Crawling to the finish

I think I haven’t done much on my diploma, or this website, for pretty much a whole year. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I was busy bringing a human being into the world. But now she’s here, and we’ve got our routines, I need to just finish this thing. Why is finishing something so hard? I have done more or less all the work, I just need to present it in a compelling way.

 I have never been much of a ‘finisher-completer.’ I am far better at having ideas and getting them going than I am at seeing them to completion. It’s probably one thing doing this diploma has driven home. It’s now a matter of pride to take bite-sized chunks and see them through to completion. I am doing well in other areas of my life, but finishing the diploma seems to elude me. I know why though. I haven’t given it full headlights-on focus. I need to think about it, and just it, for a period of time. And that’s the issue… I am doing plenty of other things (not least looking after a baby) and they seem (and frankly are) more important than what my brain now regards to be ‘admin.’ But, but… I have to finish this darn thing so I need to make time and space to do so. 

So, here’s what I am going to do… I am going to set myself two simple tasks… 

1. Read the diploma guidance manual in detail and check how I should be presenting my designs (and whether I have missed any steps). 

2. Contact a diploma tutor and ask them to look over my designs (I jettisoned mine a number of years ago). 

That shouldn’t be too hard! 

Now, where am I up to with my designs? I’m afraid not a lot has progressed but a few things have. 

Action Learning Pathway

Not redesigned. I need to be honest with this one. It’s less of a redesign and more of a historical document. I just need to write down what I did. I’m happy to be honest about this. Were I to do another diploma, I would be able to plan it in detail from the start, but when I started this one, I had not yet developed the skills to have that overview. So, it developed piecemeal, and designs chopped and changed though my focus was always on developing designs for livelihood. So, I think this design needs to be a sort of ‘how my diploma panned out’ précis to the whole thing. Suddenly it’s seeming more achievable 

Action: find my original ALP and work out how I got from there to here.  

Career Design

Written up! 

Scythe Teaching

Written up! 

Permaculture Teaching

Written up!


Yet to be written up. 

Action: write it up

The Seed Blog

In all honesty, I can’t remember where I am up to with this. Implementation of this has all but ground to a halt, because of the baby and because of the need to focus on other projects. I think it’s written up in draft form though. 

The Garden

As I am currently implementing this design, I have written up what I can. I need to revisit this and finish this write up. 

Action: finish this write up

The Larder Project

Yet to be written up

Action: write it up

Fat Hens

Designed and written up!


Designed and written up! 

End of the winter update

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that it is not really yet the end of the winter, but perhaps my ‘update’ will speed it along. Plus, I am full of diploma-vigour right now, so best to strike while the iron is hot, eh?

So, where am I up to with my diploma projects you ask? Well, let’s backtrack a moment and fill you in with some important information… One of the much discussed imaginary children is on its way! I am four months pregnant and just today I realised that it might be a bloody good idea if I pulled my finger out of my arse and tried to accredit before D-Day (which is in August). If I can’t accredit before August (it depends on the availability of tutors after all), then I want my portfolio ready for accreditation before then.

Let’s have a look at where I am up to:

Action Learning Pathway

Ok, ok, it’s still not redesigned. Stop judging me, no really, stop.

Career Design

Well, hey, guess what? I wrote this up! And what was more, I actually really loved doing it. I loved looking back over the design and how it had evolved. I loved remembering how my life and my thoughts had changed because of the diploma. I think my first draft is a bit long, but I will leave it until I have written up other designs to edit it. There are five of my designs which are ready for write up, so once I have done that, I will submit them to a tutor to find out whether I am on the right track. I jettisoned my tutor quite a long time ago, so I will have to work out who the best person to send them to is.

Scythe Teaching

I wrote this up too!  Go me!  I am on bloody fire.

What I have been noticing is that it is the evaluation part of the process that’s so important to me.  Realistically, I could have written these designs up years and years ago, just after I had written them.  There’s actually no requirement as part of the diploma to put them into practice.  But, to me, a design which you haven’t tested against cold hard reality is not really worth very much.  How are you supposed to evaluate whether it’s good or not?  All that it’s possible to say is that you used the design process in order to create it.  What do other folks think about this?

Permaculture Teaching/DVD

Both of these remain on the ‘to-be-written-up’ list.  I feel like I am on a roll now, so expect these to be done ‘soon’.  Ha ha.

