Life: after fossil fuels

 

 


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Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe

 

Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative

LCCC

 

Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59

Superhome 59

 

This website proud host of the High Wycombe Local Food Guide

Local Food

 

Food on our doorstep

A New Beginning - May 2010

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By May 2010 the next phase of development started at our post-carbon home. (We had moved there in May 2008 and the final major eco-upgrade came with the Solar Panels in April 2010. From this point on there is not much left to do other than to start work on the reduction in food miles.) This requires the redevelopment of that area of land to the rear of the house that. so far, has only served to entertain the children. When we chose this house it was based upon several factors including the ample garden. So it fell time to put it to use.

 

Now we always had grown our own fruit and veg. However it was only a limited affair with a few strawberries, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers in pots. The next phase involve expanding this limited production into the western end of the garden.

 

The initial plan was to dig one experimental plot for the first year. Add another in the second year with a third after that. In the photos here you can see the first small plot has been dug. Our soil is very stony and compacted so this took more work than it seems! Once broken up we emptied our compost heap and dug in some organic matter. The area was once lawn so the turf was then laid upside down on top and the area left for a few weeks to kill the grass.

 

Potash from the wood pellet boiler was added then the rest of the contents of the compost heap were used as mulch and mark out the area of the second plot (see here adjacent to the first). The magnolia bush here was only left in place for a few weeks as it was holding up the fence. Which leads us neatly to the next major project....

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tree Removal and New Fence in place - June 2010

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We have a south-facing garden but it received very little sun. The entire southern border had been planted with 23 leylandii many years ago by some previous owner. It may have been a good idea at the time if the intention was to have kept it neatly trimmed as a hedge. However, by the time we moved there in May 2008 it was an impossible and impenetrable row of twenty-foot trees. Even worse the previous occupiers had nailed a row of fence panels to the tree trunks. In fact it was only the leylandii that was holding up five fence panels that you can see in the photo's above (held up by magnolia bush and a yellow washing line).

 

In the centre of the garden there was a wonderful weeping ash. Quite unusual. Once again, this may have seemed like a wonderful idea twenty years ago when it a sapling. However, today, its thick canopy served only to block the sun through the summer months. It had also spread dangerously close to the house. If only they had planted ten feet further back rather than those leylandii we might have had no problem!

 

As we are no tree-huggers in this house we decided that all the trees had to go... The decision about the ash was not so easy because it was a marvelous tree so we decided to save some seeds and give it offspring a new home elsewhere. Its woody parts would also be recycled as firewood to be seasoned on site. So in 2009 we got permission from the Council to have the trees removed (as they are in a Conservation Area). The Council raised no objections.

 

Starting in the half-term holidays early June 2010 we called in a team of trees surgeons to remove the trees and grind out the stumps. Next day a fencer came in a put up a sturdy closed-board fence. The garden is now open and gets good sun from early morning to late evening in the summer months. This was necessary as the next major phase of work involves bringing in the fruit trees. These trees will not only yield food but will also shade the garden through the summer months. Leylandii can only do the latter - and all year round as they do not drop their needles in winter. Once gone the rear garden was bathed in light and the benefit extends to the house where we will probably be switching the lights on a little later in the evening from now on. We should have a greater solar-gain too - keeping us warmer in winter.

 

The pictures in this section (left & right) pretty accurately reflect the changes. The column on the left actually shows the garden in the summer of 2008. These photo's predate the work from 2010 shown at the head of this page. The photo's in the right-hand column show, like-for-like, the view from the same position after the tree and fencing work in June 2010. You can see how it pretty much looks like we started from a blank canvas. Not far from the truth!

 

Compare pictures 6 and 7 to this view taken in January 2009:

 

January 2009

 

Final view from January 2009 shows the rear garden looking from the opposite way from pictures 4 and 5.

January 2009

Picture 5

 

Picture 7

 

 

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Picture 11

June 2010 to December 2010

In January 2009 the rear garden under snow looked like this:

Before the trees were removed...

