This year I have been trying to tame the next section of garden by the drivebank overlooking the barn, this is where I moved the kiwi vine to over the winter. I have been calling this The Secret Garden in my mind. It is not particularly hidden (although it will be more secluded once mature), it is just that almost all the plants in here have edible parts, although are normally grown as ornamentals in the UK. Steven Barstow has coined the word ‘edimentals’ for these sorts of plants.
I had already forked over the area and mulched it with cardboard at the same time as I planted out the kiwi vine. One of my neighbours has lots of lovely hosta, which I had been admiring and they very kindly gave me several big clumps of it, together with what I think may be Elecampane (Inula helenium), and ladies mantle. I have put most of the hosta in this area, there are at least two different varieties – one with quite blue leaves. Hopefully it won’t be too dry for it. I also planted out some of my Aralia cordata, which I had grown from seed, and my sechuan pepper (from a danish cutting), some Lady Boothby Fuchsia (from cuttings), some golden current (from cuttings) and my strawberry tree (bought as a plant). I also planted some hardy geraniums around the base of the strawberry tree. These were grown from seed from chiltern seeds: . It was supposed to be a mixed pack, but only two varieties seem to have made it – a small white flowered one and a small purple flowered one. The rest of the geraniums were planted on the drivebank.
I also got some hedging Sea buckthorne plants this spring, and have planted a number of these along the top of the bank above the barn, as well as in various places in the tree field. Hopefully these will form a protective barrier as well as fixing nitrogen, and maybe producing fruit in the future. They should grow fairly quickly, but I will probably cut them back fairly often to keep them bushy, assuming they do OK.
These plantings are all mostly doing fine. The Aralia seems to be suffering a bit from slug damage. There were three little plants, and I think one has not made it, one is OK and the other will probably be OK. The Hosta doesn’t seem to have suffered too badly from slug damage so far. One of the clumps is starting to flower, and they are all looking pretty healthy. The kiwi is not looking great, but has some new growth, so may well make it. The proof will be if it comes back into life next year! Unfortunately the sechuan pepper plant was broken by some strong north winds we had – I did not stake it since it was so tiny. It has sprouted below the broken point so I have removed the top part of the stem and stuck it in adjacent in the hope that this may form a new plant too. So far the strawberry tree is looking very happy. One of the sea buckthorne hasn’t made it, but the others look pretty happy. I may replace the failed sea buckthorne with a female good fruiting variety if the others do well in the next couple of years.
The weeds had been poking through the cardboard, so I have been going back over with some fresh cardboard, pulling out the nettles, docken and grasses that are a bit persistent. Hopefully I can weaken them enough that they don’t come back next year. I need to have more ground cover plants to stop the weeds seeding back in again (remember rule #2) The chilean plum yew plants I have are still a bit small for planting out yet I think, but could also be planted out next year. I have also thickly covered the main path through to the front garden (it comes out where I have the dog tooth violet and solomon’s seal plants growing) with old newspaper and wood chippings/bark. I still need to complete another ramp down to the barn and build a retaining wall to tidy up the join to the drivebank, however there is a Landrover parked rather long term just in the way at the moment, so this may have to wait till next year.
Having missed the whole of the spring season we are already heading into summer. 2020 will be remembered by all this year for the covid-19 virus issues. The lock down restrictions have had little effect on us, although we are busy in the shop trying to source essential supplies for our loyal customers and are grateful for where we live. One staff member is still recovering from a (different) virus infection from before xmas, and another decided to stop coming to work to protect her family. This has left us with just one person to give me time off, so more work, less time. However we are so much luckier than many people, and are hopeful of having a new member trained up soon, so I can get another afternoon per week off.
The garden outside goes from brown and dead looking to fountains of green over the months of April and May. A moderately dry spring is now turning milder and wetter, with my first midge bites of the year recently, a bit of wind last weekend with maybe warm weather for the end of the month.
