Natural Farming on Skye

over view of farm area
Potential Natural Farming area

Sometimes I just get a bee in my bonnet or a brain worm, and it niggles at me until I`ve worked out a solution. When I read `The One Straw Revolution` by Masanobu Fukuoka it opened up a whole new way of thinking for me. The concept that humankind cannot understand nature and that we should therefore immerse ourselves back and let nature take the driving seat is beyond what I was trying to do with my perennial vegetables and `edimental` food forest. My gardening has shifted away from annuals, but I now feel I can go back to growing them in a freer style. This thread, https://permies.com/t/163437/RED-gardens-simple-garden, on simple gardens was another part of the jigsaw for me, giving the concept of a simple succession or crop rotation if you will.

Neither what Fukuoka did with a two season grain system, or what Bruce Darrell did with a successional monocrop is quite what I want to do. Neither would work here, and I`d like to avoid the plastic sheeting too. I also want to create landraces for Skye of each of the crops I grow. This is another concept that is obvious once you take off the blinkers of modern agriculture. Diversity is the tool that will overcome changing times ahead.

There are two main problems I need to overcome: being able to cover the soil adequately in winter, either with standing crops or mulch, and initial clearing of a large area of grass.

Tackling the second issue first. I am hoping that direct sowing of grazing rye, Secale cereal, into short cut turf as soon as possible (end of September) will give it enough time to get roots going overwinter and then provide enough competition during the summer to crowd out some of the perennial grasses. If this doesn’t look successful by late spring, I’ll have to try mulching out the area with plastic and/or cardboard.

I had thought of trying to rent a field locally, but really that would be a bit over ambitious, so I`m going to use the area of the treefield which had mainly ash trees, now cut right back, due to dieback. It`s a bit of an irregularly shaped area, but that won`t matter when working manually. It is well drained (which is one reason the trees haven`t thrived; the grass there is more suited to drier conditions) with a slight slope to the south east. The soil (compared to much of my land) is pretty deep, being more than 12 inches to bedrock in the main, although quite compacted and with stones that make digging slow. After growing to maturity the first summer, hopefully the rye will produce enough straw to mulch out most of the rest of the grass over the following winter.

So the basic idea is a simple rotation: grains → peas, beans and broccoli → roots → replant perennials including potatoes→ back to grains again. I`m going to encourage self seeding where possible and gradually develop landraces over time. I`m not wanting to spend too much on seeds to start off and hope to spend no more than £100 this year (much of that on the grazing rye). Some of this will be for sowing next year, I want to autumn sow, or allow self seeding where possible, as being less work than spring sowing, although more seeds will be required to allow for losses over winter.

My first step was to start ordering seeds. I`m going to try and get two new varieties of each of the crops I want to grow and combine them with whatever other seeds I can obtain in the meantime. I have a few different varieties of peas for example, saved up over the years.

My next step is already taken. In this part of the treefield the trees have not been very successful. As well as the ash, there are a few small rowans, and some relatively young spruce and pine that I planted to create an intermediate shelter belt. There are also some baby korean pines and a couple of monkey puzzle seedlings, but in the main the area is quite exposed. I am going to try to make a quick growing shelterbelt from my perennial kale. Many of the side branches have broken off in the wind this week, and I have cut them to shorter lengths, so getting two or three cuttings per bramch. These I have inserted just downwind of the embryo shelterbelt. I don`t suppose the kale will inhibit the conifer`s growth, and by the time the conifers are big enough to shade out the kale, they will be creating shelter of their own.

Puzzling it out

Treefield Path

It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing the last six months, it’s rather that I’ve been doing too much! Not just on the holding however, and not just plant related.  Things are changing – priorities, the way plants change the landsape, family and work commitments all change the way I interact on this platform.  It looks today like WP have made some more changes to the editing software that may make it a bit easier for me to edit and post at least on the PC, so I’ll give it another go and see how I get on this time. Unfortunately they also seem to have changed the scaling, I gues to suit mobile phone screens, but it leaves a lot of blank space on larger screens.

