Land as community

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

Aldo Leopold in the foreword to “A Sand County Almanac”

  

Love grows where my Rosemary goes

If you’ve met her, you’ll never forget her

And nobody knows like me

Rosemary

 
In the last few days I have kept coming across articles about how the herb Rosemary can improve your memory. Some scientists claim that it can improve your memory by up to 75% though how you measure that I don’t know. Apparently the turpenes in rosemary oil improve the functioning of the brain.

We have rosemary growing in the garden and it does very well but it is tucked away in a corner near some fruit trees and I don’t often visit it. These articles have made me start to rethink where I planted it. Maybe I should grow some along the path edges where we frequently walk, rather like we often do with lavender (another plant beneficial to the brain!) and then as we walk past we can inhale those wonderful turpenes and give us something worth remembering.

And maybe I should be encouraging our local schools to plant it along the paths and hang cuttings in the classrooms. Who knows, maybe they will then be able to claim that rosemary helped improve their exam results!

Now, how do you propogate, erm, what was it again?

“Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse.

Topaz

I’ve not blogged in a while but I aim to put that right as I make a concerted effort this coming year to make progress on my diploma.

Over the last few years I have been learning the art of grafting fruit trees. One of the first trees I grafted was a Topaz and now that it has been planted out in a permanent place and matured a little it has produced it’s first apple. My beloved and I intend to share it later today so I may report back on it’s flavour!

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Topaz

Planting under fruit trees (2)

So, following on from my previous post, here are some of the plants that my research has come up with for companion planting with fruit trees. I would welcome any comments from anyone who has tried any of these and I will report back on my experiments.

– daffodils. These are early flowering and attract pollinating insects so will be particularly beneficial to aiding pollination of early flowering fruit. It has been suggested that they are planted in a circle not too close to the trunk of the trees, presumably to avoid interference with main roots.
– chives and other alliums. Like daffodils, these attract beneficial insects but they also produce food.
– bee balm and mint. Again, an insect attractant but I’m not sure I would plant mint under a tree unless it’s roots were restricted by a pot.
– dill. Another insect attractant, dill is also great for hoverflies which will feed on aphids and other pests.
– echinacea. A drought tolerant plant with a deep tap root that attracts beneficial insects, and also looks good!
– lupins. Besides attracting beneficial insects, lupins fix nitrogen.
– Clover, peas, beans and vetches all fix nitrogen and attract beneficial insects.

Other plants that have been mentioned which I need to research further are New Jersey Tea (deep tap root and a tea substitute), violas, salvias, garlic, strawberry, foxgloves, feverfew, oregano, asparagus, camomile, basil, oregano, sage, lavender (apparently repels codling moth), lemon balm and thyme.

Planting under fruit trees (1)

I have recently been researching what is best to plant under fruit trees. Traditionally many people have grass with a clear patch immediately below the trees as most fruit trees are relatively shallow rooted and it is thought that grass, and most other plants, will compete with the tree.

Following my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) I planted a low growing comfrey under my apple trees and some of my fruit bushes and I regularly cut it back leaving it to mulch the soil. The thinking behind this is that comfrey has deep tap roots and is a mineral accumulator, drawing minerals up from the clay further down and making it available to other plants with shallower roots. It also mulches the soil keeping in moisture.

Another advantage of the comfrey is that it’s flowers attract beneficial pollinating insects so when the fruit trees and bushes come into blossom there are already the appropriate insects around.

One disadvantage I recently read about in an article was that plants growing under fruit trees can harbour higher concentrations of INA (Ice Nucleation Active) bacteria, that is, bacteria which help to induce the formation of ice when it is cold which then causes damage to the plants foliage. Mind you, the same article describes how air blowers and half hourly visits by helicopters overhead can be used to reduce the damage caused by frosts!

I haven’t done any controlled experiments but the fruit trees and bushes have done well in the last few years. What I want to do now is find other plants that I could use under fruit trees that might produce a yield in other ways. I will follow this up in a later article.

