Sowing Swapped Seeds

This week the weather has turned more wintry, and with the evenings closing in, the weekday afternoons I have free seem very short.  By the time I’ve had a spot of lunch there is only an hour or so before it is getting too dark to work outside.  I have continued to clear the fallen trees by the river.  Of course cutting them back is only half the job.  The cut branches then need moving through to the tree field, and will want cutting to length.  I’m eyeing up some of the nice hazel branches to make something crafty with.  Maybe shrink pots, or a wizard’s staff…..  I’ve moved some stones to make rather wobbly stepping stones over the worst of the boggy area and still have a lot of cut branches to clear away.

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One exciting thing that has happened this week is some seeds that I swapped for some perennial buckwheat seeds have arrived.  These are for Akebia – a perennial vigorous climber that should have chocolate or vanilla scented maroon flowers followed by a purple fat sausage fruit which is edible (see https://lassleben.wordpress.com/2017/11/08/autumnal/ for example)  The sweet seedy pulp is eaten as a fruit, and the skin, although bitter, can be cooked as a vegetable.  These seeds came from a fruit bought at a market in Japan, see https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1321572664620803&set=gm.1739693236041770&type=3&theater&ifg=1.  Nominally it can grow outside, but given I still don’t consider I have achieved much shelter, I will hope to plant this (if I get them to germinate) in the polytunnel.  You need two different plants to get fruit.  Hopefully if I get two plants from these seeds, they will be dissimilar enough to cross fertilise.  Apparently chiltern seeds sell Akebia seeds so if the plants grow, and if they don’t fertilise, and I find out whether my seeds are Akebia quinata (five lobed leaves) or Akebia triloba (three lobed leaves) I can get some more seeds and grow some unrelated plants (Phew!, that was getting involved there).  According to PFAF, my go-to resourse for germination information, stored Akebia seed is very difficult to germinate, luckily Kim, who swapped these with me, has kept them in damp tissue since eating the fruit, so they should germinate better.  They also need light to germinate, so I have pushed them into the surface of some damp compost in a old strawberry punnet with a hinged lid.  It is currently in the polytunnel, but I may bring it in, since I think the weather will soon be getting too cold in there, and the temperature PFAF mentions is 15 degrees, which it would gain during the day, but will soon be dropping to near freezing overnight, even in the tunnel.  I have kept most of the seeds back inside to dry, since I don’t need dozens of plants (my sad hablitzia plants are a poignant reminder not to sow more than I need – although one or two are hopefully off to good homes this autumn).  I may just pop a few in a zip lock bag on a damp tissue as well, as this apparently can work.  If I don’t get some Akebia to germinate over the winter, I can try with my stored seeds in the spring, or pass them on again if not required.

akebia seeds
Akebia seeds on paper to dry

 

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Happiness and winter jobs

I hate it when the clocks change.  Suddenly the afternoons get very short so I can’t get much done on my afternoons off.  We’re not early risers (the shop doesn’t open until 11.00am. off season) so I don’t really appreciate having extra daylight at the start of the day.  We had a drop of cut logs last week, and worked very hard on Friday to get them all away in the woodshed.  We still have a very small amount of cured wood that needs cutting to length and/or splitting, but we should have enough wood so that I can have the stove ticking over most of the winter.  Happiness is a full woodshed in Autumn!

woodshed prior to last wood drop
Woodshed before latest logs added

As well as making the house more pleasant, and giving us plenty of hot water, it also means I can cook more easily rather than being restricted to kettle, microwave and toaster!  On Friday I cooked sausages, banana loaf cakes, and a huge pan of pumpkin soup.  These pumpkins were slightly bruised, but I overdid it on pumpkins in the shop, so am thinking of pumpkin chutney maybe on Sunday….

autumn colours glendale
Autums colours Skye

We had a little walk round the tree field with the dogs on Tuesday, admiring the autumn colours, seeing how well the various trees have been doing, and picking out a few of the spruce that may do for our xmas tree this year.  We also made a little list of jobs that were of higher priority – clearing summer grass from around some of the trees, a little bit of removing lower branches in places.  We had a little look at the routing for the drains for the new extension, and it looks like I may have to move one of my shrubs, I think it is a saskatoon, so I will probably do that this winter, before it grows another year.

