Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bursting with Life

Down working at the wood today. Spring is begrudgingly arriving after the longest winter in memory. Wildflowers and bluebells are out, and the soil is still wet and sodden from the spectacular storm we had yesterday that blew in from the Atlantic and caused mayhem on the land.

Walking around in the wood I'm overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done if I am to turn this into a working venture. Still, I won't be short of things to do.

But, with the sap rising, now is no time to be thinking of cutting wood and coppicing the hazels. The woodland is filled with the sound of birds, and everywhere I looked green shoots were bursting forth.

I like bracken quite a lot, but it's no good for the land. I'm considering getting some pigs and an electric fence … although I'd have to be there every day to look after them, and I'm not (at the moment).

Wildflowers have been popping up everywhere. It is a veritable flower garden. Here are just a few types that I took pictures of.

And of course, the carpet of bluebells …

Not quite as pretty as bluebells are the milk thistles that are springing up everywhere on the former pasture land. Like most people, my first thought was 'how do I destroy them?' But then I did a bit of research and found out that what I'm seeing here is the land healing itself.

This pasture will have had cows tramping around it for many years, compacting the soils and chewing the grass to within an inch of its life. Now, with the cows gone, deep-rooted thistles are breaking up the sub-soils for me and bringing vital nutrients to the surface. What's more, bees love thistles - and slugs hate them - so I'll let most of them remain this year.

I have dug a couple of experimental veg garden zones just to find out what the soil is like for growing stuff in. There's nothing special in them, just some peas, pumpkins, artichoke, sweetcorn and garlic - oh, and some strawberries for good measure. Of course, with all the rabbits around I've had to fence them off with chicken wire.

Things I've learned or figured out in the past week:

- The stiff prevailing winds mean I am going to have to plant a row of trees to make a windbreak. Without this my fruit trees will never flourish and the soil temperatures will be impaired. I'm probably going to go with Italian alder, which is recommended as a fast growing deciduous tree that also fixes nitrogen.
- Birds have moved into the two bird boxes I put up in the wood. I think they are finches of some type. My neighbour, the friendly old man, has huge boxes in his trees that he says owls live in.
- Speaking of whom, he told me that my wood was planted around thirty years ago by the wealthy local estate owner as a pheasant shooting wood. Alas, he was caught having an affair with his secretary, and in the divorce proceedings he had to sell off much of his land, including Fox Wood. He also almost killed himself in a tractor accident on the field that was there before the wood was created, but that's another story.
- Slugs have attacked my rhubarb which I planted. To deter them I have placed a 'ring of spikes' i.e. thistles, around it.
- I have started to dig a pond with my new azada (more on that soon). It's going to be quite large and will contain several different zones. It is hard work digging by hand, but better than going to a gym.
- I have found several large chunks of granite - gate posts - lying around the land.


  1. I wouldn't just leave the milk thistle alone. Rather, I would treat it more like a compost crop. Only, you don't have to actually haul it over into a compost pile. I'd wait until it was about twice as big as is showing in the picture, then just mow it all down (maybe with a scythe?). Basically you're just encouraging to keep doing those functions of loosening and pulling up nutrients from the subsoil. But I wouldn't worry about trying to get every last one either, just the bulk of them.

    1. Thanks, John. I am certainly not planning on the thistles being there long term, but for now they can just do their thing without fear of the scythe. Actually, I did think about getting a scythe … I'm still thinking about it, although with something like 1,000 closely-planted trees to consider I think the next tool I'll be buying is a chainsaw.

      One great thing about thistles though is that they rot remarkably quickly after they have been cut.

  2. Working on a garden is a joy now. Spring seemed to have been delayed interminably this year, but now everything is growing like crazy. It's wonderful!

    I have only a small 'forest garden' (81m²) which I started in December 2011. Some of the hedge plants and saplings I planted then have now blossomed for the first time. The strawberry patch is growing well and I have discovered that the leaves are edible as well as the fruits - not that they're particularly delicious but they are perfectly edible. Same goes for young beech leaves - I never knew they were edible either.

    Months ago I trimmed or removed a lot of trees and bushes, putting the cuttings on the soil between the plants I've put in or want to keep, as a mulch to feed the soil, retain moisture and suppress weeds. It works very well when the mulch is thick enough, so the soil is bare and weed-free underneath, but where there are gaps or the mulch isn't thick enough, weeds make their way through it. Since the leaves in the mulch rot down nicely but the twigs and branches don't, I was left with weedy areas covered with twigs and branches that looked a mess, and I couldn't easily cut down the weeds with shears because of all the woody material getting in the way. Now I've cleared those areas and made two large compost heaps, with the idea of mulching later with fine, well-rotted compost instead of fresh cuttings. Ultimately the intention is to have suitable, edible ground cover plants in between the larger plants, bushes, trees etc.

    One problem I haven't found an answer to yet, in a perennial permaculture garden, is how to get sufficient carbohydrates without growing annual vegetables which require digging (potatoes, carrots, parsnips etc.). We can't live on leaves and fruit. More reading required on that, I think.

    Anyway, enough rambling, good luck with your wood.


    1. It's a great moment when something first blossoms! I have also been thinking of ways to get rid of the grass (well, most of it) and mulching is certainly one option. Another I'm considering is feeding a lot of the debris from the cutting of the wood into a shredder and blowing using the resulting wood chips as a mulching bed. The only trouble with this idea is that I'd need a an awful lot of material and, also, apparently slugs love it. Oh, and I don't have a wood chipper.

      As for the carbohydrates, I've heard chestnuts being talked about quite often. You can eat them fresh, cook them or bring them into a flour. I've got a few planted myself …

    2. The wood chipper would definitely work - local councils do it all the time. It must be a boon for them. Instead of having to haul away all the trimmings of trees and bushes, they just get shredded and sprayed straight onto the ground and thus keep it clear of weeds. Maybe you could hire a chipper for a day when you've done all your chopping and trimming :-)

      Sheet mulch (some kind of black plastic I think) is easy and works well but of course you have to buy it, and it looks unsightly.

      Good point about the chestnuts, thanks. Have fun!

    3. I may experiment a bit with a wood-chipper. The only thing is that I'm also going to be charcoaling all the off sized bits of wood and selling it, so I have to decide between the two.

      As for sheet mulch - I bought some lightweight stuff and it was a disaster. The grass actually grew longer and greener underneath it - and provided a safe haven for slugs! I've taken to collecting old carpets that people are throwing out - the thicker the better. Looks ugly but it does the job.

    4. Wow, interesting comment about the sheet mulch - I've not tried it because it just looks ugly. Glad I didn't! :-) Will be interesting to read about the charcoaling when you get around to it.

    5. Well, I should have looked at what I was actually buying. Turns out it is a weed 'supressant' … meaning it inhibits their growth of naked soil. I've folded it over a couple of times to thinker it and weighed it down with sod … we'll see if that has any effect!

  3. Do English slugs like beer like they do over here? Have seen the slug beer trap work.

    1. Yes they love beer. Unfortunately, so do I and I'd have to use gallons of the stuff to make a dent on their population levels.

      The long term plan is to have a large pond (which I have already started) with slug-eating ducks living on it. I'm also going to breed frogs, as they love eating slugs too.

  4. Ducks eat slugs. You can eat the ducks :)

    You remind me there other things to write about than railing about Industrial Civilizational collapse. LOL. More pics on my blog, of my garden, coming soon.

    1. Yep - turning slugs into tasty meals!

      BTW, been reading about your woes over on OTGIM … you know the offer still stands to take a break in Fox Wood for a while.