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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
It seems to have been a slightly better year for butterflies and moths this year. I have seen more that I remember in previous years, or maybe I’m just able to be out in the sun at the right time. As well as male common blue butterflies I saw a female this week. Confusingly her colouring is much more multicoloured than the male, and I thought she was a different species until I looked her up.
For the last few weeks I have noticed small black and red moths perched at the top of the gully bank in the sunshine. Taking a closer look at this one the wings seemed quite transparent. I think they are six spot burnet moths.
A bit further down the bank on the heather bush I found this cocoon, so I think these are new moths just hatching and puffing up their wings (I’m sure there is a proper name for that process!). Apparently the caterpillars feed on birdsfoot trefoil, which I have fairly widespread over the holding, particularly where the grass is slightly shorter and the soil shallower.
I was pleased to get this photo of this chimney sweeper moth. They are always quite a number of them at this time of year in the grass, but they are easily disturbed and, being small and dark, slightly difficult to focus on. You can see how they come by their name – like flecks of burnt paper blowing about the grass! The tips of the wings are rimmed with white, but the rest of the insect is sooty black. The caterpillars feed on pignut flowers and seeds – so there is certainly plenty of that for them!
This caterpillar I was also very happy to see. Especially so when I looked it up. It is the caterpillar of the emporer moth. Which is a rather impressive moth with big eyespots on the wings. The moths are usually about in April, but I’ve only seen an adult once or twice previously. At least this caterpillar proves that there are still some adults about. The caterpillars feed on heather, bramble, hawthorne as well as several other trees so should have plenty of menu options here.
Finally a little show of some of the the other moths, butterflies and caterpillars recently seen, that I’ve been able to photograph and tentatively identify. None are particularly rare, but each is a bit of magic.
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.
This was going to be an update on the polytunnel, but I’m excited about some things in the tree field, so those come first.
Usually the dryish weather lasts into the middle of June, but this year it has broken a bit early. There was a nice bit of rain last weekend, and again through this week so the burns and the river are now overflowing.
The first exciting thing then (not chronologically, but logically) is that the pond at the bottom is once again full. During the week it just had a little puddle from it’s own catchment, but either the shallow springs are going again and/or the burn on that side is full enough to have water all the way down (often it disappears again on the way down). This would have been quite exciting, but more exciting (especially to the dogs unfortunately) was what we found on the pond. The dogs saw them first, and then I saw a lady mallard flying off with a squawk over the fence to the river. Left behind were about three frantically cheaping baby ducks. They are very tiny, and I have no idea where the nest is. I’m thinking it must be on the river bank, otherwise the dogs probably would have found it before now. The pond would have made quite a nice nursery swim for the babies if it wasn’t for my bad dogs. The river is in full spate after the rain, so the little ones would be swept quite away. Eventually the dogs came to me. They had been more interested in the mother than the babies, so noone was hurt. Hopefully the mum would soon have returned to the babies again. We’ll have to keep the dogs away from the pond for a bit. This is difficult, as due to some building work, part of the deer fence to the garden area is down at the moment. I was going to put some temporary fencing up anyhow, so I’ll escalate that task for when the rain clears.
On the way back up the hill again I was on the lookout for something that I had found the previous day. On the grass there had been what I thought was a tiny rotten birch twig. I wondered how it had got there and had turned it over with a twig that I was hoping to mark orchids with. To my surprise the twig moved! Not a twig but a largish moth! On that occasion I did not have my camera with me (it was raining!) so I was very glad to find the moth still in the (birch) tree to which I had moved it. Looking it up later I found it was a buff tip moth. Although quite common in the south of the UK it is less so in the north.
The other interesting thing, is that I may have seen this moth as a caterpillar. I didn’t post about it at the time, but last summer I noticed one or two alders that had clumps of caterpillars in them. They were distinctive in the way they formed a mass of caterpillars. I’m pretty sure now that they were buff tip caterpillars, so it is nice to see that at least one made it to adulthood. They pupate in the soil, so that may be why this one was on the ground. It must have just emerged.
The rain has come in good time to keep watering the seedling trees I have planted in the tree field. As well as the tiny spruce, I have also relocated about a dozen tiny rowans (why do they like to germinate in the driveway!), a couple of sycamore (ditto!) and several plums, damsons and apples from shop fruit that was past it’s best, or used for jam making. The latter’s seeds had been placed in small seed trays (actually fruit punnets) outside and I got quite a few germinating this spring. Rather than leave them to starve in the seedtrays I was able to plant them out last week, with a proper double spade square hole. They may not have good fruit that ripens here, but they may at least have blossom to cross pollinate my orchard fruit. I could try and graft good fruiters onto the trunks in the future. I am hopeful that the damson seedlings and the plums that we ate in late september in Devon may have useful fruit, if only for jamming.
