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.
The dog resistant garden (DRG) was enclosed when our first dog Douglas was a youngster. He did like to ‘help’ – dig where I was digging, and so on. I constructed a windbreak fence around what was then mostly a vegetable garden in the front garden. Over the years this evolved, first into a flower garden with the idea I night grow flowers for the shop, and then into a shrubbery with interesting edibles. Now with Douglas gone and Dyson a mature dog, the fencing had seen better days and I was finding the square corners of the garden annoying. I took down the majority of the enclosure in the spring and recently took out all of the fence posts. The original paths no longer go where I want to wander, and the soil levels between the DRG and the barn bank were humped according to where the soil had been moved when the roadway above the barn (known as Lara’s road after our croft-Rover was parked there for a while) was excavated.
Over the last few weeks I have been energised to level the soil and re-landscape the area and plant up with some of the plants I have been propagating. Dyson was a bit of a nuisance helping when I was levelling the soil. He is generally very good, but when something is scraped over the ground, like a broom, rake or vaccuum cleaner, he likes to bite the head of the implement. That’s all very well for those implements, but when it came to biting at the mattock head as I was chopping the turf, I had to put him inside out of harm’s way. I cleared the soil off the barn road bank to stop it falling in, making a precarious walkway.
It was a bit of hard work to clear the old paths out of the DRG. I had laid woven weed membrane along the paths, and when it was a vegetable garden I had transferred stones I found whilst digging to the paths. These stones had then been covered with soil, so there was quite a bit of grass and the odd docken or raspberry growing through it. I have pulled it all up now I hope. One of my friends in the glen has a new polytunnel and they may be able to reuse the weed membrane, since it seems to be in pretty good condition overall, as long as they don’t mind a bit of cleaning.
I marked out the new paths, including a curved one through the DRG, with bits of wood from the old fencing. Some of the old telegraph poles that had acted as retaining walls for the raised central bed of the DRG were used to create a border to one side of the main path that curves round to the secret garden. I could do with a quantity of wood chippings to cover the path with and weigh down some newspaper to keep the weeds down there.
Having levelled the soil, I then proceded to mound it up again between the path and Lara’s road edge. Three banks were formed perpendicular to the prevailing wind direction. Hopefully this will create wetter sheltered parts and drier more exposed parts at least in the short term. The whole area is fairly well sheltered and shaded by the sycamores in the front garden, and this shelter should increase as the shrubs I have planted start to grow.
The final steps I have done so far have been to lay out the plants and shrubs and plant them. I dug up some self heal and sorrel with particularly large leaves from the tree field and transplanted these to act as ground cover. Most of the plants however are ones I have propagated myself. I was going to plant out the two Gevuina avellana seedlings that have survived being repotted and are doing pretty well, but I decided that they are still perhaps a bit small to plant out. I did plant out some of the plum yews I have (both japanese plum yew; Cephalotaxus harringtonia and chilean plum fruited yew; Prumnopitys andina, which were bought as seedlings. Again they are pretty small, so I hope they will do alright in the ground. I need both male and female plants to survive if I want to get fruit in future. The Miscanthus grass is the other plant I recently bought. I’m hoping to divide it in future years to screen the barn and create a bit more quick growing shelter if it likes it here. I was very impressed with it at the East Devon Forest Garden when I visited a few years ago. The one I bought from Edulis when I was visiting my Mum last year got a bit swamped by the nettles in the early part of this year, but also seems to be surviving so far. I’ve put in about 6 asparagus that haven’t found a home yet, some blackcurrant seedlings which had self seeded in the pallet garden and various known and unknown plants that may do alright there and are big enough to plant out. When I’ve finished planting I will create an annotated planting picture like I did for the drivebank.
Still to do is to mulch between the plants, lay down paper and chippings on the main path, level the curved path in the DRG, and mulch between the DRG and the main path. I may try and seed some of the area that is less likely to resprout turf since it was dug quite deeply. I’ll leave replanting the other side of the path for a while to try and clear some of the weeds. These are not buried enough to stop them regrowing, so need a thick mulch for a few months, maybe till next autumn.
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.
I’ve got into a system now in the polytunnel (although as always it’s still evolving!). I have a number of perennial fruit and vegetables that come back more or less reliably and more or less productively year after year, then I have annuals and replant perennials which I rotate through the four quarters of the polytunnel. The four quarters are tomatoes, cucubits, yacon and grasses/legumes. I’ll explain how these are getting on in this post. It got a bit long when I started to include the fixed perennials, so I’ll make a separate post for those.
