Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We are what we eat: fruity!

Morello cherries, 2014
Eating low carb as we do, not many sweet things go on our table.  We rarely buy or make treats.  Our main sweet is fruit, and what better way than to grow it myself?

Fruit Trees

My morello cherry tree is a sour cherry, but that doesn't stop us from eating them fresh, especially our six year old.  Yum!  We froze a gallon bag of them last year, off a tree that isn't even as tall as me. 

I have sweet variety of cherry called Kordia, just taller than me, but younger than the morello.  It gave its first harvest (five cherries) last year.  We expect great things from it in the future.  Two other trees the same age as the Kordia are an Opal plum and a Williams pear.  This is the first flowering for the Opal, but the Williams hasn't set fruit yet.  We think it needs a good pollinating partner;  while there are two close neighbors with pear trees, both flower slightly later than poor Williams.  We therefore planted another pear, an Asian variety, nearby to help out.  It set fruit for the first time this year, though it's still very young.

Additionally we have two gorgeous apple trees, varieties Sparta and Laxton Fortune.  Sparta is a deep red, almost purple;  Laxton Fortune is yellow with orange-red blush.  Both are good eating apples and it looks like both are forming lots of little fruits this year.  I have a young crab apple tree too, which has not yet flowered.  Unlike the rest of the fruit, it's in the small front garden.

The last trees I have are a Brown Turkey fig, still only just taller than my knee but growing two figs;  and two peach seedlings in pots, grown from seeds I planted from storebought peaches.  One is a year old and one sprouted only this spring.

I have a lot of fruit trees!  Except the peaches, they're all dwarfs or mini dwarfs, and I keep them pruned to stay small and within my reach.  That's not all my fruit, though.

Soft Fruit

Ah yes, soft fruit. It takes up so much less room and is so tasty!  Mostly the six year old eats it before the rest of us get a chance.  Here's what I have:
  • Blackcurrants and redcurrants
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries (in planters)
  • Barberries
  • Gooseberries (still new)
Wild Fruit

They're not strictly in my garden, but I have access to, and regularly make use of:
  • Blackberries (well, actually I do have some, but not on purpose...)
  • Elderberries (the neighbor at the back has two, right on our border)
There are quite a lot more wild fruits nearby which I've never really used:  sloes, bullaces (wild plums), rowan berries, hawthorn berries, wild cherries, crab apples.  All are edible, though some are more palatable than others.  The bullaces and crab apples are quite nice, though the sloes are a bit astringent.

About Seasonal Fruit

It's my goal to be self-reliant in seasonal fruit.  Truly, this would be enough for me and my husband, who eats very little fruit, though it might be harder for our six year old.  Eating a purple Sparta apple straight off the tree is divine, nothing like a storebought apple, even when in season.  Perhaps it's time to cut down on bought fruit and stick closer to the seasons.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Suburban Permaculture Project: The Vegetable Garden, Philsophy and Application

2015 polyculture: kale and flowers jumbled together


The Philosophy

Permaculture is all about designing human systems based on natural systems.  When I initially began studying permaculture, I took this to mean that my food growing spaces should look like wild spaces:  like nature.  Permaculture also follows three ethics:  care for people, care for the earth, and care for the future.  I took this to mean building a sustainable lifestyle.  Having gone down the natural systems route:  mixing trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals;  throwing together as many different plants as possible, I've learned and observed many things, particularly about sustainability.

In a very small space such as mine, my positive impact on the globe is negligible.  I'm storing carbon in my plants and soil, but on a miniscule level.  I'm providing habitat for native animals and insects, but not on my own--they need a much wider area than I can provide.  The greatest impact I can make with the tiny space I have is to provide as much food for my household as possible.  Think how much more energy and fuel is saved if our family's food isn't grown halfway across the world, the packaging manufactured, and all of it shipped to various warehouses before finally making it to our local supermarket.  How much less pollution that food will create if I produce it myself.  How much native habitat can be retained if it's not needed to grow our food.

The best permaculture use of my own space is to grow my own food--as much as I possibly can.  My food growing design is modeled after natural systems, caring for the earth, for people, and the future--and the bottom line for me is to produce an abundance of food.


The Application

A design choice was to relocate the vegetable garden from the far corner of the property to the area closest to the back door. Though the previous location was not really very far--maybe 8m away--it was still far enough that I couldn't see it from the house, and did not visit it every day.  As a result, I would miss signs of infestions and damage, or simply fail to harvest things altogether. 