When we planted the trees in 2011 we experimented with planting comfrey around some of them to see if they would act as a living mulch. I had found this quite successful in Solihull around established soft fruit so, since we had been having difficulty finding enough time to mulch the newly planted trees, I wondered whether this would be an easy way to keep the grass down. We just stuck ‘thongs’ of comfrey, of which I had plenty growing in the fruit garden, into the turf about two feet from the trees. It wasn’t that successful as it turned out. We found that although most of the comfrey took OK, it was a few years before they could out compete the grass, and by that time the trees were already established. They do make lovely flowers for the bees though through the summer.
I had read in one or two of my books that other people had found that a bank of comfrey several plants deep could be used as a weed barrier around planting areas. Last year I planted several thongs below the newly mulched orchard area to the north of the trackway, in the hopes that these would eventually keep out the worst of the couchgrass. It is dramatic that the only ones that have grown well have been the ones adjacent to the mulch. The ones planted with turf on each side are still really tiny (although mostly still there). I don’t remember there being any difference between them when planted out. So on my mental list of things to do is to mulch between the comfrey there if I get time. It’s probably not a high priority, since the comfrey will probably still grow and in a year or so form a canopy by itself.
The grass has grown lush and green with the rain, and the buttercups and pignut have started flowering. So pretty with the rain dewdrops sparkling in the sun. The buttercups seem particularly profuse in the area just below the orchard, and the pignuts in the southernmost strip along Jo’s field. The midges are here now too, so the rain is definately a mixed blessing. We change to longer hours next week in the shop next week so I will have to get to bed a bit earlier. The sun was still setting at about 9.20 last night. I could still see the sunlight on the hill opposite us.
It’s been staying dry. Not bone dry but misty-isle dry. We’ve had a bit of mizzle, even some proper rain, but not enough to make the burns run again yet. It’s a bit odd that the burns went dry so soon. I can only assume that it must have been quite a dry winter – although it didn’t seem that way at the time. This year the pond by the river has dried up completely. I don’t know whether our tadpoles managed to survive or not…. We are forecast to have rain again on Saturday night, so maybe it will be enough to water the plants a bit. So far, the rain just makes the surface of the soil wet, rather than soaking in. Luckily our burn in the gully is fed by a deep spring so although down to a trickle, it still flows. I am using one of the pools there as a dipping pond; filling the watering can there when I do the patrol with the dog-boys. Then I can use the water on my pot plants or in the polytunnel.
The bluebells are now putting on a lovely show in the tree field. In places it looks like a bluebell wood! Since it has also been staying quite cool (about 9 degrees celsius overnight and 11 during the day) the flowers are lasting well.
I am starting to see the orchids coming up in various places. Some I remember from year to year, others are a surprise. Unfortunately one of the big ones (probably a hybrid) in Dougie’s field got caught by frost. That’s the first time I know that has happened. Where I see them in the trackways, I have been marking them with sticks again so that S. can easily avoid them if he takes the mower down again.
I am hopeful that we have had a better set of cherries this year. It is still too early to tell yet really, however there definately seem to be cherries on this tree in the orchard area, and although I thought the morello in the fruit garden had none, I can now see those developing too.
More of the first planted trees are reaching maturity. There is blossom on more of the hawthorne, and wild cherries. Also and for the first time, there was blossom on at least one of the cherry plums, and a couple of saskatoons. Maybe they liked the warm weather last year, or maybe they have just reached a critical size. I don’t expect that there will be much, if any fruit, but it bodes well for future years. One of the more exciting flowers for me was one of the hollies in the front garden has blossomed. Holly trees are usually either male or female, and judging by the pollen on these flowers this plant is a male. No berries yet then this year, but hopefully one or more of his neighbours will be female, and eventually there will be berries.
At this time of year the sycamores also come into bloom. They are not really showy flowers, just a pale green chandelier, but the insects love them. As you walk round the garden you become aware of a humming, and it is coming from the sycamores. As well as bees there are wasps feeding on the pollen, and hoverflies and other flies.
On the drive bank things seem to be holding on. It has been difficult to water the plants on a slope, but they all got watered in pretty well when planted, so hopefully will survive OK. The cooler weather means they are less stressed anyhow. The bulbs leaves have faded as expected, and some of the tiny escallonia have flowers! There are some signs of seeds germinating, the buckwheat and calendula I can identify, but there are also weed seeds as expected. Not much grass yet so that’s good. It will be nice to see the earth covered.
My hablitzia are springing forth. I think that this year I will try harvesting some, so watch this space….
We are concerned about the central area of the tree field where we have planted a band of ash trees. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t planted quite so many in such a large band, but I did have my reasons. I had read that planting larger groves of the same sort of tree is better – they look better together than smaller groves or a complete mixture. Also the soil there seemed a little shallow, not really thin – just over a spade depth generally, and I’d read that ash trees have shallow roots, so thought logically that they wouldn’t mind the soil being shallower. So far so good. However, the ash hasn’t grown that quickly. Particularly below the trackway.
