After thirty years’ experience of managing our own site here in the Scottish Borders, teaching in many locations and creating and managing permaculture gardens on a wide variety of sites, we have acquired a considerable body of knowledge. We have now been making some of this information available here for the last ten years.
The topics, which will appear over time are:
The garden yields a massive amount of produce, particularly considering that there is such a short growing/harvesting season in Scotland. We have kept detailed records of yield since 2011 and these are shared here.
Primary yields are crops as they are picked in the garden
- Garden Cottage Harvest 2013 Harvest record passed a tonne harvested from less than a quarter of an acre in early October. Winter yields slowing down!
Such an early summer yield this season- picking grapes in July! Where there is too much of a crop to eat fresh from the garden we use a wide variety of preserving techniques. A diagram of the processes can be found here. We’ll add in how we preserve produce in the Journal from time to time. SPECIES REGISTERS. This year’s total harvest came in at just over 700kg.
Not as high as 2013 (over a metric tonne), but that’s to be expected as top fruit have a tendency to bi-ennialism, so an exceptional year like 2013 is unlikely to be repeated even though the growing season was just as good in 2014.
- Garden Cottage Register 31.12.15
Yield last year one and a quarter metric tonnes from 800 square metres. Highest yet. Had eight open days and fed the Permaculture Scotland Gathering. Got all our fire wood a few thousand plants and five hundred trees for sale. This yield rate is in excess of sixteen tonnes a hectare. We are reliably ensured that the highest yield rate on Grade one agricultural land in these parts is eight tonnes a hectare, for all their John Deere mammoth tractors and tankers of chemicals. Sure what we do is more labour intensive, but isn’t meaningful enjoyable work what many people are looking for? Farmers are not the enemy. We wish we knew how we could get the message across better!
After last year’s bumper crop a slower start to this year’s harvest (mostly down to the weather) but things picking up in June, and an Amazing July. By the end of the month bumper yields of salads, leeks, garlic and the soft fruit coming in nicely. Great peas and broad beans. Tomatoes and courgettes setting although still small. Better weather as the month has gone on! Some top fruit in August, but starting to kick in seriously in September, with a fine autumn.The Forest Garden is not only about edible yield, it is about creating and preserving biodiversity and creating a viable and sustainable ecosystem. To this end we employ a wide variety of planting and encourage birds and invertebrates in the garden. This creates natural balance so we don’t need predator control. The species registers record this diversity. Overall yield down a bit this year as we were in Australia for six weeks at peak harvest season (October and thereby) so some stuff just didn’t get picked.
- Garden Cottage Register 31.12.17
Challenging year for some produce, great for others. Very dry from April onwards for two months, and ground moisture definitely down. Duck demise creating slug challenge and no immediate solution found. Moving into early Septembetr kitchen full of harvests and processing backlog being dealt with. Freezers full. More drying and bottling underway.
Yields appear to have stalled a little in this year but this is highly misleading. An gentle start to the year turned into the Beast from the East in late March. Snowed in for five days – all five roads out of Coldstream blocked, no buses, no trains North of Newcastle. Then a fantastic summer with bumper yields of many crops. Graham on the road for nearly three months of the year, teaching, visiting, learning. And no family at home. So there was more yield to be had- but it just didn’t get picked! Still this level is still 12.5 tonnes per hectare – at least fifty percent more than any local farmer gets on Grade 1 agricultural land – all done with hand tools and without chemicals – plus Five hundred trees for sale, five thousand plants for sale, half of our household fuel needs, a soft living room and a welcome teaching space. Wildlife continues to increase.
Sometimes you’re left thinking “What do I do with all this food” And sometimes “What do I do with all this water?” (as happened on our wettest Apple Day ever in October). The answer to the first question as ever has been to keep doing food preservation and we have been sharing surplus with visitors, friends and the amazing Northern Soul Kitchen in Berwick upon Tweed. The answer to the second was to invest in a pop up canvas amphitheatre which devoured all the proceeds from Apple Day but at least meant it happened and that future events could also be weatherproofed (to a certain extent). More visitors from all over the world, a couple of new bird species and (hopefully) lots more inspired people.
Well what an interesting year it has been. We won’t bore you with Covid 19… But climate change has been wagging it’s ugly finger at us. No carrots or parsnips, onions poor, broad beans all getting eaten by mice, peas not doing much. Gooseberries shrunk unto themsleves but overall an amazing abundance of stuff. Over 700 kilos by the end of September harvested. If you follow this story you may have seen yields dip in recent times. Actually they haven’t- we’ve just picked less as now there’s just the two of us. This year we’ve tried to keep up with the harvest and have given away a couple of hundred kilos of fresh fruit and veg and heaps of processed stuff. Be interesting to see how the year ends up!
