New Directions

I’m spending more and more time over on the forums at and think I probably won’t be back at this ‘blog very often. I’m still very active on Skye with loads going on, but I’m putting my projects on Permies rather than here. I never got on with the new editor format for WordPress, and enjoy the craic at Permies!

These are links to some of my project threads:

The Tree field: general progress in the tree field with a summary of what I’ve done to date.

Natural Farming: My efforts at a building a low input simple farming system

Chinampa: a new project on a water terrace/chinampa area

Perennial polycultures: growing food from alternative perennial food plants in polycultures

Do have a browse around there, and say ‘hello’ if you’ve come over from this ‘blog!

I’d just like to mention how great I found the recent Garden Master course, and I really recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving and understanding the life in their soil, gardening without chemicals, improving the nutrition in the food they grow with minimal external inputs. This is a little taster video

Puzzling it out

Treefield Path

It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing the last six months, it’s rather that I’ve been doing too much! Not just on the holding however, and not just plant related.  Things are changing – priorities, the way plants change the landsape, family and work commitments all change the way I interact on this platform.  It looks today like WP have made some more changes to the editing software that may make it a bit easier for me to edit and post at least on the PC, so I’ll give it another go and see how I get on this time. Unfortunately they also seem to have changed the scaling, I gues to suit mobile phone screens, but it leaves a lot of blank space on larger screens.

Elaeagnus branch with growth

It looks like it is going to be another really good growing year for the trees, and I didn’t lose as many plants as I thought over the winter.  I thought I’d lost one of my Elaeagnus in the former Dog Resistant Garden, (FDRG) but I noticed this week that one branch is showing quite a bit of growth and is in flower.  The unknown citrus in the polytunnel likewise is shooting up from the base.  However the kiwi is a goner, as is my larger gevuina shrub and one of the seedlings.  I still have one Gevuina seedling that looks pretty happy in it’s pot, so I need to find a slightly more sheltered spot to plant it out.  I’ll have to source some more seeds, since it doesn’t look like any more of the seeds are going to germinate now.  I still have a few in pots, but I am not hopeful that they are still viable.  The Arbutus unedo looks a bit tatty, but still seems to be alive.

Tatty Arbutus unedo

I’ve done a bit of work on the front garden behind the FDRG – trying to get out the creeping grass and plant it up.  There are a few currant bushes that are doing OK, some local elder cuttings ditto. I’ve also planted out the miscanthus grass seedlings and various other things that will do better in the ground that stuck in their pots. I was lucky enough to be given some dwarf jerusalem artichoke, and some chinese artichoke, so have planted these where the grass is more likely to come back – the theory is that If I have to dig to harvest then I can dig out the grass at the same time.  I could probably do with doing some more mulching in this area too.  We’ve had quite a warm summer, and so far the Yacon here seem to be doing better than in previous years.

Yacon and lush growth by FDRG

In terms of new planting, I haven’t done any broadscale tree planting this year.  I had intended to replant the area that I had cleared the ash from with small leaved lime, beech, italian alder, local hazel and rowan, however I didn’t really have time for much this spring due to commitments in the shop.  The experimental plantings of lime, and italian alder have done very well, however the sea buckthorn has struggled.  Some of the bushes are still alive, but I wouldn’t describe it as much of a pioneer.  It may be that it really dislikes my acid soil, or it might be that they take longer to get established and will romp away in a year or two.  All I know is I’m not about to go out and splash out on expensive cultivars if they’re not likely to make it through.  I bought four hazel cultivars this year and have been disappointed that two of them seem to have died.  I probably will replace them next year though, since I do think that they have a good possiblity of good yield here.  Next year I am also thinking of getting some Walnuts, and maybe some japanese heartnuts.

Baby Monkey Puzzle with bottle protector

I managed to germinate quite a few monkey puzzle tree seeds over the winter, and have started planting the seedlings into the treefield.  Ideally I would leave them to get a bit bigger, but I have a poor record of keeping things alive in pots, so I think they will do better in the ground. I have marked various places around the tree field where I think the monkey puzzles could go with long sticks, and started turning the turf over to prepare planting holes.  Unfortunately the spade handle finally splintered during this process, so there are still quite a few places to be prepared, and about half the seedlings still in pots.  The trees in the fruit jungle really look impressive now.  I have learnt from them not to plant the monkey puzzles too close to pathways since the leaf spines are really sharp!