There are a number of annual, or biannual plants that have self seeded and come up as they feel like around the tunnel, these include a flat leaf kale (possibly originally pentland brig), flat leaved parsley, chickweed, fat hen, leaf beet and climbing nasturtiums. I generally don’t weed religiously in the tunnel (I’m never the tidiest of gardeners!) just clearing space for sowing or growing plants as required. When I do pull out weeds or chop back plants I will usually tuck the removed plant matter around growing plants to act as a mulch. I am convinced that the soil in the tunnel is much happier for this as the mulch acts as a layer of insulation; keeping the soil and plant roots cooler and damper, gradually disappearing into the soil and feeding it.
The climbing nasturtiums are funny. I think I had just the one plant last year, an orange one which had seeded from a single lovely tawny dark orange flower the previous year. It flowered profusely and I just left it to seed around, which it has with a vengeance! Every colour from pale primrose to dark maroon, is now represented, clashing wonderfully with the Fuchsia-berry Fuchsia flowers. The nasturtiums have rather taken over the tomato bed and I’m having to weed them out, train them up and cut them back. I assume that there is interesting hidden genetics going on there, but am just stepping back and enjoying the results. I’ll try and collect some of the seed this year, or I will be able to grow nothing else in that corner for seedlings. Unfortunately I’m not fond of the taste of nasturtium, but do enjoy the visual effect of the flowers. They are also supposed to be a good distraction plant for cabbage white butterflies, not that those are a problem for me here.
The tomatoes are lovely sturdy plants this year. I didn’t get very good germination, however I did get plenty of plants for my purposes, if a bit later than ideal. I was trying out a different compost this year: Dalefoot bracken and wool composts. I’m pretty impressed with it – a bit pricy especially after delivery to Skye, but the plants were definitely healthier than previous years, so I will be buying it again. I got a pallet load organised for myself and various neighbours in the glen and beyond. Although there didn’t seem much interest at the time of ordering, then the lockdown happened and I could have passed on twice as many bags, since compost was one of the things in short supply on the island! The fruit set well and are just starting to ripen nicely now on the vines, so it is a race against the fading summer to see if I can get most of them to ripen off. Other people locally already have had ripe fruit for several weeks, so I know I can do better….
Again this year I had poor germination of the sweetcorn. Actually I got zero germination. This means the lower northern quarter of the polytunnel is mainly growing whatever is self seeding in. I cleared and watered a couple of beds to get some fresh leaves in a few weeks. I sowed a couple of patches of the millet seed, but am a bit disappointed with the germination of this as well. If I don’t get seed off it this year, I probably won’t bother with it again.
The stars of the tunnel (other than the nasturtiums) have been the cucubits. I grew three cucumber plants myself (Tamra) and was given one (Marketmore). The marketmore has done pretty well setting several nice fruit, and ongoing… They are a bit spiny, but these rub off easily. The Tamra, which last year produced one delicious fruit the size of my little finger, has had several nice fruit on one of the three vines. I left the first fruit to try and obtain seeds, so may have done even better if this had been picked. Given the Marketmore is next to the Tamra, they may have crossed, so if I do get seed they may not be the same as the parent.
I am very happy with the courgettes, which have been setting well and ongoing. I think the large round fruit I found last year may well have been a tondo di picenza courgette/marrow, although it was sweet like a melon. I am finding that the immature fruit are also very pleasant to eat raw.
The pumpkin nut plants got away very well, and all three plants have at least one good sized fruit supported and swelling. One of them is already starting to turn orange, so I am very hopeful that I may get ripe seeds from this one at least. The plant is grown for it’s hull-less seeds, and maybe I can use some of them to grow plants from next year. I don’t think I will get sharksfin melon this year, which is a bit dissappointing. I had just one plant survive, and although it is growing away quite rampantly now, it is rather late for it to set fruit to come to anything. I may try digging the plant up, cutting it back and trying to overwinter it inside this year.
I’m pretty excited about the Yacon. Although it is too early to tell what the yield of roots will be (it is dug as late as possible, after the plants die back in the winter) the plants are getting quite big now, and I can see flower buds developing on the two new varieties I obtained this year. With a few big ‘ifs’ it would be very exciting to get seed to try and grow a new variety. The tiny plants I grew a few years ago from cultivariable seeds never made it through the winter, but it would be fun to try again. Cultivariable are unfortunately not exporting seed any more….
