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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Dogs and Tadpoles and Orchids

I went down to the bottom pond today for the first time in weeks. This was not because I didn’t want to go down there recently, in fact it is one of mine and the dogs’ favourite bits, it was because for the first year this year we have had frog spawn turn into tadpoles. In previous years it has generally just disappeared, or the pond has dried out too quickly. However, this year we had quite a few large porriwiggles in the murky depths, however, since we have had so little rain up to last week, the pond level was down to a much smaller pond with water only at the deep end. Douglas, our cross collie/Labrador (or ‘labradollie’ since he’s such a softie), loves to run down to the deep end and stands there splashing and whining with excitement. Every now and again if it is deep enough he launches off and swims round in circles. It is quite cute and quite neurotic.

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Luckily the pond wasn’t this low – you get the idea!

Anyway, since the water has been so low, I didn’t want him mucking up the water and maybe suffocating the poor little tadpoles. Today however, since I was pulling bracken along the fence by the river, Douglas got bored (they had lost the fetch ball) and took himself off to the pond. Once I had finished that little stretch, Dyson and I went down to join Dougie with a spare ball (I generally take an emergency back up). Luckily it seems that the rain we have had this week has been enough to start the surface water springs off again. Although not completely full, the pond has much more water in. I didn’t see any tadpoles however. I’m not sure whether they would have already turned into frogs yet? We had a good look round whilst we were there, and took the camera down later. There are several new orchids that have appeared this year. Quite a few along the spoil line where S. dug the cut across to the pond. That was eight years ago now. So that’s about how long it takes orchids to reestablish themselves. I had wanted to level out the spoil and trackway, but I guess it’ll have to stay as it is now.

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New Common spotted orchid near lower pond

We have at least four different sorts of orchid around the holding at different times of the year. I like to play orchid spotting, looking for the same ones to return, trying to keep the dogs from trampling them and S. from mowing them. I thought this had been a poorer year for butterfly orchids, the ones at the top of the gully field by the road seem more sparse than usual, but there are plenty down by the pond, so it’s still early to judge. The early purple orchids that grow along the river bank had their season cut short by browsing sheep.

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New greater butterfly orchid near pond (actually on trackway)

I’ve also seen today what appears to be bunny poo by the river fence whilst pulling the bracken. We haven’t seen bunnies around here since we had our previous cat Percy, who was a vicious killing machine sweetheart whose favourite snack-toy was baby bunnies. It may be hare poo, we have had those on the land before (unfortunately it was Douglas that caught that one – although it did feed the equivalent of us for a week) I do occasionally see those elsewhere in Glendale.