The Seed Blog

In terms of implementation, I seem to have lost focus on this a bit. I am not posting to it as much as I would like. This is largely because I have been distracted by other things, like having a baby, morning sickness and trying to write a book, so I am not going to beat myself up too much. That said, I do need to get back on the horse with this one.  I think I need to revisit my posting calendar. I have decided not to launch any products from the blog until after the baby is here (and after I’ve, you know, created a product), but I do need to keep posting to it. Must do better.

The Garden

The actual garden is in a terrible state at the moment because I am currently in the implementation stage of my design. That means mud and bits of wood everywhere and trees that I don’t want in the garden hanging around until I take them to a new home. However, the fact that I am implementing a design might lead you to believe that I have finished the design and indeed I have! I haven’t yet posted it up online. I am a few blog posts (which you’ll find on The Seed – eventually) behind when it comes to the garden. I’ll let you know when they’re up. I can’t wait for spring to come and the things I have done to bed in and green up because right now the garden looks like the Somme and I am wondering what destruction I have wrought…

The Larder Project

Since we last spoke (when I think I had just bought my canner), I have been focusing my attentions on sourdough bread, which I am happy to say I have got the hang of. That means that as well as food storage (i.e. storing bought food), I am now regularly and easily jamming, lactofermenting, beer-brewing and sourdoughing. I hate to admit that I haven’t used the canner yet, but I kind of predicted that. I bought it at the start of winter when there isn’t really much around to can. I am hoping to start using it this year though, when hopefully we will have much more of our own produce to put in jars. I still need to make a solar dryer – it has been on my list for years, but I have decided that if I don’t manage it (this summer could be busy!), I am going to use the car to dry things out. Stacking functions, innit?

Fat Hens

This is one of the designs that I am yet to start, but I need to get on with it as we are going to get our hens in March! Actually, part of this design – the design of the coop – has been done as part of the garden design. This design is mostly going to focus on how to feed them without spending any/too much money and how to use their produce (with a focus on poo) properly as part of the system.  This is a design that I won’t have much time before I accredit to implement and evaluate though.


Yet another one that I really need to get on with!  Time is ticking away… I need to narrow down the focus of this – perhaps something like ‘The first year of a Permaculture baby’. I am a bit wary of writing down any plans about the kid, as I know that reality might throw them into wild disarray, but it’s nice to have goals, right?

One more thing…

There’s one other thing that I wanted to talk about before I signed off this post, and that’s my terror at finishing this diploma.  It has given me such structure for my plans and goals over the past four years that I don’t want to be cast out onto the scrapheaps of disorganisation.  I am also worried about not having the support of a diploma guild and having to ‘do things on my own.’  So, I have made a list of the next ten designs I would like to complete over the next 4-5 year ‘design cycle.’  I guess it’s my version of a five year plan.  I won’t share it now, because I’d like to work on it, but I will probably share it at some point, and I will probably keep this blog going (if sporadically) to document it.  I’m also going to keep meeting up with my guild, for as long as they’ll have me.  And when some of them start to accredit, perhaps we can form a ‘post-diploma guild.’  I hope it works out, ‘cos this process has changed my life more than anything I have ever done and I would like to continue that!

What scything has taught me about business (and everything else)

I have had an exceptional summer of scythe teaching this year and now that I consider this design more or less done, I wanted to think a bit about what scything has taught me about running a business.  Though it’s only a little business (some might say a ‘hobby’ business), I have learned so much from it.

One of the main things I learned was to think about your business model carefully before you launch your business.  The reason scything can’t be more than a hobby business/one of a number of income streams is that I can only do it for four months of the year.  Though my day rate is pretty good, being restricted to this timeframe is really quite limiting.  In fact, I knew that this would cause me issues when I started and I always intended this to be a ‘tester’ income stream designed to hone my business and marketing skills.  To be honest, the scything season is so full on (especially with a part-time job and other projects on the go) that by the time it’s finished I am pretty tired and looking forward to a winter sit down!  So, I suppose the upside of this limiting factor is that it allows me to develop my other interests and income streams (or be a dilettante, depending on how you view it).  The next income streams that I intend to develop (or as I like to call them ‘elements of a cohesive career’) will not be restricted by the time of the year.  Many of the projects I am developing at the moment are designed to be restricted by as little as possible.