river bank escarpment in spring
River bank escarpment in Spring

I had a fairly nice afternoon on Thursday.  I made a start on clearing back a few of the trees on the river bank.  We have an area of trees outside the deer fence that are basically self sown willow, hazel and the odd rowan.  There is an area at the south side of the pedestrian gate through the fence that is sheltered by a steep escarpment.  This is formed partly due to the rock shelves, partly due to river erosion and partly as a spring line.  There are springs along the whole length, particularly when we have had plenty of rain, but I think some are there all the time.  The springs make it rather boggy underfoot.  In the lee of the escarpment, and away from most of the muching sheep, the trees have grown moss covered and gnarled.  The hazel has naturally coppiced over the years, and has formed hollow rings, some are four feet across.  It would be fascinating to know how old they are.  Probably several centuries I should think.  It makes me want to be ten again, to build a den there!

hollow hazel stool jul 13
Hollow Hazel Stool in summer

Anyway, the reason for the clearance was that a couple of the trees between the escarpment and the river had been washed over in the floods a few weeks ago, so their rootball is perpendicular to the ground and the route through is impassable.  The idea is to cut the trees back (good slow grown firewood) and maybe settle the rootball back down, or at least clear enough out the way to gain access.  This will probably involve the chainsaw, but to get there and work safely some of the lower branches needed clearing away, and I’m going to take the opportunity of making a slightly drier path as well.

S and I have slightly different views on how to achieve this, but since I’m the one doing the work, I get to decide.  I’m intending to dig interceptary channels parallel to the spring line, and then a few main drainage channels down the bank to the river.  Hopefully this will make the ground generally a bit drier without changing the mystical character too much.  I cleared a few overhanging branches by the pond, so that you can walk along there without bending double, and did the same along the escarpment as far as the fallen trees.  There are still a few branches that need trimming back to the trunks, but the main weight is removed.  Most of the wood I cut is still to be extracted, but there’s no hurry.  It may come in for burning next winter.  It seemed wrong now to be cutting back tree growth having spent so much effort getting the trees in the tree field established!

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Shark’s fins and Angel’s hair

This year I have been a member of the heritage seed library (again), and and one of the seeds I selected to grow was ‘shark’s fin melon’.  I didn’t have many seeds and succeeded in transplanting three plants into the polytunnel.  Two were near the top door, and one I planted with the courgettes near the other end.  I had some netting (beach gleanings) for the two at the top to climb up, which they did quite happily, and the other was just left to scramble over the ground.  The growing tips are rather beautiful, with spiralling tendrils, and the vine is still punctuated now by enormous golden flowers.

It seems that the plant is supposed to be self fertile, although I deliberately spread pollen between the different plants and still didn’t get many fruit to develop.  There is a total of five fruits between the three plants, although these are still producing female flowers.  The fruit are enormous, dark green with white stripes, about the size of a football, but slightly elongated.  I discovered also last week that the tendrils aren’t able to support the full weight of the fruit as we had a minor collapse of part of the vine near the door.  Most of the other fruit I had already supported, and one is sitting on the ground.

supporting fruit
Fruit supported by hanging basket frame

 

Doing a bit of research recently, it seems that shark’s fin melon has many other names.  If I had known it was ‘malabar gourd’, I could have looked it up in Simon Hickmott’s unusual vegetable book.  My favourite alternative name is ‘Angel’s hair’.  According to wikipedia its latin name is Cucurbita ficifolia and as well as the fruit, the seeds, and leaves are also edible see also https://isustainabilityproject.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/cooking-squash-leaves/ and http://jenniferskitchen.com/2017/05/can-you-eat-squash-leaves.html . I haven’t got round to trying the leaves yet.  These also grow enormous and give it one of it’s other names : fig leaf gourd.

My vegan friend was staying with me last week, so I enlisted her help in trying the first fruit.  Since once ripe the fruit should keep well, we decided to try one that was not the first to develop, to give the others the best chance of ripening to store.  Even so it weighed in at nearly 4kg!  Since it was quite young, the rind had not fully hardened, and we were able to cut it with a strong knife without too much trouble.  The large seeds were also still white and tender when cooked.  Half of it made a huge pan of vegan ‘shark’s fin soup’ which I thought would be amusing, and was certainly tasty!

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The other half we roasted in the oven, whilst the soup was cooking on the top.  We discovered that the flesh does indeed consist of stringy glass noodles (hence ‘Angel’s hair’).  These survived being reheated and made a great base for a simple lunch with (vegan) pesto, sundried tomatoes and sweetcorn.  I’ve put a little sample of noodles in the freezer to see whether they retain their noodley form on defrosting, since there is a lot of squash between our normal two person household!