Having the vegetables right outside the back door means less work for me, and more vegetables eaten. Instead of having to put on shoes and a jacket to pick kale in the mud (in which case I just wouldn't bother), I can dash out onto the patio in my slippers, grab some leaves, and be inside before getting more than five raindrops on me. 

I also garden on deep beds;  they are never stepped on--and compacted--so thus never need digging/tilling.  I cover them thickly with chicken bedding (straw and manure) over winter both to enrich them and suppress weeds.  This has resulted in fantastic growth compared to enriching with compost, pre-chickens.  I never had enough compost to go around, but I definitely have plenty of manure!  The worms do all the work of digging it in for me.

For now, my main vegetable patch is composed of three adjoining beds approximately 1m x 2.5m each.  Every year I add a little more space, according to my burgeoning gardening abilities.  A little less lawn, a little more vegetables.  Perhaps by the end of five years, the entire space--maybe even the shady bits--will be a productive food growing haven.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We are what we eat: eggheads!

A chicken named Moldy, who lived a good long life with us after adoption from a factory farm
Oh eggs.  How we love them.  At our house we almost always eat eggs for breakfast.  I like mine best fried in goose fat, over hard.  Husband prefers sunny side up in butter.  Six year old likes them any way but usually asks for scrambled with cream.  Each of us eats three eggs a day at a minimum.

All our adult hens lay amazing brown eggs for us.  As we eat at least nine eggs per day, from ten hens of various ages this is a stretch.  In summer they might lay us nine, but it's more like seven.  In winter it's closer to four or five a day, so we buy a few eggs to supplement;  I wish we knew someone close by to get them from, but we currently buy from the supermarket or local market.

In order to meet our eggy desires, a flock of 12 hens between ages one and three years is my ideal.  We currently have ten adult hens and two female juveniles.  The age range is between zero and four years. Well, we're getting there. 
Big girl chick, tiny boy chick (same age!)
Our hens eat as much grass and greenery as they can manage, and any bugs and slugs they find.  They get access to high quality layers pellets, and daily treats of succulent garden leaves like sorrel, cabbage trimmings, dandelions (their favorite), etc.  Not only that, they are allowed to run around outside with plenty of room, and always have access to sunshine--when it deigns to stop raining, that is!  They have a nice roomy coop to sleep in and shelter from the rain;  most of them seem not to mind the rain, though.  The six rescue hens spent the first 18 months of their lives in cages in barns and never saw daylight;  we think they prefer to be outside as a result--even if it's raining.

Their eggs are beautiful as a result of their diet and lifestyle:  big orange yolks, lovely hard shells.  They never last longer than 24 hours in our house.  When I collect them in the afternoon I always thank my lovely chickies and tell them what a good job they've done. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Suburban Permaculture Project: Chickens

Big chick, little chick;  both boys

Having chickens has added another level of security to our personal food system. They provide so many benefits besides eggs!  

Soil Enrichment

Chicken manure has been been the number one soil amendment in my garden, and has transformed my compacted clay into beautiful rich soil. When I first began composting my garden and kitchen waste, I was frustrated at the time it took to make, and the small amount of compost produced at the end of the process. I wanted to enrich my beds, but there just wasn't enough compost to go around. Now my chickens compost all those things for me daily, and I have an excess of it!  I can spread it thickly and generously.

Garden Waste Recycling

Chickens eat many things I can't or don't want to eat, like weeds, grass, and bugs.  They turn these into eggs for us, and into the abovementioned lovely manure.  Quite a large portion of my garden is in full shade for most of the day, due to two mature trees.  I can't grow vegetables here.  I've grown a few mushrooms, which is an option I'd like to explore again, but the best food I grow in this location is chicken and eggs.

Along with their favorite weeds and bugs, we do supplement with high quality layers pellets, to ensure they get full nutrition.  Let it be stated that they love their pellets;  but truthfully, they love eating.  Who cares what it is?  They just want tasty things to shovel down their beaks.