Elaeagnus branch with growth

It looks like it is going to be another really good growing year for the trees, and I didn’t lose as many plants as I thought over the winter.  I thought I’d lost one of my Elaeagnus in the former Dog Resistant Garden, (FDRG) but I noticed this week that one branch is showing quite a bit of growth and is in flower.  The unknown citrus in the polytunnel likewise is shooting up from the base.  However the kiwi is a goner, as is my larger gevuina shrub and one of the seedlings.  I still have one Gevuina seedling that looks pretty happy in it’s pot, so I need to find a slightly more sheltered spot to plant it out.  I’ll have to source some more seeds, since it doesn’t look like any more of the seeds are going to germinate now.  I still have a few in pots, but I am not hopeful that they are still viable.  The Arbutus unedo looks a bit tatty, but still seems to be alive.

Tatty Arbutus unedo

I’ve done a bit of work on the front garden behind the FDRG – trying to get out the creeping grass and plant it up.  There are a few currant bushes that are doing OK, some local elder cuttings ditto. I’ve also planted out the miscanthus grass seedlings and various other things that will do better in the ground that stuck in their pots. I was lucky enough to be given some dwarf jerusalem artichoke, and some chinese artichoke, so have planted these where the grass is more likely to come back – the theory is that If I have to dig to harvest then I can dig out the grass at the same time.  I could probably do with doing some more mulching in this area too.  We’ve had quite a warm summer, and so far the Yacon here seem to be doing better than in previous years.

Yacon and lush growth by FDRG

In terms of new planting, I haven’t done any broadscale tree planting this year.  I had intended to replant the area that I had cleared the ash from with small leaved lime, beech, italian alder, local hazel and rowan, however I didn’t really have time for much this spring due to commitments in the shop.  The experimental plantings of lime, and italian alder have done very well, however the sea buckthorn has struggled.  Some of the bushes are still alive, but I wouldn’t describe it as much of a pioneer.  It may be that it really dislikes my acid soil, or it might be that they take longer to get established and will romp away in a year or two.  All I know is I’m not about to go out and splash out on expensive cultivars if they’re not likely to make it through.  I bought four hazel cultivars this year and have been disappointed that two of them seem to have died.  I probably will replace them next year though, since I do think that they have a good possiblity of good yield here.  Next year I am also thinking of getting some Walnuts, and maybe some japanese heartnuts.

Baby Monkey Puzzle with bottle protector

I managed to germinate quite a few monkey puzzle tree seeds over the winter, and have started planting the seedlings into the treefield.  Ideally I would leave them to get a bit bigger, but I have a poor record of keeping things alive in pots, so I think they will do better in the ground. I have marked various places around the tree field where I think the monkey puzzles could go with long sticks, and started turning the turf over to prepare planting holes.  Unfortunately the spade handle finally splintered during this process, so there are still quite a few places to be prepared, and about half the seedlings still in pots.  The trees in the fruit jungle really look impressive now.  I have learnt from them not to plant the monkey puzzles too close to pathways since the leaf spines are really sharp!

Some good some bad

Rather later than anticipated I’m reviewing my unusual tuber harvest for last year. I’ve had a few distraction in my life recently, mostly in my shop – creating a “zero waste” facility in a very short timescale thanks to a Zero Waste Scotland grant, but also getting sucked into the Permies.com forums.  I guess the change in the WordPress editor hasn’t helped – I find it much slower to create a post now than it used to.

I actually dug the Yacon in the polytunnel on 22 January, and a few days later outside. By the start of February we had a prolonged spell of freezing weather and the temperatures got down to about -8 degrees Celsius. This is unusually cold for here and I have lost several other plants to the cold. Annoyingly this included some newly purchased ones that I had left outside the polytunnel without thinking that they would have been better off inside. It can’t have been that cold in the polytunnel, since the pond remained frost free. This at the same time as the river was frozen.

Yacon flowers 2020

The Yacon all seemed to grow pretty well last year.  All were at least at tall as me, although not heading for the sky outside.  Several had mulitple stems and all the new ones developed some lovely flowers like tiny sunflowers. The different varieties flowered at different times, so it is unlikely I will get viable seeds, see Cultivariable . I had the following harvest of tubers:

Yaon New Zealand 2020

New Zealand:
Plant1: 1500g
Plant2: 3775g
Plant3: 1750g

Yacon Morado 2020

Morado:
Plant1: 1875g
Plant2: 350g (this one got stem rot early in the summer and the upper growth remained poor)
Plant3: 1750g
Plant4: 2600g (this one only one with broken tubers)

White std: I seem to have mislaid my harvest information, but I remember it was a bit less than the other two.

