Thursday, June 6, 2013

Earth Restoration Operative in Action

It's a funny thing to note that six months ago I was spending an unhealthy amount of time both reading and writing about peak oil, climate change and the catabolic collapse of industrial civilisation, and yet now that I've actually started to take some kind of action I barely have time for either.

Summer seems to have come in Cornwall, like someone flicking a switch. One day it was cold and wet, the next it was burning sun - and it has stayed that way for the last ten days. I have been spending my days lugging wheelbarrows full of rocks, digging holes, cutting wood and clearing brambles, to say the least.

I've been thinking a lot more deeply about how this patch of land can work as a permaculture project. It's evolving slowly, which is how it should do. My aim is to vastly improve the biodiversity and soil quality of this patch of land that has somehow fallen under the orbit of my control, and at the same time manage the surrounding woodland in a sustainable way. By synchronising with nature's rhythms and listening to the land I hope to be able to create a harmonious place that is a refuge from the industrially ravaged land that surrounds it, perhaps providing a place of resilience for my family and valued friends in the process.

Although I'm still doing some copywriting and translation work to keep financially afloat, I am able to spend at least three days a week working on the land. The last two weekends we have stayed in the caravan and the children are getting attuned to living without TVs, iPads and all the other things that 21st century kids are supposed to crave.

Here's a bit of an update of sorts of what is going on at Fox Wood.

A friend with a 4WD camper van managed to drag our caravan up onto the land. He'd just spent the morning in public dressed in a biohazard suit and clenched in a giant metal fist as a protest against Monanto, so his help was doubly-appreciated.
Sofia demonstrates how the compost latrine works. It's a bit basic … but it's okay until I build a proper compost toilet.
Another friend had a couple of willows that needed a home. Here's one of them  I planted. I have placed it close to where I am planning to dig out the large pond, as willows are water-lovers. Because they grow so quickly they will be a good resource for making things. I'm planning to plant a couple of dozen more.
The thistles that are covering the pasture land are starting to flower beautifully. As I mentioned before, I'm letting them thrive for the first year - they are one way that the land is re-generating as minerals are brought up from the subsoil. The flowers provide food for bees and the thorns keep the rabbits away. Later, they will make green mulch when I mow them down in the autumn.

I have cut an access path through them using a miniature hand-held scythe. I want to leave the roots intact - they make excellent channels for the roots of beneficial plant species as they rot down.

I also cleared a fairly dense patch of brambles, revealing four young chestnut trees. Plenty of scratches to show for my efforts!

One of the apple trees I planted. In total I have put in ten fruit trees this year and they are all doing well now the chill winds have died down.

The ground is now covered in buttercups. Beautiful, but also poisonous.

The enemy - creeping brambles coming up under the ground. I've been busy with  the shears but may have to employ a pig or two in the long term.

The self-fertile almond tree. In the background you can see my rhubarb slug-protection teepee.

This is the inconspicuous entrance to the five-acre wood, which slopes down steeply towards a river bed.

Down in the wood, everything is in leaf. Some finches have taken residence in that box and there are chicks in there.

The bracken is … prolific.

This is an ash tree. Nobody knows how long it will take before ash dieback disease spreads to Cornwall, but for now the tree is in rude health.

Back out of the woods again, this pea is literally the first food I am likely to eat from this land. 

The track leading onto the land needed a bit of upgrading. Rather than buying in gravel, I'm putting down barrows full of rocky solid from the potato farmer's field.

The track is rich in wildflowers.

A bit more domestic - I found this antique pewter tea pot in a junk shop in Copenhagen. The bottom is corroded and full of holes, making it an excellent place to grow a gaud.

All food waste from home goes into the wormery. When the trays are half-way decomposed I dig a hole next to a tree and put it in, worms and all. I'm improving the humous gradually, and the tree roots have something to feed on as it decomposes. The worms have babies in the other trays and the population remains about the same.

Zone 1.

I have not really started on the large-scale mulching yet but this is a start. This peace tree has home-made compost underneath the cardboard. Grass impairs the growth of young trees - eventually there will be no grass at all - just shrubs, trees and mulch.

Sunburned me.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to hire some earth moving equipment to dig out the pond, level the terrace for the poly tunnel and make the ground around the caravan level enough for an awning. Did I mention the hugel beds?

My new chainsaw arrives in the post tomorrow. Good job as the fridge is full of mushroom spores that need fresh hardwood logs to impregnate … I never thought I'd be into fungiculture, but here I am - life is strange.


  1. I first came across the Bealtaine Cottage website via your 22BES blog - it's a wonderful example of how a wasteland can be transformed into a virtual Garden of Eden in less than a decade. I'm sure you'll do very much the same with your own land.


    1. Yes, I'm quite a fan of that blog too. There is something meditative about the images ...

  2. Hi John
    Really love what you are doing with the Land we also want to do something similar and have been looking at some places but not found anything yet.
    In the mean time we are creating an allotment but I would like to plant fruit trees and really go for it if this place was ours and not rented.
    See you at Tai Chi

    1. Hi Rachel - I know some people who are going into a community woodland (i.e. a big block divided up between them) near Penzance. Can put you in touch … or maybe you already know them!

      ps Who's John?

  3. Can't express how much I enjoyed the pictures, which tell the quickening story better than words alone.
    Around here, local authorities and volunteers are saving high-quality farmland more and more; there's some hope.
    Your daughters are going to have a big time as the grow up!

    1. Earth restoration should be a priority for policy makers. Without decent soil and bidiversity we are all stuffed. There are lots of people involved in doing just that - leading by example is the best way forwards, imo.

      Glad you liked the pictures!

  4. Leading by example indeed. It looks wonderful, and you and Sofia seem happy and healthy.

    It is Saturday morning in Minneapolis, and I am currently serenaded to the sound of at least three lawnmowers, traingulated. The sun is shining at length for the first time in weeks and all people can think to do is mow their lawns. It is a constant background noise all weekend in the summers around here. They all claim to hate mowing - I'm watching the one neighbor with the satellite dish on his roof and the bad hips, wobble his way around the yard. And yet, he and not a few others look at me like I am crazy, for getting rid of 90% of my sod, and my 100+ species of plants.

    I think maybe it's time for a photo log of my own. Thanks for being a model, and for caring about the earth.

    1. LOL - I think the thing is with lawns, is that they give people the chance to impose nazi tyranny on an ecosystem. It's therapeutic - just look at their faces as they trundle around, mowing down every last blade of grass!

      My problem at Fox Wood of late isn't noisy lawnmowers but something in a different league - F16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters. Seems like they are doing a lot of exercises at the moment and those damned helicopters keep making low passes over me as I'm doing my thing on the land. They scare away the buzzards.

      I just saw your latest post - amazing! How do you pack it all in? Pity about the logs though.

  5. I'd love to help you dig that pond out with a shovel ;0)

  6. It's doable - especially with my new azada. The only thing is, Cornwall is actually a giant lump of granite poking above the earth's surface. Dig down just a bit and you hit it. Might make for very interesting pond ...