Thursday, 16 August 2012

Every Sheep Has a Silver Lining

With the Elaeagnus shrubs that suffered greatly after I planted them outdoors a few months ago, for a pair of evergreen species to lose most of their leaves during spring, I was understandably worried that they would die due to root shock and waterlogged soil.
What's more, they seemed to be completely over-run by local 'weeds' to the point that I couldn't see this one.

However, since the tiny forest garden that I'm pioneering was slightly chewed up by marauding sheep a couple of weeks ago, I've spotted signs that they are getting some strength back, and noticed some of the other plants that I stuck out growing vigorously.
This E. Pungens Maculata looks pretty dead, but on closer inspection...

I'm not sure if a couple of those new leaves were nibbled by slugs or caterpillars, but it looks like there's some life in this shrub yet.
After clearing a mess of vetch out of my way, I uncovered the other Elaeagnus.
This E. x Ebbingei, just as it was always growing stronger than its counterpart before, still has an original leaf or two at the bottom.

This one also has some new leaves forming halfway up the plant.
I hope that as a lot of the plant life dies down over autumn and winter, these evergreen elaeagnus shrubs will have a chance to flourish with some newly established growth.

It seems a lot clearer now that summer has taken its course and I've learned a bit about local flora and fauna, that the variety of life on this patch of land I'm working is a bit more diverse than the adjacent fields, which are regularly grazed down to almost nothing by herds of sheep; much more than just grass stands out here now.
Visible here are many white flower-heads of an edible perennial, common hogweed.
I'm glad to know that although my peas mostly didn't succeed as edible legumes, instead getting eaten by mice and slugs, native 'weed'-like legumes such as vetch and clover have been widespread enough to start repairing the soil on the swale that I dug.
It's not quite ground cover yet, but these two local soil-repair species are slowly creeping up the bank, and soon I'll be able to plant out some rhubarb divisions that should cover the swale in shade.
I planted this crimson clover out after it became quite overgrown on a windowsill. It didn't germinate easily outdoors like the 'fiddleneck' green manure plant did, so I'm doubtful whether it will self-seed and join those local species.
I've been surprised and pleased at how resilient some of the globe artichokes that I've planted out have been. They should be successful in this region since they are a type of thistle, and local thistles do famously well here, but some of these have managed to survive through quite a bit of damage from herbivores.
Although practically none germinated when planted straight outside, these two globe artichokes (light green plants at top) that I stuck out as quite small seedlings have survived repeated slug attack.
After an artichoke I stuck out near here was eaten to a stump, probably by a rabbit, I planted the bottom-left one with half a 2l PET bottle for protection, cutting the neck into strips to anchor it into the ground. Since then the top-right one popped up, which I guess was a seed I planted months ago only germinating in summer warmth.
I'm not certain what these are, but given that I sowed radish, squash and turnip seeds in this area, I think they are most likely gold-ball turnip plants. Although turnips usually have yellow flowers, I have seen some with purple.
Suspected turnip plants on the right (fiddleneck and hogweed on left).

The tree line is also now more closely approaching Mollison's recommended ideal open-to-equator horseshoe-shape windbreak that I'm trying to mimic, with the addition of a couple of very young crab-apple trees bought for a few quid each at a local summer fair.
First crab-apple planted between the plum and downy birch. These are usually brilliant for pollenating other apple trees, and have a high pectin content useful for making jam with other plants such as rhubarb.
Second crab-apple tree in the northernmost corner of this plot. They are both so short that they should have no trouble with wind while establishing roots, what with the fenceline and all the hogweed around them just now.
Back inside there has been a bit more success with germinating tree seeds. While I only have 3 strong-looking scots pine seedlings now surviving out of well over a dozen seeds that I tried to sow in previous weeks, the first couple of strawberry tree seedlings have popped up when I was beginning to think that none would.
Left seedling took a little over 2 weeks to germinate, while right one took just over 1 week, after both seeds had been cold-stratified for ~10 weeks.
Meanwhile I scraped a skin of moss off the pots of failed pine seeds and re-used the compost underneath to sow some sugar maple seeds. After 4 months cold-stratifying at the back of a fridge, most of them had some white fluff on their surface from a mould that got in, which I carefully wiped off before potting them. This time after watering the seeded pots I sprinkled a thin layer of dry compost over the top in order to (at least initially) discourage moss growth.
A dozen maple seed pots with the remaining 3 pine seedlings. Re-using some yogurt pots to free up some finer plant pots, since these could take a very long time to germinate.
I was most happy when I cleared out a couple of the pots that I had stuck monkey-puzzle nuts into, which were over-run with moss and mould, and discovered that the seedling I thought had died when the mouldy seed case snapped off the stalk quite low down, was still very much alive.
Monkey puzzle baby, hanging in there, to be re-potted soon.
I've also now sown about half of the mulberry seeds that have been stratifying in the fridge, to see whether 4 months is long enough for them. Thankfully they didn't get infected with a mould when they were first sealed in there.
From left to right, a cutting of the epicormic side shoot that started growing out of a damson tree (hoping it's rootstock, which would be useful), some sage plants about ready to be re-potted or planted out (some rosemary seeds in the same pot have still failed to germinate), a tray full of mulberry seeds, and the remaining un-germinated arbutus unedo in the back.

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