Yacon after peeling, (L-R Original, NZ, Morado)

All the NZ plants had some broken tubers with splits. The original white plants seemed to vary quite a a lot in yeild and tuber quality. The Morado tubers have the darkest colour skin, and the flesh is also slightly orange in colour. The New Zealand is more uneven in colour and the tubers are white under the skin. I found that the flavour of the original ones were the sweetest, and the tuber sizes on the Morado and New Zealand were larger, as was the yield. The plants outside did much less well, none of them had tubers of any great size, none bigger than a fat finger perhaps.

Some of the tubers did not store too well. I think that they were rather damp and cold when they came in and they got some mould developing on the skins. Surprisingly though I still have a few that appear perfect.  The last one I tried though had a slight off taste, so I think I wil compost the rest.

I have also harvested the mashua from the polytunnel. This seems to have been quite happy last year despite not having had any attention, and I got a fair amount of tubers from the plants.  It didn’t flower at all though. I left some nice tubers adjacent to the polytunnel side in situ to regrow this year and they survived the cold snap and are growing away nicely. I made some chutney with most of the tubers, the spicy flavour goes well in my standard chutney recipe, although I think next time I will reduce the cinnamon and cloves.

So much for the good – now for the bad.

I did not harvest the oca before the hard frosts…..

frosted oca tubers
Digging frosted tubers

I had carefully planted out my different coloured oca harvested from last year in the pallet garden, so that I could grow out and compare the different tubers for taste and yeild. They grew away pretty well and flowered last year. Unfortunately almost all the tubers got frosted. They develop just under the surface (in fact some were on top of the ground surface and were eaten by birds, mice or slugs….) and were not deep enough to escape damage. All the tubers were pale and soft. Only a very few tubers that were closest to the pallet seem to have escaped the frost.  I didn’t have results therefore for yield or flavour comparison, I had just a few tubers to plant this year and only one seems to be sprouting in its pot. However, I have several offers of new tubers for next year so will start again.  Maybe the one survivor is more frost tolerant, time might tell…

Ice and Fire

icy river
Frozen river

This has been the coldest spell we’ve had in several years.  Freezing temperatures both night and day, for several weeks.  The sky’s have been clear; Blue cloudless days and stunning starry nights.  I’m hoping that I haven’t lost many plants, I think the minimum we reached was about -8 degrees Celsius.  Everything looks really dessicated, although it’s not been windy, everything is freeze dried. Despite the time of year there have been several wild fires on Skye and the outer isles, leading to road closures in the middle of Skye last week.  I don’t know whether they were deliberate (muirburn to regenerate grazing) or accidental fires.

My wasabi has died back, and the luma apiculata’s leaves have dried up.  I forgot to wrap the unknown citrus in the polytunnel and that has shrivelled leaves too.  Hopefully these will all sprout back in spring, I do hope so.  There was a little snow but most of it melted before it froze again.  There is snow on the tops of the hills still, which look like Mt. Fuji.

ice crystals
Ice crystals in grass

As the ground is frozen, I can’t really get on with planting anything, but I’ve made some progress with coppicing.  I’ve cleared a little of the alder copse at the top by the cut through.  I cut those between the windbreak and the cut through, so the regrowth should have a bit of shelter.

alder coppice
Alder coppice at cut through

Some of the birch are getting pretty big now.  I have taken out some of the lower branches; singling the stems so they will make straighter logs in time perhaps.

felling birch
Singling birch

Further down again I singled out more alder along the top of the river bank and in the pond area, also taking out completely one multistemmed tree.  I think that’s all I’ll do for this year.  I don’t want to overdo things, especially until I know how well the regrowth will do.  We won’t have enough to be self sufficient in wood I don’t think, however it’s nice to feel like we’re making a step in that direction, especially with it having been so cold recently.