The wind

All Hallows’ Church is near the top of a hill (in fact, it is opposite Hill Top Street!) and the garden faces mostly south and west. It is very exposed and the garden edge is a wall with a drop of several metres. I had already identified wind as an issue and we have planted some hazel along the top of the wall to grow into a windbreak but we do need to do more.

Today, as I was working in the church and vicarage garden with a group of volunteers, it became obvious just how big a problem the wind is. The vicarage has several raised beds, some of which are bare soil, some with green manure planted. As we weeded the first bed and dug in the green manure in the second bed we could see just how quickly the soil dried out in the wind and then blew off the surface – soil erosion before our very eyes! Unfortunately the soil is dusty and has little humous so far, something we hope to improve, but what do we do now?

One thing is to make sure that we don’t leave any bare soil. We are going to try to mulch and grow as much green manure as we can when we don’t have a crop in the ground. I’m also quite keen on growing companion plants around our fruit bushes and trees. We also need to make as many windbreaks as possible. Because of the hard surfaces of the church and vicarage walls and fence this is going to be quite difficult because the walls channel the winds and cause them to speed up. We are going to have to investigate as many different ways, small and big, that can provide shelter for our plants.

We also planted some beans today and I am not expecting much success. Although the plants looked healthy and we watered them as soon as we planted them, within minutes the leaves began to look limp as the wind started to drag moisture from them. Our fruit bushes and trees look more healthy as they are more established but they must also be affected by being exposed to such a wind.

So, the plan is to find ways of:
– reducing the drying effect of the wind on the soil
– reduce soil erosion due to wind
– reduce the dehydrating effect of the wind on the plants.

I’ll report back later!

Water supply

After I completed my Permaculture Design Course (PDC) I decided to obtain a 1000l IBC (industrial bulk container) to capture and store water in over the winter months ready for the summer. It is a bit ugly so I tucked it away behind one of my sheds (I have two!) and ran a hose pipe from one of the water buts to the IBC. I purchased a 12V caravan pump for a few pounds off eBay and acquired a car battery from a Freegler. Very soon I had 1000l of water ready for the spring.

The IBC has worked quite well but it is made of translucent plastic so there is a risk that the water will go green if left for any length of time. The IBC also looks ugly and with new neighbours I thought I ought to do something about it to make it less of an eye sore. A luck would have it, over the winter one of our neighbours decided to replace his fence so I acquired his old panels, just right for fitting around the IBC, so today I drained the remaining water, moved the IBC to rebuild it’s base and make it a bit higher off the ground, replaced the IBC and fastened the panels around it with a piece of old ply and a pallet on the top. It also gave me the chance to clear and tidy the soil next to the IBC so I am now trying to decide what to grow there.

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Another change I want to make is to see if I can use gravity to fill the tank. We are planning to replace the guttering and downpipes on the house in the near future as part of installing external insulation so it would be a good time then to experiment.

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Enhancing the greenhouse

Over the winter I have read about a number of greenhouse projects and so I thought I should do something about ours. As readers are aware, much of my garden plot is on an old cinder tennis court and we have found that raised beds on cinder don’t work particularly well. It’s the same with the greenhouse – pots fine but raised beds, no! So this winter I have dug out some of the cinder, fastened some breeze blocks in place with a timber rail to make a retaining wall and then filled in with branches, leaves, hedge trimmings, compost and soil. We wait to see if this is effective.

I have also finally put an old black plastic header tank that was removed from our roof space about twenty years ago into the greenhouse. Hopefully the water will heat up during the day and keep the greenhouse a bit warmer during the night as it releases the heat. It also acts as a reservoir of water for watering plants and as a shelf! As I don’t have a spare tap at the moment I have attached a bit of hose pipe that tucks up through one of the holes. Someday I may even try to set up an automatic watering system in case we ever go away.

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