January 2012

WINTER CHEER

The trees that went in 12 months ago have generally done really well. However, the willow did not live up to expectations. The thin willows for weaving the Dicks were successful and I have cropped these and put them to dry with the rush I cut in the summer. The bio fuel willow had not grown as well.The obvious difference being that the weaving willow was planted through mulch mat whereas the bio willow was mulched with straw, this proved insufficient and the grass did grow and compete with the willow. We decided we needed to mulch all the willow.
We also retrofitted mulch mat around the Alder windbreak, this is much more difficult to do and it is not finished yet, but I am over half way. The Alder has grown well but really any extra help has to be good. I read of an experiment where trees of 3 years were compared mulched and grown through grass, the mulched trees doubled in growth. The windbreak is so essential; from September until now we have probably lost over 50% potential work days due to wind. Fingers crossed this new blanket mulching out of grass will spur the trees on to greater growth.

I know it is worthwhile as a neighbour has 16 acres which was the same open pasture as we have and he has planted up a forest; you can wander around listening to gales but still able to function well at ground level.

There are still large areas of grass land around the fruit trees, here each tree has its own mat and the grass can grow in between. I am interested to see what will happen over time, the dominating couch grass is now not been kept in check by sheep, but it needs that strong cull regularly for its growth habit, as it is thin rooted I am guessing that a few years without being touched might see it die back. The ground has nettles, sorrel, yarrow, rayless mayweed and plantain so far showing and probably many more species of plant will come through so I think we will leave a portion untouched and see what happens.

More trees. Along the really strong windage edge we have planted another 2 lines of trees, one more line of Alder and a row of Hornbeam. We have bulked up the coppice with more Hazel and Chestnut and added some Maple and Downy Birch.
I have got some Schetzwan Pepper seeds stratifying in the fridge, just kitchen bought pepper from the Asian store in Bangor. I also fancy a Medlar. I picked some Medlar in Shavington in October and left them in a bowl until Christmas they really were truly bletted and they tasted gorgeous. So the plan is we have some damsons from BFG. These were suckers from the host tree of the Almonds at BFG, which have been put in around the pig pen, one could be cut back and a medlar grafted onto it. Another 2 apple trees have gone round the pig pen, the idea is they could be a self serve pudding bar for the pigs.
More willows have been dotted about the place creating a series of rooms around the land, each within its own protected enclosure and purpose. I had originally fancied the idea of an open space looking out from the house to the pond but that seems unrealistic. Just say NO to wind

As the windage on the veg patch was too great for delicate plants I have come up with a cunning plan. We can get broken pallets for free and we have made up high oblong boxes. They will serve two purposes, I can layer up straw and seaweed within each box so the planting is raised to avoid waterlogged roots, and create lots of separate protected growing areas. Unfortunately the raised beds do look rather like coffins on the poo piles still that cannot be helped. I am spreading gravel around the beds so eventually there will be very easy to use glamorous coffins on the poo piles

I am generally getting all the growing areas more organised. The polytunnel has been separated into small walkways with support nets fastened up and soaker hose running under the nets.
The forest garden has some of the best plantings with very healthy growth but I did not put enough new plants into the mulched out areas so grass was able to get back in. I am now layering up more cardboard but at the same time I am creating growing squares with more distinguished areas of plants. All in all it’s just doing what all the gardening books say; keep it simple, organised and tidy. I have also noticed how my winter seedling lettuce are very organised I have started with 3 seeds to a pot and thinned to 1 seed and these are now healthy little plants ready to go out and will be edible in the early spring. So my gardening habits are improving which is always a good way to go.

We stopped getting Asda delivery in July and we have been relying on our own supplies of food since then and it has gone really well. I can see how we are eating more and more traditional British food with pork bones and dried peas or slow cooked root veg. Not forgetting, as if I could, porridge every day.
What I am enjoying is how pickles and jams are being used as food rather than fancy jars in the cupboard that look nice but you never finish. I have just made a big batch of marmalade and I know I will eat it all probably on porridge as I have nearly finished all the sloe and crab apple jelly.
I do need to buy sugar for preserving and at the moment it’s really expensive; something to do with high fuel prices pushing up the marketable value of ethanol so inflating the price of sugar.
Birch and maple trees have been planted and I am looking to bees this spring. Sprouting broccoli is looking nearly ready to sprout, Greens are still doing well in the polytunnel. I do not know if we will get through to May/June but we are doing well. I am relying on supermarkets for oil and dairy products I need to seriously think about goats or at the very least buying milk from a local supplier and making my own butter.
The trench around the hemp extension side of the house is complete and we have started the foundations this is slow but steady you can only move so much rock in a day. Still bemused by the Egyptians, they just dragged stuff about, so there was a lot of them and it was over sand? So not many options were available but really why just why?
We have had the timber frame design drawn and approved. We are nearly ready to start the frame work although I doubt anything will be ready to begin before April. I do not have time for the building with all the land wanting fun attention as well as  chickens love.
Last week we climbed the local mountain

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