Taking the Ash out

Unfortunately this year I am hoping some of the wood I am cutting will not grow back, unlike most of my coppicing. I have decided that the dieback I am getting on the ash trees is actually Chalera, and have reported it to to the treealert forestry research site.

Up until last year I had not noticed green leaves dying back, and the dieback was not generally associated with nodes.  I suspect that these specific parts of the symptoms are associated with more mature trees, rather than young saplings.  None of my trees is taller than about 8 feet or more than 6cm in diameter.  Previously I was just noticing dieback of new shoots, I noticed some symptoms as far back as 2012. But many of my young trees die back as a result of salt winds in winter on new growth, Hazel and Oak for example, so I wasn’t sure whether to be too concerned.

View of central Ash area

Last summer I noticed several trees where some new green growth had wilted, just fading away rather than turning colour like they do in autumn.  In addition, I could see some marking spreading from the branch nodes like the pictures show on the ash dieback pictures.  I have not really seen this before.

Dieback of Green leaves

Dieback at branch node

I don’t know whether the symptoms I have seen before were ash dieback, or whether it has just arrived this year.  Anyway, rather than just interplanting the ash with different trees as discussed before, I decided to try and remove the ash completely.  I have therefore cut the trunks right down as near to the round as possible.  This involved lifting up the vole guard, removing the grass to expose the trunk and cutting as close to the earth as possible.  The picture below shows the bottle vole guards catching the light showing the tree I’ve cleared around.

Clearing the grass from the trunks.

I am hoping that by leaving off the vole guards, that the little critters will eat any regrowth from the ash, although I suspect they may grow back a bit since some have been in more than 10 years now. Hopefully I will not need to dig out the roots as well.

Victims of Chalera

Although the trunks are generally quite small (and many diseased), there are a few that may be big enough to be useful as tool handles. I need a new rake handle as my best one was broken over the winter. The rest of the ash will only be useful as kindling, but I think it best to burn it as soon as possible, rather than leave it to compost as I would otherwise do.

I’ve still got just a few ash to take out: one or two that I’ve spotted which I missed the first time round, and a dozen or so right at the top, that were local provenance, but also don’t look good.  We’ve had a bit of snow this week, so I’ll wait till that thaws before finishing off.

Bamboo marks positions for two of the new hazels.

On a more positive note, I potted up another ten monkey puzzle seeds at the weekend.  Also my plants from ART have come.  I have decided where to plant my four hazelnut trees, and there are three blueberry bushes to plant too.  Also my Xmas present from my super younger sisters has come, at least the plants I bought with the Edulis nursery voucher have.  I therefore have plenty to do outside once the weather allows.

Monkeying around

rainbow
Wintry Showers

I’ve been a bit busy with shop projects recently, and with the daylight being so short at the moment, I haven’t actually done very much outside.  It is just past the solstice and it is dark till 8 a.m. and dark again at about 4.30 p.m.  The days are supposedly getting longer.  Usually by the start of February the difference is appreciable.  Some plants are already starting to show spring growth; the celandine leaves are already forming, others don’t seem to have realised yet that it is winter!  Some of the fuchsias still have most of their leaves.  Although the winter hasn’t been too bad yet, this week is set to be colder and drier, so at once will be frostier, but nicer for working outside.

In the former DRG I have staked the Gevuina, which is starting to rock in the wind a bit.  I’ll prune the leader out this summer coming and see if I can start a new plant from the removed tip; it is supposed to be fairly easy to take cuttings.  The two seedlings that grew this summer are still doing well.  I have just left them outside in the wet and they seem to be thriving.  I wonder if they prefer the cooler damp conditions, rather the drier, warmer conditions I tried in the polytunnel with previous seeds.  Maybe a little warmer to germinate, then outside to the wet again?  I still have several pots with seeds in that have not started to germinate but look healthy.

mature tree portree
Large female Monkey Puzzle Tree in Portree Skye (May 2019)