Lesson number two that I learned from scything is that if you’re going to try and sell something as crazy/pioneering as scything, then expect it to be hard.  I have a friend who has started a business making curtains.  When people ask her what she does, she says, “I make curtains.”  When people ask what I do and I tell them, “I teach scything,”  it requires a little more of an explanation (“You know, the tool that Death carries…”).  If you have to explain to someone what your thing is, then it’s going to be a hard sell.  The flip-side of this is that there aren’t that many people doing it, so when your thing starts to catch on, as scything is doing at the moment, then you’re in a brilliant place to surf the wave.  You can be the person who is there before everyone else and makes the rules.  There are many other benefits to being a rarity.  You don’t have to compete with other people on price, so you can raise your prices to a level that feels right for you.  You don’t have to do sales or special offers.  You don’t have to offer freebies to catch people’s eye in crowded market.  People – who are often extremely excited about what you are doing – will seek you out.

Another important lesson is that I have learned is that your target market might not be what you think it is.  When I first started teaching scything, I thought I would get a mixture of folks with allotments, smallholders and people developing wildflower meadows on my courses.  It has not turned out that way.  Almost to a man, the people I get on my courses are developing wildflower meadows – either for themselves or for an organisation.  Knowing this means that should I need to do some targeted marketing, I know exactly who I should get in touch with (I’ve actually got enough students through website links, word of mouth and a newsletter so I don’t need to do this at the moment, but in the future, who knows).  I guess a down side of this is that my customers are in a different demographic from me, they aren’t ‘my people’.  The upside is that being mostly retired and owners of land, they aren’t short of a bob or two to spend on courses and scythes.

I expected scything courses to take off a lot more quickly than they did.  It has taken me three years before they have become pleasurable and easy to do.  In fact, the three years that it has taken to get me to this pleasurable and easy place hasn’t all been taken up with the gradual and slow growth of the courses.  Much of it has been taken up with me making some pretty bad mistakes.  I made bad decisions, for the best of reasons, and it cost me years.  But actually, that’s fine, I learned loads along the way.  And now that I am coming to approach other business-related projects, I know that periods of time where nothing seems to be working is just part of the process.  That’s a massively important thing to learn because it’s those moments where you feel like giving up.

I haven’t done any ‘marketing’ this year, because with all of the other things going on, I would not have been able to cope with more work than I already had.  This is an example of the 80/20 rule in process – I spent a lot of time marketing in the first years, now I am reaping the benefits (boom boom).  Last year I worked out where people were finding out about me, and I worked out that its 50% word of mouth and 50% links from the Scythe Association site.  Word of mouth really works – far more than ‘big’ publicity, like being on TV, does for actual money-in-your-pocket bookings.  I still think the big publicity is important though but more as a way of raising awareness about the thing you’re doing.  More awareness = more bookings down the line.  It’s just not immediate.

My last course this year was for one guy.  It was supposed to be a group course, but all of the other folks who had missed out on the courses I had already run this season couldn’t make the date.  I could have cancelled it, but I have developed a policy of running courses no matter how many people I get booked on.  Usually they are full, but sometimes it happens that there are only a few folk.  There’s no way that someone who has had one course cancelled is going to book on again and that means that you have essentially lost a customer – perhaps more if you think about the word of mouth effect that that person would have had.  I am in the lucky position of only having to pay for venues if I get a critical mass of people, so I can do it this way.

Actually, that leads me to another point…  Always pay your way.  I have been using venues who would probably be happy enough if I didn’t pay them anything at all.  BUT, for me, not paying for something means that I can’t ask for things.  For example, I can’t ask that they get back to me promptly to confirm that it’s ok to run a course.  I can’t ask if I can run a last-minute course for some people who desperately need it.  Or at least I could, but I feel terribly guilty.  So, I pay for the priviledge of not feeling guilty, getting swift responses and being able to run last-minute courses.  Plus, it makes me feel good.

A final point prices and day-rates: I work out my prices by ‘gut-feeling.’  It has proved the best way of doing it for me.  I started marking my prices against what other people were charging and then I realised that I was getting pissed off that I was doing so much work for that amount of money, so I put them up by £15.  I lived with that for a year (my courses were £60), then I booked on a food photography course that cost £120 and I didn’t blink an eye.  That really made me stop and think, so I put prices up to £90 with no decrease in bookings.  The next time I teach scything, I will charge £100 and after that I will keep my prices moving (upwards obviously).  Next time I teach scything, I might do a trial run of a ‘pay what you want’ course.  I’m really interested in this pricing model (and I know that it works), but I am not sure whether number-restricted courses with an older demographic is the place to try it, but we’ll see.  Recently I realised that while the day rate I was happy to ‘get out of bed for’ used to be £100, it’s now £300.  That’s thanks to scything and to developing skills in something that you can charge £300 a day for (at least) – photography.  I can’t wait for the day when it’s £500 or £1000.  Not so that I can earn more money but so that I can do less work and spend more time with my as yet imaginary children on my as yet imaginary smallholding.  Live the dream, guys, live the dream.

