This is the second year that we have harvested some of our own trees for firewood. I have taken some alder down in the same corner down by the pond as last year, and some from the 2010 planting at the bottom of the main trackway by the river corner. The ones from the bottom were selected mainly to create a more clear area. I think that the regrowth will be better if the stumps have more light, rather than being shaded out. Most of the alders already had some twigs growing from the base of the trunks, and I tried not to damage this when I cut the main trunks down. This will give the regrowth a head start.
The new reciprocating saw definately makes the job much easier, although it does seem to chew through the battery life pretty quickly. I cut off the main side branches from the trunks before making the main cut. Some of the trees are pretty tall and it was tricky to get them to fall tidily. There’s still nowhere near enough to last us very long as fuel, but we have been very pleased with the way last year’s harvest has been burning. That is all nice and dry now, and stacked away in the wood shed. Mostly the diameters are pretty small, so the wood tends to burn quick and hot – very good for cooking on and starting up the fire.
I finally got round to building a little woodshelter down by the pond using some old pallets and roofing sheets from the old byre. I’ve started cutting the newly cut wood to length and stacking it away. This will keep the worst of the weather off the logs, keep them out of the grass/mud and let them dry in the wind a bit. I’m pretty happy with the structure – hopefully it will last a few years and not blow away. I got a bit of a blister on my thumb from the reciprocating saw, but it was much easier than sawing by hand. I’ll probably make a few of these shelters in strategic places as time goes on, so that I don’t have to do too much hauling of timber as I cut it in future. This can then go up to the house/shed in one vehicle load once cured.
The weather again hasn’t been kind recently. Not really out of the ordinary; just unrelenting rain and wind, with not enough let up to get much done. It’s not true that I’ve been doing nothing, and I probably haven’t achieved nothing, it’s just that I seem to have finished nothing! The days are getting longer however. I always feel that by Valentine’s day the worst of the winter is over.
Outside I still haven’t completed the path round the hump. Nearly there however, and the gradient of the ramp down has been improved by some of the turf that I have dug out of the widened path. I have also made a bit of a ramp half way round as an alternative route down (although again this is not finished!).
I have a number of spruce and pine seedlings to bulk up the windbreaks and make some new windbreaks in the sparse area of ash. Hopefully they will be surviving OK in the bag they are in at present, since they have been in there rather longer than I had intended. The soil is rather claggy to be planting in as yet, although I have dug quite a few square holes in preparation. I am also relocating some of the self seeded hazels that have planted themselves in less than desirable positions. I have been making a little thicket of them on the lower south side of the main track loop. This spot used to go by the unfortunate name of poo corner, since that was where Dougie usually felt inclined to relieve himself during a quick outing in the tree field. It now has the alternate name of Harry’s corner, since we buried our cat Harris there recently. He had a very quick illness, not we believe related to his ear condition, some sort of thrombosis that caused paralysis of the back legs. He died probably of heart failure at the vets a day later. Apparently it is often misdiagnosed in towns as traffic accidents, since the cats one minute are fine and the next are dragging their rear legs. Anyway, now Harris has a hazel tree on his grave.
I have also started making holes along the main trackway. I noticed the piles of cut grass that still were sitting along the track sides from last year, and it occurred to me that if I planted more berry bushes along there I could just rake up the grass and mulch them, rather than carting the grass to mulch somewhere else. I’ve got some gooseberry and black currant cuttings that can be relocated, or I can strike some new ones this year still.
I received the seeds from the HPS seed scheme, and some from the Agroforestry Research Trust at the end of February, and organised them: ones to sow in spring, ones to sow straight away and ones that needed some stratification. So some have been put away, some sown in pots outside or in the polytunnel and some have been placed in bags with damp tissue in the fridge to get a chilling. Probably these could also have been sown outside mind you, since it is almost the same temperature out there as in the fridge! Already some of my apple seeds have germinated in the fridge: saved from some UK grown russets and rather delicious cooking apples grown near Carlisle. I’ll have to transfer those seeds from the fridge to pots outside as soon as possible to give them proper growing conditions. I also noticed that some damson seeds I sowed from fruit eighteen months ago are now germinating in the polytunnel. Although another job not finished, it’s nice to make a start on growing trees that may produce fruit for us in ten years or so!