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Angel’s hair

The other interesting titbit, is that in warmer climes the plant is perennial, and may even survive light frosts!  This could be an interesting candidate for my perennial polytunnel, making good use of the third dimension!

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Flying ‘fig-leaves’

 

Saving and giving away

This week I’ve been sorting my seeds out. This includes the various seed packets that I have accumulated over the years, and also seeds that I have saved from some interesting plants around the holding.

I no longer grow much in the way of annual vegetables, so have put to one side quite a few seed packets that are in date (or not much out of date) to swap or give away. I’ll put a list at the end of this post for anyone that may be interested. There are a few flower seed packets as well that I have accumulated somehow – probably on the front of gardening magazines from the shop, that haven’t sold.

I also have quite a few seed packets that are so old that I doubt that there will be a very good germination rate. Sometimes these can surprise (I had good germination from rather old courgette seed this year) but more often even rather new seed fails, and I’m sure it’s not always me (i.e. dry compost, too cold etc.). The oldest seed I have is some chinese bean sprouts or mung beans that were supposed to be sown by 2001! I always meant to get round to that stir fry, but I just can’t think three days ahead when it comes to cooking! I also have a pack of “rose de berne” tomato seed, and some late purple sprouting broccoli to be sown by 2004. These and others that are less ancient, but still well out of date I have put to be used as a green manure / ground cover next spring. Probably most won’t germinate, but where I did the same around my blackcurrant bushes in the fruit area this year, I have some recognisable cabbages, rocket (going to seed, because I don’t like the taste), and leaf beet. These have grown amongst the existing seed bank of nettles, docken, chickweed and other ‘weeds’ that have been edited as I feel like. Before I mix the seed packs together, I will give my friend who is coming for a visit next week, a chance to grab any that she fancies (along with the newer seed for swaps). Actually, I gather the technique for sowing a mixture of plants is to sow each seed separately, then you get a more even distribution of each seed.

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Parsley – gone to seed in polytunnel

I have managed to save quite a few seeds from various plants this year. Mainly from local native plants which I hope will also prove desirable as swaps. This year I have tried something slightly different. As well as drying as best I could in a warmish dry place for a few days (usually on a windowsill, although I gather too hot and light is not a good idea), I have sealed the dry seeds in a foil ziplock packet together with some rice grains that have been oven dried. The rice is supposed to act as a non toxic dessicant (like silica gel – which is now considered a baddie I gather) which will hopefully give the seeds a longer shelf life. The advantage of the foil bags is that they keep the seeds dark as well as dry. The disadvantage is that you can’t see the contents without opening the bag. I’ve run out of the foil bags now anyway, so the some of my saved seeds will go into normal polythene ziplock bags.

I’ve crossed out the seed which has already been spoken for.

Seed for swaps:

Various commercial packets. Some opened. I haven’t put details against them, since with the power of the internet, you should be able to find out what the makers say:

Asparagus “argenteuil early”

Asparagus “connovers collossal”

Beta vulgaris – “sea beet”. British native, seems to grow OK for me, but I think I have enough seedlings now

Carrot “nantes 5”

Radish “kulata cema”

Rocket “wild rocket”

Lettuce “little gem”

Swiss chard “bright lights” – pretty colours, but I get loads of self sown perpetual spinach, and I don’t like the stems of chard.

Tomatillo – I wasn’t that keen on them to be honest, and I don’t think I’ll get round to trying them before the seed gets old again

Physalis peruviana: cape gooseberry “golden berry” I seem to have two packs, so one spare.

   

Coriander “cilantro” for leaf production

Kale “curly scarlet”

Kale “nero di toscana”

Celeriac “monarch”

Broccoli “autumn green calabrese”

Mustard spinach “komatsuna tarasan”

Cauliflower “all the year round”

Cauliflower “romanesco natalino”

Turnip “petrowski”

Saved seed from Skye:

 

Plain leaved parsley – went to seed in polytunnel.

Leaf beet / perpetual spinach – sows itself everywhere now!

Good king henry – british native perennial. I only have one plant, but it appear to have set seed. Now it is established it appears to be thriving on neglect – wet, windy, acid soil. I love it!

Hyacintha non scripta – british bluebell. Native perennial – seed from the tree field.

Myrrhis odorata – sweet cicely. Lovely anise scented foliage perennial.