I am rather keen to grow many more monkey puzzle trees.  They grow so nicely and shrug off the winds here.  The plan would be to put them all down the hill (not near paths) and let them grow until they fruit.  Then the female trees can be kept to provide nuts, and the male trees harvested for timber. To this end I bought a moderate amount of Scottish harvested seeds from an ebay seller, and have put these to germinate in the kitchen.  Based on the instructions provided by the seller, I soaked the seeds overnight, placed a layer of  damp vermiculite in a couple of old strawberry punnets, pushed the seeds in about half way, put the lids back on the trays and put the trays stacked on top of each other near the stove flue.

seeds by stove
Seeds by Stove Flue

Every few days I sprayed the tops of the seeds with water to keep them damp.  After a couple of weeks I taped up most of the ventilation holes in the lids, since the seeds seemed to be getting a little dry in between sprays.  As I noticed that there were a few roots developing the other day I tipped the seeds out and sorted them.

sorting
Sorting sprouting seeds

About one third were sprouting so I potted them into small pots.  They are still in the kitchen at present to keep them warm, I’ll transfer the pots to the study windowsill in a week or so, when they seem to be settled down, and keep spraying them till then.  There were a few seeds that had rotted, so these were removed and the rest put back in the vermiculite, to carry on germinating.  It may be a few months before all those that will have started sprouting.

planted
Planted up sprouting seeds

The tomato and shark’s fin melon seem to be doing well on the window sill, however the tamarind has died. I think it was too cold for it on the window sill. I moved it through to the kitchen, but I’m pretty sure it is too late.

windowsill
Overwintering

Elephants in the Garden.

chaffinch
Chaffinch on seeding mallow

The evenings are really starting to draw in now and we’ve already experienced our first frosts. This is a little early for Skye. It doesn’t seem to have damaged the plants in the polytunnel yet though. I have brought in the Tamarind seedling that my neighbour gave me, and have also potted on and brought in two pepper plants and two sweet peppers. The vines on the pumpkin nuts have died back, so I have brought those three fruit in to keep safe. The shark’s fin melon vine still looks healthy and I have cut it back and dug it up, so that I can try and overwinter it indoors, since the plants are perennial in milder climates. Last week I removed all the rest of the tomato fruit and made a chutney. It burnt on the pan a bit, but tastes alright. I still need to remove the remains of the plants yet.

sharks fin melon
Single Sharks fin melon before potting up

I mulched the DRG side of the new front garden area I have been working on with cardboard, and dug up, divided and replanted one of the daylillies from the original DRG. This one has quite large orange flowers. Daylillies are another of the ‘edimental’ plants I have been growing. The flowers, known as ‘golden needles’ are esteemed in parts of China and dried to be eaten as a vegetable. I think the leaves and roots are also edible, although have not tried them at all yet. Slugs certainly like the leaves, so I have protected the newly planted divisions with a cut off plant pot collar. I’m a bit disappointed that the grass is growing back quite a bit in the new area by the DRG. I obviously did not clear as much as I had thought. Since I have seeded as well as replanted this area it is a bit difficult to know what to do for the best. I guess I will have to try and spot mulch the worst patches….

As the autumn progresses the leaves are falling audibly off the sycamores in the front garden. I hadn’t realised how well the swales I had made would trap the leaves. This will hopefully enable an auto-mulching of the plants in the dips. I’ll have to reconsider what I planted there, with a view to maximising this benefit. Certainly the asparagus will appreciate an annual mulch, so I’m extra glad now I planted them in the dips rather than on the humps, but maybe there are other herbacious perennials that would benefit similarly. It will be interesting to see whether the leaves are still there after a winter gale or three….It was pretty windy last week and the leaves still seem to be staying put.

Catching leaves
Catching leaves

Rather than leave it till all the leaves had fallen from the willow fedges, I decided to prune and tidy them earlier. This will reduce the vigour of the willow slightly and make the fedges less likely to get damaged in winter winds by providing less of a catchment for the wind. I painstakingly cut the willow into short lengths to put on top of a newspaper mulch along my new pathway around the former DRG. I first tied the willow into bundles to make it easier to handle, but it was still pretty tedious. I could have used the shredder, but my memory of shredding willow last time was that was pretty tedious as well, and rather noisy.