I indulgently bought myself some plants that were not on my essentials list this year. I found on ebay a seller of different Yacon varieties, who also had a different Mashua and Colocasia edulis as well as Apios americana and different tigernuts. Well it seemed worth getting a few if I was going to get any! They seem nice little tubers anyhow. I have potted them all up in the polytunnel for the moment (except the tigernut which will want warmer conditions), and have also replanted a number of the Yacons I grew myself last year in one of the polytunnel beds.
Unfortunately I’ve lost quite a few of my oca tubers to mice! They had been sitting in a basket on the sittingroom windowsill, and I noticed this week the basket was somewhat emptier than it had been last time I looked. Underneath the basket was a pile of tuber shavings! I guess they liked the juiciness of the tubers, since they don’t seem to have eaten that much, just chewed them all up. Some of the tubers were probably as big as the mice! Luckily they didn’t find the different coloured tubers in their bags, so I quickly have planted four tubers to a pot in the polytunnel. I selected four large and four small of the red tubers from Frances to see if that makes any difference to the plant yield. It may take more than one generation to see a difference, if any, from selecting for tuber size.
I have also been digging up the kiwi vine: another nice indoor job, of which more later. It will also soon be time to start sowing tomato and pepper seeds. I think I have some seed compost left, but I am out of the multipurpose compost and will have to get some more for planting out seedlings and potting on. Another trip to Portree looms I guess.
For my birthday S. bought me a rechargeable reciprocating saw. I am hoping that it will be robust enough to use for most of the coppicing work. A chainsaw would be a little daunting, and using a hand saw is slow work! It has been too windy to think about cutting trees down (although it will soon be too late as the trees start to grow!), but I have christened the saw by cutting up the pile of coppiced trunks that were cut last year and have been drying up by the house. I’m pretty pleased with it. The battery pack it takes is the same as S’s tools he used on the cars, so that should be convenient. It did seem to chew through the reserves when I used it, although that was probably more intensive work than the more thoughtful process of cutting trees down.
On another happy note, my windowsill orchid seems to have enjoyed it’s holiday outside last year so much that it has put up the first flower spike in ten years! It did try when we first moved up here, but unfortunately I didn’t realise there was a flower spike, divided the plant and the flowers all dropped off. This time it seem quite content to look out the window. I must remember to holiday it outside again during the summers – it definitely looked greener and plumper than before.
It always astounds me at the end of the year to realise that we are in the twenty first century! I haven’t quite got used to the 1990’s yet! I haven’t been doing much recently at home. Because of a staff shortage I have lost two of my afternoons off, combined with having extra to organise for Xmas, and poorly cats, it seems that I haven’t been very productive. The weather in November was remarkably clement – dry and cold. December has been a bit more typical with a bit of wind and rain (and some sleet, with a little snow settling on McCloud’s Tables). The polytunnel repair stood up to winds of about 65mph this week, which I am pleased about. I do wonder whether it will stand up to the cat standing on it, but since it was partly the cat that caused the damage I’m not too inclined to be sympathetic if it does go through.
The Yacon and Oca are really dying back. I want to leave them as long as possible, while the weather remains fairly mild, so as to bulk up the tubers as much as possible. I gather that even after the leaves have been killed by the frost, the stems will carry on feeding the oca tubers, and they grow significantly over a few weeks until the stems are completely gone. I imagine that the Yacon is similar. I will clear them out over Xmas, or at least before the frosts come back in January.
The tree field is just bare bones now. I did a bit more digging around the hump, but haven’t had much time and the weather is not conducive to digging. The path is coming on, and will really make walking along it more pleasant when finished. When I go down the hill with Dyson I bring back an armful of kindling or a few larger branches of dry wood for the fire. Once the kindling is in the shed for a few days it dries out nicely and starts the kitchen stove really well with a little newspaper. A good session with a sawbench and bowsaw will be required to cut the branches to length though.
