Permaculture Explained (Volume III Issue 9): Use Slow and Small Solutions

"The bigger they are the harder they fall", "Slow and steady wins the race"

We have a large building that was designed for veal production, but we are vegetarian so the building was redundant – not a waste, but a resource waiting to reveal its new purpose.

We had thought that we could use the manure left by the unfortunate calves that had previously occupied the building, but it was so dry and compacted we could hardly move it even with a pick axe. As we are no longer in our first flower of youth being past peak Jon & Cheryl, this was not an option.

But then the roof fell. When we were inspecting the damage, the hens followed us in and started to scrape and they made some impact. So we put them in for the rest of the winter. The result was some very dry, but loose rich manure that became a bed for tomatoes in the corner. That was year 1.

Year 2 was more purposeful. A use for that section of the building was now revealed. A walled garden. All we needed now was to build the soil – something we have done slowly over the last 10 years using our compost, plus the gifts from our animals in their slow endeavour to take their part in the conversion of grass to soil.

Each time we did our weekly shop, or completed the quarterly food co-op distribution we collected boxes and put them on top of the compacted manure now exposed to the rain. This stopped growth of unwanted plants. During the winter we had the hens in the full shed throughout.

They really scraped the compacted manure lose. On a regular basis we moved this on top of the cardboard and then layered more cardboard on top of that. With spring approaching we have moved manure and compost on top, ready for this year’s plantings.

This was heavy work – in our youths we would have worked at it until we were done. Now we use our 5 a day principle. If the work is heavy do a small amount regularly. 5 wheelbarrows a day for 2 weeks is 70 wheelbarrows which equates to a fine depth of compost. We compost slowly, so that we do not have to turn it.

For good measure we added a device for water capture using the last remaining sheets from when the roof fell in to reveal a walled garden. Year 3 we take crops.

Jon & Cheryl run Pennerley Permaculture and Forest Garden Plot in Shropshire.