I had used PFAF's website before when first reading about permaculture a year or two ago, when there were a collection of very handy general info pages, for instance on why we should be tending to use perennial plants, and some information on the forest layering system on a helpful page about forest gardening. There were some links to useful perennial food crops such as chestnut, walnut, brambles, et cetera, but otherwise the information wasn't very easy to navigate.
I noticed a while back when I looked it up again that the site was down for maintenance, and now that it is back up again, it's quite an amazing change. You should really go check it out sometime (if I didn't already make that clear :), and I think they could do with some support too, since it looks like they forked out a bit to have some people with a lot of talent fix their website up. Now there's a very effective database search function on the site that can let you search by any combination of your needs, such as plant uses, environmental conditions, or simply keywords.
For example, one of the plants that Ken showcased in the aforementioned video was a member of the genus Elaeagnus, sometimes called Oleaster, which had some amazing properties I was looking for all in one plant, and some I wasn't even looking for. It's a nitrogen-fixing perennial shrub that resists a cold windy maritime climate well, so I could plant it up north between our trees to support their growth, just as Acacia is recommended in warmer climes. Not only does it grow quite fast, a great novelty feature of the species that it seems Ken had there, Elaeagnus Pungens, is that it produces an edible fruit in springtime, usually around April, of which both the outer flesh and the oily seed (once hulled) make very useful foods.
|I managed to get hold of a couple of such species, and as Ken said, if you can tell me any other fruit that you can get out of your garden in April, I'd like to know about it.|
Now while I know that Gorse can grow a very strong windbreak hedge, and those who have tried it tell me that you can make a very tasty wine from its flowers, I am reluctant to plant any, both for its ability to grow out of control, and due to a grudge formed against the plant during section and platoon attack exercises over the countryside a few years ago, when I learned exactly how nice it is to wade through the stuff. If I can find another place that someone will allow me to start replanting trees, I may use it as a support species and a hedge to keep winds and sheep out then, but won't be letting it take over some common food-growing ground any time soon.
On a related note, George Monbiot recently posted a very good article to the Permaculture Research Institute, on the problem of land mismanagement and deforestation that has been occuring in Scotland under careless wealthy landlords since the time of the Highland Clearances. It's my hope that we can get enough support in Scotland to start replanting the Caledonian Forest on a large scale, before any more biodiversity is lost.
As for my efforts to reverse the trend of vanishing boreal forest, I went back up north very briefly at the end of February to check on how the patch was doing and see what I could plant.
The first thing I noticed, which I was expecting to some extent due to some stormy weather in the weeks while I was away, was that several of the trees were leaning away from the prevailing wind. It's a common sight to see the few very sparse trees on the north end of Sutherland doing this as a growth habit when they have been beaten by strong winds over their lifetime, but what's not so nice is when a young newly-planted tree has rotated not in its trunk, but at the roots when it wasn't very well anchored.
|The very-leaning one on top-left is the plum.|
|It was easy enough to right that plum where it was slightly loose and tread the earth back down for a start.|
The little Katy eating-apple tree only seemed to be managing because it was propped up slightly by a nearby tyre, which my friend had helpfully used to weigh down the cardboard box that the bare-rooted trees came in, as simple mulch to rot the grass down underneath.
|I gave the tyre a gentle boot to set her upright again.|
|While this needed to be cut back, the other, smaller branches that I planted did just fine.|
|Bramble cuttings in background near fencepost, Hawthorn in foreground.|
Inspired by the antics of Bill Mollison in yet another old permaculture documentary, I shoved a few hazelnuts into the ground between the brambles, to see if I can add yet more variety to this windbreak.
As for stopping the trees that didn't have tyres near them from blowing away, the bottom of the wider section of the mini swale that I dug gave me plenty of rocks to weigh the soil around their roots down with.
|Hole from a big'un that I just pulled out.|
|...and that rock supporting a willow.|
|'Howgate Wonder' cooking apple tree with some rock support at the back.|
After unpacking those Elaeagnus shrubs, I took cuttings from the top of each one the next day, so that I could propagate them a little bit and since being tall isn't a great advantage in these winds.
|Three or four weeks with cardboard on top didn't completely rot the grass there, but it made a big difference.|
The movement of cardboard for mulch was part of a plan I was forming while making up a new and more accurate sketch for the plot over those couple of days. It now also includes a rough plan to divide the ground up into a series of paths and keyhole beds, so as to maximise the surface area available for planting and harvesting crops, without having to tread over food to reach the middle of a patch, and a site to potentially test a turbine on a crest of the hill is marked.
|There may be a small spot of hypocrisy here, as I suspect I might have confused the two Elaeagnus species that I got and planted them the opposite way round to what I wrote in this updated map, not that it matters much.|
|'Rosemary' is a bit hard to read in the middle with the flash; but other pictures had some of the outside diagrams fuzzy, so I might just try and replace this photo with a scan.|
For the crop arrangement I stuck a few globe artichoke seeds on the windward end of the patch, a few chives around the eating-apple tree to help that, followed by some onions to repel the pests of a row of carrots and sprouting broccoli beyond that, then a patch of lavender in the hardest-to-reach bit that ought to attract some predatory insects, with some more chives behind to help the rowan tree. Where I expected some of the seeds to need deep roots, I jabbed a set of holes through the half-layer of cardboard with a pitchfork and put loose compost into them before sowing seeds. Afterwards I spread some raked grass over the patch to try and keep the soil down under the sun and wind.
|I could only be bothered to stake down my little bottle-shelters on the most windward sowings of carrot and broccoli though, having not prepared a lot of stakes and finding them a bit small.|
As a little extra protection against the harsh wind and the nibbling rabbits that have plagued this land since the Romans brought them over, I then staked some spare chicken-wire around a few of the trees, which will also give an added benefit of catching wind-blown debris for mulch, while giving nasturtiums something to climb on.
Let me know if I cut out too much detail or rambled on too much, it sure seemed like less work before I tried to write about it!