mulching
Mulching DRG path with willow and cardboard

Anyhow I had a good win this week! There is a band of ‘tree surgeons’ going round the area at the moment who are cutting back trees which are too close to powerlines. I noticed them shredding the prunings onto their little tipper van and asked them if they wanted to dispose of them locally and they did!  So I now have a pretty big pile of ready shredded spruce branches to use as mulch material on paths, and possibly in my blueberry patch when I get round to planting that up.

mulch pile
If you don’t ask you don’t get

Finally a new caterpillar sighting for us. We usually joke that Dyson is a crap guard dog, and he replies that he keeps away the elephants for us. Here is one he missed:

elephant hawk moth caterpillar
Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar

Silence of the bees

Dyson in new cut-through below hump

This post took a lot longer to create than normal since WordPress has changed it’s editing software and made it very difficult to justify text.  I still haven’t worked out how to centre captions either.  If I don’t get the hang of it soon I will seriously consider changing platforms.  I find it very frustrating, slower and annoying.

Mostly I’ve been working outside the last few weeks, doing a final cut round the paths in the tree field. We had a few nice warm days and I managed to cut a new path round the north side of the orchard, one below the hump that links up with the top loop, and one through the wych elm and ash that comes out on the main track opposite the existing cut way to the river fence on the south and east. I think that there are still a few potential paths that will enable greater flexibility in routes around the tree field.

Mulch Patch by pond loop

Rather than trying to rake up all the grass cuttings, which takes so long, I have just been scooping up the larger clumps and mulching round selected trees. Down in the bottom loop near the pond, there was a lot of soft growth to cut back and I decided to mulch an area in amongst the trees to maybe plant up next spring. It doesn’t seem that constructive, however it fills in a dog walk on a nice day.

Buff tip moth caterpillars on birch

I found a cluster of buff tip moth caterpillars that were feeding on a birch tree rather than an alder this year. Some had moved to an adjacent willow as well. Although they do strip the tree they are on pretty badly, I think it is late enough in the year that they don’t do too much damage. If every tree was covered I would start to worry, however it is pretty obvious that not many of the caterpillars survive at present, otherwise there would be far more moths around, so I am pretty happy to leave them be. Other wildlife of note is the sight of several toads outside as well as lots of frogs. I assume they are trying to find good hibernation spots.

The wild bramble patch at the corner of the river has tasty ripe berries on now. Not enough to make jam with, but I have put several small punnets in the freezer so far.

Wild bramble patch

As I was going round the new cut through below the hump, I noticed a hole in the grass nearby and several empty insect cases. I have now seen three such holes. There was another at the edge of the spruce patch which I found a few weeks ago, which still had several confused bumble bees scrambling about, and one down in the pond loop. I don’t know what animal has dug up the nests. Presumably it is something eating the immature bees in their cocoons. My best guesses are a stoat or a hedgehog, although I suppose it could also be birds such as crows. It may be a fox, I don’t suppose it is an otter. No sign of live bees near any of the nests now. At least it isn’t anything I can feel responsible for….just nature.

Dug up bumble bee nest

Destruction of the Dog Resistant Garden

flowers in dog resistant garden august 2012
Flowers in DRG previous life

The dog resistant garden (DRG) was enclosed when our first dog Douglas was a youngster.  He did like to ‘help’ – dig where I was digging, and so on.  I constructed a windbreak fence around what was then mostly a vegetable garden in the front garden.  Over the years this evolved, first into a flower garden with the idea I night grow flowers for the shop, and then into a shrubbery with interesting edibles.  Now with Douglas gone and Dyson a mature dog, the fencing had seen better days and I was finding the square corners of the garden annoying.  I took down the majority of the enclosure in the spring and recently took out all of the fence posts.  The original paths no longer go where I want to wander, and the soil levels between the DRG and the barn bank were humped according to where the soil had been moved when the roadway above the barn (known as Lara’s road after our croft-Rover was parked there for a while) was excavated.

better days
Fences collapsing

Over the last few weeks I have been energised to level the soil and re-landscape the area and plant up with some of the plants I have been propagating.  Dyson was a bit of a nuisance helping when I was levelling the soil.  He is generally very good, but when something is scraped over the ground, like a broom, rake or vaccuum cleaner, he likes to bite the head of the implement.  That’s all very well for those implements, but when it came to biting at the mattock head as I was chopping the turf, I had to put him inside out of harm’s way.  I cleared the soil off the barn road bank to stop it falling in, making a precarious walkway.

