The Kitchen garden progresses

Arriving for work at Babylon in early February with the sun rising over the Ashdown Forest and the valleys beyond, and with a full view of the entire length of the greenhouse now that the tall conifers have been felled gave me a sense of the space we have to develop. 

Running down the north side of our spectacular greenhouse is an area we are developing into a kitchen garden to supply the Babylon Kitchen. The site will be split into an area for annual vegetables and a raised area for mediterranean herbs and other edible plants which require similar conditions. 

We have mapped out our herb bed area and hope to have this built by Early March. There are a total of fifty-nine different plants which will be grown in the herb beds including familiar herbs such as rosemary and Sage, edible flowers such as nasturtiums and borage alongside less familiar edible plants like the four-winged salt bush (Atriplex canescans). We hope to create a beautiful, floriferous, pollinator friendly, drought tolerant and hardy garden! It will be a great experiment to see which herbs manage to survive and thrive in our increasingly unpredictable climate. Hopefully, providing good drainage will enable these herbs to survive increasingly wet winters.

The herb garden

Most of the plants will be grown on site from seed so this will be an experiment in patience too!

I can’t wait to see all the insects that will flock to the nectar rich flowers of many of these plants and taste the exciting dishes from the Babylon Kitchen using the wide range of new flavours. 

We are planning to fill our herb beds with a lot of the wood from the felled trees, so we don’t need to fill them completely with soil and compost. This will help to sequester the carbon from the felled trees, reduce costs and the amount of new materials being brought on to site. We will use a mix of local topsoil, peat-free compost, and grit to provide a stable, nutrient rich, free draining environment. 

The vegetable garden

The vegetable garden is still in the initial planning stages, but we hope to have this up and running to supply the Kitchen with annual vegetables by mid spring. The vegetable beds will be raised to give them a fighting chance against the clay soil and run on ‘no dig’ principles. The benefits of the ‘no dig’ and raised bed approach are many, including better drainage, increase in speed with which soil warms up in the spring, fewer weeds, carbon capture, allowing soil life to remain largely undisturbed and less backbreaking double digging of clay soil!

For more information about ‘No dig’ vegetable gardening, follow the link to the Godfather of No Dig, Charles Dowding.

We hope to demonstrate that Vegetable gardens can be productive and beautiful without the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers and harsh pesticides. We will be using natural pest control methods including physical barriers (e.g. wool pellets to deter slugs) and companion planting. Most important is to grow healthy, strong plants which can cope with a little damage from the creatures we share our world with. 

We will be growing our vegetables in a combination of peat free compost and local topsoil and using organic fertilisers such as seaweed extract and comfrey. We are developing our irrigation system and water capture at Babylon to be able to supply our beds with rainwater during dry spells.

Volunteers required!

Keeping a vegetable garden productive and beautiful throughout the year is a big undertaking and we are looking to recruit volunteers to help us once the beds are built and the initial planting is completed. This will be a fantastic opportunity to get together with like-minded people, get some exercise and fresh air as well as learn new skills (and drink lots of tea!). Please get in touch if this is something you would be interested in. 

Here’s to a warm, dry (er) spring!

Rachael Collins,
Head of Horticulture.