After I had dug out the last of the hawthorn bush at the back of the garden, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to do anymore heavy digging. But I forgot about the blackberry bush, which was taking up a good part of the vegetable patch – and lots of hard-to-get-to weeds were having a field day under it!
My original thought had been to transfer the bush to the allotment. Well, as you will know if you’ve been following my blog for a while, that idea had to be knocked on the head when I decided the allotment could be no more.
So, the next idea was to have no more blackberry bush. Oh no, but what about all the fun my daughter and I were having in the late summer on our morning forages. I know you can find blackberries everywhere (the walk home from school is punctuated by the ubiquitous stop for fruit-picking), but to have them outside the backdoor….
Permaculture then came to the rescue.
At the back of the garden, there is a patch where nothing much can grow. This year, I tried a tomato plant, last year turnips and before that it was onions. Now, I wouldn’t have called them an abject failure – but an abundant crop they certainly were not.
The soil might well be under par but I think the reason for my difficulties is the shade created by the enormous pine trees next door but one. At this time of year, the spot in question gets no direct sunlight to it whatsoever. So, it needs something which seems impervious to almost everything.
Now, the blackberry bush is nicely ensconced down there, surrounded by strawberry plants dug out of the garden elsewhere. The idea is that the latter will act as ground cover to limit the proliferation of weeds and provide a crop before the blackberries are ready. The strawberries are late fruiting so it remains to be seen if this actually happens but it’s an interesting experiment.
But what about hugelkultur? Where does that fit into all this?
I’m reading a great book by Christopher Shein (the Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture) in which he explains a way to make use of hard prunings, such as the branches of blackberry bushes. In previous years, I’ve chopped them up (a little bit!) and put them in the compost bin. They have eventually rotted down but they really are a tad too woody for a cool bin. So instead, the idea is that you place the prunings over the soil and then cover them with straw, manure and compost. I don’t have enough straw, manure and compost but I’ve managed a couple of piles of something resembling a hugelkultur mound.
The rationale for this, aside from issues to do with compost bins or municipal lorries carting the stuff away, is that the material rots slowly and this does not rob plants growing in/through it of vital nitrogen. Thus, next spring my tomatoes could happily be growing in such a pile. Or should I plant cucumber, butternut squash….?