The fruit garden became a fruit jungle. This is mostly because of the raspberries, which like to move around. There is also quite a bit of nettle(s), which make it not conducive to casual browsing. The nettles are a good sign actually, since they prefer richer soil. Probably decades of manure from the byre in times past have increased the fertility of the area, although there has been no livestock since we’ve been here. I’ve tried to tame various areas in the past, but am fighting a bit of a losing battle; it looks beautiful for a few months, then nature happens. It is probably the soft herbacious layer that I don’t understand yet and haven’t got the balance for. Hopefully in time I can get the groudcover plants established so that the nettles and docken don’t dominate quite so much. In the meantime I have been pulling these perennial weeds out, sometimes by the root, sometimes not. They will probably come back next year, maybe not as strong, we shall see.
The comfrey still seems to come back in patches where I thought I had removed it. I think if I carry on digging out as much as I can it will eventually give up. In the meantime the lush growth is useful to mulch around the fruit bushes. I’ve got quite a nice patch of strawberries, although they tend to get damaged outside before they get a chance to ripen off. They do much better in the polytunnel. The Toona sinensis seems pretty happy, if not that vigorous. It can be seen sprouting earlier in the year in the strawberry picture above (at least if you know where to look). It is only it’s second year and I haven’t tried eating any yet. It is supposed to taste like ‘beefy onions’, used as a cooked vegetable in China. The patches of Good King Henry have established well. They will stop some weed seedlings coming up next year. The Japanese Ginger is very late coming into growth again, and does not show much signs of being too vigorous in my garden. I just hope it survives and grows enough that I can try that as a vegetable as well. I forgot I had some Oca in by the Ribes Odoratum last year. That seems to have come back of it’s own accord. I have a feeling that Oca volunteers will be as much of a nuisance as potato volunteers tend to be, albeit somewhat less vigorous.
I have mulched around the ‘Empress Wu’ Hosta, which I planted in the trees just beyond the fruit jungle, with cardboard. I wanted to protect it before the grass grew and swamped it too much. The bistort has come back nicely as well this year and set seed, which I just sprinkled close by. I wish now I had sowed the seed in pots so I could determine where to plant out new plants if they grow. I mulched the area between the path and the lower parking area as well. The new large fruited haw there, Crataegus Shraderiana, is growing well, and it is underplanted with a Gaultheria Mucronata cutting and a Mrs Popple Fuchsia cutting. The latter had been growing quite nicely, but unfortunately got broken off once planted, possibly by Dyson sitting on it, or the cardboard shifting against it. It seems to be growing back again OK now.
The original elder bush, which came as a cutting from Solihull is coming into it’s own now. It flowers really well, despite being on the windy side of the willow fedge that protects the fruit garden from the worst of the prevailing winds. It doesn’t seem to have set many berries again though. Hopefully some of the local elder cuttings that I took will cross fertilise it and help a set; it may just be the wind though. It’s worth it’s position just from the blossom and extra shelter it provides, although fruit would also be nice. I used to make a rather tasty cordial from elderberries…..and I read somewhere that it used to be cultivated to make a port-like drink back in the day. Certainly I have drunk some rather good home brewed elderberry wine (not mine I hasten to add).
The rest of the fruit jungle is living up to it’s name. The original rhubarb has provided a batch of jam and a batch of chutney, I could have picked more… The Champagne Early rhubarb are starting to establish well with a lovely pink colouration (I made a batch of rhubarb and ginger liqueur which is maturing as I write), and the Stockbridge Arrow is coming on, although still quite small. The Ribes Odoratum flowered well, although only one berry appears to have set. I will maybe try and take some cuttings from these this winter. They are very pretty while in bloom, although it would be nice to get a bit more fruit from them. The Saskatoon remains a bit disappointing. I was hoping it would be setting fruit better by now. There are a few but not many. It maybe that it requires more ‘chill days’ to flower well, since we have much milder winters here than it would be used to in it’s native North America. A bit of research indicates that the bushes may need pruning, or just be immature. The raspberries are starting to ripen now, and the black currants (all Ben Sarek in the fruit garden) are tempting with a heavy crop, but need a few more days yet. There is also at least one flower on the globe artichoke which is a division from the polytunnel plant (spot it in the top photo after clearing). It is encouraging that it is returning and getting stronger year on year. The cardoon seems to have succumbed this year. I don’t think any of my new seed have germinated, but I may be better getting vegetable branded seed rather than HPS seed, which is more likely to be an ornamental variety – they are rather spectacular in bloom.