Conopodium majus – pignut. Native forage food – grows happily here in grass like a miniature cow parsley.

Rumex acetosa subsp. acetosa – common sorrel. Native forage food, acid refreshing leaves. Beware can be a nuisance weed, but I love it. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus pratensis – meadow vetchling. Yellow flowered perennial vetch. Seed gathered from the holding.

Vicia cracca – tufted vetch. Vetch with plumes of blue flowers. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus linifolius – heath pea see previous post here. Seed gathered from the holding.

Rubus fructicosus – bramble: polytunnel blackberry. I don’t know what variety this is. Probably a seedling off a Solihull plant, but it appears to be an early fruiter since it also will crop outside in a good year. Seed may not come true, but there is no other bramble close, so it must be a self cross. Prickly and vigorous and delicious!

Stellaria media – chickweed. We eat it raw in salads, or sometimes wilted as a hot vegetable. It is often quite large and lush in leaf, I’m not sure whether this is unusual, but if you fancy some weed seeds let me know.

You can email me at nancy at p6resthome dot co dot uk. First come first served, no guarantees, but I’ve done my best at identification and cleaning.  I’ll try and update this list as the seed goes. UK enquiries only at this stage (unless you have some astragalus crassicarpus – ground plum seeds for my perennial poytunnel project, in which case we might come to an agreement…).

Ten gardening rules

Just a few tongue in cheek guidelines.  Some I’ve shamelessly stolen, particularly from permaculture rules.

1) Don’t try and do too much = start small.
2) Nature abhors a vacuum = weeds grow to fill the land available and then some.
3) There is no such place as “away”. Everything comes from somewhere and goes to somewhere. Garden responsibly, and sustainably.
4) The gardener’s shadow is the best fertiliser. By walking the plot you can spot trouble early and nip it in the bud, whether it is a pest that could become a plague, or a nutrient deficiency.
5) Don’t kill your enemies, love your friends. This is in respect to pest control, animals not plants!  Better to make a home for a toad than spread around slug pellets.
6) Life’s too short to mow the lawn. Or is this just me being lazy? You could have a lawn for camping on I suppose, but generally, mow paths and edges, but leave the wild flowers to bloom and harvest the bulk for compost.
7) Observe, learn, experiment, observe. What works for someone else may or may not work for you in your garden.
8) Do it once, do it properly. This goes for house maintenance as well…..
9) Grow what likes your environment. Acid soil, wet, dry, windy, hot…there is a plant that will thrive in that niche somewhere in the world.  Although it is interesting to push the boundaries see https://skyeent.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/happy-habby-garden-ph-testing/
10) Don’t do as I do, do as I say. Most of the above I don’t follow. It’s easy to be a good gardener in theory!

Anyone for anymore?

Happy Habby garden, pH testing

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Hablitzia Tamnoides plant in tea garden

I’ve had a Hablitzia Tamnoides plant for about 18 months now. To say it is not thriving, would probably be pretty accurate. It’s a relatively unknown plant in the UK, at least until quite recently. Originating from the caucasus region, it is (supposed to be) a vigorous scrambling perennial plant, growing to about 6 ft with tasty leaves that can be cooked and eaten like spinach. Steven Barstow (http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=8606) has helped to popularise the plant with his ‘around the world in eighty plants’ book, which I heartily recommend by the way. My plant came from Alison Tindale of backyard larder (http://backyardlarder.co.uk), as a swap for some local Skye plants, and I planted it in the tea garden, where I thought it would be quite sheltered. As it turns out the tea garden hasn’t been as sheltered as I’d hoped. Also, I’ve since found out it’s native range is in limestone cliffs, so it prefers quite an alkaline soil.

(edit: I seem to have made up the limestone based on this comment from Steven Barstow, https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10154986079450860&id=655215859
I think I just assumed the cliffs in the picture were limestone.  Having done some hasty research online https://www.britannica.com/place/Caucasus, does mention limestone, so perhaps my guess was right. Alison Tindale also says it dislikes acid soils (which seems to bourne out by my experience) so I think I have added 2 and 2, whether my answer is right is luck rather than judgement!  What Stephen actually says in his book is that ‘It is found in spruce and beech woods, amongst rocks and in ravines and along rivers’)

It also benefits from quite a fertile spot. I don’t think the tea garden is particularly fertile, but relatively good for round here. Because I was so keen on growing this plant, I had also obtained some seed from Mandy at incredible vegetables (http://www.incrediblevegetables.co.uk) this spring, and got lots to germinate.