Another ‘interesting year’. Been teaching online Forest Gardening, Permaculture Design, Training of trainers. After second pfizer jag in April got shingles (a common experience apparently) whch meant I couldn’t walk properly for some months… so didn’t get much time gardening. Nancy decided to retire from Scottish Government at the new year so has carried the can… with help from Jason.
Some things done very well and some not so. But plenty of food. Visitor numbers right down with Covid – stores all still full as don’t have the usual five thousand to feed (*Biblical exaggeration).
As much as possible the forest garden at Garden Cottage is a closed system, in that we use only material from within the garden in the garden. We gather rainwater, make plant feeds, use our own seeds and cuttings, grow green manure and create compost heaps. But there are times when we do need to bring materials into the garden and we will record those here. Just so you can see to what extent we are self reliant – or not. This section is still a work in progress.
INTERACTIONS WITH PEOPLE
Garden Cottage is our home as well as Scotland’s leading Forest Garden and the longest established intentional food forest garden in the UK, and we are delighted to welcome visitors to share it with us on open days, courses and practical training sessions, all by arrangement.
In 2013 :
We have had restorative pruning days and many casual visitors
We welcomed 12 people on the Permaculture Design Course, taking place over 6 weekends throughout the year
We had over 40 visitors to our early summer Open Day, which shows our soft fruit at it’s best
In 2014 we met lots more open day visitors and ran a load more courses. The nursery catalogue clientele is growing. We ran another design course. We had several private open days for particular groups. The site continues to progress..
In 2015 we have done it all over again. Record yields, hugely enthusiastic visitors. But also bringing through younger teachers, offering further learning .and understanding better than ever what we have created. Taught in Cyprus with the lovely Rakesh and Kat…
In 2016 we added a fifth continent to our teaching experience with presentations at the Australasian convergence in Perth WA, and an advanced course with Ross Mars at Rockingham on the coast of the Indian Ocean in their coldest Spring in memory and then taught a PDC at Geoff and Nadia Lawton’s magnificent Zaytuna farm.. All backed up by meeting a wide range of permiesd in Victoria later on thanks to Ian Lillington and friends.
2017 has seen another PDC at Garden Cottage, one in Sweden with George Christofis of Circle Permaculture and we’re looking forward to joining him again in Portugal in October. We’ve had over a dozen open days this year with a fantastic range of different folks, from all over the world. In the next wee while we’ll publish our programme through to 2019.
2018 Saw us in Romania, talking with Women’s Institutes for the first time, University of the Third Age and another bevy of Open Days both open to the public and for closed groups. Food Preservation course grow in popularity, and we gave a starter course on Papa Westray in the Orkneys. This is yielding great results in 2019. We continue to average around a thousand visitors a year, here at Garden Cottage.
2019 We taught Teacher training in Buckinghamshire, returned to Slovenia (where we met old friends an enjoyed the Maribor Festival). We returned to Orkney and taught a Permaculture Design Course with friends Mark Shipperley, Caspar Lampkin and Kate Everett ( the first ever in Scotland’s Northern Isles). And grew a bit more food. The harvest figures are down as there’s only the two of us now, and it was a poor summer and we harvested less of what did grow. Home courses were busy through the year.
2020 Has been marked by the Covid 19 crisis. Before lockdown we had a Forest Gardening / Intro to Permaculture Course and taught pruning on the Mathew Estate by Coupar Angus as well as being main presenter at the Coupar Angus Potato Day. Since then we have taught two Teacher Training Courses online with Rakesh ‘Rootsman Rak’, and a Permaculture Design Course with our old friends Kate Everett, Caspar Lampkin and Mark Shipperley… all to great acclaim. We have seen Lockdown as an opportunity more than a problem. Have enough food in the house to have lasted all three months without buying anything (if we needed to) and are enjoying great harvest coming in since June in quantity. Have been working with the charity LOVE since the start of the year after they took over Gorgie City Farm in Edinburgh and are now moving up to Farm Scale activity in Lanarkshire.
We have been running a Visitors’ Book for a number of years now. Our son Sandy has discovered a great Narrative Evaluation Tool from the Happy Museum’s Project. Using Five themes from the New Economics Foundation are used here to interpret what Visitors say in our Visitors Book. In 2017 Sandy has re-analysed the data using our own criteria which are more relevant to what we are trying to achieve. Here is the reanalysis as a pie chart and a bar chart. We feel it is important to recognise that the human impact of what the garden offers is as important as the food and wildlife outputs. The Permaculture Principle involved is: Share surplus.
The fertility of the garden is very much based on the creation of enduring living soil. We have done much research over the years with the help of various professionals and students. This has involved Edinburgh and Copenhagen Universities, and SRUC (Scottish Rural University Colleges) who as of now (Spring 2019) and conduct several month long tests. These have been shared previously in the Journal and when time allows we will offer a complete record here. Meanwhile my presentation at the International Permaculture Conference can be viewed here.