There were a couple of different plants down by the river this spring. I was surprised to see a bright pink primrose and have no idea how it came to be here, many hundreds of yards from any garden. I gather that they can be pale pink sometimes, but this is really bright pink. I can only assume that the seeds must have washed down from a garden cross upriver, so I have relocated the plant to the front garden under the fuchsia bush.
The other plant that I had seen, but not realised what it was is coltsfoot. I had seen the leave in the summer, but have never noticed the flowers before, which come out before any of its leaves are visible. There were a few in bloom on the riverbank and a couple inside the fence by the pond. They look a bit like dandelion flowers, with scaly stems and a bit more middle. Allegedly they taste of aniseed. I did take a nibble of one, but I think in the future I will just let them be.
In the tree field I have planted some new tree varieties: italian alder and sea buckthorne. The latter I have been wanting to try for a while, and the former I think may do better on the swathe of field where the ash trees are not doing very well. I now think that they are struggling partly due to the soil getting dry in that area. I’m hoping that italian alder may do better there, since it should cope better with dry soils. The soil is not particularly shallow, being generally greater than a spade’s depth, but is well drained. It occurs to me that beech may be worth trying here also – maybe next year – although beech is not supposed to coppice well. I also got more common alder to backfill the windbreaks and alder copses, and have planted a new alder copse right in the bottom south corner adjacent to the windbreak edge at Jo’s field edge. This will quickly give shelter to the area behind, which was originally planted mainly with hazel, which did not do very well. I’m going to back plant with some self seeded hazel and locally sourced aspen. I have taken some root cuttings from a tree below the old school, which hopefully will do better than the bought in plants which seem to not be completely happy.
I can already see fresh shoots of orchids appearing on the pathways, and the bluebells are creating scented banks in several areas of the field. Pignuts are starting to open, and cuckoo smock flowers create little pink chandeliers dotted around the field (photo at top). The new ramp to the mound is blending in nicely, and a number of bluebells apparently transplanted with the turf are making a blue path through the trees.
I was lucky enough to spot one of the more spectacular moths of the UK this week. An emperor hawk moth with it’s dramatic eyes was displaying itself on the grass down by the lower trackway. I’ve only seen one once here several years ago, although have spotted the caterpillars a few times.
Another welcome return was a violet oil beetle. These ungainly creatures are the cuckoos of the insect world and are a sign of a healthy bee population which is nice!
One of the wild flowers that grows round here is Geum rivale or water avens. Although I do love most flowers, I’m particularly fond of the appearance of this one. It is quite subtle in colour and has a shy drooping flower habit. There is quite a large amount of it on the river bank and up in the gully.
I think this herb may be confused sometimes with Geum urbanum; herb bennet or wood avens which has a clove scented root, is used as a pot herb and remedy against snake bites. However Geum rivale also has many herbal uses. The mention that the roots can make a chocolate substitute inspired me to give it a go.
I dug up a bit of plant from near the river – it was almost fully died back, but I am pretty sure of my identification from the fragment of growing point left. I cut off the roots and replanted the crown to regrow. The creeping rootstock is about a quarter inch thick and could be cleaned off reasonably easily in fresh water, although a bit brittle. I could detect no particular scent of cloves, some sites say that it develops more in the dried root, but I wonder if this is one of the aspects of Geum urbanum that gets confused. I cut the fresh cleaned root into tiny pieces and boiled it in a little water for about ten minutes.
The water turned a dark reddish brown colour. Taking a little taste of it revealed that it was incredibly bitter. However adding warm milk and a little sugar resulted in a drink that was palatable. If you had hot chocolate described to you but you had never tasted it, then this would satisfy. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams it was ‘almost, but not quite, entirely unlike‘ chocolate.
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.