Weed and Pest Management

If left permanently on one spot, chickens will destroy all greenery down to bare earth with their scratching, pecking, and constant supply of manure.  We therefore rotate our flock around the lawn and garden, using chicken wire fencing.  They get a fresh patch every week or ten days, and unless it's the dead of winter, there is always plenty of greenery for them to eat.  Right now they can't keep up with the growth!  They aren't allowed onto the vegetable patch until winter, but they get all the weeds I pull from it, plus any extra bits like flowering sorrel stems--which they love.  When they're allowed on during winter, the scratch it over and eat any slugs and bugs still lingering.

They have a stationary coop and a small permanent yard adjoining it, which borders all their paddocks.  And since they have access to it permanently, the yard is devoid of plants except a stinging nettle or two.  I try to keep the bare earth covered with mulch;  they like to scratch it up searching for bugs, and it's less slippery/muddy for us to walk on.  The only problem is the mulch breaks down so quickly!  I use garden trimmings, weeds (including the stinging nettles), grass clippings, or sometimes lightly soiled chicken bedding as mulch, and top it up as often as possible.  

Entertainment Value

Our chickens do so much work for us, yet this kind of work is natural to them and they enjoy it.  They are always happy to be scratching away, pecking at tasty weeds or searching for bugs.  When it's sunny they all like to stretch out on the grass and catch some rays--we say a chicken bomb must have gone off!  Chickens are so much fun to watch and interact with;  sometimes we take our garden chairs and just hang out with them.
 
Food Production

Our ten hens lay between five and nine eggs a day.  Four hens are a year old and still laying daily.  The other six are between three and four years old, and aren't as prolific;  they are adopted from the British Hen Welfare Trust and are allowed to live out their natural lifespan with us (our oldest was about six when she died;  most have been around four) and many of their forerunners are buried in our garden.  The year old hens were given to us as ten day old chicks, and we may eat them when their egg laying days are over.  

We currently have five spring chicks in the garden, two of which are hens, to add to our laying flock.  The cockerels, which we can't keep once they are crowing, will be destined for the pot if we can't find other homes for them.  It's difficult to raise a bird from tiny chick and then kill it, but we know that everything that lives must die;  and in order for us to live, other things must die, be it plants or animals.  We give our chicks a good life and a quick humane death, and we go on living because of them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Self reliance in vegetables?

2015 kale leaf
For many years now I have attempted to become self-reliant in my vegetable garden.  I have achieved it for seasonal summer vegetables:  usually by July we stop buying supermarket vegetables and then resume buying around November.  My goal is to grow enough for a full year--no supermarket veg for a year!

Is this an achievable goal?  Let's consider our vegetable eating habits.  In my family there are two adults and a six year old child.  We have always eaten more vegetables than the average family, but since changing our diet to low carb five years ago, we now eat A Lot.  We eat primarily meat, dairy and vegetables--hardly any starches (or starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet corn).  Even our six year old loves his vegetables.

For our typical Sunday dinner, we can polish off half a cabbage, five carrots, five parsnips, half a big rutabaga, and three onions--for example.  During the week I spend less time on cooking so there may be just a couple kinds of vegetable for dinner:  like a head of cauliflower and a couple onions and garlic cloves in a gratin.  It adds up quickly, though.  I tallied up a typical week once (using both garden and bought veg):
  • 5 beets
  • 2 heads broccoli
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 lettuce
  • 1 cabbage
  • 5 onions
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 3 sweet peppers
  • 2 zuccini
  • 1 big handful beans
  • 1 cucumber
  • 10 carrots
  • 15 chard leaves
  • 10 kales leaves
  • 1 rutabaga
Wow!  Can I really produce all that (or equivalent) for weekly consumption?  Maybe not, at least in my current space and climate.  I can certainly produce it during the height of the growing season.  The challenge is for that amount of vegetables in winter and spring.

To make my goal a reality I will need to preserve a lot of my summer harvest for winter and spring use.  I will also need to plant many winter vegetables: lots of brassicas, leeks, winter lettuce and greens.  My winter brassicas last year were heavily damaged by caterpillars in September;  I will need to protect them this year.

Can it be done?  I'm going to try.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

We are what we eat: vegetables!

Beds 3 and 2 (misc and peas/beans), with chick hutch in foreground
What vegetables have we eaten this year?  

So far from the garden we've had leeks (sown last year), chard (last year's and new season), sorrel, rhubarb, kale, spring onions, miner's lettuce, arugula, and lettuce. 

What's in the near future?  