I managed to get in contact with the supplier of the yellow Korean pine trees and they think that the trees are just lacking in nutrients. I’m reasonably happy with that explanation – they are quite big for the size of the pot they were in, so basically just needed potting on, or in this case planting out. The supplier sent some slow release feed for the trees which I did use around them when planting them out. Normally I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I’m looking on this as medicine for the trees, which will help them catch back more quickly. If they do not seem recovered in early summer, I am to recontact the nursery.
I have planted the trees as three clumps of four trees. One lot are planted adjacent to the one that I grew from seed, the others a little higher up the hill. Pines are wind pollinated, so hopefully this will give me a better chance of getting pine seeds when the trees are big enough. I have put tree shelters around each of the trees, which will hopefully stop them rocking around too much over the winter. I also made a start at mulching them, but the weather stopped play again. If I have an afternoon free from the shop, I generally get home about quarter to two in the afternoon, if we have a bit of lunch it is quarter to three before I get started on anything, and it is getting dark at four, so not much time to get things done outside!
Several of the silver birch have quite suddenly developed white bark. The darker bark has split off revealing really pale bark underneath. Others still have quite dark bark underneath; they may not get pale like this, or they may turn silver when they get older. It seems odd that the bark has split at this time of year. You would have thought it would happen in the spring, as the sap rises, not in the autumn. Maybe it’s like the leaves falling; materials getting brittle and parting company. I’m thinking that I may be able to do crafty things with this lovely material, if and when we coppice these trees in the future. Most of the birch are still a few years away from being big enough to be worth cutting down as yet.
The weather doesn’t know if it’s coming or going at the moment. We are swinging from hard frosts of -5 Celsius, to overnight temperatures of nearly +10 Celsius. However, the frosts have been hard enough already to damage some of the sharks fin melon fruit. Three of them had fallen off the vines before I could collect them, resulting in a little bruising, and a couple more were obviously frost damaged: The skin was soft and darker in colour. Since these won’t keep, I have cooked a couple, and there are a couple in the fridge that I will cook sooner rather than later. The noodley flesh, I have established freezes well. There are also four good fruit that I have placed on the windowsill to keep for as long as I can. Two of them however, I am not sure are sharks fin melon: they are darker green, and the flower scar is much bigger. Either they are ripe fruit of the Tondo de picenze courgette that I didn’t spot climbing, or they are a sport of the sharks fin melon crossed with something else, or possibly the lost pumpkin nut squash. I guess I’ll find out when I cut into them.
I have also harvested all the ripe goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) fruit. There were many more on the plant that are not going to ripen now, and it is still flowering! I have probably had about 15 or 20 fruit in total from the bush. They are tasty, but maybe not that productive. I have discovered that there is a dwarf form of goldenberry that may fruit earlier and so be more worthwhile. I’ll maybe see next year if I can get seed for that, although getting my existing plant through another winter will be a priority. I have bent over some of the branches to insulate the crown of the plant a bit, although the weather is mild again just at the minute.
I also harvested all the chilli fruit off the plant that is in the ‘mediterranean area’ of the polytunnel. It lost all it’s leaves in the cold, so I thought it was time. I’m hoping that it will over winter OK there. I have cut it back quite severely, and will put a cloche or fleece over it as well. I do have the two other chilli plants in pots inside as back up. Now I need to research how to preserve and use the chillies (ripe and unripe). I’m thinking drying may be best. In the meantime the fruit are in the fridge.
I also did a little bit of pruning in the treefield. Some of the trees were overhanging the pathways enough to be a nuisance if driving a vehicle around, so I cleared these branches back. There were also some self set willows down near the pond that made the track a bit narrow and an aspen that wasn’t very well anchored. It rocked around in the wind leaving a hollow in the soil by its trunk. I have taken this tree back to a stump, in the hope that when it regrows the top, the roots will also have strengthened.
