Ice and Fire

icy river
Frozen river

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

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

ice crystals
Ice crystals in grass

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

alder coppice
Alder coppice at cut through

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

felling birch
Singling birch

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

Taking the Ash out

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

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

View of central Ash area

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

Dieback of Green leaves
Dieback at branch node

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

Clearing the grass from the trunks.

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

Victims of Chalera

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

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

Bamboo marks positions for two of the new hazels.

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

Monkeying around

rainbow
Wintry Showers

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

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

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

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

seeds by stove
Seeds by Stove Flue

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

sorting
Sorting sprouting seeds

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

planted
Planted up sprouting seeds

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

windowsill
Overwintering

Silence of the bees

Dyson in new cut-through below hump

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

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

Mulch Patch by pond loop

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

Buff tip moth caterpillars on birch

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

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

Wild bramble patch

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

Dug up bumble bee nest

The Third Step

tables with heather
Skye Hills in late summer

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

alder coppice regrowth
Alder coppice regrowth

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

blackcurrant treasure
Berried Treasure

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

new raspberry
Summer raspberry

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

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

aronia flowers
Aronia melanocarpa flowers

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

aronia berries
Aronia melanocarpa berries

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

seedling plum
Seedling plum or damson

 

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

developing cherries early summer
Wild cherries in mid summer

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

DRAGONFLY
Tiny dragonfly

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

 

 

 

 

 

Mulch less work perhaps

pignuts
Backway through tall grass and pignuts

S. managed to cut the grass on the main trackway down to the lower junction, but when I tried to do a bit more a few days later, I found that the scythe mower was not cutting very well.  It was out of action for a few weeks, since S. found that it wasn’t just a matter of sharpening the blades or tightening things up; the bearing on the blade pivot had broken up completely.  Luckily S. is a mechanical genius and managed to source and replace some suitable bearings so the machine now cuts better than ever.  We suspect it must have been running loose for a while.

less grass
Sparse well drained area

The weather has been pretty dry this year, so despite the delay of a few weeks, S. has been able to cut all the main trackways (which didn’t happen last year) as well as most of the backways, which are single mower width paths between the trees in strategic directions.  He has also made a new backway looping round the north side of the field about half way down.

wide path mulch
Lots of lush growth near top junction

It is funny how different the grass is in different areas of the field.  Up at the top it is thick, tall and quick growing, where as towards the middle it is thin bladed and shorter.  Here it is made up of what I call “blood grass”, since it sometimes looks like the tips of the grass have been dipped in blood.  Nearer the pond is where most of the orchids grow, although there are a few bigger ones further up the field.  I marked the positions where I could identify the growing leaves (they are less ribbed than plantains, and wider than bluebells).  S. managed to avoid most, but mowed right over one of the more spectacular ones, a double headed one too!  I put the cut heads in water, so far they are looking pretty lively, so may open out in the jar eventually.

marking orchids
Sticks marking orchid positions on pond loop of trackway

I had a bit of a brainwave last winter , it occurred to me that if I had a suitable fruiting shrub or tree at the appropriate interval along the track, then as I raked I could dispose of the cut debris around the said shrubs, mulching them at least annually, without having to transport the mulch material very far.  I did distribute quite a few black currants as cuttings along to the first main junction.  The idea does seem to have worked pretty well this year.  The volume of mulch material varies according to the type of grass in the different areas as mentioned above, so when I add strategic shrubs further down they may be wider spaced than where the mulch material is produced more lushly.  In the meantime there are plenty of little spruces and pine which I planted as intermediate windbreaks in the sparse area of the field, as well as the new alder, elder, lime and sea buckthorne plantings.  I’ve tried to mulch as many of these as I can, since I know how much new plantings benefit from the grass being kept down around them.  I haven’t put a sheet material down under the cut grass, so it won’t be effective for long.

mulching tiny trees
Mulching tiny trees

On the north side of the main trackway down, there is an area planted with birch.  This has the stringy blood grass growing quite vigorously.  In fact, it seemed to swamp many of the original birch trees, so I replaced them a couple of years ago with some locally sourced ones from Skye Weavers, who had self sown birch in their meadow which they did not want.  These are now growing well, but we are still concerned that the grass is very competitive and so S. mowed between the trees.  The grass came off like a huge fleece – a great mat of tangled grass rather than individual blades.  Hopefully it will still be effective as mulch and not just carry on growing.

birch grass fleece
Grass fleece

Some of the cuttings I have put in have been further back in the trees and most of these have not yet been mulched.  I was surprised how many of these took, considering they were just stuck in with no clearance (unlike the strategic ones at the trackside, which had a clearance turf turned over to give them a start).  I’ll probably leave them rather than try to move them, since it is easy enough to strike new plants from cuttings whilst pruning in winter.

currants in grass
Unmulched cuttings in amongst trees

Second year Coppicing

lower cut after
Alder copse by river

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.

 

middle cut after
Alder copse by river corner

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.

shelter with logs
Field Wood Shelter

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.

New friends and Old

cuckoo sparkle
Drenched in May mists

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.

cherries
Wild Cherries

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.

pink primrose
Pink Primrose

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.

coltsfoot
Coltsfoot by pond

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.

april3rd
April 3rd planting trees

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.

bluebell bank
Bluebell bank

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.

emporer hawk moth
Emporer Hawk moth

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.

violet beetle
Violet oil beetle

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!

Digging for Blueberries

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.

new area
Forked area and extended mulch area

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.

pignut blanched
Blanched pignut shoots

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.

Nothing much

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.

ramp up
Ramp up hump

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.

tree holes
Holes for windbreak improvements at top of tree field (baby monkey puzzle at left)

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.

mulch mounds
Mulch spots along trackway

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!

seed sprouts
Sprouting apple seeds

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.

new crops
New varieties

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.

new toys
New toy tool

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.

not a stick
Indoor Orchid flowers