levelling off
Levelling soil with more or less dog help

It was a bit of hard work to clear the old paths out of the DRG.  I had laid woven weed membrane along the paths, and when it was a vegetable garden I had transferred stones I found whilst digging to the paths.  These stones had then been covered with soil, so there was quite a bit of grass and the odd docken or raspberry growing through it.  I have pulled it all up now I hope.  One of my friends in the glen has a new polytunnel and they may be able to reuse the weed membrane, since it seems to be in pretty good condition overall, as long as they don’t mind a bit of cleaning.

removing seed membrane
Removing weed membrane

I marked out the new paths, including a curved one through the DRG, with bits of wood from the old fencing.  Some of the old telegraph poles that had acted as retaining walls for the raised central bed of the DRG were used to create a border to one side of the main path that curves round to the secret garden.  I could do with a quantity of wood chippings to cover the path with and weigh down some newspaper to keep the weeds down there.

swales
Swales and marked out paths

Having levelled the soil, I then proceded to mound it up again between the path and Lara’s road edge.  Three banks were formed perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction.  Hopefully this will create wetter sheltered parts and drier more exposed parts at least in the short term.  The whole area is fairly well sheltered and shaded by the sycamores in the front garden, and this shelter should increase as the shrubs I have planted start to grow.

The final steps I have done so far have been to lay out the plants and shrubs and plant them.  I dug up some self heal and sorrel with particularly large leaves from the tree field and transplanted these to act as ground cover.  Most of the plants however are ones I have propagated myself.  I was going to plant out the two Gevuina avellana seedlings that have survived being repotted and are doing pretty well, but I decided that they are still perhaps a bit small to plant out.  I did plant out some of the plum yews I have (both japanese plum yew; Cephalotaxus harringtonia and chilean plum fruited yew; Prumnopitys andina, which were bought as seedlings.  Again they are pretty small, so I hope they will do alright in the ground.  I need both male and female plants to survive if I want to get fruit in future.  The Miscanthus grass is the other plant I recently bought.  I’m hoping to divide it in future years to screen the barn and create a bit more quick growing shelter if it likes it here.  I was very impressed with it at the East Devon Forest Garden when I visited a few years ago.  The one I bought from Edulis when I was visiting my Mum last year got a bit swamped by the nettles in the early part of this year, but also seems to be surviving so far.  I’ve put in about 6 asparagus that haven’t found a home yet, some blackcurrant seedlings which had self seeded in the pallet garden and various known and unknown plants that may do alright there and are big enough to plant out.  When I’ve finished planting I will create an annotated planting picture like I did for the drivebank.

final layout
Final layout

Still to do is to mulch between the plants, lay down paper and chippings on the main path, level the curved path in the DRG, and mulch between the DRG and the main path.  I may try and seed some of the area that is less likely to resprout turf since it was dug quite deeply.  I’ll leave replanting the other side of the path for a while to try and clear some of the weeds.  These are not buried enough to stop them regrowing, so need a thick mulch for a few months, maybe till next autumn.

The Third Step

tables with heather
Skye Hills in late summer

If the first step was planting, and the second harvesting wood, then the third is diversification.  I’m treading a variable line at the moment between native and conventional planting, and various interesting edibles.  I don’t want the treefield to appear to be a garden, but also want to make the most of interplanting and increasing food producing opportunities.  I think it will be a question of evolving the planting as I go.  The changing dynamics as larger trees are harvested for wood will add an extra complexity to the holding.

alder coppice regrowth
Alder coppice regrowth

The few blackcurrants I planted a few years ago in the tree field are already bearing well, particularly the ones in the orchard area, which are a few years older.  One of them is leaning at an angle now: blown over by the wind.  I’ll cut that right back when the leaves fall, and hopefully it will regrow upright with stronger roots.  I found quite a few rather leggy plants in the alder grove in the centre of the treefield.  They are struggling a bit with the light levels there.  I’m not sure whether to leave them, cut them back, or transplant them….  I may do all three to different areas.