All of the apple trees also flowered well. Only the Tom Putt apple seems to have set any fruit though. I’m not too perturbed about that. The Worcester Pearmain is unlikely to ripen anyhow, and the Starks Early (which I grafted myself!) is still very young. Given a halfway reasonable summer however, I am hopeful of getting more than one apple this year. There don’t seem to be any surviving fruit on the Morello cherry unfortunately, which is looking rather tatty.
The monkey puzzles as yet are far too young to expect nuts. They were planted in 2009 and have grown really well in the fruit garden. All three are about twice as tall as I am. By special request from Maureen, I’ll put a photo of one of my monkey puzzle and I above. They are also getting wider in diameter; both in trunk and in branch reach The branches are so prickly this means that the original path at the top of where the fruit tunnel once stood is no longer viable. I therefore need to have another think about path routeing this winter, particularly in the upper raspberry dominated area.
This year I have been trying to tame the next section of garden by the drivebank overlooking the barn, this is where I moved the kiwi vine to over the winter. I have been calling this The Secret Garden in my mind. It is not particularly hidden (although it will be more secluded once mature), it is just that almost all the plants in here have edible parts, although are normally grown as ornamentals in the UK. Steven Barstow has coined the word ‘edimentals’ for these sorts of plants.
I had already forked over the area and mulched it with cardboard at the same time as I planted out the kiwi vine. One of my neighbours has lots of lovely hosta, which I had been admiring and they very kindly gave me several big clumps of it, together with what I think may be Elecampane (Inula helenium), and ladies mantle. I have put most of the hosta in this area, there are at least two different varieties – one with quite blue leaves. Hopefully it won’t be too dry for it. I also planted out some of my Aralia cordata, which I had grown from seed, and my sechuan pepper (from a danish cutting), some Lady Boothby Fuchsia (from cuttings), some golden current (from cuttings) and my strawberry tree (bought as a plant). I also planted some hardy geraniums around the base of the strawberry tree. These were grown from seed from chiltern seeds: . It was supposed to be a mixed pack, but only two varieties seem to have made it – a small white flowered one and a small purple flowered one. The rest of the geraniums were planted on the drivebank.
I also got some hedging Sea buckthorne plants this spring, and have planted a number of these along the top of the bank above the barn, as well as in various places in the tree field. Hopefully these will form a protective barrier as well as fixing nitrogen, and maybe producing fruit in the future. They should grow fairly quickly, but I will probably cut them back fairly often to keep them bushy, assuming they do OK.
These plantings are all mostly doing fine. The Aralia seems to be suffering a bit from slug damage. There were three little plants, and I think one has not made it, one is OK and the other will probably be OK. The Hosta doesn’t seem to have suffered too badly from slug damage so far. One of the clumps is starting to flower, and they are all looking pretty healthy. The kiwi is not looking great, but has some new growth, so may well make it. The proof will be if it comes back into life next year! Unfortunately the sechuan pepper plant was broken by some strong north winds we had – I did not stake it since it was so tiny. It has sprouted below the broken point so I have removed the top part of the stem and stuck it in adjacent in the hope that this may form a new plant too. So far the strawberry tree is looking very happy. One of the sea buckthorne hasn’t made it, but the others look pretty happy. I may replace the failed sea buckthorne with a female good fruiting variety if the others do well in the next couple of years.
The weeds had been poking through the cardboard, so I have been going back over with some fresh cardboard, pulling out the nettles, docken and grasses that are a bit persistent. Hopefully I can weaken them enough that they don’t come back next year. I need to have more ground cover plants to stop the weeds seeding back in again (remember rule #2) The chilean plum yew plants I have are still a bit small for planting out yet I think, but could also be planted out next year. I have also thickly covered the main path through to the front garden (it comes out where I have the dog tooth violet and solomon’s seal plants growing) with old newspaper and wood chippings/bark. I still need to complete another ramp down to the barn and build a retaining wall to tidy up the join to the drivebank, however there is a Landrover parked rather long term just in the way at the moment, so this may have to wait till next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Having missed the whole of the spring season we are already heading into summer. 2020 will be remembered by all this year for the covid-19 virus issues. The lock down restrictions have had little effect on us, although we are busy in the shop trying to source essential supplies for our loyal customers and are grateful for where we live. One staff member is still recovering from a (different) virus infection from before xmas, and another decided to stop coming to work to protect her family. This has left us with just one person to give me time off, so more work, less time. However we are so much luckier than many people, and are hopeful of having a new member trained up soon, so I can get another afternoon per week off.
