Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumnal Musings

Autumn has arrived at Fox Wood bringing with it cooler and wetter weather and causing all sorts of life forms to die off and others to emerge out of the moist soil.

I've been quite busy over the summer, travelling around Europe and moving house, so the amount of time I have been able to dedicate to Fox Wood has not been as much as I would have liked. Even the pond is starting to put on a new green growth.

Down in the forest, things are emerging from the ground, like these puff balls.

That's not the only type of fungus to emerge - plenty of these are growing in the field …

The wood is quiet and misty, like somewhere from another time.

It won't be quiet for long, in a couple of months I'll be coming in with my chainsaw to coppice the first half acre in a 12 years rotation cycle. Don't worry, the trees will grow back, and it is good for the wildlife.

I found this bottle. A badger must have dug it up and left it lying around in the wood. It was covered in soil and must be at least 100 years old. Inside it a small plant has started to grow. It's a message from the past.

The reason for my last visit was to collect berries. Because of the rampant growth of brambles we have thousands - millions probably - of blackberries this year. Some of them ended up in a pie last night.

There are also sloes aplenty. They have now been popped into a gin bottle with some sugar. By Christmas I'll have a bottle of sloe gin.

Autumn is a time of plenty. I haven't had any fruit from the young trees this year, but it will take them a while to get established. Perhaps next year I will get some. Unfortunately some of them have been attacked by rabbits. This is the peach tree.

The other trees are doing well. This one is a carob tree that I grew from a seed I picked up in Spain. I don't know if it will survive the winter, but it is doing okay for now.

Plenty of other trees are being planted too. I'm starting an oak nursery and aim to plant 500 a year. These are the first few, but the acorns won't be ready for another couple of weeks.

It's another use for the soil I'm digging out of the pond. As for the field itself, you might remember it was covered in thistles for most of the year. This proved to be a hit with the local bee and butterfly populations, with masses of each getting nectar from the thistle flowers. Now, however, the thistles have died off and I have cut them down to the ground. They are making an unusual mulch.

The chestnut trees are laden with nuts. They look to be pretty healthy …

And the silage plastic I laid down is doing its job of killing off the grass in readiness for next year's initial planting of ground cover - one of the first steps in turning this field into an edible forest. It doesn't look pretty … but it will do!


  1. Thanks for the beautiful photos Jason. Good luck to your efforts and enjoy the sloe gin. I live in an old house and am still pulling old bottles out of the ground, deposited long before the days of organized trash dumps. They're usually lovely to see and very non-standard, they usually have some sort of message for me.

    1. Thanks! Yes, I love old bottles. Especially ones dug up by badgers.

  2. your woods look like somewhere I belong. With my vixen and kits in a hidden hole. You'd probably never see me, but I'd be there eating your berries and drinking from the pond. Which that pond looks pretty bad ass dude. When are you going to line it and let it fill?

    Also, do you have a plan on paper for Fox Wood? Or is it all just in your mind?

    Maybe crossing the pond is in my future? Are there American nurses that work there? Do ya'll have the same shortage problem as we do in the states?

    From the pictures of Fox Wood it looks like magic abounds there. Does it?

    1. No paper plan at present … it's all in my head and adapting as time goes on. I know that premies say you should plan it all out on paper … but so far I haven't got round to it.

      As for the pond, I think I'll buy some of the liner they use on roofs. WHD suggested a billboard advert - but we don't have them over here. My next fast is to build a woodshed next to the pond so that rain can runoff and fill it. I've got that job pencilled in for next month.

      American nurses? Yeah, lots of them. The pay isn't great and you'll be abused by politicians, but plenty of positions.

  3. yeah, I don't have a paper plan either. I see the value in it though. I'm just about done reading "Gaia's Garden" and I strongly recommend anybody interested in permaculture read it. However, I think the main value in permaculture is just getting people to think about plants differently. It's really about understanding relationships and adjusting your expectations accordingly.

    In your case Hepp, I think you already think in ecological gardening terms. You already have extensive plant knowledge (at least you appear to), and sometimes a plan is just boring. Sometimes intuition tempered by knowledge is the best way to go. I doubt I'll ever get a plan on paper...I just don't work that way. I like letting things happen organically...magically even. I don't know, there's a strong case to be made both ways.

    About are UK nurses abused by politicians? And nursing there isn't well paid? Here it's about the best paid position you can ask for with just three years of school to acquire a nursing license. Traveling nursing is the most lucrative way to go. I'm torn with that. I love the idea of being nomadic and well paid, but that's not exactly permaculture. Unless you view it as a Johnny Appleseed sort of thing. In which case it's beautiful. Set up permaculture design on my days off and then leave never to return. Maybe at rental houses where the owner wants such a thing. There is definitely beauty in that. Guerrilla Permaculture!!! That sounds like a good idea doesn't it.

    1. I'll check out 'Gaia's Garden'! My problems is that I have too many books to read and I don't get round to them. Then I go to Fox Wood and see all the brambles growing … and I wonder how I can fit everything in!

