potager design

Each year I sketch the kitchen garden to picture what will live in the protected, somewhat rabbit-free potager and what can thrive outside it, integrated into the beautiful perennial garden along the lake. I learn more every year, happily. Last summer’s disaster of crashing tomato vines, at once productive (for the tomatoes) and destructive (for everything else) has led to this redesign.

potager-design

After much gazing through images of arches, bamboo sculptures, wires tensioned like bridges, and obelisks, I’ve made a plan. I hope to build traditional trellises, the tuteur, out of cedar. The obelisk is such an old fashioned feature of an English garden, and should lend my funny veg patch some order. See the circles in my drawing? There they are. I can grow peas up them early in the year, and tomatoes later on, benefitting from the nitrogen they’ll set. They ought to be very strong and very tall, and in place well before the vines are planted, quite in contrast to last summer’s toppling bamboo frames. They might be quite pretty through the winter, too. I like that the pyramid-shape will keep the tomatoes from shading out too much of the garden, though a wall of tomatoes is quite tempting.

Below the drawings I’ve listed all the plants that might do best in the potager, with some vague ideas about the shelling pea bushes giving way to pepper plants, to be replaced later on by kales or purple-sprouting-broccolis. Spinach or lettuce might like to live in the center of the wide obelisks in spring, to be shaded out by vining tomatoes by summer to give them a little more time. Beans will enjoy growing up the bamboo that live at the north end, or along the fence. There. That’s the idea.

In one section I’ll swap out a cucumber frame for coldframes, after harvest-time. I hope to keep a series of seedlings at the ready to plant into this space throughout the summer, and leave us with some plants that can weather our maritime winter.

I’m quite fond of dotted-graph paper for its subtle order, in which 1 square: 1 foot, loosely measured off of our unruly garden space.

First I’ve laid out a hose across the land to get some idea of how the new path will run, with modifications for the irrigation system. Oh right. Later I’ll toss down some wood shavings, then wood chips to mark off the path. For now I must move slowly, recovering from an illness, yet compelled by tiny seedlings appearing under the coldframes. Wish me luck with the tuteur construction!

drying nettles

The moment to forage for stinging nettles is early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves and great respect for the plants are required. A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to help me as I’m convalescing after an illness. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength. The old-timers would take bitters at this time of year, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens.

dried-nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring. You can make fresh nettle soup and nettle tinctures too. Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions and medicinal tisanes is a very old practice. I’m ever so fond of it.

plant labels

We’re sowing seeds to catch the early springtime in a coldframe set upon the sunny deck. I wanted a robust and beautiful method for marking our seedlings as they grow and move out into the garden. We’re trying out a couple of natural materials.

stone-labels

First, bound for planters and pots, smooth stones with a bit of white ink. I’m fond of calligraphy, but simple printing would look lovely as well.

chamomile-label

Some offcuts of cedar are just the thing for marking a veg patch, for they’ll last many years in wet weather and will develop a silvery patina along the way. Nothing toxic near the edibles, I say. Or anywhere else, ideally.

tomato-labels

I like how the shape of this wood lends itself to displaying information. On one plane, ‘tomato’ and the next, ‘jaune flamme’ or ‘indigo rose.’ Latin plant names might be quite lovely too.

labeled-frame

All our little seeds tucked up in bed.

raising the coop walls

As in all barn-raisings, we went with the tradition of inviting neighbours round to help. 

platform-stacked

Many hands made very light work of standing each wall,  right-wall

And bracing it in place once it was plumb. Just a temporary screw into the platform, and into the top of the wall, really.

east-west-walls

Tra -la. Thank you friends.

north-wall

I added another temporary piece across the top for extra strength while I set about framing in the north stud-wall. Can you see the jig-sawed arches for the nesting box pop-holes?

north-wall-sheathed

I’d already jigsawed the sheathing, and it wasn’t difficult to attach by myself. Never underestimate the friendly support of a few good clamps.

framed-south-wall

Here is my pride and joy, the south wall. I cut all of it by hand, as I had the whole coop to this point, with the exception of the jigsawed shapes. My father talked me through the principles of framing for a door, the layout of which produces such strength. My telephone support. How interesting, to build something the way it is properly, professionally, historically done, and to do it accurately, by hand. Quite satisfying. south-wall-preparation

I’ve framed this front wall to fit the cupboard doors that I found in the 1950’s house demolition. I wanted to be able to open wide doors, to easily get into the coop for cleaning and such. The height works well, too.

south-wall-clamped

Because I built the long walls out of pallets, connecting them at the corner was a bit tricky. Can you see those holes in the studs at the end of the walls? I predrilled the front wall so I could slip a bolt through on either side, and those holes allowed me to tighten a nut onto the bolts. The solutions are satisfying, but like any retro-fit, there are many solutions required! Luckily my father completely renovated his home from a 1950’s bungalow, so he’s my perfect mentor. 

south-wall-door-framed

That’s it. Four walls for the chickens, and a thorough education for me. Next – there’s a roof to raise!

jigsawing doors & windows

Once the long walls of the coop were complete, they needed to be sheathed with 3/8″ plywood that I hand-sawed down to size, which was surprisingly quick and accurate. Then I clamped, predrilled and screwed the wood into place along each stud with deck screws, using my father’s trusty 1960’s drill.

sheathing-walls

Time for doors and windows!

jigsawing-windows

An equally old, equally trusty jigsaw did the trick for cutting out the windows and doors. First, measuring and marking, then drilling pilot holes for the blade to fit through. Working with 3/8″ plywood is terribly difficult, a thicker material is far easier to cut accurately. I prefer hand-tools for their gentle sounds across the lake, and the slow, simple, human speed, but I’m grateful for that jigsaw!

window-cutout

Little chicken coop windows! Tra-la!

drawing-arches

I’m sure there’s a proper way to mark an arch, but as I only know how to draw on paper with architectural tools, that’s what I did. Solving problems is good enough, sometimes. I’m not gifted with numbers, but triple-checking my measurements, and working visually to make sure that I got each nestbox pop-hole and little window to fall between the studs, and evenly, wasn’t so difficult. Don’t let them stop you, those numbers.

A project like this alters as needed, so the drawing evolves into the real object. So far, adjusting the number of windows to pallet sizes and that sort of thing is no problem.

nestbox-cutout

I can just picture little hens popping through these arches into their comfortable, straw-filled nestboxes, to lay.