I took back one of the purple osier willows as well. This time I left a short trunk. These have a tendency to grow very spindly, as you’d expect from a willow grown for weaving! I will use some of the longer stems I cut out as the basis for one or two Xmas wreaths. Next year it should grown back strong and tall, with lots of potential weaving stems should I chose to do something a bit more exciting. I have had a little weaving experience: enough to appreciate how much hard work it is!
While I had the pruning saw and secateurs out, I cleared a new path in the front garden. I can now go from the area under the trees by the front door to the top of the drivebank. Hopefully this won’t affect the shelter from the wind too much. There is a sycamore that had been pollarded some time before we came. Possibly it had been damaged by the hurricane in 2004. There is now quite a bit of regrowth from the bottom of the trunk, as well as branches further up. I’ve left most of them, just cleared enough to get through. I had to take a bit off one of the rowans as well. I noticed that the japanese ginger that had sprouted there was looking a bit sad from the frost now. The new path goes just past my new Mrs Popple fuchsia, which is starting to look a bit sad in the cold too.
Almost ten years to the day after planting them, I coppiced my first alders down by the river. It was hard to do. Moderately hard physically, but challenging mentally too. Not so much the act of cutting the trees down; I have faith that the trees will grow back bigger and faster than before (see below). More challenging was which trees to cut so as not to lose all the shelter, and whether to cut back fully, leave a longer stump, or just take out one trunk or more of a multi stemmed tree. The bowsaw is a bit blunt, despite having a new blade not so long ago, so I actually used my folding pruning saw for much of the cutting. I must look and see what small electric saws are available. I think a rechargeable could save quite a bit of elbow grease and be kinder to the trees as well as me!
I have to cut what I am going to this week. Leaves are starting to open and buds to swell. The trees will find it harder to recover if they put too much life back into what I am cutting back. Also the wood would take longer to dry out ready for burning.
The alder wood is supposed to be useful in areas that are permanently damp – like the tree itself funnily enough. They used to use the wood for clog soles and protective boot soles in foundries even after the second world war. I don’t think my trees are quite big enough for that, although it would be amusing to make one’s own shoes. It’s not excellent for firewood, supposedly it tends to smoulder, but this is less of a problem in a stove. It has the big advantage to us of being a fast growing, nitrogen fixing tree that likes damp soil. I wish I had planted much more of it. When first cut the wood surface is pale in colour, but it quickly goes an orange colour that then fades to brown over a few months.
As well as larger trunks (some of which should be good for an ‘overnight burner’ or two) there is a vast amount of smaller branches. These will still feed a growing fire and even the tiniest make good kindling. What I have tended to do with the prunings I have gathered to date is leave it in piles down the field, roughly where it was cut. Over six months to a year the twigs dry out, the grass dies back a bit underneath, and grows lush nearby where it is sheltered. Every so often when taking the dog-boys down the hill for a run, I bring back an armful of kindling and put it in the woodshed to dry. The more twiggy bits tend to break off and get left in the grass, but that adds to the soil biomass.
Taking the wood up an armful at a time isn’t going to be practical for the larger stuff. We are intending to put up little shelters and pile up the branches cut to size near to where the trees were felled. Hopefully we have enough pallets and fenceposts together with the old roof sheets off the byre to create shelters to keep the worst of the weather off.
S. has stripped out an old Land Rover Discovery vehicle and equipped it at the back with a framework to act as a saw bench. This is also to be used to bring the dry cut wood up to the wood shed after it has dried for a year or so. Although whether it will be worth keeping the vehicle mobile for many more years, remains to be seen. The engine is sweet, but the electrics and chassis are rotten!
Anyway, I definitely felt the first warmth of the firewood today.
At first glance everything appear drab and colourless at this time of year. Admittedly the spring planters at the shop are pleasing this year, with their new crocuses and tete-a-tete daffodils, but generally things appear lifeless….Until you look closer and then some startling colours stand out.
