Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe
Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative
Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59
This website proud host of the High Wycombe Local Food Guide
Food on our doorstep
A New Beginning - May 2010
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
Tree Removal and New Fence in place - June
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
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
Final view from January 2009 shows the rear garden
looking from the opposite way from pictures 4 and 5.
June 2010 to December 2010
In January 2009 the rear garden under snow looked like this:
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
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.
|Buerre Hardy (Pear)
Update: 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
Update: July 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
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
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
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.