The garden outside goes from brown and dead looking to fountains of green over the months of April and May. A moderately dry spring is now turning milder and wetter, with my first midge bites of the year recently, a bit of wind last weekend with maybe warm weather for the end of the month.
There were a couple of different plants down by the river this spring. I was surprised to see a bright pink primrose and have no idea how it came to be here, many hundreds of yards from any garden. I gather that they can be pale pink sometimes, but this is really bright pink. I can only assume that the seeds must have washed down from a garden cross upriver, so I have relocated the plant to the front garden under the fuchsia bush.
The other plant that I had seen, but not realised what it was is coltsfoot. I had seen the leave in the summer, but have never noticed the flowers before, which come out before any of its leaves are visible. There were a few in bloom on the riverbank and a couple inside the fence by the pond. They look a bit like dandelion flowers, with scaly stems and a bit more middle. Allegedly they taste of aniseed. I did take a nibble of one, but I think in the future I will just let them be.
In the tree field I have planted some new tree varieties: italian alder and sea buckthorne. The latter I have been wanting to try for a while, and the former I think may do better on the swathe of field where the ash trees are not doing very well. I now think that they are struggling partly due to the soil getting dry in that area. I’m hoping that italian alder may do better there, since it should cope better with dry soils. The soil is not particularly shallow, being generally greater than a spade’s depth, but is well drained. It occurs to me that beech may be worth trying here also – maybe next year – although beech is not supposed to coppice well. I also got more common alder to backfill the windbreaks and alder copses, and have planted a new alder copse right in the bottom south corner adjacent to the windbreak edge at Jo’s field edge. This will quickly give shelter to the area behind, which was originally planted mainly with hazel, which did not do very well. I’m going to back plant with some self seeded hazel and locally sourced aspen. I have taken some root cuttings from a tree below the old school, which hopefully will do better than the bought in plants which seem to not be completely happy.
I can already see fresh shoots of orchids appearing on the pathways, and the bluebells are creating scented banks in several areas of the field. Pignuts are starting to open, and cuckoo smock flowers create little pink chandeliers dotted around the field (photo at top). The new ramp to the mound is blending in nicely, and a number of bluebells apparently transplanted with the turf are making a blue path through the trees.
I was lucky enough to spot one of the more spectacular moths of the UK this week. An emperor hawk moth with it’s dramatic eyes was displaying itself on the grass down by the lower trackway. I’ve only seen one once here several years ago, although have spotted the caterpillars a few times.
Another welcome return was a violet oil beetle. These ungainly creatures are the cuckoos of the insect world and are a sign of a healthy bee population which is nice!
One of the wild flowers that grows round here is Geum rivale or water avens. Although I do love most flowers, I’m particularly fond of the appearance of this one. It is quite subtle in colour and has a shy drooping flower habit. There is quite a large amount of it on the river bank and up in the gully.
I think this herb may be confused sometimes with Geum urbanum; herb bennet or wood avens which has a clove scented root, is used as a pot herb and remedy against snake bites. However Geum rivale also has many herbal uses. The mention that the roots can make a chocolate substitute inspired me to give it a go.
I dug up a bit of plant from near the river – it was almost fully died back, but I am pretty sure of my identification from the fragment of growing point left. I cut off the roots and replanted the crown to regrow. The creeping rootstock is about a quarter inch thick and could be cleaned off reasonably easily in fresh water, although a bit brittle. I could detect no particular scent of cloves, some sites say that it develops more in the dried root, but I wonder if this is one of the aspects of Geum urbanum that gets confused. I cut the fresh cleaned root into tiny pieces and boiled it in a little water for about ten minutes.
The water turned a dark reddish brown colour. Taking a little taste of it revealed that it was incredibly bitter. However adding warm milk and a little sugar resulted in a drink that was palatable. If you had hot chocolate described to you but you had never tasted it, then this would satisfy. In the words of the late great Douglas Adams it was ‘almost, but not quite, entirely unlike‘ chocolate.
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