End of the summer round up Part 2: Garden, larder, project 8, Fat Hens, Baby

Garden Design

In March I was half way through my year of observation and I was on the allotment waiting list.  Well, I can tell you that I shot to the top of that waiting list within a week and am now the proud tenant of a half plot.  So, my design is for my back garden, my front garden and the allotment.  That adds up to quite a bit of land.

I have talked about my year of growing (or not growing) here, so I won’t go into that again but I will say that getting this design down on paper is now my main priority for the diploma, and for my life really.  We’ve spent this whole year doing stuff to the house and now we’re ready to move onto the garden but we can’t until I have finished designing it.  When I have finished writing this post I am going to sit down with my companion planting books and do a random assembly of plants and other elements.  Given my struggles with ‘having time’ this summer, I really need to pay careful attention to designing a garden which can look after itself – and be productive at the same time.

One major thing that has changed about this design since I got the allotment is that I have changed my focus from growing just high value veg to growing everything I grow in my veg box – potatoes and onions included.  That’s my vision, to replace my veg box year round with things we have grown ourselves.  Growing potatoes is really important to me because they’re a carbohydrate – you can live on them if you need to.  I don’t want  garden that is full of fancy stuff and doesn’t have any staples in it.

Next steps:  Random assembly exercise  

Larder Project

I seem to have missed the larder project out of my end of the winter round up, but I did a catch-up post about it in March.  I continue to do an Infinity (bulk staples) order, make jams and chutneys and yoghurt and lactoferment.  I didn’t do as much of that as I would like to this summer given the general insanity of everything.  My garden design is going to contain stuff to be preserved and stored – grapes for raisins and tomatoes for passata in particular.

My main aims this summer were to build a solar dehydrator and get a pressure canner but alas I did neither of these things.  The pressure canner is my joint Christmas and birthday present (for last year) and the only thing that is stopping me getting it is the fact that I need to import it from the US via a shipping forwarding company.  It’s going to cost me more than the price of the canner to get it sent over here, as well and that is putting me off a bit.  STOP PRESS!!!  A bit of research has just told me that if I buy through Amazon (I know, boo hiss… this is a one off) then I don’t have to worry about calculating all of the shipping and duty.  It’s still twice as expensive as it would be for an American person though.  STOP PRESS AGAIN!!!  I just bought it.  It should be here in two weeks.  And now my other half owes me £200…  In my head I am just going to pretend it was £200 and that £100 of my present wasn’t shipping and import duties.

I will try to build the solar dehydrator this winter, ready for next summer/autumn.  Though it seems silly to buy/make these things during a season when nothing really gets preserved, it’s probably a good idea to get to know the equipment before I need to process a lot of stuff.  I haven’t really thought about when this design will be done.  I suppose it’s when I have the equipment and skills to do all of the preserving methods that I am interested in – root cellaring, drying/dehydration, jamming, canning, lactofermentation.  I am nearly there with this one, but not quite.

Next steps:  Learn to use the canner when it arrives; find the dehydrator plans and discuss with Will.


I have never been quite decided about what the final three projects should be.  In the end I decided recently that I didn’t need to add any new projects my diploma designs.  I wanted the final three to be either designs I had already done (because in actual fact I have done far more than ten designs) or designs for things that would occur in my life whether or not I was developing a design for them.

Project 8 

Project 8 is the design for one of the secret projects.  I have already designed it, am already implementing it, so really I just need to write this one up.  We all know the likelihood of me doing that right now, don’t we.

Next step: Write up this design

Fat Hens 

Next spring, as part of the garden design, we are going to get some chickens.  I would dearly love to not have to spend money on feeding them, so this design is about creating a closed loop chicken system.  The system will involve kitchen waste (the feeding of which is kind of illegal here in the UK, oh well), deep litter composting systems (insect protein) and (lactofermented) spent grain from brewing.  I want to know before hand whether this will provide all of the nutrients that a chicken needs so I am considering asking my local agricultural college whether any of their students would like to work on this as a project.  Before I ask though, I need to work out what my goals are, so…

Next steps: Do visioning for Fat Hens project. 