      I don't really have much knowledge of plants. I have a bit (unlike my sister, who knows pretty much every plant she spots) but I have plenty of reference books. I'm learning.

      Nurses have their pay set by the government over here, and as such they are used as political footballs. Best to speak with Harry (Lerwill) as his (American) wife works in the NHS system over here.

  4. Putting plans on paper is just a crutch. It is said Mozart wrote out his symphonies without making any correction; people marvel that he was able to come up with them and not have to go back and change things, but I'm pretty sure that is not what he did. Rather, he presumably composed the entire symphony in his head (no less a formidable task) and then put it to paper. I say this because I have done it for simple melodies, so a genius like Mozart could do it for an entire symphony.

    Where this relates to permaculture is that unless you are a genius and can keep an entire "symphony" of plants, animals, and other factors worked out in your head, putting your ideas down on paper is a really good idea. The goal is not to come up with some Master Plan, though, that you then faithfully execute. It is just a reminder to make sure you keep thinking of everything. In permaculture your plans are supposed to change and grow organically as you interact with the landscape.

    1. A nice way of putting it, John. I've got a rough plan in my head of where big things are going to go, such as ponds, greenhouses, windbreak lines etc, but I'm adapting as I go along. Sitting in the field the other night, it occurred to me that it would be better to plant a row of trees in a different spot to where I was planning to, simply so that I would be sheltered from winds while in my workshop.

      As for plants - well, my plant knowledge is not that great so I'm just going for maximum diversity. I'll learn what grows best and where as time goes on.

  5. Jason, I would be interested in hearing more about the business end of a wood lot such as yours, specifically, what happens to the wood that is cut, who buys it and what they do with it. I am a small time wood consumer myself here in the US and as far as I know, there is nothing comparable to your operation here in my neighborhood. I would love to buy the wood that I do use from someone like yourself where I would be able to see the trees or bushes that would ultimately go into the products that I make - wood frame kayaks and kayak paddles. Most recently, I ordered about a thousand dollars worth of Sitka spruce from a lumber mill in the state of Washington. The transaction took place over the phone and by email and I would have preferred to be able to see what I was buying. As it turned out, I got good quality wood but I suppose that I could just as easily have been disappointed. I would also love to buy wood grown to specific dimensions, say one inch diameter hazel rods or half inch diameter willow. What I currently have to do if I want small diameter pieces of wood is push larger pieces of wood through a table saw. Not only does this produce a lot of expensive sawdust, but it is also tedious and noisy.
    I get the impression from some cursory searches on the internet that wood lots such as yours are fairly common in the UK but not so in the US. And part of the reason, I suspect is that the UK has more of a tradition and crafts people who make things out of slender withes or wood grown specifically to smaller dimensions. In any case, I would like to hear more about the wood growing end of your operation.

    1. Wolfgang - damn I just wrote you a long reply but Blogger ate it! Grrr!

      The gist of it was that, yes, this kind of woodland operation is growing mrs common here as old traditions resurface - have a read of Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders for an idea of how it used to be.

      Most of my chestnut wood will probably be used for fencing palings and in construction. I also have ash and oak, which is popular with furniture makers (yes, they can come and select the tree while it is still growing). I am also tearing to make longbows from the ash.

      I'll be putting plenty more up when the coppicing operations start in January.

  6. Thanks, Jason. Yes, frustrating when you type a whole bunch of brilliant stuff into the machine and the machine eats it. Hard to be brilliant twice in a row.
    Thanks for the Thomas Hardy tip. Seems like Amazon has a free download of the novel for the Kindle. Will download as soon as I charge the battery of the kindle back up.
    By the way, the shop space I work in was formerly the gatling gun maintenance shop for the US Navy and when the Navy left, they apparently chopped down all the weed trees outside the shop probably with the idea that they wouldn't come back. Little did they realize that they were merely coppicing the trees. And out of one stump now come some eight new shoots some five inches in diameter at the base.
    I did try planting some willow shoots around the perimeter of our space. That worked fairly well except I neglected to water the new willows in the summer and they all died. This being California with six to eight months of no rain, irrigation is necessary. Oh well.

  7. Jason, hope you and yours are okay with the big storm on Britain's coast.
    Let your readers know how you have fared.

    1. Hello Kate. Thanks for your concern. Honestly, the storm was nothing that it was whipped up to be by the media. It promised to be a big storm, and it *was* quite windy, but there was very little damage that I could see anywhere.

      A few people had plastic chairs blow over in their gardens, but it was hardly the mega-storm we had been promised!

  8. Just clicked on your farm blog. I typically check in at "22 Billion". This makes a nice break from your other concerns. I like the use of pictures, you have a good eye. My farm blog lacks effective use of pictures. Perhaps that needs to be my 2014 goal?

    1. Thanks for the link Brian. Ironically, I haven't posted much of late because I'm lacking pictures! Perhaps I will will write a more wordy post instead.