I think there are three reasons for this. First they don’t take exposure too well – there is quite a bit of dieback overwinter and those that are more sheltered suffer less. Secondly the area which I planted them in is just slightly well drained, and shallower on the downhill side. This is a good thing in some ways; ash trees don’t like to be sat in water. However in the spring when we get a nice dry spell, I wonder if the trees are getting slightly starved. There is competition from the particularly fine vigorous grass that likes the same well drained drier conditions. Those that we managed to mulch along the track edge have done better. The third aspect that I wonder about is that I found what appear to be vine weevil larvae all over the field, and again they like the drier conditions in this area. Maybe they are also eating the ash roots?
In the longer term I expect that we will have to replace the ash trees with something else (something that will like shallow drier soil…). In the meantime I’ve obtained some spruce and pine seedlings and have planted them to form extra windbreaks in the future. Hopefully they will give the ash trees a little more protection in the medium term, and if we do need to remove the ash due to chalera dieback, will protect whatever we replace them with as they get established. I have marked the position with hazel stick cut from new hazel trees that were a birthday present. These were rather larger than I have planted in the past, so I trimmed them back when planting so they would not suffer too much from wind rock. We will aim to mulch some of these new spruce to give them a head start against the grass, but there are so many other things needing doing…. at least we will be able to find them from the hazel twigs when we do get round to it.
Although the spruce trees are tiny, I have planted them in a double spade width hole as I did with the original plantings. It is easy to see now which way the prevailing wind is, by the direction of the grass strands across the turf. I managed to plant a couple of bands of spruce perpendicular to the wind direction two or three trees deep amongst the ash trees. The pines I mostly planted at the edges of the trackway and the very edge of the tree field where the track goes next to the southern boundary.
At first glance everything appear drab and colourless at this time of year. Admittedly the spring planters at the shop are pleasing this year, with their new crocuses and tete-a-tete daffodils, but generally things appear lifeless….Until you look closer and then some startling colours stand out.
I’m running around spotting the new sign of life and noticing all the things I need to be getting on with. Spring is springing, the days are getting longer and we’ve had a nice spell of weather that looks like (barring an overnight storm) continuing into next week. I’ve been trying out an app (gardenwize) to try and keep better records this year (one of my NY resolutions) but it doesn’t look like it will do quite what I want it to do (although about the best that I found). I think I will have to go back to hardcopy and get myself some index cards and just write a new card for each crop. It’s either that or write my own database, and I always get on better with spreadsheets. At least I won’t have to worry about back up.
I have already managed to sow some of my polytunnel plants in the propagator: the achocha, tomatoes and a chilli pepper. Some of the tomato seeds and the achocha are already sprouting after less than a week. I’ve also got some shrubby seeds that have been stratifying in the fridge for several weeks or months, which mostly may as well be planted out now into seed trays. Then it’s more sowing and potting on ad infinitum!
Plants are definately feeling the spring now. The tree buds are starting to swell, pig nut leaves are out and the first celandine flowers are showing. I must get down the hill and coppice some of the larger alder before the sap risies too much. I’ve got a bit of persuading S. that some of the trees would be better cut at this age. Admittedly it will be a pity to lose some of the shelter that has been achieved, but the trees should grow even better if fully cut back, since all their roots are sized to feed a whole tree.
Other wildlife is also feeling the changing times. There were a couple of lumps of frogspawn down in the pond. I haven’t seen the frogs there. It may be a little early yet, but I expect most of the spawn would survive a light frost anyhow. Hopefully we won’t get a hard frost anyhow because look what I’ve got in the poytunnel:
The Apricot buds are blossom. There is actually a lot more than I thought there would be: it is also all up the main branches. Most of the buds are tightly furled, but they are just beginning to open. I used a tiny bit of cotton wool to dab the flowers. They seem quite scented, so if any of the moths whose pesky caterpillars were eating it last year are about, they may fancy pollenising it for me.
I took a whole lot of elder cuttings since the bush has done so well for me. I have also got some cuttings off three other bushes: One local, one imported like mine, and one purple leaved bush. Some of the cuttings are in the orchard area which I tried to put down to green manures last September. The area now has a fair covering of bittercress and grass. Pictured above is one of the two field beans that seem to have escaped the crows’ attentions.
The other major project that I am hoping to get finished in the next week or so is the driveway retaining wall. I spent yesterday afternoon scavenging round for rocks, since I had pretty much exhausted the initial supply. Where the spade is in the picture above is where I plan to make a pedestrian access to the bank above. I’m not sure whether it will be a ramp or steps – probably steps, since it would be too steep for a barrow anyway, and I can also get to it from the garden to the left. I had to dig out half a big fuchsia bush that would otherwise be a nuisance growing across the path there. That took me most of today, but I have three big lumps of bush as well as lots of sticks to make cuttings from if I want. I think I will propagate some, since the fuchsia is tough as old boots (that bank is quite exposed to the south so gets quite a bit of wind as well as sunshine) but when in flower looks quite pretty. This one has pale pink flowers rather than the darker pink that is more common as hedging plants around here. It sets less fruit, probably due to the exposed position.