harvest only enough

This is a bumper summer for soft fruit – the first really good year since the garden began.  Despite the soaring temperatures and almost total lack of rain the currants and berries have produced amazingly well.  One of the blackcurrants was groaning with fruit weighing most of its branches down to the ground and the jostaberries, whitecurrants,  redcurrants and gooseberries were almost as heavily laden.  The raspberries too have been fruiting for weeks and show every sign of continuing.

jostaberry bush

raspberry canes

I really do not like to see fruit in a cage and nor do I think it is necessary. The currants and berries in my garden are all in polycultures with perennial vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees.  The raspberries grow along the hedge in various places including just behind the bins!  The plant nearer the front of the picture is leycesteria formosa or Himalayan honeysuckle, which is theoretically edible but actually never produces fruit.

raspberries growing behind bins

I let the raspberries spread where they will, so some canes have come along the hedge level with the first bin and behind where I took the picture and others have gone through the hedge to the roadside verge.  I cut them back when there are too many to get past but never do the normal thing of cutting them one year to fruit the next and tying them into a stake.  They just get on with life and harvest very well always.  At the moment we are getting a bowlful a day.

one day’s raspberries

I know many gardeners use a fruit cage to prevent birds from eating the berries before they can be harvested.  However I have found that generally the birds do not help themselves to very much of the harvest, at least to begin with and actually I am keen that they do have their share of what grows in the garden.  One of my principles for forest gardening is about not taking all the available harvest for ourselves, but instead ensuring that there is some for others who need it – be they friends or neighbours or birds, mice and squirrels.  Accordingly I have left berries behind on every bush that I have picked from for the birds to collect afterwards, apart from the gooseberries that is – and they got there first and stripped the bushes whilst I was away on holiday!  Fair enough, I say.  The birds had had quite a lot of the redcurrants as well whilst I was away – you can see by the gaps on the stalk on the right compared to the full stalk on the left.  Good on them!  I still had a bowlful.

redcurrant stalks

redcurrant harvest

I have made blackcurrant jam and jostaberry jam and my neighbour has made whitecurrant jelly from one of my bushes and we have plenty of frozen blackcurrants and jostaberries as well.

I have also planted bushes specifically for the birds to eat from.  At the moment there is the chokeberry (aronia) that is nearly ripe and later on there will be elderberries and in future years barberry, cotoneaster and pyracantha (the last two being not edible to humans, although barberry is).

chokeberry (aronia)

This garden is more than a partnership, it is a co-operative network.  I may be nominally the gardener, nominally ‘in charge’, but I am learning more and more to defer to what nature knows and what she does best.

 

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Forest gardening courses — Of Plums and Pignuts

Alan Carter is teaching some forest garden courses this summer – in Aberdeen.  If you are thinking of attending – I am sure you will get an excellent grounding and very interesting time.  More details on Alan’s blog below:

 

After many requests, I have finally organised some official forest gardening courses, based in the garden itself. The one-day course will covering all the basics that you need to start forest gardening. Day courses 15 July 11:00 – 17:00 12 August 11:00 – 17:00 9 September 11:00 – 17:00 I also plan to offer an […]

via Forest gardening courses — Of Plums and Pignuts

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The principles of forest gardening

I want as many people as possible to plant forest gardens and having done so to be able to interact with them in a sensitive and appropriate manner.  However forest gardens are unlike any other gardens and cannot be ‘gardened’ in the conventional sense.  You need to understand the ecology that governs their operation and to integrate your own actions into that ecology.

When I began forest gardening it was the ecological understandings of Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier in their two volumes of ‘Edible Forest Gardens’ and Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘method’ of natural farming that enabled me to interact with my garden in a sensitive and appropriate way.  But for their invaluable guidance I would have been floundering I am sure.  After a number of years I realised that I was acting in a sort of intuitive way in the garden, but that below that apparent intuition was (probably) a set of guiding principles.  I set out to uncover these and sought to get beneath the surface of how I interact with my garden and how I have learned to do what I do.   Eventually I arrirved at a set of interconnected principles that all also relate directly back to the ecology of forest gardens.

The first four principles below are the fundamental principles undergirding why and how a forest garden is (and remains) a fertile, low maintenance, productive and resilient edible landscape.  They are described in one form or another in forest gardening literature.  The other eight principles are my own derivations from my experience of forest gardening and represent a summary of my findings.  They are but a small fraction of my thinking and writing to date, the bulk of which is focussed on writing a book about the subject, seeking to explain carefully and thoughtfully exactly how experience led me to this point.  So whilst I continue working on that here is a summary and very brief explanation of my understanding the principles of forest gardening.