All of the above of course, though I'm leaving the remaining leeks to go to seed.  Peas are forming little pods now, as are broad beans.  Garlic is nearing maturity.  I've got a couple pak choi just about ready too. 

What's planted for later on?  

Runner beans, climbing beans, rutabaga, broccoli, cabbage, zuccini, cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, beets, celeriac, carrots, pumpkins, squash.  Whew, did I miss anything?

What's to be sown still?

Some more little batches of things like lettuce, spring onion, and pak choi of course.  Chicory.  Brussels sprouts, if my plants hurry up and finish making seed.  More kale and spring cabbage, maybe. 

Do we eat all this?

Yum!  We do--even the six year old. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Map of the garden

The back garden
Presenting the basic map of my back garden (front garden not shown).  I'm growing vegetables in the beds surrounding the patio nearest my house (brown on the map).  As you can see, it's not a big space.  I can't extend these beds much more, as the two big trees at the back cast shade over most of the lawn.  I could probably convert another foot or two of lawn to beds, but no more.

My next best place to grow vegetables is the beds surrounding the pond.  I gardened here for many years, but found I prefer my vegetable garden to be as close to the back door as possible--less of an effort to get to, so I'm more likely to make that effort!  Right now there are some shrubs (edible and ornamental) and a lot of weeds--or chicken food as I like to call them.  I'm trying to get asparagus to grow here, and artichoke.  There's already some strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb.  Did I mention the weeds? 

The chickens have their permanent area under those two big trees at the back.  It's good shelter from rain and wind, and there is a very deep pile of mulch in the middle, for them to scratch to their hearts' content.  They are very rarely confined to just their permanent yard, however;  we rotate them through the lawn and back beds regularly.

On the patio next to the house is my collection of containers growing various things, from trees and vegetables, to herbs and seedlings.   I grow carrots in planters here, to protect from slugs and carrot fly.  I take advantage of the favorable microclimate to grow tomatoes and other heat-loving vegetables right next to the house. 

There are plenty of fruit trees and bushes scattered about.  All of the fruit trees are dwarfs, and I keep them pruned to within my reach for ease of harvesting;  this generally means light pruning in summer, and possibly in winter, too.  They are all positioned so as not to cast too much shade on growing areas--sunshine is at a premium on this rainy, rainy island.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A change in the weather?

Runner beans, with dodgy DIY support
Though I suspect it may now be over, we've just had a week of sun and heat.  In fact, it's been so dry and hot, I was a little relieved that it finally rained tonight!  We've gone about two weeks without rain, and while most of my plants are established enough to withstand it, a few of the newer transplants needed watering including the pumpkins--and the broccoli currently in the holding bed.  Most of the last week has been 20C+ during the day.  I think it probably got to around 25C at its hottest.

I think my remaining four zuccini plants have gotten enough of a hold to survive the slugs now.  Hopefully.  Some of the things I've recently transplanted are really taking off, including the broccoli, and a squash and tomato in planters. Some are still finding their feet however, such as the lettuce and cucumbers.  There have been casualties. 

I've spent the week watering my planters and getting my vitamin D.  I hope this is an end to that silly 12C nonsense of last week.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Suburban Permaculture Project: Origins

Polyculture in 2013: nasturtiums, runner beans, cherry tree, rose bush, dahlias, tomatoes
2004-2007

When I moved to England as a newlywed, I had little experience with gardening, other than (unwillingly) assisting my dad in his vegetable garden as a teenager--mainly weeding and harvesting.  I knew how to deadhead flowers, and how to mow a lawn.  My dad was an organic gardener, either by design or (more likely) lack of finances, so I grew up unaccustomed to pesticides and fertilizers, something that would influence my own gardening style as an adult.

My husband was not an avid or experienced gardener, though he also grew up with  organic (mainly) gardeners, in his case, his mother and grandmother.  He had been living in his house in a small village in the countryside for a few years before we married, and his mother had irregularly helped him maintain the ornamental garden, and had planted some bulbs and a few other things for him.  When I moved in, he gave me free rein to redesign the existing beds and borders, and to allocate a veg patch.  I took over the bulk of the gardening, though I really had no idea what I was doing. 