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Hablitzia Tamnoides seedlings

Potted on, they soon outgrew the fertility in their little pots and turned quite yellow. I’ve since potted them on again, and so far they are looking a bit more happy. I decided to make a ‘habby bed’ to make my hablitzia happy. This is in the shelter of the workshop by the drive. I dug out the soil and rocks as deep as I could (not very deep – a foot or before I hit bed rock). I then back filled with builder’s rubble (some of the old render from the byre which was falling off). On top of this I put compost from last year’s compost heap which was rather full of wood ash from the stove, so hopefully both nutritious and low in pH. Having mixed these two together (difficult with the stones) I topped the lot with not quite ready bracken compost, which hopefully will be relately weed free as well as adding to the nutrients in the longer term. I’ve planted three of my new hablitzia in the bed and so far they are just sitting there! Hopefully next spring I should see them putting on good growth in appreciation.  I need to think about some sort of climbing frame for them, since they should now grow quite tall.

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Hopefully Happy Hablitzia in Habby bed

This week I finally got round to doing a pH test on the soil here. I’m not sure why I hadn’t done it before. I think I had just gone on the gut feeling that it is quite acidic, without needing to put a number on it, and let’s just say I was right! The hydrangea here can have lovely blue flowers, and rhododendron thrive. I’m a bit surprised now that anything else grows – it just goes to show that plants don’t read books! I took a soil sample from approximately the centre of the tree field between the royal oaks, and the pH came out as very acidic. I tested the soil in my happy habby bed as well, and at this early stage my terraforming has been successful as it has come out as alkakine. It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. Hopefully the lime from the render will keep the worst of the acidity away. If necessary, I have a ready supply of ash from the house fires which could be used to top up.

I think I will do some more pH testing nearer the house to see if there is a difference in the cultivated areas. They may have been ‘improved’ by previous gardeners, or from lime leaching from the buildings. I do occasionally dig up what seems to be a bit of chalk, so the land does seem to have been modified in the past. I can’t think of any other reason for rock chalk to be lying about anyway.

10 years on – Photos

I’ve been trying to take photos of the same views every 3 months to give a record of how things have changed over time.  I didn’t start from the word go, but some of the photos date from when we first bought the site in 2007, since they are good views!  It has been ten years that we have been here now, so I thought I would share some before and after shots.

View from above the road.

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This is taken from the prevailing wind direction (South West) As you can see we have been trying to establish a wind break of trees along the top of the bank.  Our property boundary is the middle of the road  The ones by the road have done fairly well, the ones further along to the SE/right less well.  The soil is either too shallow, or too wet (the rock shelf holds the water) for them to thrive.  The spruce that were by the house have all provided their tops as christmas trees in the past to stop them getting too big (they are very close to the house).

Fruit Garden.

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These aren’t quite the same angle but give an idea of how the fruit garden has evolved.  The willow fedge was planted in 2009, and is still a bit sparse in places due to the soil being a bit shallow.  I put rubbish such as dock roots and bramble thinnings on the uphill side of it to try and build up the soil.  The tree that you can see in the centre on the earlier picture was a pear tree that did not survive.  The soil is a bit shallow there, even though I had built it up a bit I think the tree got a bit dry.  The morello cherry that was planted at the same time is doing well, you can see it in silouette against the polytunnel in the recent picture.  I pruned it to open it up a bit this year.  It had one cherry last year!  The monkey puzzles here were planted as 2 ft trees in 2009.  You can’t see them in the earlier shot, but I can see two ( towards the left) in this year’s shot.

From above orchard looking towards river

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Again, not quite the same view point.  The picture from 2009 must have been just after shearing!  I can just see the fenceline at the bottom where we had started planting the trees in the pond area at the bottom.  Note no deer fence in the earlier picture.  They are definately starting to look like trees now, and even woods maybe in places!

From North corner by river towards house.

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The trees here had been in a couple of years by 2012.  The deer fencing however had only just been erected, and we soon noticed a difference in the growth of the trees – or at least the growth which has survived.  Two houses to the north of us have been erected since we’ve been here.  These alders are amongst the best grown trees now.  We may consider coppicing them soon, before they get too big.

