Urban Permaculture Chronicles: Soil, seeds and rain

In 1993 I moved into a terraced house in Higher Broughton in my native Salford, it was nothing special, a two up two down with a 16 by 10ft back yard, as basic as you like with a long tenancy agreement and cheap rent. The first morning that I woke in my new house I sat in the backyard with a roll up and coffee, the rays of the sun filled the yard almost completely, this place had a good feeling about it already. cardiff streetAt the time I had no qualifications and no job apart from the odd day working on the side as a builders Labourer which were becoming less frequent with every passing week. I had little in the way of possessions apart from a bass guitar, amp, two huge two hundred watt bass cabinets, a borrowed 4 track recording studio and a few books, the house itself was equally sparely furnished with only a wardrobe, settee, chest of draws and a gas cooker.cardiff street Back then Most of my days were spent either writing music for my then reggae/punk band More Fool You or rehearsing with the band in dingy underground shitholes in Manchester, it was an austere existence, rehearsing 3 times times a week so we were able to give really tight live performances, which for rhythm based music like ours was essential, I had failed monumentally at being ’employed’ on account of being a disinterested gobshite that found no contentment in filling rubbish skips and shop work, both of which had been my sporadic main stays of past employment until moving this new house. When I left School at 16 I was expected by get my head down and work without question doing any old crap, the only problem with this was that every time I looked up I saw some clown in a suit ripping me off and smiling as he did so and the fact that I was just about to touch thirty years of age hadn’t changed this.

Wakey Wakey!

On the second morning of sleeping in my new house, I woke at around 8am and pulled a chair outside to have the customary roll up and strong coffee, as I sat watching the sun fill the yard it dawned on me that the yard could be turned into a garden with a little thought and effort, it could be somewhere I could grow fresh vegetables that I was ill able to afford even at Kwiksave’s budget prices. I became very excited and a little obsessed with this idea of a garden, which was only enhanced further with every large gulp of coffee that I swallowed whilst thinking about it.  For the rest of that day I scoured the alleyways of higher Broughton picking out window frames from skips, piles of used stock bricks and lengths of timber for making beds. It wasn’t long before the backyard walls had been painted white with some paint I’d found under the sink unit, and bricks and timber arranged into a series of small and odd shaped raised beds that came together like a spontaneous jigsaw. four window frames were situated in the main area that got most sun. In the evening after the manic days work had ceased through sheer exhaustion I sat in the back yard with an ice cold pint of cheap cider and a joint, satisfied with my days work and ready for the next stage of trying to get hold of soil and seeds. Soil –  I was up bright and early the next morning and decided to have a mooch around the local area on my mountain bike to see if I could find some soil, I got on my bike and headed towards Welbeck Grove, within a minute of cycling, right in front of my was a huge rubbish skip, full of healthy looking dark brown soil, bingo! The problem I had now was getting a ton or so of soil the eight hundred or so metres from Welbeck Grove to my House, I asked a few people I knew with vans if they would give me a lift moving the soil, they declined so I spent the next couple of days cycling to and fro from skip to house and back again with a rucksack full of soil, I did this until I had enough soil to fill the beds with. It was such a buzz waking up each day and looking at the work of the day before, with all of the beds now brimming with soil the next thing was getting hold of seeds to sow into the beds Seeds – I came by my seed supply by buying the odd packet here and there when I could afford them, I saved seeds from shop bought vegetables and blagged and borrowed seeds whenever and from who ever I could. I had grown tomatoes as a kid and the usual sprouting carrot tops in saucers, but I knew very little about gardening. The bit that I did know was that we were well into spring and there was little likelihood of frost so armed with this, and the information on seed packets I sowed hundreds of seeds into spent mushroom trays, margarine containers and anything else I could save from the rubbish bin that would hold seeds.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWithin a few weeks the backyard was covered with a blanket of green formed by the many hundreds of seeds that had germinated, I sowed more seeds for back up and to extend the supply of crops. Behind the glass window frames I had very healthy tomato plants trailing vine like across the top of the soil, unsupported by canes, they provided so many Tomatoes right into the late autumn, along with lots of cabbage, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, lettuce, spinach, red and green peppers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Even in the first year of growing, there was enough produce coming up in this small backyard where there something to eat everyday throughout the summer, autumn and a little in the winter.  For the three years that I lived at this house I grew more food and herbs with each passing year using vertical spaces and three window sills in the house, I also  learned a little more about gardening after visits to the local library and conversations with some of the older men at my local pub who gardened in their spare time. The Yarden had not only fed me with great food, but also gave me a sense of having achieved something real and extremely useful that was linked to something very basic and human, it was something that was far more satisfying than any work or job I had ever done in my life.  Rain – During the winter of 1994 I traveled down to Suffolk to visit my Son Nye, on my return I had been informed that my house had been flooded due to heavy relentless rain, followed by frost, which had proved too much and some pipes in the loft had burst causing the down stairs to be completely swimming in a few inches of water. luckily the ground water was easy enough to clear out with yard brushes and towels, but then I had the problem of getting everything dry, I couldn’t afford to use the gas fire or radiators so I decided to disconnect the gas fire and take it out completely as their was a fire place behind it, after a short inspection I found that the chimney was in good working order, so I laid some bricks down, created a hearth and made a fire from some offcuts of pallet wood I had in the Yarden.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I soon got into the habit of cooking on the fire as there was a seemingly endless supply of clean offcuts of wood in the alleyways of Higher Broughton and kindling collected from the pavements close to Broughton park during the colder months.  For the remaining two years before I gave up the house to go and take up studies at Ruskin College in Oxford I never used the central heating system or gas cooker again, instead using the fire to heat the house and cook on at all times. Everything I did in that house was born out of necessity and intuition, so I was quite surprised when I arrived at Ruskin College in 1996 and enrolled on a complimentary course called ‘An introduction to permaculture‘ that this amazing system and synthesis of cross dispiplinary ideas was what I had been engaging in at home in a small way through my food growing, and fuel usage in the house,  this was one of those circuit blowing moments (or connections)  when you plug into something that directly affirms your practical efforts and intuitions.Print








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