As usual, this year I have been collecting and saving seeds of various plants around the holding, for propagation and to give away. This is a list of seeds I have surplus of, so please let me know if you would like to try any of them. They are a mixture of wild and cultivated, annuals and perennials. Also, if I have mentioned anything elsewhere that you would like me to save seed or take cuttings of that I haven’t this year, I can maybe do next year for you.
Wild flower seeds (all Skye natives):
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Pignut (Conopodium majus)
Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Self heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Bushvetch (vicia sepium)
Red clover (Trifolium sp.)
Perennial vegetable seeds:
Good king henry (chenopodium bonus henricus)
Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides) (from my habby bed by the workshop!)
Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
Salsify (Tragapogon porrifolius)
Goldenberry (Physalis peruviana) (seed from surviving second year plant)
Annual vegetable seeds:
Achocha fat baby (Cyclanthera pedata I think) This is smaller, but sets fruit sooner than the other achocha.
Achocha Bolivian giant (Cyclanthera brachyastacha I think). This has fewer, much larger fruit and takes longer to grow.
Achocha Bolivian giant (from smooth fruited plant, I don’t know how the offspring will be!)
Note: all these achocha have been grown in the same polytunnel in close proximity, so if they can cross they may have.
Carlin pea (Pisum sativum)
Flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Blue lupin (probably Lupinus perennis)
Milk vetch (Astragalus glycyphyllos)
Some of these I have more seed of than others, so let me know quickly if you are very keen on anything in particular.
Well, I’m back safely. The drivebank planting is now approaching the end of it’s first season growth, so I thought I’d do an update on how it is getting on. Generally I’m pretty pleased. I think most of the perennial plants have at least established OK. I lost the Philadelphus, thanks to Dougie (bless him!) using it as a toy and pulling it out and chewing it, but the other shrubs seem OK. The Elaeagnus look a bit bare – I think they lost a few leaves in the wind, which is a bit disappointing. I thought they would be reasonably wind resistant. The Escallonia of course is looking lush, and the Gaultheria is also doing well – just flowering and with small berries at the moment. I have quite a few babies of this that came from cuttings I took back in the spring which are doing quite well too. The variegated laurel, like the Elaeagnus, has lost a few leaves, but otherwise seems OK. I’ve poked in a few cuttings from one of my murtillo (Myrtus Ugni) in the hope that a slightly warmer spot may incline it to ripen fruit. The bushes in the tea garden grow and flower well, but the fruit never seems to come to much, and I’d really like to try making jelly with this! The fruit smell divine and taste like sherbert strawberries, incredible! They are quite small and pippy though, so I think jelly will be more successful than jam.
At least one of the broom are doing very well, having put on quite a bit of growth this year. Fingers crossed it survives the damp winter ahead. I’m wondering whether to plant some of this down the hill in the patch with ash trees that don’t seem to be doing very well. It is a native plant (I’ve seen it growing on the island), the bees love the flowers, it is a nitrogen fixer and tolerates dry soil, so should be OK where the soil is a bit shallow there. Broom does in fact need it well drained, so won’t grow happily just anywhere here.
from same seed
I was a bit disappointed with the lack of germination from the seeds I broadcast. I was hoping to get a bit more coverage and blooms from the Calendula, but there were only a few came up early on and then some stragglers at the tail end of the season. These are still blooming now, but rather sparse. They all seemed to be different colours and forms too, whereas I thought I was expecting just single orange flowers from the packet. There was more coverage from the unknown buckwheat, but these aren’t particularly colourful examples; I will leave the debris overwinter to protect the soil a little bit. There seem to be one or two of the other herby things I broadcast, I’m not sure whether they are chervil or caraway or coriander, a bit tiny to pick the leaves from. Maybe more will come up next year.