In my first few years, I tried to grow the plants my dad grew in his high desert vegetable garden, such as tomatoes and peppers.  I soon discovered that the climate I had moved to was far different from the one I had left, and those heat loving crops did not thrive.  Although it's possible to grow food year round in England, I was not used to growing--or eating for that matter--the kind of foods that flourish, like cabbage, kale, leeks, and chard.  But trained as a chef, I was willing to learn to grow and eat these vegetables in order to produce something, anything.

My husband bought a gardening year book for Britain, so we could find out what, how, where, and when to sow, plant, prune, divide, harvest, and everything.  I began following its advice;  I built a compost pile and tried to improve my soil with it.  I planted the vegetables it mentioned:  lots of brassicas, lots of leafy greens, lots of roots and tubers.  My yields increased a bit.  I spent a lot of time weeding, but overall I enjoyed my garden.

2008-2011

In 2008 I was casually flicking through our meager five channels and settled on a BBC2 documentary called A Farm for the Future.  I had seen a few interesting documentaries on the BBC since my move here, so I thought I'd give it a shot, as nothing better was on.  I can say with certainty, that documentary changed my life.  I was astounded.  I was especially intrigued about the section about the loss of soil life and fertility, and in discussing it, the journalist said to the young farmer (and I paraphrase): "We've been plowing for thousands of years, and you're saying we should just stop?" and the farmer simply said "Yes."

A Farm for the Future mentioned permaculture, a word and concept I had never heard of before, but it was something that just resonated with me.  I knew it was important:  phenomenally important, and I knew I had to learn about it.  I wanted to learn permaculture, and start practising it.  The very next day I searched for "permaculture" on the internet.  I came across permies.com, which was one of the only worthwhile results, but at that time I felt it was frustratingly low on information on how to do permaculture.  I didn't really know where to turn.  The documentary didn't mention any books or publications on permaculture, or its history.  It had mentioned the names of the people interviewed, but I hadn't taken notes and didn't remember them.  I felt defeated.  I wanted to learn but didn't know how.  For the next few years I would occasionally find something interesting about permaculture, but on the whole, did not really gain any knowledge on the subject.

2012-2015

In 2012 I was concerned about food security.  We'd had two very harsh winters in a row, where we had little or no access to the shops for up to two weeks at a time because of heavy snow, and our proximity to said shops.  Our very small local shop was unable to get deliveries, and we were unable to drive or walk to the larger shops located several miles away.  We also had a terrible summer that year for growing:  crops failed all over the country because of the excessive rain and lack of sun;  my own vegetable patch was a washout.  I wanted to ensure we could eat if disaster struck.  I resolved to start storing food for an emergency, and I also began researching permaculture again in earnest.  Once more I searched it online, and to my surprise, there was now so much information!  I discovered Geoff Lawton's work, and Sepp Holzer's.  I joined permies.com, as it had substantially grown in those four years into a valuable resource.  I began listening to permaculture podcasts.  I bought books.  I watched videos.  I found A Farm for the Future on youtube and rewatched it, making notes this time.  Things were falling into place.  I knew what permaculture was!  I could start practising it!

I reread the books, particularly Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden.  I rewatched the videos.  The first thing I implemented was chop and drop;  I was sick of weeding anyway.  I adopted my first four hens from the British Hen Welfare trust, and planted my vegetables in a polyculture.  I planted my first fruit tree:  a mini dwarf morello cherry.  I began planting for biodiversity and habitat, rather than just for food and beauty.  I focused on improving my soil.  Through trial and error (mostly error), I observed and learned.  I was doing permaculture!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Vegetable gardening a la John Seymour



My DIY pea and bean supports in bed 2--Not Pretty, but functional.  Chicken house in background
Though I have tried many methods of vegetable gardening over the last 13 years, none have been really outstanding, and I am always open to new ideas.  This year I'm trying out the advice of John Seymour in The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency, with slight modifications.  I have 3 main beds and a small holding bed (he also calls for a fourth main bed and a seed bed): 
  1. Roots;  in my case just onions, a few celeriac, chard and beets (my carrots are in raised planters because of carrot fly).  
  2. Peas and beans, followed by winter brassicas later in the season.  
  3. Miscellaneous hungry crops:  zuccini, tomato, cucumber, salad-y stuff.  
  4. Holding bed:  to hold the winter brassicas until the peas and beans are cleared away in late summer.  
Seymour calls for a main bed of potatoes;  as we eat a low carb diet, a bed of just potatoes doesn't work for us right now.  Instead I have a couple potato plants growing with the tomatoes in bed 3.  He also advises a seed bed, but rather than risk the slugs--of which there are many--I have planted most of my seeds in trays.
Following Seymour's system has been helpful so far, in that I know where everything is to be planted beforehand, and using the holding bed means I haven't run out of room before running out of plants (this usually happens every year).  His book has a seasonal guide of what to do, which I have mostly followed. 

