We take this opportunity to clear out the goatshed which is an open airy space with a metre deep litter of straw, hay, goat and chicken droppings and goat's hair. It's a lovely dry clean bed for our Angora goats, it smells sweet and sitting in there on a cold winter's evening feeling the heat on your bottom is very pleasant .
The shed is at the top of the hill where we have our main vegetable garden and we collect all the water which comes off the roof. We have two hoses connected our water containers and the water flows by gravity in the classic permaculture way down almost to the chickens shed which is at the bottom of the garden. The chicken shed roof has it's own water barrels and they're just high enough to water the new part of the vegetable plot at the back of the shed and all the planting around it. We use that water for cleaning and filling the containers for our chickens and the plants around the area love the regular watering and all the compost around the shed. This photo shows the shed, then the slope up to the tent frame which I use as a cage to keep the chickens away from things I really want to protect.
We empty the shed with a pitchfork and the chickens start straight away scratching though the bedding and the shed for insects. They spend about two weeks doing a fine job of clearing the inside of the wooden structure which helps it to dry out and last longer and they also scratch and clean around the shed making a superb compost which I use for potting up plants and cuttings. Fortunately, they're too busy up at the shed to spend much time disturbing my newly planted summer vegetables.
I barrow the material down to the garden and mulch around all my plants, tucking in the mulch around the established shrubs and perennials to smother weeds and between the newly planted vegetables to retain the water in the soil and cut down the need for watering.
I couldn't grow what I grow in such a small space if it weren't for mulching. Our garden is on a very poor sandy soil on a south-facing slope. We've terraced it with raised beds to contain the soil and the regular mulches helps stop the soil and it nutrients being washed downwards.
The mulches also stop the soil compacting and promote the development of micro-organisms, encourage earthworms and help keep the soil warmer at the start of the growing season and cooler in the really hot few weeks when the plants need as much water as they can get to swell up and provide us with food.
Plants that are mulched grow a strong network of roots to search for food and water and they rely less on human intervention for their survival. They hold themselves up well and the lower leaves are less likely to be lost through soil-borne diseases and splashing after heavy rains.
The constant temperature and humidity means that the fruits rarely split and we have very few cases of blossom end rot. If long-release mulches such as wood chips are used before winter, then lighter materials are used in the spring, the results can be superb and by adding more and more mulch over a period of years, the resulting earth is dark, crumbly, easy to work with without digging and very productive without the addition of any fertilisers or bought-in compost. When I'm making a new bed from scratch I often incorporate logs of rotten wood , branches, leaves, wool - in fact anything which retains water like a sponge and attracts the numerous insects and worms who help the organic material to decompose. By doing this, then adding a good cover of grass clippings, litter from the goat shed and earth the beds are a wonderful mixture of nutriments.
The preparation takes time and a bit of lifting and carrying but a well-prepared growing surface will retain its goodness for a very long time and I need to do lees weeding and very little watering thanks to all the water retained in the beds by the logs and branches.