River from viewpoint

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The first picture was taken as we were planting trees along the south boundary.  You can see the temporary fence that excluded the sheep.  The deer fence on the perifery went up a few months later.  The spruce in the centre are slightly close together pehaps, but won’t grow back once cut down.  That will leave a clear space for planting something else.  It’s fairly damp there, so maybe more willow.  We’re especially pleased with the growth of the alders on the right hand side here.  In six years they have grown from foot high transplants to being able to exclude vegetation partially underneath them, and becoming an effective wind break.

 

 

 

Mulching away

I’ve been having trouble with my mulched areas. I love the idea of using mulch to drive back the weeds and feed the soil, however I haven’t quite cracked the practicalities.
For example:
I like using cardboard as a sheet mulch to keep grass and weeds away from newly planted shrubs and trees in the garden. It works very well as a simple solution up to a point. If the area is to revert back to grass as in the case of the field trees, it’s fine. I use brick sized stones to keep the cardboard down, which works much better than I expected against the winds we get. By not covering the cardboard, the surface keeps drying back out and it lasts up to a year without too much degradation. You need to make sure that any bits of tape and plastic labels are removed, since these do not disappear like the cardboard does.

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New beach plum in cardboard mulch a few months on

The problem I have is that this does not fully work against creeping buttercup, which is almost everywhere. The buttercups then spread over the mulch, and if you are foolish enough to enjoy the flowers, they seed everywhere, and you get a lovely ground cover of buttercups! These are probably one of my least favourite weeds. The roots are so persistent, and it is too easy to pull the top off, leaving the crown (which will regrow) behind. I’ve been struggling in the tea garden, which I have fully mulched over the last two years or so. I have five stages in progression: Bare soil exposed from removing the excess soil for terracing the orchard; Reasonably intact cardboard mulch, which is gradually being reclaimed by buttercups; a rather mature buttercup mulch where the cardboard has fully degraded; an area weeded in early summer and replanted with himalayam strawberries (which I hope will replace the buttercups as a living mulch – they are fighting it out at the moment); and an area, which was replanted with root crops – (salsify, scorzonera, skirret and also the maca).

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The idea of the root crop area, was that since they would need digging up in the future, I could take the opportunity to weed out the buttercups at the same time. Maybe I should have just left it till that stage, however, as well as the new buttercup seedlings and buttercups creeping in from the edges, I also noticed a lot of little dock seedlings, and (the little pink flower like londons burning) that seeds around so much. I couldn’t take it and had to start clearing the weeds early. I have left the corpses thickly around selected plants. However, since the weather has been wet and mild, unhappily the weeds have carried on growing. I’ll have to remove them and put them in the compost bin.
The new raspberries that I planted there didn’t do too well last year, only a few canes survived through to regrow. I noticed new shoots coming from the autumn bliss ones, so hopefully they will do better next year. I’m not sure why they struggled, but the survivors now seem happy enough. They should be sheltered enough there. It hasn’t been as good as I hoped in the lee of the barn. It seemed like a midge haven, but obviously they are tougher than the tea plants!
The other area which I mulched in a different way, and have been readdressing, is the orchard area to the right of the path as you look downhill. I covered around the trees and blackcurrant cuttings with cardboard, as usual, then used all the lovely cut grass from the pathways to cover the whole area thickly, including the area of card. Unfortunately it looks like it wasn’t thickly enough, since grass is now growing though in most of the area outside the cardboard sheets. I have tried mortal tree’s suggestion of lifting the mulch back over the growing shoots and adding a bit more mulch (https://mortaltree.blog/2013/06/16/group-and-conquer/). At the moment however, it just looks as though I’ve been feeding the couch grass! I think that the area of card will decompose more quickly as well – being covered in damp retaining material. I wasn’t expecting to achieve weed free straight away, since I know there is couch grass, docken and nettles as well as the ubiquitous creeping buttercup. But am a little disheartened. I’ve used up my stock of cardboard sheet to make a light proof layer and remulched with fresh grass cuttings (yes, he’s cut the pathways again) between the trees and the trackway, although I didn’t quite have enough cardboard to finish as far as I wanted to mulch.

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Remulching the orchard area with cardbaord under cut grass

The only weed excluding mulch that does seem to have done pretty well is the floor underlay from the last time the hall flooded, which we were able to reclaim. It is a very thick black plastic sheet, with a slight felt on one side. I’ve laid some on the drive bank to clear back the horrid creeping grass there. I’d like to get the top bank planted, but also need to build a retaining wall to stop it all falling back into the drive again. S. wants to resurface the drive along there, and it makes sense to do that first before building the wall. We removed the sheets to scrape back the soil where S. thought it was encrouching on the drive and I’ve been pleased by how little has been growing back. I used stones, old tyres and fenceposts to keep the sheet down, and that was the only problem I had – it did tend to catch the wind exposing the soil again.

