|Most of the fruit trees have started blooming, this damson tree was the earliest.|
I got hold of some tree seeds to see if I can grow Siberian Pea Tree as a productive tree-legume, and a few other useful trees and shrubs such as Sugar Maple, Scots Pine, Strawberry Tree, Black Mulberry, Broom, Oleaster and most importantly, Monkey Puzzle. Monkey-Puzzle trees are a lifelong investment as they produce prolific amounts of large nuts in a temperate climate, but only after about 30-40 years of growth from seed, although Ken Fern of PFAF has reported some of his trees in Cornwall producing cones around 20 years old. A few of the large monkey-puzzle nuts each got their own pots after nearly two days of soaking in water.
|Pre-soaking tree seeds to cold-stratify.|
|That's not chocolate in that pretentious yet thankfully re-usable acrylic packaging.|
|Fluffy white (and in some places, green) mould growing around damp monkey-puzzle seeds. Is this a penicillum mould? Any tips would be appreciated.|
The rosemary seems to have been the most stubborn to germinate out of the whole bunch, showing no sign of greenery after a full month (although I wonder whether the peaty potting mix I sowed them on was too acidic), while the chamomile seemed to spring up within a couple of days and the rest of the herbs did ok within a couple of weeks.
asparagus and rhubarb.
|Rhubarb seedlings, 2 weeks from sowing. A three-leaved mutant seedling on the right of this picture didn't survive.|
|A healthy old local rhubarb patch, those leaves can get huge, as in 2-3 feet long not counting the stalk, so that you could fan yourself or a loved one with it on a hot day.|
Rhubarb makes a lovely spring/summer pie or jam, but asparagus, which can put lots of nutrition in some lovely savoury dishes, I have yet to spot growing anywhere nearby. The asparagus seeds that I potted took a few weeks to germinate, but then all sprung up at roughly the same time, making a nice surprise. The first thing to germinate in one of the pots was a mystery weed, which left me confused until the tiny asparagus heads appeared a few days later and I now think it might be a thistle, but I didn't pull it up since an asparagus shoot growing directly next to it ended up doing very well, so I guess it isn't doing much harm.
|One of two asparagus trays, 25 days after sowing.|
|Grass and other well-established weeds busting through a thin layer of mulch.|
There are some other seedlings growing in the compost that I laid down, but their progress is slow, the 'green manure' plants haven't established much at all in the way of ground cover, and some of the things I sowed straight outside quite early, such as broccoli and artichokes, don't even appear to have germinated, although there are still a few seedlings or possible weeds that I haven't been able to identify, I'm thinking of dedicating a blog post to them since there are so many. I'm quite worried that the nasturtium seeds I planted out early in the year might have rotted before they could germinate, so I might have to plant some more.
When a nearby ash tree needed to have a branch cut back that was getting in the way, I was able to take several cuttings that might root into new trees, so I used those to extend the treeline for windbreak around the north-east a bit, since some quite strong and very cold winds had been coming in unblocked from north europe/asia in previous weeks. Hopefully this layout can approach an ideal model that Mollison recommended for a temperate-zone windbreak in his permaculture designer's manual, which is roughly a horseshoe shape, where the thick bend of the horseshoe faces the nearest pole.
The areas where I wanted to lay out some more vegetable patches had too much rock at a shallow level for me to invert cubes of sod with a spade, not that I wanted to break up and expose soil at that depth anyway; ploughing soil up a foot deep often leaves a lot of earthworms out as a smörgåsbord for the birds (as I saw a couple of years ago in the documentary A Farm for the Future by Rebecca Hosking), which doesn't exactly help with soil fertility in the following years.
To try and suppress the grass roots even faster here without ruining the soil too much, I first raked away as much of the dead grass as possible, which from the patch I started making around the plum tree was enough to loosely half-fill a compost bin that I had recently re-assembled after moving it from a previous home (that went to the top of the hill in the hope that nutrients would flow downhill from its base). Next I would try and push a garden fork as close to horizontal as possible under a patch of moss and grass roots, but trying to keep high up on top of the mud and rocks, before levering the fork up and flipping over the shallow sods that resulted.
|Example of the thickness of a sod in my improvised 'rake and flip' method, which only requires you and a garden fork. See how rocky the soil is there without going an inch past the main root mass.|
|This grass root was so thick that I would forgive anyone for mistaking it for a parsnip, which is even what it smelled like when torn apart.|
|A long flipped-grass vegetable bed leading up to the plum tree, almost finished.|
I stuck the artichokes out at the windward (WSW, front of picture) end of the large patch above as soon as it was ready, with some bird seed directly behind for tall grain plants like sunflower, chamomile around the edge since it can grow amongst grass like daisy, cauliflower and cabbage (hopefully sheltered) in the middle, followed by rows of squashes, lettuce, radishes and turnips towards the plum tree, with a few chives directly around it.
|One of the artichoke seedlings, just left of centre, with a bunch of chamomile to the top-right.|
|Tasty herbs, whether they can survive here only time will tell; I have seen oregano doing reasonably well in a raised-bed near here though.|
|Half of an Asparagus seedling tray stuck out along with mystery weed. Maybe I should have thinned them out further, but any that survive shall inherit the earth.|
Since rhubarb seemed to do so well in slightly raised mounds that it could spread its large leaves out over, I figured it would make a great element to place on the large back wall at the widest part of the water-harvesting swale that I dug out, since its shelter might lower evaporation of any collected water when the sun is lower in spring & autumn, so that's where I stuck a tray of seedlings out.
|Several rhubarb seedlings from the larger tray planted out on the swale/pond wall. Some more peas were planted behind and anywhere else that I hadn't put any on the wall yet.|
|Barely visible are 3 fennel seedlings from left to right across the middle of this picture. I might chuck some more seeds straight on the patch to see if they take, I'm not terribly worried about this plant.|
Tragically, the very next day after finishing that batch of working the soil and sowing seeds in sunny weather, an unexpected storm blew through that brought very harsh westerly winds for most of last weekend. While all the trees survived with minimal damage having rooted well now, most of the seedlings that I had just planted out were devastated.
|The rhubarb was hit quite hard since the wind would have accellerated slightly over the swale wall with no plant life there yet to slow it.|
|The asparagus seedlings had their top third simply snapped right over.|
|Reserve asparagus and rhubarb seedlings; if I can grow several strong plants from them, then I might even be able to give a few to friends.|
|This spiky stick of awesome might one day grow into a hedge covered with delicious fruit.|
Also, with blueberry seedlings that similar online instructions said should be quite easy to germinate once they have been cold-stratified for a few weeks, I could only get one to germinate here by surface-sowing stratified seeds onto ericaceous potting mix.