Sunday, 10 March 2013

Winter Finishing Touches on a Windbreak

So, for a well-overdue update of what's happened this winter of 2012 to '13, some of the useful things I learned, whether hard lessons or delightful ones, are as follows:
While I saw most of the annual plants that I put out demolished either by slugs or sheep, and only got a few halfway-decent fruit from Alpine Strawberries in their first year of planting, the only significant food crop that I was able to grow in spite of all that and the mostly unfettered hard winds came from a very unexpected place. A bunch of radish seeds that I had sowed on compost mostly next to a plum tree and a few other spots were taking off very healthily.
I had mistaken them for turnip plants at the start of autumn when they brought out lots of pink flowers, but upon pulling one out to thin them down, I discovered that not only were they radishes, but the root growth was utterly terrible, no larger than a single chick pea and very woody by the time the plant was in flower, so I left them to self-seed, until I got this surprise as their flowers fruited...
It turns out that radishes grow not only an edible root crop, but also some tasty little seed pods (only roughly similar pea pods in shape), which were very nice when sliced into salads.
See the root of the plant that I plucked these off of; it was tiny in proportion to the above-ground part of this plant, although I shouldn't really be surprised when growing root crops in rocky soil.
I've also confirmed that local bumblebees love these Fiddleneck flowers:
Most of these were already setting seeds, but there were still plenty of flowers to keep the bees fed, and the sage that I planted out at the base of these green-manure plants, should benefit next season from the nitrogen that they fix into the soil.
Once I uncovered them from rampant grasses, I found that the Nasturtiums I planted out had been chewed up by slugs a lot, but they were still growing strong.
I cut clumps of grass with a knife here to mulch around them, but the nasturtiums should eventually out-compete the grasses anyway.
To have some fruit bushes within the westward wind-break hedge, I tried sticking some more Blackberry cuttings straight outside, but this time making sure to use thick, 2-year-old canes instead of the shoots that I had tried to use before.
With the shoots trimmed back, this should hopefully take root strongly and sprout shoots next year.
I also took cuttings of some very successful local Gooseberry bushes, treated their base with a bit of powdered seaweed that I was told is supposed to encourage rooting, and shoved them straight into fresh compost.
As I write this, these all seem to have taken root, and are now growing spring leaf buds.

To complete the windbreak around this pioneering patch of woodland, I first started by getting hold of a very useful plant that should grow very quickly and spread via its root system.
Not only are Bamboos some of the fastest-growing plants in nature, followed closely by some species of Cannabis, but this Golden Bamboo in particular grows edible shoots in spring that are said to be palatable even while raw, and like many others it will eventually produce functional pipes.
Later I planted a few Hazel and Sweet-Chestnut trees, which are supposed to be very hardy to strong winds and have historically been used in coppiced hedgerows, so even if they don't produce a lot of food they will serve a structural function and also provide some regular firewood.
A bundle of baby trees rescued from a housing estate being re-developed. The darker brown-barked ones are chestnuts and the lighter green-barked ones are hazels.

Indoors, I lost a whole tray of Black Mulberry seedlings simply by forgetting to water them over one sunny weekend that dried their compost out on a windowsill, while I have still been completely unsuccessful at germinating Siberian Pea Tree seeds, so now I've been cold-stratifying another set of dormant seeds in our fridge over winter, to give this another go (I didn't use all of the seeds that I got at once, knowing that I would probably mess up with some of them on my first attempt).
Here it seems that the cutting I took of a plum-tree shoot failed to take root, although that was treated with the same seaweed powder as the gooseberry cuttings. On either side are Sugar Maple seedlings, one of which, along with the Oleaster at the back, is now suffering from a fungal infection long after this picture was taken.

Of course, to establish a highly productive food-forest, plenty of nitrogen-fixing pioneer shrubs are needed to support the growth of canopy trees.
The potted Elaeagnus x Ebbingei that I planted out seems to be recovering from root shock, with several leaves growing at its base, but the E. Pungens isn't showing signs of life.
Meanwhile, some E. Angustifolia seeds that I planted indoors have had some very mixed success. Six of them have germinated out of a couple dozen at most, but their drip tray was knocked over by a local cat that got in at one point, and of the ones that I managed to recover, only 3 have not died due to shock or fungal infection. With this difficulty establishing various potted, cut or sown Elaeagnus shrubs, I have grudgingly turned to our thorny native Gorse to see whether cuttings of that will have any more success.
This time around I remembered to do something that didn't occur to me before, which was to steep some of our plentiful White Willow bark in hot water so as to make a tea that encourages root growth, and left cuttings of gorse in this overnight.
Those vicious green thorns actually make a healthy winter livestock feed if you grind them up.
The north bend of the windbreak now looks a bit like this after pruning most of the trees:
Yes, that is actually a whole window + frame mulching down some of the grass in front of a baby crab-apple tree (I put a couple of those in to aid pollenation of other apple trees).
A couple of neighbours have been doing some serious modification and renovation of their old houses round here, so I also have some scraps of concrete slabs/bricks that can be used to compress grass down for areas to grow on, far more effectively than I could do with cardboard last year. I have shoved small boulders around on the grass here a few times and noticed that compression counts more than a lack of light when breaking down grass to give a bare patch of ground to grow on.

My forest-garden plan now looks like this:
Finally scanned in. With a rough U-shape to the treeline, this can now function as one end to a larger stand of trees that could shelter the community's little-used ground from harsh winds and make it easier to grow herbaceous-layer crops in a wide clearing.

The "?" mystery plant at position 4T is this next one, which I got off a neighbour who wasn't sure what it's called either.
I'll also put an entry about it here. I'm not certain, but that also looks like some Pampas Grass has sprung up right in the corner, although it looks a bit stunted.
This mystery cane-plant has a growth pattern somewhere between bamboo and hazel, in that it grows a few trunks that branch out moderately, but its shoots are completely hollow inside in order to pass fluids through, while older branches have a straw-size hole through the middle of them. A bit of dead old growth that I have found on another plant was extremely lightweight and made excellent kindling for a fire.

I have also found an ideal species to fill the woodland niche of 'climber' up here, a plant known as Tara Vine, or Kiwi Berry, which produces a small hairless kiwi fruit about the size of a grape, and most importantly grows in some very cold climates. I am currently chilling some of their lightly dormant seeds in the fridge along with the others.

Over the rest of winter I've been preparing several other projects that are partly linked, such as picking out usable boards from old pallets to build a small beehive with, which can both aid fruit pollenation and provide a couple more useful natural products in the form of honey and beeswax. I've gathered up a can, pipe, sand and clay with which to build a mini-furnace and do some sand casting, which will enable me to make some very strong joints and possibly custom aluminium heatsinks for the wind turbine that I'm developing, and possibly even build a reused-motor lathe. I've also been trying to figure out how old sock knitting machines work in order to make an Open Hardware version of one. Take that as a teaser for anyone who wants to read a bit about what I'll be updating on soon alongside a couple of theoretical pieces.

1 comment:

  1. Wow...

    I've gone through your permaculture-related articles. Respect for keeping documenting your progress, despite almost no comments being made to your work. So much consolidated experience!