We’re currently trying for a baby, so it seems to make sense to do a design around this, though I am quite aware that planning anything might be completely pointless.  I haven’t quite worked out what the limits of this design should be – after all most of my career-related designs have been about designing a child-friendly career.  I think it might be to do with the day to day basics – sleep, food, clothes, how the house is arranged.  Clearly this design needs some more thinking about.

Next step: Brainstorm ideas.

And that’s it.  An update on all ten projects.  It’s probably worth mentioning that I’d like to accredit at the international permaculture convergence this time next year.  I am not sure if that’s possible, so I have tweeted them to find out.  It would be good to have an end date for this thing.  It might make me pull my finger out of my bum and write some things up.

End of the summer round up: ALP, Career, Cutting Edge, Permaculture Teaching and The Seed.

Well, here we are again.  The year is on the turn.  Time to reflect on what’s been happening in the world of my diploma.

Action Learning Pathway

Well, redesigning this still eludes me.  I am not too worried about this though.  It’s all in here [taps head wisely].  No, I do need to get it down on paper – or film or something.  Actually I have had yet another idea for a way to redesign my ALP that is meaningful to me.  And this one is not complictated and can be done in an afternoon.  I just need to do it.  I’ve just had other things to do that I feel are way more important, and that’s ok.

Next action:  Get a piece of paper and draw the fucking ALP.

Career design

In March I felt that this one was done and needed writing up for accreditation.  Now we are here in September, I still feel like this one is done and needs writing up for accreditation.  It’s just, well, see above.

Next action:  Find accreditation criteria/hand in sheets and write this bloody thing up. 

The Cutting Edge

This is my design for teaching scything which, like the career design, I considered done in March and yet have still not written up.  I also still haven’t written the blog post that I promised about what scything taught me about business.  Or at least I started it, but I have lost it.

In March I was talking about how to make my little business more resilient to the future/how to ensure succession.  I wrote about wanting to find an apprentice.  The update on this is that I did ask someone who I thought would be good, but she said no because she wanted to concentrate on her gardening business.  That shows real awareness of priorities so I am glad she was honest with me.  There isn’t really anyone else close enough to me who has enough of an interest, so I have shelved this idea for now.  I did want to find someone who would be able to keep the business going when I take ‘maternity leave’ for these imaginary children that I have been banging on about for ages now, but I have just decided that if I need to, I’ll just take a year off.  Or two years.  Maybe even three.  When I come back to it, I would like to revisit this design, but I am putting it to bed for now.

Next actions:  Find, finish and post the ‘what scything taught me about business’ blog post; find accreditation criteria/hand in sheets and write this bloody thing up.

Permaculture Teaching

Still done.  Still not written up.

Next actions:  Find accreditation criteria/hand in sheets and write this bloody thing up.

Blog (formerly Pen to Paper)

In March, during my last round up, I had just launched The Seed.  Thinking about what has happened to it over the last six months I would say that in some ways I have progressed a lot.  My photography is much better (check it out in a guest post for Emma the Gardener’s blog), I’m starting to work out my writing style and I am growing in confidence a lot.  But, I found posting regularly over the summer extremely challenging.  I was teaching more scythe courses than I have ever taught before, as well as working at a relatively new job and trying to progress one of the secret projects.  I knew this summer would be difficult and insane and it was.  I failed to post consistently.  And the trouble is that I really love doing my blog, I really love crafting the pictures and the words and making something interesting for people to read.  It was a wrench to be away from it for the summer.

But I am back now and have made a promise to myself to post something to it every two weeks.  I think that blog readers value consistency, they don’t like it when you just fall off the radar [Beth blushes as she realises that that’s basically what’s happened with this blog].  I would like to post more often than fortnightly, but that’s realistic for me right now.  I don’t feel like I have done as much on the marketing front as I would like but the good thing about a blog is that you can always go back to it, you can always change it.  The interesting thing is that though I didn’t do anything over the summer, the number of people looking at it per month stayed more or less the same.  I cannot explain why this is.  I need to delve further into the vagaries of google analytics.  But, it makes me feel hopeful.