From June 2010 it looked like this:

To monitor developments going forward we will use this standard 90o photo-montage. Above we have the view from the north-west corner of the garden behind the garage. This view faces south and east. This is much the same view as "Picture 2" at the top of this page. The photo montage above is from June 2010 after the fence was finished and the trees removed. Note how the wooden compost box on the right of the picture is upside down and awaiting some wood preserver. Next to it are all the old fence panels awaiting recycling into firewood. To the extreme-left of the photo, next to the garage rear door, there is a log pile supported by a water butt. As the water butt emptied, the wood pile slumped and the water butt started to lean over. Next to the door there is a roll of old metal wire fencing that used to be the original rear boundary of the property. It was ripped out when the new fence was installed. Look at the vegetable patch in the foreground. It is bare and in need of a dig.

The next photo-montage above is taken on July 25th 2010. It is difficult to spot obvious differences but there are many. See that the fence is now painted green although is in need of it second coat. The compost box has been painted and is in its final resting place - the extreme-right-hand corner. All the old fencing has been recycled into firewood. The right-hand side of the garden has now been dug flat exposing three main vegetable patches. The patch closest to the camera has been dug out and planted with cucumber, sunflowers, spring onions, broccoli, radishes, beetroot, carrots and dill. The other two patches will be dug out in future years. The area is highly compacted with a large percentage of stones - especially flint. It takes a lot of time and hard work to dig this out. Note how dry the lawn is in the foreground. It is brown whilst next to the fence it is nice and green - entirely the opposite of the appearence in the June photo. The reason is that the greener area has been flattened and seeded with grass. This has been watered and is growing well. The unwatered lawn has suffered in comparison. The wood pile to the left, beside the garage door, has been placed inside a home-made "book end" that stops the pile leaning on the water butt.

December 2010 - an update with Fruit Trees

December 15th 2010: after two weeks delay due to heavy and persistent frosts we finally got our fruit trees from Ashridge Trees. There are six freshly planted trees in this photo in the middle at the back of the garden near the fence. They form an "L" shape with five in a row, along the fence, and the sixth at right-angles. Left to right they are a Plum (Czar), Apple (Discovery), Apple (Red Falstaff), Apple (Bramley), Pear (Conference) and Pear (Buerre Hardy). All were carefully chosen for the best yield when grown organically, ie, most hardy and pest resistant. The combinations of varieties were chosen for their cross-fertilisation groups, spread of yield through the year and for their keeping qualities. Spacing is slightly less than recommended for an orchard because they will also serve as shade for the rest of the garden. What looks like lumps of coal at the base of the trees is actually frozen lumps of peat from some grow-bags that got left outside. Hopefully in warmer weather this will defrost and crumble away.

 

Czar (Plum)

 

Discovery (Apple)

 

Red Falstaff (Apple)

 

Bramley (Apple)

 

Conference (Pear)

Buerre Hardy (Pear)

 

Update: May 2011

Superhome59 Garden May 2011

There have been a few changes over the year. Note the fruit trees in full bloom. The Plum and three Apples Trees all produced fruit in their first year with us but we removed the fruitlets early in order to promote root growth. April/May 2011 were very dry in the UK so we gave them plenty of water. The vegetable patch has been widened and another path put up the centre. Effectively this splits everything into six sub-patches.

The mess to the left includes the carpet underlay that had been laid over the vergetable patch during the winter. Underneath is a pile of old pallets that were later cut up for firewood. At this point of the season the garden has been dug over ready for planting - probably a bit late in comparison to some but we are taking it easy in the first few years. This is the first year that the entire vegetable patch will be planted. Plenty of potash from the KWB biomass boiler has been dug in. Great fertiliser.