Initially I got quite a good coverage from the bittercress weed plants, which I just left to get on with it – they are too tiny to be a problem in my opinion. I do try and take out the buttercup, docken and nettle seedlings and the various grasses that seem to have come back either through missed roots, or seeds. The buttercups and docken are the worst, because the leaves come off, leaving the roots intact. Sometimes I left them, but generally I tried to lever them out, because chances are they will regrow. I pulled the leaves off the weeds and scattered them on the soil to create a bit of mulch, although this was pretty ineffective – actually the weeds were much less prolific than I was expecting, although I don’t suppose I have seen the last of them! In fact, the bittercress seem to be making a second coming now in the cool of the autumn.
A few things I planted to climb and/or spread, all of which are pretty tiny still. I seem to have mixed up the Lathyrus linifolius and Lathyrus tuberosa when planting them. I don’t expect this will matter too much, although the L. tuberosa should become a much taller plant, so may (hopefully?) be a bit much where I was expecting the smaller L. linifolius to be growing. The Akebia again is very tiny, but is alive and looks healthy enough. Hopefully it will survive the winter and do better year on year, to climb the sycamore. The wild strawberry I planted at the top under the tree, is spreading enthusiastically. I think this is supposed to be a better fruiting form that I bought from someone (I can’t remember where now). No fruit yet, but maybe next year….
All the perennial herbs have established well. The little oregano plant was a mass of blooms which the bees really appreciated earlier in the year. Again, it seems to be having a second wind with another batch of flowers now. The marjorum (unknown) from the polytunnel has been fine. The lavender bloomed quite late. This is a pity in a way, because it leaves it too late to take cuttings after it has bloomed. I will have to take a few in the spring, and hope that I still get the flowers. These are on tall stems, and I think the plant has the potential to get a bit big. It doesn’t matter too much if it overhangs the steps a bit. The sage also seems fine. I left the main plant in a pot, which I have brought in to the polytunnel to keep it drier over the winter. There were several smaller plants that I had grown from cuttings which I tucked in at the top of the main wall. These I hope will be well enough drained to overwinter outside OK. The chives as expected have been fine, they went in a bit late for flowers, but should look good next year. I may get some other clumping alliums to go with them, as they generally seem to do OK here. The little rosemary seems to be fine, and again at the top of the wall should be OK to overwinter.
I have been quite pleased with most of the perennials I planted out. The daylillies, which had never a flower in three years in the shop planters, have bloomed quite happily on and off this summer. Indeed they still seem to have buds coming now! The dahlia have bloomed quite well, with simple red daisies and dark foliage. Also from the shop planters are the tall lillies. These all seem to have white flowers, whereas the shorter ones left in the shop planters are yellow. This is not quite the mix I was expecting, but the shop flowers match my icecream flag nicely. The various campanula seem to be growing bigger now than they did in the summer, which is a bit unexpected. Maybe they would prefer somewhere a bit more shady. I did tuck some in by the pea wigwam in the front garden (which turned out too shady for peas) so they may do better there. All I can say for the asparagus and artichoke is that they seem to be alive still. Hopefully they are established enough to come back next year. There is no sign of the nerines, which should be in flower just now, so I may have lost those.
Slightly tender plants include the salt bush, Atriplex canescens, which I grew from seed. It still looks a bit small, but reasonably OK. The leaves make quite a nice salad leaf with a salty juicy crunch. The bush needs to get quite a bit bigger before it is useful for eating though! The little Trachycarpus is forming new leaves. This will be a slow growing plant I expect. There is one I donated to Glendale Estate house, Hamera lodge, when I didn’t realise the uses of it, which is still only about eighteen inches tall after 8 years or so. Admitedly they planted it in a rather shady spot I think, so it could have done better. I’ve just agreed to look after the gardens there as well (excepting the lawn mowing) which should be fun! It has a large walled garden, which has been virtually unmanaged for several decades, but has a few apple trees and a lot of potential.