My main aim for the next year is to start feeling like there are people out there reading my blog.  I know there are some people out there reading it because google analytics tells me that there are, but I want to start having conversations with folks.  Scything has taken me on such an extraordinary journey and I am sure that blogging will do the same, so i shall keep plodding on.  In March I said that this design would be done when I had finished putting my marketing plan into action.  I suspect I might leave writing this one up until close to accreditation just to see what happens with it.

Next step:  My next step is actually something that was part of my original design, but for some reason I didn’t follow.  I am going to write and keep to a posting schedule.  I think it will help me to identify the next thing I need to do and it will also make sure that I push myself beyond the easy-to-do food posts.

Reflections on a year of growing

Before I do my inevitable ‘end of the summer round up,’ I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting on my year of growing.  This year was the first time in a long time I have had any land to grow on and it has been interesting to get back into the growing game.  This has been my year of observation and I have been observing/growing annuals in my garden and on my allotment.  I got the allotment in March after spending a whole week on the waiting list.  I expected to spend much longer on the waiting list and signed up early and so I ended up being an allotment newbie during what turned out to be one of the busiest summers of my life.

So, how did growing go?  Well, it went as it has gone in the past – fraught, disorganised, guilt-inducing.  Now that I have designed and permacultured my whole life, growing in this fashion really grates on me.  My allotment especially has caused me a lot of anxiety this summer and that is an enormous indicator that I am not doing it the right way.  I did the four questions a few weeks ago, where I concluded hysterically that nothing went right, everything was crap, I am awful at this growing malarky.  I have since got over myself quite a bit, so let’s try again.

What went well?

I harvested stuff!  Not loads and loads, but a harvest none the less.  This is a definite win given that growing was very much an afterthought this year.  We harvested 16kg of potatoes, about 8kg of onions, about a million courgettes (or something close to that number), 15 squashes, many runner beans, some chillis, some tomatoes and a few fruits – black currants, red currants, strawberries and raspberries.

I also did a much better job of keeping on top of the allotment than I ever have before.  Not a brilliant job, it has to be said, but an ok job.  I have also done well at observing microclimates and moving plants to more appropriate spaces.  My house, which is made of brick, raises the temperature of the areas surrounding it.  I have learned that plants that the books say do best in full sun do well in my garden in partial sun if they are next to a wall.  Plants that are supposed to like partial sun need to be moved to cooler spaces.

In general, observing and learning has gone really well this year.  I’ve put some posts about what I have learned on my other blog here.  I do seem to be the sort of person that needs to learn by doing (and possibly failing).  For example, I left all of my tomato plants except for one in pots that were far too small for them.  Guess which one is still lush and green and producing tomatoes…

What was challenging?

What was challenging can basically be summed up in one phrase ‘lack of time’.  I knew this summer would be insane because I was teaching more scythe courses than I ever have and I was also trying to progress three (secret) projects.  I was about to write ‘I’m not quite sure how I got through it,’ but I do know – I just stopped doing growing and blog related things and concentrated on my priorities.  I’m not sorry about that, but when I come to do my garden design, it needs to reflect the fact that I struggled this year and might again in the future.

I was mostly growing annuals because it was my year of observation and I really did quite well during the seedling stage.  I made some hanging seed shelves for the south-facing bedroom, I got most of the seeds I planted to good sized plants (a couple got squashed by the cat, but they were the only casualties) then June started and things went awry.  I didn’t put my tomatoes in big enough pots or tie them up.  I didn’t net my brassicas.  You can imagine what happened.  There was ‘officially’ time to do this stuff.  I was quite often at home but I found that after spending days outside teaching scything in hot sun, I just wanted to lie down in a darkened room.

So I learned a few important things.  The most important is that the core part of my garden needs to be perennial and not need a whole lot of input from me.  That will mean that even if I am not really able to do anything at all, there will still be a harvest.  If I am going to grow annuals (and frankly, I am), then I need to spend this winter preparing myself – buy brassica netting, make sure I know what pots various things are going to go into, get ready…  I also need to make sure that I don’t grow anything that needs lots of attention after the end of May.  That’s my cut off.  Everything needs to be in its final resting place and ready for the summer by then.  After that I can water and I can harvest but I can’t do anything else.

What’e the vision?

The vision is as it has always been – to replace my veg box with things from the garden, throughout the year.