I’m running around spotting the new sign of life and noticing all the things I need to be getting on with. Spring is springing, the days are getting longer and we’ve had a nice spell of weather that looks like (barring an overnight storm) continuing into next week. I’ve been trying out an app (gardenwize) to try and keep better records this year (one of my NY resolutions) but it doesn’t look like it will do quite what I want it to do (although about the best that I found). I think I will have to go back to hardcopy and get myself some index cards and just write a new card for each crop. It’s either that or write my own database, and I always get on better with spreadsheets. At least I won’t have to worry about back up.
I have already managed to sow some of my polytunnel plants in the propagator: the achocha, tomatoes and a chilli pepper. Some of the tomato seeds and the achocha are already sprouting after less than a week. I’ve also got some shrubby seeds that have been stratifying in the fridge for several weeks or months, which mostly may as well be planted out now into seed trays. Then it’s more sowing and potting on ad infinitum!
Plants are definately feeling the spring now. The tree buds are starting to swell, pig nut leaves are out and the first celandine flowers are showing. I must get down the hill and coppice some of the larger alder before the sap risies too much. I’ve got a bit of persuading S. that some of the trees would be better cut at this age. Admittedly it will be a pity to lose some of the shelter that has been achieved, but the trees should grow even better if fully cut back, since all their roots are sized to feed a whole tree.
Other wildlife is also feeling the changing times. There were a couple of lumps of frogspawn down in the pond. I haven’t seen the frogs there. It may be a little early yet, but I expect most of the spawn would survive a light frost anyhow. Hopefully we won’t get a hard frost anyhow because look what I’ve got in the poytunnel:
The Apricot buds are blossom. There is actually a lot more than I thought there would be: it is also all up the main branches. Most of the buds are tightly furled, but they are just beginning to open. I used a tiny bit of cotton wool to dab the flowers. They seem quite scented, so if any of the moths whose pesky caterpillars were eating it last year are about, they may fancy pollenising it for me.
I took a whole lot of elder cuttings since the bush has done so well for me. I have also got some cuttings off three other bushes: One local, one imported like mine, and one purple leaved bush. Some of the cuttings are in the orchard area which I tried to put down to green manures last September. The area now has a fair covering of bittercress and grass. Pictured above is one of the two field beans that seem to have escaped the crows’ attentions.
The other major project that I am hoping to get finished in the next week or so is the driveway retaining wall. I spent yesterday afternoon scavenging round for rocks, since I had pretty much exhausted the initial supply. Where the spade is in the picture above is where I plan to make a pedestrian access to the bank above. I’m not sure whether it will be a ramp or steps – probably steps, since it would be too steep for a barrow anyway, and I can also get to it from the garden to the left. I had to dig out half a big fuchsia bush that would otherwise be a nuisance growing across the path there. That took me most of today, but I have three big lumps of bush as well as lots of sticks to make cuttings from if I want. I think I will propagate some, since the fuchsia is tough as old boots (that bank is quite exposed to the south so gets quite a bit of wind as well as sunshine) but when in flower looks quite pretty. This one has pale pink flowers rather than the darker pink that is more common as hedging plants around here. It sets less fruit, probably due to the exposed position.
I’ve not had much time in the garden recently since there are a number of issues that have arisen mostly relating to the shop. One of my members of staff is poorly, so I had to do extra shifts. An exciting delivery from a new supplier came during one of my afternoons off so I had to go back down to the shop again to unpack it. Palmer and Harvey were one of my main suppliers, who have now ceased trading, so I’m having to work out where and if we can get the groceries we normally get from them. And someone put a planning application for mirror faced cube camping pods in the Glen which I felt obliged to object to. The weather had been better though – cool and still and a little damp. S. has bought me for christmas (not really I hope!) two pallet loads of hardwood which arrived on Friday and we spend much of Sunday warming ourselves once by stacking it all away in the woodshed.
Back in the Polytunnel, I have managed to harvest most of the fruit. I have four more sharks fin melons, ten bunches of ripe grapes, and a very few achocha. I still have the kiwi to harvest.