Update: July 2012

Our Garden in 2012
The above image was taken after the long 2012 rains of April, May and June. Note the threadbare grass to the left. This area of lawn had sunk over the years as there is a drain underneath. We emptied the compost heap (barely visible on the right) and removed the old compost heap. It had been made of pallets but it had rotted to pieces after only a couple of years. It seems that pallet wood is not pressure treated and will not last very long if damp. Lots of soil and compost was laid out on the sunken lawn to re-level it around the man-hole cover. Our new compost heap is a one we purchased as a wooden kit. The wood is pressure treated so is fit for purpose and should last a lot longer this time. It has three bays and had to be built up from the kit. It has slats in the sides allowing us to remove them. Also compare the height of the trees now in comparison to 2011.

Update: May 2013

Superhome 59 Garden May 2013
Here we are in 2013. This photo is taken a bit earlier in the year than the 2012 photo. Even so you can see that progress has been slow in 2013 due to the long cold winter followed by the coldest spring in 50 years. The middle apple tree has really suffered and has very little foliage on it.

Update: October 2014

Superhome59 Garden October 2014
By Autumn of the next year there have been some noticeable changes. The garden now seems a lot more crowded as the replacement conservatory has been built on an unused stretch of lawn. The garden was still strewn with builder's equipment by this stage as the conservatory would not be fully complete until early 2015. The small Hazel tree to the right of picture has grown enormously after the 2013/2014 winter which was one of the wettest of record followed by an early, warm and dry spring. It did the fruit trees no harm as all three apples blossomed at once and yielded well. One of the pear trees grows well but won't blossom whilst the other got cut back radically after a fungal infection in the previous year. It still blossoms and produces small in-edible fruit that soon die and drop off. The cherry appears to have died after producing masses of blossom. Behind our rear garden fence our neighbour's trees have grown considerabley now they are not crowded by the leylandii we removed a few years ago. Just as we thought this might be a problem we got new neighbours who promptly cut those trees down in December after this photo was taken. By the time we take the 2015 photo you will also notice that block-paving around the conservatory and the water-butts which will now be alongside the conservatory.

The new conservatory replaces the old brown one that is just visible in the upper left of the previous year's photos. That was demolished and the area there became a patio. We were forced into replacement after the old one became pourous to water and every kind of insect. There were mushrooms growing in the carpet and the old conservatory had detiorated beyond repair. It was single-glazed; boiling in summer and freezing in winter. We assumed it dated to the early 1980s. It also could not be locked so was insecure. The replacement is in a new location covering a downstairs window and the kitchen window. We have knocked through the kitchen window for access to the conservatory. Everything is double-glazed and secure. The old single-glazed wooden doors, that joined the lounge to the old conservatory, were replaced with triple glazed units. The conservatory itself has a small radiator for frost protection and heat reflective glass in roof and on the sourthern aspect. On the eastern and western sides no heat reflective glass was used. This should allow it to gain heat in the morning and afternoon. We will fit blinds which should also allow us to control heat build-up. Hopefully the result will be a space that contributes to the warmth in the main home as well as being habitable through most months of the year. Rest assured there are good double-glazed french doors in the kitchen access so we can block out any temperature extremes form the main house to control temperature.

Update: June 2016

Superhome59 Garden June 2016
How time flies. In the last year we have been recording a new YouTube video of a Year in the Garden. So you'll be able to tune into that and watch the year fly by. The changes to be seen in this photo are the obvious removal of the Hazel from the right hand side. This was moved to where the old Czar Plum was (the plum tree had died). The conservatory now has blinds and furniture whilst benefitting from a block paved surround. Water barrels have been moved to their final position. There is no grass at the bottom of the picture as we had a large influx of waste wood (from an allotment in High Wycombe) that was stored over-winter in this area. New neighbours in the street opposite have completely removed the large pine trees from the land behind the fence at the botom of our garden. That is why we can now see those homes opposite. Other trees have been planted there but they are fewer in number, not evergreen although they are taller.
Low Carbon Man
  • Growing food is really difficult and hard work too.

  • Growing food can be very satisfying and good exercise too.

  

 

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