Cutting Docken and grass

Again, the weather has been kind to me. I have been cutting the docken (don’t you just love that plural?) in the orchard area. I have lots of docks around the place, and often they get to seed before I cut them, thus seedlings grow and the docken proliferate. I have discovered that, contrary to conventional wisdom, if you get the growing top off the dock they don’t tend to grow back. So my technique is to cut with a spade, aiming to get a couple of inches of the tap root, and not worry too much about the rest of the root. We also have some sort of big pinkish white grub that eats dock roots – maybe they eat the remainder?

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Cutting Docken in orchard area

The orchard area was planted just over three years ago with plum, damson and cherry trees, and I added some apples 18 months ago. It is in a more sheltered dip at the top of the tree field, and I intend to add more soil to landscape the area. I wanted to give the trees as much soil as possible, and also try and keep them well drained. We get so much rain and this is one of the factors that make the fruit trees not grow so well and succumb to disease. At the moment the landscaping is partially done. The trees were planted on mounds, and I have been spreading soil between them. This is barrowed down from below the barn, where it was left from various trackway excavations. Although S. did move down some soil with the dumper, It took a lot of effort to then distribute it and dig out the couch grass and nettles that came too, so wasn’t really much of a labour saving in the end! The trackway down from the barn still needs grading, so is still a bit steep for comfortable barrowing, but at least the heavy bit’s downhill! Anyway, apparently along with the couch and nettles were also a lot of dock seeds which have subsequently germinated and done quite well (oh why aren’t they edible weeds?). So last week I and the dogs took the pink ball and the spade and barrow and set to work. One and a half days later we had cleared the docken, done a lot of fetching, discovered some nicely growing blackcurrant cuttings that I stuck in last winter, a big bone that Dougie had hidden there, a couple of very small spruce seedlings that were missed from several I had temporarily stuck in there eighteen months ago; that is the good news.

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Blackcurrant cuttings in orchard area

The docken were also lovely to dig up from the new soil – many came up with complete roots, so the soil should be good for other stuff to grow in. The bad news is that I also discovered that along with the docken we also have a lot of surviving couch grass (I now know what couch grass flowers look like), nettles and of course the creeping thistle that were in the field before the trees were planted. I’m hoping that continual pulling will deter the creeping thistles. This seems to have been reasonably effective in the tea garden, I had very little come back this year. It’s not the nicest job. You need need grippy gloves to grasp the stems so as to pull as much root as possible: I like the cloth ones with latex facing. However, the palms aren’t strong enough to stop all the prickles, so every now and then you have to pick out a prickle that has broken off in the glove and is sticking in you. I just pulled out the nettles (which will probably grow back) and ignored most of the couch. I know it’s going to grow extensively, but I’m hoping to complete the landscaping, and maybe do some planting this autumn. With a good thick mulch in the meantime and relying on the lovely light soil structure, I’m hoping it will come out then reasonably completely. Anyway, it’s only grass! I’ll probably plant out some of my exciting root crops there this autumn/winter since they will subsequently need digging out anyway giving me a second opportunity to remove the couch….

It was forecast to be dry until Thursday last week, and we were keen to get the paths in the tree field cut. It’s nice to have the grass long, but it makes my trousers wet as I’m walking through (even with wellies on), and S. also has difficulty telling the trees and other plants apart, so having a defined pathway makes it easier if he does have to drive a vehicle round. To be fair the docks are still bigger than some of the trees.  I’d asked him to get the mower out ready for me, so that I could cut the paths when I got home from the shop on Wednesday. It would be quite late, but the sun doesn’t set till gone ten for us at the moment, so there is still quite a bit of daylight. Anyway, he not only got the mower out, but he and the dog-boys went round all the trackways a few times. It wasn’t quite the way I would have done it. I’m not that keen on cutting the grass at all at this time of year. I would like the flowers to have set their seed. However, for reasons of practicality, a little pathway in the centre of the track seems like a good compromise. S. however, did the main trackway with several passes, and the main side loop also with a wider cut. I went round a second time trying to keep in the centre of the track, because the scythemower doesn’t cut that cleanly the first cut, and a second cut gives a more even result. A disadvantage of doing more than the minimum is that Muggins here then has to spend longer than neccessary raking up the extra cut grass. It looks slightly surreal with the long grass, trees and flowers, a mowed path, and the mounds of gathered cut grass.

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Hay mounds along mown trackway

Now I have a fair amount of material for mulching. I will have to wheelbarrow this up hill to the orchard area, where hopefully it will stop some of the noxious weeds growing back too strongly and feed the fruit trees in the longer term. If there is more than I need it can be used to mulch the trees nearest the path edge, or others strategically selected.
If we had more land I would like to cut some of it for hay. Corncrake have a hard time now on Skye, since most crofters just buy in their winter feed now and the in bye fields are now summer grazing. I heard one once here in Glendale a couple of years ago, but it didn’t stay.

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10 thoughts on “Cutting Docken and grass

  1. Interesting to read about you making mounds for your trees. I only learned about this technique at the weekend and now I’m reading about it in action

    You must be fit with all that hard work!

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    1. Gosh! have I followed a technique without even knowing it? They’re not ‘hugelculture’ – I was just trying to plant the trees safely before I have finished the landscaping! The four dimensional orchard has sort of terracing – but that isn’t finished yet.

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      1. I understand hugel beds would be a bad idea for trees – or rather on permies.com (have you seen this forum?) there was a discussion around this.

        Anyway, I thinking that your banking up is from observing and interacting with your environment. I guess we all do thinks someone has called a technique with a specific name but in reality is a response to a given situation.

        I could have naturally progressed to it myself perhaps – e.g. When I planted my first apple tree, it was hard to get the depth so that it was in the soil as far as it would have been before I bought it. I did try to move some soil to cover up the roots properly but it wasn’t a mound, just a bit of extra soil at the base.

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      2. I have once or twice browsed some of the forums – usually when I’m looking for some specific information. They are a bit US focused (and can be a little misleading) or get a bit political. I guess we can’t do everything.

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    1. It’s sometimes difficult to know whether one is reinventing the wheel. I guess using more than one source is best. I have a few favourite books, but sometimes do feel that there is a bit of repetition without first hand knowledge going on. Certainly if a plant wants to grow (or not) it will do so. But I do like to try something different! If I’m going to fail, I’d rather it is with maca (an unusual Peruvian crop I am trying) rather than carrots which as I’ve explained elsewhere tend to fail boringly with me!

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  2. I’ll maybe do a maca post later in the year. So far the verdict is that slugs like it! My favourite book and main inspiration’s probably Ken Fern’s ‘Plants for a Future’. I have recently bought Stephen Barstow’s ‘Around the world in eighty plants’, which I got far more out of than I expected and will rush to buy any subsequent books he writes. I have far too many gardening books and should probably thin them out but…..

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    1. Likewise – stuff I bought when I first moved to my house but which I haven’t looked at since. E.g. I think I know how to grow tomatoes now!

      Anyway. I’ll look into the books you mention – I’m aware of both, just not read them.

      I hope the slugs find something else to eat apart from your maca soon.

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