Monday, April 27, 2009

6 fine-art steps for building a raised bed

Step 1. Construct a timber coffin-like structure to what ever size you require in what ever manner you like. Remember the timber will flavour your food so don't use timber that has been treated with chemicals. Level off and fix to the ground using stakes or star pickets.

Step 2. Break up and weed existing soil at the base of the bed. If your soil is clay add some river sand and lime, if your soil is sandy add some clay and manure.

Step 3. Using newspaper, cardboard or some twentieth century art, cover the soil in a thin blanket. This barrier will act as a weed mat and help lock in moisture, which also encourages worms. Wet down this layer with water to start the decomposition process and help keep it from blowing away.

Step 4. Add a layer of straw, fallen oak leaves or sugar cane mulch. This organic matter will slowly break down, fixing carbon in the soil. A good soil requires a balance of nutrients, carbon, nitrogen and diverse microbial life, which will mitigate pests. Never use synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, you want your soil to hum loosely, not fear life.

Step 5. Finish the layers with composted soil. I have used part mushroom compost here with my own home-brewed one. Lightly compress or flatten the soil with a board and sow your seeds.

Step 6. Protect your seeds from your free-ranging hens. Now it's time for a well deserved glass of Astrid's dark chocolate stout.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lucky dip and scratch (or, carbon fixed/carbon smoked)

I've been up a ladder, building walls to pay bills, and I've spent much of the past month finishing essays, films and funding for WorkmanJones' 2010 US tour. We've been invited and funded to make new work and show it at a non-profit gallery in Richmond, Virginia so we'll be looking to do a number of things while we are there.

In the meantime the garden has been neglected and the frost season has begun, which makes looking at the garden a tad depressing. Every day I have been scheming and planning new raised beds, future composts, fruit and nut tree plantings, canopies over raised bed structures in order to mitigate birds and frost damage, mulch and humus for further water and carbon conservation and more indigenous plantings to encourage greater biodiversity.

Surprisingly we've found that these heirloom toms (Riesentraube) are extremely frost hardy, for tomatoes at least. Because we live in a cold climate (though increasingly less so) toms generally come into abundance just as the first frosts start rolling in. Therefore these hardy toms are ideal in this climate. We've had 2 frosts already and the plants keep producing and ripening fruit.

In my absence the chooks have been guarding the compost. Over the Summer and until the first frost the European wasps had colonised the heap, now the chooks have reclaimed it as their very own lucky dip and scratch zone.

Working to pay bills and planning to fly to the US are obvious hypocrisies in light of what we're aiming to achieve in the garden over the next five years: 90% water self-sufficiency, 70% energy self-sufficiency, 70% food self-sufficiency. I suppose by agreeing to go to the US I participate in what I represent: a privileged late-capitalist citizen who still partakes in the short-term fantasy world of oil-based technologies.

As WorkmanJones' practice involves both disembodiment and re-embodiment, displacement and re-placement these ethical dilemmas are just part and parcel of a cold and rainy 2009 Sunday afternoon milieu.