The grapes were starting to go mouldy, it’s just getting a little cool even in the polytunnel to expect any further ripening. I think maybe I wasn’t ruthless enough when I thinned out the bunches earlier in the year, although it felt pretty brutal at the time. I have picked them over and placed them in a glass of water, which hopefully should enable them to keep a little longer. I also dried some in the bottom oven to make raisins which worked pretty well. I could do with an easy way of removing the seeds however! I need to give the vines a good prune now. I’ve always taken my own approach to pruning; which is to make a cordon stem of the vine from which the fruiting spurs come off. This seems to work quite well. I had left a lower branch as well as the high level one, but it still isn’t really growing well. The branches that come off it are weak and tend to droop down, interfering with the crops at lower level. This year I’m going to prune the lower branch right out, and remove the wooden framework which also gets in the way of the polytunnel beds.
I’m not sure I’ll try the achocha again. I quite like it – it tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a courgette, but it seems not to set very many fruit with me. Only the fruit later in the season have set. Mind you, I have noticed a lot of spiders in the polytunnel this year and have suspected that they may be eating a lot of the pollinating insects this year. Maybe I’ll give it one more go and try and start them off nice and early.
The sharks fin melon I consider to be a big success, despite not getting that many fruit. They are huge and pretty, and tasty see here. The noodles do retain their noodly texture when frozen, so I may roast the melons as I need them and freeze the noodles in portions. I’m going to try and save seed (apparently they carry on ripening in storage) but also see whether I can overwinter the vine, since it is a perennial in warmer climates. So far I have buried one vine root in kiwi leaves (which have mostly shed now) and covered another with it’s own vine remains. Although it’s not been very cold for the last couple of weeks.
I seem to have got very good germination from the two lots of Akebia seeds. Both the ones that I sowed direct and the ones I left on tissue in a polythene bag have almost all got root shoots. I moved them inside onto a windowsill, rather than leaving them in the polytunnel. If I can get them through the winter, then I may have rather more plants than I need! If not then I have dried the rest of the seed and can try growing them in the spring.
The last few weeks have seen an intruder in the garden. For the last few years we have seem thankfully little sign of the deer, and I have been thinking they don’t like the smell of Dyson. However recently they have been in and caused a little damage to a few of the trees, and munched some of the greenery in the fruit garden. Luckily I don’t grow much for ourselves outside, but I had been getting a little complacent. We have planted a hawthorne hedge which I am hoping in the longer term will screen the garden and deter the deer, but that will be a long time before it is big enough to do any good. I’m pretty sure I heard the stags calling in the rut this year for the first time as well. I wonder whether one of them was looking for greenery to decorate his antlers? I gather they do this with bracken at this time to make themselves (presumably) more attractive or impressive. In the past when we’ve had damage to the trees it’s been in the spring, which is more likely to be them rubbing the velvet off their antlers which they grow new every year.
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.
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.
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!
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….
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.
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!
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.
trees cleared away from fence
one of the flood damaged trees
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!
I love May on Skye. Actually, as soon as the clocks change for summertime, life seems to get that much better. The day light gets longer and longer, technically it never gets truly dark now. The weather also starts to cheer up. Spring tends to be our dry season, and midge free whilst it lasts. Surprisingly that can actually be an extended period without rain, despite Skye’s reputation. We’ve only been here 10 years and have experienced one spring where we had about 16 weeks with no rain. This year wasn’t that dry (thankfully) and actually it didn’t dry up until towards the end of April. Then we had an idyllic week of almost unbroken sunshine, and day by day the vegetation on the croft started to unfold. I also start getting too excited and start digging and germinating far too many seeds with nowhere to put them!