I have a few things outside my main vegetable beds, too:  I have about a dozen planters of various sizes and shapes on the patio, including the above mentioned carrot planters.  Additionally, I have planted some pumpkins at the far side of the garden, first making a mound of fairly fresh chicken bedding (manure and straw) with a little potting compost to hold the plant in.  I planted pumpkins this way in the main patch last year and they took over!  If they take over this year, they won't shade out other vegetables, at least--just the fish pond.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The weather: mainly a blessing

Six year old out on the lawn, 7 May 2015.  Where has that sun gone?
I should be happy to live in such an easy climate for gardening.  Winters are mild and hardly ever get too cold.  There's plenty of rain, and no need to irrigate.  There are so many kinds of vegetables that love a mild, rainy climate. 

It's not just the vegetables that love a mild, rainy climate;  slugs love it too.  But let's not go there.  Plenty of my vegetables are growing right now with little bother from slugs (except zuccini, celeriac, and possibly beets).  In fact, some vegetables are positively thriving in this mild, rainy early summer:  my onions and peas are growing away merrily, as are the chard and kale. 

Today, 2 June, is the third day in a row of around 12C-ish daytime temps, and complete cloud cover.  It hasn't rained for these three days, but there's been a brisk wind, making it feel even colder.  I'm wearing two woolly cardigans today and still feel cold! 

But really, why am I not used to it by now?  June in England is generally cold and rainy, especially during Wimbledon (the tennis competition).  It reminds me of my home in Portland, which always seemed to be the same during the Rose Festival (also in June).  However, by July Portland is blazing hot and dry, whereas here it'll most likely still be cool and rainy.  I've noticed particularly that it always rains here on 1 August, after a possibly less cold, less rainy last week of July.  Will it do so again this year?  Probably.  It's the British national pastime, complaining of the weather.

As it is, I'm spending very little time in the garden because it's too cold!  And watching my poor zuccini plants not growing but succumbing to slugs, one by one.  If they had a few days of sun they could shake off the slug damage, but without it they can't grow and recover.  Ah well.  Hopefully a couple of the zuccinis will hold on till the sun makes an appearance.  At least the peas are flourishing. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The initial garden

Most of the main vegetable garden, 30 May 2016
I have been gardening in this space for 13 years now.  The property is approximately 10m x 15m at the back (very rough estimate), south facing, in a closely built village in the middle of the countryside in England.  As this property is quite a bit bigger than our surrounding neighbors, we share a border with three other gardens at the back, as well as one on each side.  There are two mature trees at the very back of our garden (the southern side), which shade about half the growing space for most of the day.  The front garden is very tiny (3m x 3m-ish) and north facing, and only receives a bit of afternoon and evening sun, due to the closely built houses surrounding us.

Over the course of the last five or so years, I have planted 9 (dwarf) fruit trees, 1 almond tree, 5 kinds of soft fruit, and many perennial herbs and vegetables such as rosemary and rhubarb.  I have been growing annual vegetables and flowers each year.  There are many shrubs and herbaceous perennial flowers dotted, planted by myself and by previous owners, and there is a lawn over about 1/3 of the garden out back and 1/2 of the front.

We get a LOT of rain over the year.  Though on occasion we go for a few weeks without it, generally it rains at least a few times a week--sometimes every day.  My garden almost never needs watering, other than pots and planters.  There is also a lot of cloud cover, so although there are many hours of daylight during the growing season, it can be several days at a time before we actually see the sun.

It is also quite mild and the last frost date can be mid-March or earlier, though this year it was early April.  First frost it also around the end of November, although it can be later than this:  up to January.  However, even though the temperatures are mild, at such a northern latitude, there is not much daylight in the winter and if not dormant, plants grow very slowly then.  We are in USDA plant hardiness zone 8, as a general guide.  My garden is quite sheltered in places and I have a microclimate right next to my house which is more like zone 9.

So that's the basic outline, let's get out and growing!