I have been very pleased with my “strawberry steps”. I planted out some white alpine strawberry plants, which I had grown from saved seed (originally a James Wong seed grown plant). The white strawberries are supposed to be less likely to be taken by birds, but still have a lovely sweet strawberry taste when properly ripe – they go suddenly bigger and paler, but it can be a subtle change. These have bulked out nicely and ripened some fruit. Next year they should do even better, and give a nice coverage to the steps. Since the steps are a bit narrow, being made of curb stones I had dug up from the pedestrian gate path, it is a bit difficult not to step on the strawberries when ascending the steps. Some of the sedum seeds I sowed there have also germinated. I’ll have to decide whether to transplant those, or to leave them in situ.
All in all a pretty good first season. My task next year is to finish off the wall around the corner by the barn, with more steps or a ramp for access there, and maybe continue above the steps to the pathway by the willow fedge.
This week I chose to spend a few hours in the polytunnel tidying up and sorting out some of the various pots and trays that I have been attempting to grow new plants in this year. I bought three bags of compost in Portree at Skyeshrubs last week, together with three plants, and the compost is already more than half gone! I have potted on lots of the plants and seedlings that have been languishing outside the polytunnel for most of the summer. Some of them were rather pot bound, including the remaining honeyberry that never made it to the orchard (I took some cuttings of this when repotting). Some actually looked as if they had plenty of room, but will probably benefit from fresh compost anyhow. Some are showing no signs of life in the pots other than the usual weed plants, which include lots of what I believe to be willow seedlings. I think I’ve lost the wild garlic that came free with one of my plants bought earlier this year – there seemed to be nothing in the pot when I inspected it. I’m not too worried about that, since it would be pretty easy to get hold of if I choose to introduce it.
I also potted on my window sill plants: not the orchid (which is fine), or the christmas cactus (which I made a branched log pot for earlier in the summer), but the money plant (which I don’t know the proper name of) and the cuttings of Sechuan pepper and Chillean myrtle. The money plant actually only seemed to have been using the top half of its pot despite being quite a large plant. The cuttings have rooted very well, but I’m intending to overwinter them indoors to try and give them a good start.
The first of the new plants I bought in Portree is a Phormium tenax: Maori queen, which is a lovely striped pink New Zealand flax plant. It will grow to about 5ft high and wide, which is maybe a bit big, but the lovely thing about these plants, as Martin Crawford demonstrated in his forest garden, is that the leaves can be cut and split to make handy biodegradable garden twine. I’ve planted the main plant up by the road, where it should make good ornamental screening. Phormium are supposed to be pretty wind and water resistant so I think it’ll do OK there. You can also see the good growth and flowers of the white fuchsia that I moved to the roadside earlier in the summer. As I expected, it has settled in there pretty well. I chose a flax plant that had several offsets growing in the same pot, so now have another 5 baby plants for free! These I will leave in the polytunnel for the moment until they have established roots in the pots, then I think I’ll put about three more on the road bank to the north side of the house.
The second plant is a Fuchsia: Mrs Popple. I wasn’t going to get another Fuchsia, but this one looks really strong, with large bicoloured pink flowers and (the real selling point for me!) large fairly sweet berries. They are perhaps slightly insipid, not so peppery in flavour as my thin flowered plants’, but quite pleasant. I have planted this plant in the front garden near the failed mangetout peas and had to pull out several raspberries to make room for it. It is a little bit shady for it there perhaps, but it is reasonably sheltered which is probably at least as important. It is also quite near my established white and dark pink Fuchsias. After planting I cut back some of the non flowering shoots and made several of them into cuttings, so hopefully again I will have several plants for my money. While I was at it I took some cuttings of my murtilo (Myrtus ugni) which is flowering well at the moment. I’d like to put some on the drivebank, since I think a bit more heat may be required to get the fruit to ripen here for me.