blackcurrant treasure
Berried Treasure

I have also planted two different raspberry selections in the treefield.  One, from my friend AC, I planted in the lee of the hump above the leachfield.  They should be pretty sheltered there.  AC says her dad does well with it in Wales, so we’ll see how it likes it slightly further North.  They were planted last year, and so far have survived the winter, fruited on the small canes I left, and regrown new canes.  The fruit is rather large with a very good flavour, but I don’t know what the variety is. It doesn’t seem to be the first to ripen, but seems to be good quality.  The other variety is the summer raspberry I planted originally in the fruit jungle, which does very well there.  I have planted some canes adjacent to some of the cut throughs in the upper part of the field.  These are amongst slower growing trees: hazel and oak, so shouldn’t get crowded out too quickly, and are leeward of alders, so should be reasonably sheltered at least at first.

new raspberry
Summer raspberry

I’m quite enamoured of the Glen Prosen raspberries which were left here in a pot when we bought the house.  They are not very vigorous, and the berries tend to be small, but oh so tasty!  Just like a raspberry should taste.  I’m thinking of planting a few canes in the leachfield area.  The roots are fairy shallow, and the area is pretty sheltered under the hump.

For the first time this year I had flowers and fruit on one of my chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, bushes.  These I grew from seed from ART some years ago and got really good germination.  I planted a few out in 2013 at the edges of the main trackway.  All survived and have grown to up to 3 feet or so.  They seem to sucker about a bit, but otherwise look healthy.  They have dark burgundy leaves in spring, turning glossy dark green, and in autumn have brilliant scarlet shades.  Even without the fruit, they make attractive foliage.

aronia flowers
Aronia melanocarpa flowers

The flowers are a cluster of white flowers that look very like hawthorne.  The fruit clusters tend to ripen one berry at a time.  I found someone – maybe local birds – took several of the green fruit before they were ripe.  Bob Flowerdew said in the ‘Complete fruit’ book that they taste a bit like black currants but more piney.  I thought thay taste like sweet cranberries.  Astringent, but sweet and juicy at the same time.  Apparently the longer you leave them to ripen the tastier they are, but I don’t think I can go past the bush at the moment without sampling a couple, so I don’t think they will last that well since there are not that many fruit.  Apparently they make a jam-like preserve, good with savory dishes like cranberry and redcurrants, and were dried into cakes with other fruits by First People Americans.

aronia berries
Aronia melanocarpa berries

We stock a fruit juice from Wonky Fruit with chokeberry (they call it ‘superberry’) and apple juice in our shop which I find very refreshing and tasty.  The berries are rich in Vitamin C and also Pectin according to Ken Fern and also high in beneficial anti-oxidants and anthocyanins.  The bushes may grow well in boggy soil and are hardy down to 25 degrees Celcius.  I may try and get hold of some of the improved fruit forms that are available, since I do think that they will be worth while for me.

seedling plum
Seedling plum or damson

 

I have planted several seedling trees that I have grown from pips, in the tree field.  I can either let them grow and see what the fruit is like, or graft a known good fruiting tree onto them.  I’m still waiting for things like my unusual haw, and Amelanchier to do much.  The wild cherries have had quite a bit of fruit in the last few years; tasty if a bit small.  I might look into grafting on these, and I could also try grafting the large fruited haw onto hawthorne seedlings.  I gather bud grafting in summer is the way to do cherries.

developing cherries early summer
Wild cherries in mid summer

This year I have ordered some nutting hazel cultivars.  One or two more of the woodland hazels I planted look like they have nuts this year, but most are still too small.  Of the herbacious layers most of the plants are the native ones, along with the grasses and flowers, such as the pignut, sorrel and marsh woundwort.  The fiddlehead fern I planted in the treefield was a bit small, but is surviving and may be better now it has room to grow out of it’s pot.

DRAGONFLY
Tiny dragonfly

An insect seen for the first time this year: a small Dragonfly, probably a common darter (about 2 inches long).  I saw lots of bigger ones last year but did not manage to get a good enough picture to identify them.  Hopefully they were making a good meal from the midges, which have been quite bad this year.