Time to go

Don’t worry I’ll be back!  I’m just taking a few days to visit my family down in Englandshire.  It’s going to be a couple of days more than intended because of a mix up on the sleeper train bookings.  I thought I’d booked a return for Wednesday night but my ticket appears to be Friday night.  Just as well I checked it before turning up at the station!  Anyhow, with the weather closing in on winter, I thought I’d do a few odd jobs before abandoning S. for the southern delights.

pt repair
Polytunnel repair

The first little job was trying to do a repair on the polytunnel roof.  I’m not completely happy with it – since it was right on the top, I was unable to get to both sides of the polythene, so it is possible for the tape to lift back off again from the tear over time.  I used some gaffer tape to temporarily hold it while I stuck on strip after stip of polytunnel repair tape – getting through more than a complete roll.  However it’s as good as I can get it.  It was pretty wet and windy all day on Wednesday and it seems to have held up OK so far.  The hot spot tape had completely disintegrated on the tops of the hoops, which is not a good sign.  I wrapped the cotton rags, which I’d used to dry the condensation off the plastic, around the bars.  It will be interesting to see if that is at all effective at protecting the plastic from chafing.  At least it will be better than nothing.  There should be something better in my opinion.  Maybe the tape I got was a poor specification.

I thought that I wouldn’t get much of a crop earlier this year on the sharks fin melon, however, quite of a few of the fruit are getting quite big now, and I’m worried if I don’t support them they will damage the vine.  I’ve made an attempt to support the fruit using an assortment of methods.  Not shown in the pictures is a pair of S.’s old Y-fronts which were in the rag bag!

huge melons
Fruit support

Since the weather could turn quite cold while I am away (the forecast is for down to possibly 3 celsius) it is time to take in any plants that may need a bit more protection.  I worry slightly that they will get too hot and dry in the tunnel.  This winter I need to develop a better way of keeping an eye on them.  It probably just needs a routine – “every Thursday afternoon water the pots in the polytunnel”.  Easy to say, but somehow life gets in the way and chaos rules!

Achocha harvest

Since I’m away for a few days I have picked all the achocha and tomatoes that are worth picking.  If there is a frost they could turn to mush, which would be a waste.  The millefleur tomato isn’t quite as good as the ildi variety I’ve had previously.  The set isn’t as good, and they are later ripening.  I think I have some more seed of this one, so I will try again next year, since it may just be this season that was problematic rather than the vatriety. I will take some of the achocha with me, since I don’t think my sisters or mum have tried them yet.  They would probably be able to grow them outside in a sheltered spot, I don’t really have the warmth they need up here outside the polytunnel.  It was interesting to get a different perspective on the tunnel since I was up a ladder to reach the roof, when fixing it.  You can see how the sharks fin melon leaves are using every space to collect the light.

reaching for sunshine
Top of the crop

The final thing I have been trying to do everytime I go down to the bottom of the tree field, is bring up the trees trunks that I cut down last year.  Since they are only small, I can manage to bring up a couple each time I take the trip.  They feel surprisingly dry, considering they have only been lying  in a pile in the grass, rather than neatly stacked in a shelter as intended! Once cut to length they can be stacked away in the woodshed to dry out fully ready for burning.  I’ve said before how excited I am to be burning our own wood.  These are the first trees we planted that are ready for firewood.  We’ve used quite a bit of kindling from side branches and broken branches, but not complete trunks.  The stumps have sprouted nicely, although this hasn’t prevented S. being protective when I mention again cutting trees this year!

wood ends
Ready for cutting to length


An ill wind (off topic)

dougies grave
Dougie’s grave site

Well, we have a sad reason to plant a new tree now.  Our dog Douglas went downhill very quickly (he was diagnosed with lymphatic sarcoma about two months ago), and we asked the vet to put him down last Wednesday.  He is buried next to the pond he loved and has left a big dog sized hole in our lives.

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The soil there is pretty wet most of the time, so a willow or alder look the best contenders, although it is pretty sheltered, so there may be some other options.  Dyson seems to be taking it well and is now able to enjoy his soft toys without Douglas taking them off him and ripping the stuffing out.

dyson and piglet
Dyson and Piglet

Ten gardening rules

Just a few tongue in cheek guidelines.  Some I’ve shamelessly stolen, particularly from permaculture rules.

1) Don’t try and do too much = start small.
2) Nature abhors a vacuum = weeds grow to fill the land available and then some.
3) There is no such place as “away”. Everything comes from somewhere and goes to somewhere. Garden responsibly, and sustainably.
4) The gardener’s shadow is the best fertiliser. By walking the plot you can spot trouble early and nip it in the bud, whether it is a pest that could become a plague, or a nutrient deficiency.
5) Don’t kill your enemies, love your friends. This is in respect to pest control, animals not plants!  Better to make a home for a toad than spread around slug pellets.
6) Life’s too short to mow the lawn. Or is this just me being lazy? You could have a lawn for camping on I suppose, but generally, mow paths and edges, but leave the wild flowers to bloom and harvest the bulk for compost.
7) Observe, learn, experiment, observe. What works for someone else may or may not work for you in your garden.
8) Do it once, do it properly. This goes for house maintenance as well…..
9) Grow what likes your environment. Acid soil, wet, dry, windy, hot…there is a plant that will thrive in that niche somewhere in the world.  Although it is interesting to push the boundaries see
10) Don’t do as I do, do as I say. Most of the above I don’t follow. It’s easy to be a good gardener in theory!

Anyone for anymore?