The third plant is a blueberry: Vaccinium floribundum, also known as mortiño or Andean blueberry, you can see it in the top photo next to the shelves. Having since looked it up I am pretty happy that I bought this. I wasn’t quite sure what it was when I saw it, but again I thought what a healthy looking plant it was – and you can’t go wrong with a blueberry can you? Although the fruit should be black or red on this variety not blue! I need to have a think about where to plant this. It is slightly tender, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here (they wouldn’t sell it at Skyeshrubs if they thought it was too tender for the island), but it will fruit better with a bit of sun. I’m wondering if I can find a spot for it in the pallet garden, although it is so pretty, it is worth a place in the front garden: maybe near the front path near the snowbell tree (which seems to have survived this time – the first one I planted didn’t survive its first winter). I will have to clear a space for it in the grass though! I’ll try and take some cuttings from this plant, but it looks like these are less likely to take. They apparently are more difficult to propagate.
Now I’m in the mood to plan my planting for next year. I have already ordered some more Gevuina avellana seed (eventually found with an US ebay seller) and excitingly both japanese and chillean plum yew, which I’ll post a bit more about another time. I’ve got a little spreadsheet of plants and potential sourcing that I try and stick to, but inevitably some extra exciting plants get bought that aren’t on the list!
Remember the mushroom logs I made back in March? Well so did I this week. I checked on them as I was passing the trailer on the way to get wood in from the woodshed. Peeling back the rubber mats covering them, I found that the ends of the logs were all covered nicely in mycelium. I am hopeful therefore that the logs are now ready to start fruiting. It was quite warm in the early part of the summer, and cool latterly but the location I chose seems to have protected the logs suitably. The instructions say to put them somewhere shady now and they should start fruiting. I have leant them against the north end of the workshop behind the Hablizia trellis, where I found (to yet more excitement!) that the Hablitzia has set seed. The only odd thing is that the logs still haven’t realised they’re dead; as well as patches of mycelium on the trunks, all the logs had little twig shoots. I’ll try and remember to check them more often now for mushrooms forming, so watch this space!
As is typical at this time of year, we are getting rather more rain and less sunshine. Whenever we get a still day the midges make life a misery outside, so you either need a good midge repellent, keep all skin covered, or keep running! I’m using ‘midge magic‘ at the moment which seems as good as any anti midge I’ve tried. Last week was a bit windy, gusting to about 45mph or so. The alder tree branches are very brittle, and quite a few have top branches partially or completely broken off. I have also pruned a few more of the branches lower down to make the back pathways more passable in the wet.
The coming of heavier rain last week also filled the pond back up with water. It has been much emptier this year than last, although I didn’t think it had been very dry. Douglas still likes to paddle in the puddle left when it is low, but to be frank he gets a bit stinky in the mud! The river in spate has a lovely golden colour as it goes over the stones at the rapids, and is inky black with peat in the still deeps. When the river is low it has almost no colour and is crystal clear.
We’ve had more ‘free ranging’ sheep along the river banks this year, so there has not been so many wild flowers the other side of the fence. The trees we cut back when they were felled by the floods have been browsed back as well, so there is still a good clearing letting in light. There are some hazelnuts showing – usually in large clusters, but not so many as last year by far.
The late summer flowers are making a show now, with meadowsweet, various vetches and knapweed the stars of the show. Scabious and ling heather (calluna vulgaris) are also opening their flowers. I have two of the three common forms of heather growing here: ling and bell heather (erica cincerea). The bell heather is slightly earlier and the blooms are now fading, whilst the ling heather has paler flowers and is yet to reach its peak. The third common heather, cross leaf heath, does grow up on the hills, but I’ve not see it on the holding. It has fewer, larger and paler flowers.
There are more little hazel seedlings that I have noticed near the river in the tree field. Some I can leave to grow where they are – they will probably be happiest not being disturbed. Others, which are too close to the fence, other trees, or on the paths, I will try and remember to move this winter. The trouble is they are much more difficult to find when they lose their leaves. I should take down some sturdy long sticks and mark their places! In the meantime, I try and clear the grass around them and mulch them with it, which makes them easier to find at the moment.