Next steps

I need to finish my garden design.  I am nearly there.  Watch this space…

Sun mapping post on The Seed

I just wrote a post on the other blog about mapping the sun in the garden.  Go and have a look.  It’s got pictures and everyfink…


End of the winter round up – design 9 and the Scrumping Project

Design 9

Design number nine has been through a number of iterations.  First it was going to be a design for another one of the secret projects I have up my sleeve (Localise), then it was going to be the design for how to integrate kids into my life.  I’ll do both of those designs, but I have decided that I would like to do another land-based design so that I have two in my portfolio.  I have a couple of different friends who are moving onto pieces of land and I would like to do designs for one them.

ACTION:  Find out whether my land-lucky friends would like me to do a design for them

This is a bit of a departure for me, not just because it’s about land, but also because it involves working with (arguably for) other people on their projects rather than my own.  It will involve developing my listening skills and interpreting the permaculture skills that I have learned for an audience that doesn’t necessarily think exactly the same way as me.  In many ways, the pressure is off because I don’t imagine that my friends will implement my designs exactly the way I design them.  Though I am sure that they will be grateful for my designs, they haven’t asked for them, so I would expect them to be less likely to implement it lock, stock and barrel than if they had asked for my advice.

The Scrumping Project (formerly foraging)

The foraging design that I had hoped to do just never seemed to find its form.  I never quite worked out what it was I wanted to do with it.  So, I have changed it.  I’m now going to make my final project the formation of a ‘Scrumping Group’ in Lindfield, the village that I have just moved to.  I’m going to use Brighton Permaculture Trust’s Scrumping Project as a model, though I am not aiming to create something anywhere near as big as theirs.  The idea with this design would be that people from Lindfield get together to harvest fruit trees that the owners are not able to and then share out the fruit amongst themselves.  There might also be the opportunity to process (e.g. juice, jam) this fruit together for our own consumption and possibly for sale (for community/charitable causes).  Another aim would be to buy equipment that could be held in common – apple scratters etc and maybe even hosting an apple day celebration.  One of the biggest outputs of this project for me is to get to know people in my local area, so hopefully it will do that.

ACTION: Start observation process for this design 


End of the winter round up – Garden design


I realised recently that I have taken a completely different approach with my garden design than all of the other designs and I am not sure why.  When I am starting a design I usually start by writing down what my vision for the project is.  Then I write down where I am now.  Then I know the scope for my observation and analysis.  With the garden, I went straight into observation, possibly because it’s easy to see what needs to be observed.  I have done work on listing our needs and wants for the garden, doing client interviews and the like, but I haven’t recorded all of these as formally as I would like to.

Hey, brainwave!  Let’s list the functions of the garden here:

1) to grow all of the high value (or high attention) fruit and veg that we eat.  Things like soft fruit, salad leaves, beans etc

2) to grow flowers (some of which can be cut and brought inside)

3) to provide a place to entertain

4) to provide a place for future kids to play

5) to be a place to dry the washing

6) to be a place where nature can find a home (especially pollinating insects)

7) to provide spaces for reading and contemplation

8) to provide somewhere outside to do cooking, preserving and brewing

9) to provide our household with eggs

10) to showcase permaculture design

11) to be beautiful, even in the winter

12) to provide a place for a root cellar

13) to be a cat toilet (hey, I wish that wasn’t a function, but it is)

14) to help us connect with our neighbours

Phew, ok, there we go.  You might notice that there aren’t very many Will-specific ones here.  I did ask him, I really did but the garden for him is something that he walks through on the way to the shed.  He’ll benefit from most of the functions above, but he couldn’t think of anything that he wanted to do in the garden.  Oh yes, there’s one thing.  He wants to put a weather station in it (only a little one).

So that I guess is my vision.  And where are we now?  The detail of what’s actually in the garden will come when I have finished my base map, but I thought I would see how many functions it’s already fulfilling

2)  I have a vase with daffodils and forsythia from the garden on the table in the living room.  It brings me no end of pleasure.  Neither were cut to be put in a vase.  The forsythia was pruned by my mum while she was here and the daffodils were collateral damage in the cat wars.

3)  Yep, we can already entertain in the garden.  It’ll get even easier when the garden furniture I recently ordered arrives, but we can do it now.  Looking forward to a summer of garden parties of various varieties.

5)  Will loves hanging the washing out and we have some out their every sunny day

6)  Last summer we had hundreds of bumble bees all over the lavender in the garden.  Since then we’ve left piles of crap around which, although untidy, really do provide a good home for creatures of lots of types.