This week I have shuffled almost all the logs on the log pile. For reasons I won’t go into, this particular delivery of softwood arrived sopping wet about 2 and a half years ago and we’ve been stuggling to get it away dry ever since. Finally the week of sunshine and drying north wind enabled us to get a whole lot cut and away (with a little help from our friends – thanks Dave). The ones that remain are still pretty wet, some were resting on the ground, so were getting wet from underneath, and they also have a lot of bark adhering which keeps them damp longer. So I have restacked, brushed off the loose bark as best I can, and moved the whole lot forwards back onto the ground bearing logs. As part of that exercise, I managed to bag up loose bark from under the pile to try and get some air flow through it, and also much of the sawdust created by the sawing operations. Hopefully now they are able to air off again we will get enough more dry weather to get most of the rest away soon. We’ll also have to estimate whether we will need another delivery to get us through the next winter. We do most of our cooking as well as all the hot water and heating using a wood fired range and it’ll be some time before we can harvest our own wood – although some by the river could do with a tidy up.
I have used up the bark mulching round newly planted Glen Coe raspberries. These were belated birthday presents from my in-laws. The Glen Coe is supposed to be a clumping raspberry that fruits on this year’s growth. It has attractive dark purple berries and I’ve fancied one since I’ve seen them in gardening catalogues. Anyway, I have planted them in the front garden where hopefully they should be pretty sheltered – we have some big (well c. 25 ft, which is tall for here) sycamore trees, and I have also planted a willow ‘fedge’ to one side of the path which cuts through from the front door to the lower drive. To the north of the fedge are blackcurrant and raspberry bushes. These are under planted (well OK, I never planted them, but they make a good ground cover) with ground elder. This is also growing on the other side of the path, which is where I am starting to plant some of my ‘interesting edibles’, and these new raspberries. I have tried an experiment therefore: rather than digging out all the ground elder, I have planted the raspberries in a small hole, cut back the vegetation, then heavily mulched with cardboard weighed down with stones and covered with bark. I expect that the ground elder will grow through, which is probably OK, but it does look quite smart just now!
I’ve also taken a first cut of the comfrey in the fruit garden. This is on the south side of the polytunnel and again is partially enclosed by a willow fedge. This fedge was very slow to get going. Partly because the soil depth is pretty shallow in places and willow does not like to dry out, and partly I don’t think that variety of willow likes the salt wind, and it has very little shelter until the other trees on the top of the gully bank start to get a little bigger. The comfrey is interplanted around the fruit bushes. The idea is that the comfrey will grow and mulch the bushes – feeding them and keeping the weeds down, also hiding them from the birds slightly. The difficulty is in getting the spacing right. Too close and the comfrey smothers the bushes. Too far apart and they don’t keep the weeds down enough. I seem to have erred on the too close side, so I am going to have to cut the comfrey and remove the growth elsewhere. I think this is probably some of the best soil on the property. It is deep enough to have been the burying ground apparently for several dead livestock in the distant past, much to the dogs’ delight! It is almost impossible to remove comfrey once it is established. The roots are thick, long and fragile and, like dandelion, will regenerate a new plant from a small fragment of root. Luckily it does seem to be the non spreading/seeding version, possibly even Bocking14 which is supposed to be the best for green manures, but since it came with the property, I cannot be sure of this. Anyway, hopefully by cutting the comfrey, this will curtail it’s growth a little in the future so it won’t swamp the bushes so much. I have cut up some of the leaves quite finely and pressed them into two buckets in my shed, which I hope will make good tomato food later in the year. The rest is still in a wheelbarrow ready to be used to mulch around whichever plants I feel need it most.
I need to try and do a little more civil engineering in the fruit garden as well. Both nettles and couch grass are making takeover bids, as well as the creeping grass and buttercups. I have used woven fabric under the paths, but it doesn’t seem to be very effective at keeping the weeds down, and is difficult to get the roots out of. I’m thinking of using newspaper topped with sawdust on the paths. I have enough to get a fairly deep layer down, but I think I’ll have to dig as much couch as possible out first. I’m hoping to grow a load of skirret, silverweed and other exciting root vegetables in the worst weedy areas, so will have an excuse to give it another fork over in the autumn to get rid of some regrowth then.