I have pretty much cleared the bracken growing in the tree field. There really wasn’t very much at all this year. I should get out and pull the stems growing on the river bank as well, before it starts dying back too much. The big builders bag of bracken that I pulled last year is still there down by the pond. Unfortunately it is too heavy for me to move it. I did think that as the bracken died down it would get lighter, but if it has it hasn’t made enough difference for me. It is still not well rotted enough for compost, although would do as a surface mulch if I wanted. I may wheel it up to the new blueberry patch when I get on with that. Some nice light organic material will be just what the blueberries will like.
I came across a clump of a really pleasing new plant recently: Rhinanthus minor or yellow rattle. I sowed some near the orchard area, but none have appeared there. These ones appeared right down by the river on the north corner of the tree field near near where I coppiced the alder earlier in the year. There seems to be a number of plants judging by the size of the clump, so it may have been seeding around for a few years unnoticed. It wasn’t the flowers I noticed first, but the seedheads, which are a line of small inflated bladders.
Yellow rattle is a annual plant, so needs to resow itself every year. It is semi-parasitic on grasses and other plants. By reducing the vigour of grasses it enables a wider range of meadow flowers to grow. The historic practise of cutting hay for winter feed suits it’s lifecycle. When the seed is ripe they rattle in the bladders in the wind and the farmers knew it was time to cut the hay. The seeds readily fall out, or are added with the ripe hay as supplementary feed into other meadows. They need to overwinter before germinating, but have a short viability, so need to grow and set seed successfully in order to propagate. How they seem to have managed to survive in the sheep field previously I don’t know!
Since some of the seed is already ripe, I have been spreading it along the trackways a bit. If we manage to cut the grass properly in the autumn, this will expose the soil a bit (which is important to enable successful growth). We can cut just a strip of narrow path to walk along again next year and the rattle (hopefully) can grow in the rest of the trackway, set seed and be cut in autumn again. I’ll save some seed to scatter after the grass is cut this year as well.
When I read up about yellow rattle I was excited by the possibility of it reducing the vigour of couchgrass, but unfortunately it doesn’t like couch grass or other very vigorous grasses which swamp it. However it is a happy addition to the flora and hopefully will increase the diversity of wildflowers in the tree field further.
As the leaves fill out and mature on the trees, the insect larvae get busy eating them. Hopefully the birds are enjoying eating the larvae as well. Otherwise we are going to have a problem with the alder sawfly in future years! This is not it’s real name, but I see a lot of them on alder trees and have not noticed them elsewhere. I first notice just a few holes in the leaves, and then the tiny dark coloured caterpillars can be seen at the leaf edges. When bigger they are paler with dark spots. When disturbed they rear up in an amusing manner. I don’t know what the adult flies look like.
This picture looks really tropical, but the scale is really small. This is an unknown bug on a knapweed flower.
I have been worried ever since we started planting trees in the tree field about the number of what I thought were vine weevil grubs I was digging up. These are little maggots with a brownish head. Vine weevil are notorious amongst gardeners for destroying plants from the roots – particularly strawberries. One interesting thing about vine weevils (maybe other weevils too?) is that females can reproduce parthenogenically (they don’t need a male).
However this year I spotted these beetles on some of the trees (mostly willows). They were obviously weevils, but didn’t look like vine weevils – they are smaller and have a smoother back without the bronze speckles that vine weevils have. I was surprised when I tried to find out what they were, how many different sorts of weevil there actually are in the UK (see here). So I’m not sure exactly which these are – but I’m happier that I don’t have widespread wine weevils all over the holding. I know I have them up by the house, but so far they don’t seem to cause too much damage. Maybe the ground beetles keep the population under control; I have seen a black beetle happily eating an adult vine weevil in the polytunnel so I know they will take a few at least!
I’ll just share this photo of red soldier beetles, if only because of their common name of hogweed bonking beetles. They were happy (!) on the hogweed flowers.