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Effective black plastic mulch on driveway

If the hall floor needs replacing again, as seems likely, we’ll try and get hold of some more of that sheeting. I wonder if it would work for a water proof membrane for a green roofed car port….I’ll have to think about that.

Raining and pouring

We had a downpour on Tuesday night which resulted in, amongst other things, our community hall being flooded.  This is for the second time in five years.  A combination of high tide and unusually high rainfall (10mm plus in 1 hour) meant that most of the flood plain of the river was being used.  A family of holiday makers who unaccountably had chosen to camp next to the graveyard (!) had to call out the emergency services at 4.30 in the  morning after the vehicle was surrounded by water and started to float.  It could have been worse, the only casualty was the vehicle.  A few residents have had water ingress through houses or barns on its way downhill.  We’re a bit higher up the valley but the river was higher that we’ve seen it in ten years.  Some trees beside the river have been damaged and some torn out.  The river was going in our pond at the top and coming out at the bottom, but we’ve got away with no major damage this time.  This sort of weather event may be more common in the future of course.  The other thing I noticed was erosion of the trackway down the hill to the orchard.  The buried watermain acts as an interceptary drain and the low point at which it overflows is about at the trackway.  It’s not been so bad since I repaired the burn bed, but in heavy rain it obviously still does divert a bit.  Something to bear in mind when S. does refinish the trackway.  Since the orchard is on a slope, and I’ve raised up the level for the trees, I don’t think it will be an issue for them.

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Grass caught on fence shows the flood level

Earth moving

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Two barrows and a bucket

I’ve been hard at work moving soil down the hill to try and terrace the orchard area. There is a surplus of soil just below the barn where S. moved it from various locations, particularly from where the roadway now wraps around above the byre. Let’s just say the soil is of varying quality. I’m pretty sure that some of it is quite fertile. There was a quantity of nettles there, and they are an indicator of fertile soil. However as I’m digging it I am using two wheel barrows and a bucket. One wheelbarrow for the ‘good’ soil, one wheelbarrow for the pernicious weed roots (couch grass, creeping thistle, docken and nettles) and the bucket for larger bits of coal as I spot them. It seems that part of the area above the byre must have been the storage area for the house coal. There is also quite a bit of saw dust. Probably from more recent chainsawing by S. since the wood we have been using has been cut up in that sort of area in the recent past. As well as the above, there is also a sprinkling of the typical bits of glass, string, broken crockery and strange part burnt bits of possibly vehicle that we often find around the place. You must understand that until the 1970’s there was no rubbish collection in the area, so everything was disposed of locally. I have fantasies sometimes of being able to piece together ancient dinner services like a three dimensional jigsaw. In the meantime the bits get collected into piles and occasionally the ‘real’ rubbish thrown in the bin. I do love the archeological fringe of my gardening sometimes though. The best thing I’ve found was an flint arrowhead or speartip. Although I didn’t dig that up. It came to the surface when the drains for next door’s soakaway were dug just above the orchard. It makes me very humble about my significance when I think of the thousands of years that have passed since that item was made and lost. The land continues despite my little scratchings.

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Holmisdale Flint tool

Growing on the earth pile are several silverweed plants. One in particular has lovely long roots from last year. I’ve moved them down to where the soil has been moved to in the orchard. I’m pretty sure that I’ll have to dig it over to remove couch and other weeds, so I may as well have some goodies to dig up as well. The exposed soil after removing the top layers by the barn is nice and bare. I’ve planted out there a few skirret seedlings that have got a bit pot bound. I don’t want to get too close to the working area though, or they’ll get trampled. Although they looked tiny little plants, they seem to have little root thickenings developing anyway, poor little things! Still they should do a bit better with a bit of root room, if the slugs don’t get them.

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Long root on Silverweed

This earth moving is slow work. I’m hopeful that I will have the left hand side of the path done, as you look down the hill, this year, but I’ve got a lot more soil to move. The weather more recently has been a bit wet too, which doesn’t really make for safe work. Not just working in the wet, which isn’t pleasant, but the extra weight of wet soil, and slippery steep slopes make it awkward….

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More silverweed for orchard