love gardening but lost it and hope to get back into it this year. this has inspired me with new and fresh ideas now. thank you for sharing. you mentioned excess of crops and what you could do with plums, i will have soem in fact my girl thinned the tree today are they any good??? also what can yo do with grapes??? as i always have heaps of them too. thats what my dog doesnt eat from the vine and tree. have a locut tree too can you do anything with them???

  2. Thanks Raewyn. So glad I could give someone some ideas! I lost it for a while too, after chemo, but so happy to be able to get back into it now.
    Always happy to take any plums going! PM me thru FB, and let me know what kind they are (that can sometimes determine how best to do them), and what your preference would be in what you want back (sauce, or chutney, or jam, etc).
    Grapes -especially dark ones - are great for grape jelly/jam - not something that is overly common in this country. They can also be pickled - I have two recipes for that, both old French recipes. One uses sweeter spices - cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, and the other one uses more savory herbs/spices - tarragon, peppercorns. Both are great in salads, or served with meat - esp cold meats, and game.
    With loquats, I usually just eat them until I bust - love them ,but so hard to get access to them. They can be made into jam, chutney, or puree for over ice cream or to use in second fermentation for water kefir or kombucha. They can also pickled whole - I have a recipe for sweet spiced loquats.