I’m running a bit behind in my posting (got distracted by online novel reading) so will try and do a bit of catchup now. I’m trying to get some preparation done for my blueberry patch down the hill. I had covered the whole area with black plastic early last year to clear the weeds so it is now time to get the beds arranged, so I can start planting.
I decided to move the black plastic out to cover the area immediately surrounding the cleared patch. I can either plant more blueberry bushes or other plants there. It will be useful to have a weed barrier of sorts to try and keep the couch and other creeping grasses at bay. There probably aren’t enough stones already selected to weight the plastic down properly. Last year I had the benefit of large branches from the driveway spruce trees, but my intention is to use these to increase the woody content of the beds, so I will need additional weights this year.
Since blueberries need well aerated soil, and the area I have chosen for them is damp and compacted with generations of sheeps trotters, I have forked over the cleared area. I din’t turn the soil, just loosened it, so that it has a chance to dry a little over the coming weeks of spring. I was a bit disappointed by the amount of couch grass that seems to be prevalent over the whole area, despite the light excluding cover. I guess it was kept going by areas outside the plastic, and the fact the water could still get to it due to the fact the plastic is in strips, rather than a larger entire piece. The other plant that seems to have survived remarkable well is pignut, Conopodium Majus. The blanched spring shoots of this are all over the area despite having been covered for the whole of last year.
The thick reeds and other groundcover plants have disappeared to form a vole dispersed layer of compost. The voles are more of a nuisance for attracting the attention of the dog(s). They like to dig underneath the plastic sheets, thus letting in light and wind, so making the sheets less effective at weed cover.
My intention is to create sort of raised beds, with the woody trimmings, bracken remains, and leaf mould/grass clipping compost from the lodge, together with soil excavated to create drainage channels and paths. As I was forking it over, I discovered that the soil depth is not consistent; it gets quite shallow at the downhill side of the patch. Probably this rock forms a bit of a bowl, which is why it seems so damp there. Until the area surrounding the cleared patch is also cleared, I won’t really be able to create the levels properly to ensure bed drainage. I’m hoping that I can clear most of the couch grass out when the soil is drier as I create the raised beds themselves.
I have ordered some more blueberry plants, but haven’t managed to find some of the varieties I wanted. If necessary, I will just sow some annuals to build up the soil structure and keep it covered and pre-order bushes for next year. I know ART will propagate fruit trees to order, so they may do fruit bushes too.
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!
We go through a period at midsummer where the spring flower start to fade and the late summer flowers are yet in bud. The grass is overtall and swamps the smallest trees sometimes smothering them out. We were too busy with construction projects to keep a path mown through the trackways recently. Last week, after the damp grass made my feet so wet that I was able to wring water out of my socks even in wellies, I had to do some mowing!
We had a dry spell Sunday and Monday so S. made a start before lunch and I carried on on Tuesday and was able to put a single mower track down the middle of most of the rides and backways. I made a new backway that I call the white orchid path, which matches up with one S. made to cut down from the middle to the pond area from near the royal oaks. There is only one white orchid there, which I noticed for the first time two years ago. It was quite a distance from the trackway, so it is nice to be able to take a closer look. It’s just a common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) I think, but it’s more unusual for them to be white rather than pink.
The dogs are very good about machinery, they know to trot behind, or do their own thing, however when it comes to raking up the cut grass Dyson is a bit of a pain. His game is to try and catch the rake head (or broom or vacuum nozzle) which makes the job about twice as long! I ended up putting them in for an afternoon nap, so I could get on more quickly. I hate all that mulch material going to waste rotting on the path and killing grass where I don’t want it killed. I have been raking it up into piles, then the dogs can help (they think they are helping) piling it around some of the newer or more vulnerable trees and shrubs. I’ve still got quite a bit to do, and two or three smaller paths haven’t been mown yet.
It was nice to see several mushrooms, a sign of the fungal mycelium below which distributs nutrients around the field. I guess they will be changing from grass and orchid loving fungi to tree loving fungi, but there is still quite a amount of open space from one cause or another. I also saw several butterflies, caterpillars, a dragonfly and a frog. The advantage of the scythemower is that, as well as coping with overtall grass, it is less likely to kill wildlife, since it cuts in one direction rather than circularly.
I think I’m going to have to assume that this wild cherry (below) is not going to recover. It got hit by late frosts, which are pretty unusual here, just as the buds were unfurling. I did think it would stage a comeback, but it doesn’t look like it now. There are several suckers from adjacent trees, at least one coming up in the trackway, so I could transplant one of these to replace it. Alternatively, I could put something else there.
Despite S’s disapproval I have stolen the bottom part of three of my freshly felled alder trunks to try out my mushroom spawn kits. These were a present from a sister and I am very keen to see how they do for me. I have not tried growing mushrooms on wood logs before. I once had a home buttom mushroom kit, which was fun, albeit not that productive. I have also tried (and failed) before with growing oyster mushrooms on newspaper logs, but I’m hoping to have another go on newspaper with the rest of this spawn kit. The kit came from Ann Millar albeit through a third party I think.
It is important that the logs used are freshly felled. This is partly so that they have not been infected with other non-edible competing fungi, and partly so that the moisture content is high enough for the spawn to live and grow. The instructions with the kit suggest not more than three weeks old, which seems a very short period of viability. The logs are a little small in diameter, but I don’t think that should matter too much – they may not last as well as a bigger log. They are supposed to be 10 – 15 cm, and I think mine taper down to less than this. I suppose the biggest risk is thay may dry out.
The mushroom spawn comes on wooden dowels, they have now reached their best before date – but have been sitting in the fridge so should be good to go. The process is simple: Drill appropriate sized holes in the fresh logs, insert spawn infected dowels, wrap in plastic and leave in a dark place for 6 to 18 months till spawn permeates logs, initiate fruiting by moving to light damp location, pick mushrooms, rest and repeat. Since I have three sorts of mushroom spawn, I have also labelled the three logs with a metal label tied round with string.
They have been placed in separate binliners (to save cross infection) under a bit of pond liner under a trailer. They should be out of the way there for a bit. I’ll check on them every now and then to see how they look.