7)  At the moment, reading is mostly what I do in the garden.  That and brush soil off the path where the cats have kicked it when they crap in the veg bed… 😦

11) (to an extent),  It’s pretty at the moment, but nothing like it’s going to be.

13) Extensive use is made of the garden as cat toilet (sadly).

14)  Being out in the garden has really helped us connect with our neighbours in recent weeks.  Everyone has come out with the sunny weather and suddenly we’re starting to meet people.

Right, now I have got that out of the way, I can begin to update you…  I am just about half way through my year of observation.  I know where the light falls, where the wind blows and I have seen what happens when you add new elements (like cats) to the system (total chaos).  I have planted a few perennial things which might need to be moved because they’d have died otherwise.  What I haven’t been doing – which is stupid – is writing many of my observations down.  I tried, but I just couldn’t get in the habit.  My plot is pretty small though, so I think I can probably remember what’s going on.  And yes, I have started making decisions in my head.  I know I shouldn’t, but I have.

What has become obvious is that I won’t be able to grow everything I want to in the garden.  My aim is to replace the veg box, but I won’t be able to – grow enough potatoes say – without giving most of the garden over to them.  So, I have applied for an allotment.  This makes me nervous as I/we failed so spectacularly with the last one, but I am in a ‘different place’ now (actually, I am).  I would keep it simple and low input.  I am number four on the list, which sounds hopeful, but Will pointed out that it could be ages if we have to wait for people to die ;-).  I don’t want to start allotmenting until next year anyway, so hopefully it will all fall into place.

ACTION:  Formally write up analysis and observation of garden design

End of the winter round up – Blog and permaculture teaching designs


Hopefully you will have seen by now that I have just launched my new blog.  That means that I am at the end of this phase of the implementation of this design.  I have written about it quite recently, so I won’t go into it again here, but I will say that this design as had some unexpected repercussions.

When I decided to change my focus from ‘green journalism’ to blogging, I spent a long time looking at other blogs (I still do).  I noticed that what I really loved about them (even though words are my thing) was the pictures.  I knew that if I was going to produce the kind of blog that I wanted to, then I would need to get much better at photography.  I have had an on/off affair with photography all my life, but to be honest, I had never quite got my head around the technical aspects.  I decided to go on a course (I actually ended up going on two) and suddenly everything just started to click into place.  I became completely fascinated.

At work at the University, my colleague Mike and I would spend hours and hours poring over photographs we liked, trying to work out what was going on.  Mike managed to convince the University to buy a DSLR so that he could work on photo and video content for the website.  After a bit, I joined in too.  We did a bit of turning up and shooting stuff, but then we started talking lots about why people watch video – why it’s interesting and meaningful – and storytelling came up and there, I was in my element.  With Mike as technical director and me as scriptwriter we made this video.

It was then decreed from on high that the University was ‘restructuring’ and my department would no longer exist.  My boss asked me if I had any ideas about what I would like to do next and I said that I would like to do video and photography stuff with Mike.  It was so odd.  It was just ‘ask and ye shall be given.’  My boss talked to the boss of marketing and comms (yes, I work for them now), we had a quick meeting and then Mike and I decamped to M&C as Digital Media Officers.  We are the first ever people in M&C to have responsibility for video and photography so consequently no one knows what we should be doing.  Thus, we have free rein to do what we think is best.  What we think is best is telling stories, setting the bar high so that we don’t get stuck in ‘talking head’ land.  It’s really really good.  My job finally reflects the things I am good at and it’s interesting every day.  Best of all, it has provided me with a photography mentor in the shape of Mike, so I get to learn new things every day too.  It is a two-way street though.  He gets to learn stuff too.  I spent a good two hours the other day delivering a lecture on the importance of detail and specificity to the believability of a story.

If all that comes out of the blog is my new job, then it will have delivered more than I could have imagined, but I don’t think that’s all… The blog makes me feel a little funny when I think about it.  It’s so strange to have been thinking of something for so long, to have taken such care putting it together and then realise, when you send it out into the world, that it doesn’t really exist in other people’s heads yet.  It will be so interesting to see how it beds in, how it grows and changes.

I don’t consider this design finished yet.  I’m going to have to set a finish date for it, so I think this design will be done when the blog has been out in the world for a year and I have put my marketing plan into practice.  That means it’ll be done very close to the end of my diploma (which is scheduled for, but probably won’t be done by, April 2015).  I am so excited to find out what has happened to it by then.


…has been done and dusted for a while.  Hooray!