Fundamental principles of forest gardens

  1. The greater the biodiversity in the forest garden the more resilient and healthy it is.
  2. Plant material (biomass) accumulating in the soil increases soil fertility.
  3. Permanent plantings of perennials ensure a healthy underground soil system.
  4. Biodiversity, biomass and perennial planting are the foundations of health and fertility in the forest garden ecosystem which in turn are the foundation of abundance.

Principles of forest gardening

  1. A forest gardener learns slowly, accepting that forest gardening is a radically different way of gardening and they will continually be learning and increasing their understanding, there is no hurry.
  2. A forest gardener has a clear vision of the forest garden they hope to co-create. This vision can be revisited and revised as appropriate.
  3. A forest gardener relinquishes responsibility for and control of the garden, accepting the freedom to trust in nature.
  4. It is vital that a forest gardener stops before undertaking any action in the garden; and having stopped that they both watch and wait a while.
  5. When the forest gardener does make an intervention it should be the minimum required to achieve the purpose.
  6. When the forest gardener does make an intervention there is no ‘right’ and no ‘wrong’.
  7. Most trees and plants in a forest garden will live out their entire life cycles concluding with a natural ending.
  8. When harvesting produce the forest gardener always remembers the needs of other members of the ecosystem and does not take everything that is there; instead s/he harvests ‘only enough’.

The principles (briefly) explained

The structure and function of a forest garden

Like a woodland a forest garden has a multi-layered structure and a diverse mixture of trees, shrubs and perennial plants comprising a canopy, understorey trees, shrub layer, herbaceous plants, ground cover, below ground zone and climbing plants.  All these layers are important for enabling the forest garden to function as a mini ecosystem but not all the layers have to be included in every forest garden.

  1. Each tree, shrub, bush, plant etc is occupying a specific ‘niche’ in the forest garden, for example a food producing niche, a nitrogen fixing niche or a nectar plant niche[1]. The forest garden is therefore by definition biodiverse – it has lots of different plants within it which will attract many different insects and birds and some mammals.  Interactions between elements of the ecosystem are the natural processes which regulate, sustain and enhance the garden.  The greater the biodiversity in the forest garden the more resilient and healthy it is.
  2. Plant material (biomass) accumulating in the soil from plants that die back or are cut back (and placed on the soil) increases soil fertility. The generation of fertility is particularly driven by the herbaceous layer in a forest garden.
  3. What happens below ground, out of sight, is just as important as what happens above ground. Bare soil is detrimental to soil health and to fertility and permanent plantings of perennials ensure a healthy underground soil system.
  4. From these three principles another emerges: Biodiversity, biomass and perennial planting are the foundations of health and fertility in the forest garden ecosystem which in turn are the foundation of abundance.

The role of the forest gardener

Having designed and planted a forest garden the next thing is to learn to live with the forest garden in such a way as to enable it to function well, but not to overrule or inappropriately intervene in the natural course of events.  In this way forest gardening both challenges and enables us to re-integrate ourselves into the processes and cycles of the natural world and thereby to become nature’s support in returning the land to health and vitality.  To do this the forest gardener is focussed (as above) on supporting ever increasing biodiversity, biomass and ensuring permanent plantings.  In support of this:

  1. The forest gardener and their own needs is an integral part of the forest garden ecosystem and their original and evolving vision for the forest garden is an important element that guides their choices in caring for and supporting the garden.
  2. By convention our culture and experience has been to manage, control or subdue nature to meet our own needs, breaking the links in the ecosystem with harmful consequences all round. Forest gardeners need to challenge their assumptions and the conventions and ‘rules’ they have learned in other contexts and instead to trust nature and the natural principles underlying the structure and function of the garden.
  3. In order to adjust to different ways of interacting with the forest garden (compared to conventional horticulture) it is vital that forest gardeners STOP before undertaking any action in the garden; and having stopped that they both watch and wait a while. This pause gives the forest gardener the opportunity to relax and begin to see what nature is already doing and how best s/he can support or perhaps even enhance this.
  4. When the forest gardener does make an intervention it should be the minimum required to achieve the purpose and s/he will learn to judge this by experience.
  5. When the forest gardener does make an intervention there is no ‘right’ and no ‘wrong’. As an integral part of the ecosystem and holding the intention of loving and supporting the forest garden s/he makes the appropriate action by definition in the same way that the blackbird cannot eat the ‘wrong’ worm.
  6. From all of this (and everything else that experience brings along) the forest gardener is continually learning and increasing their understanding of the garden which in turn helps them learn and understand yet more.
  7. Most trees and plants will live out their entire life cycles concluding with a natural ending.
  8. When harvesting produce from the forest garden the forest gardener always remembers the needs of other members of the ecosystem and does not take everything that is there; instead s/he harvests ‘only enough’.

Implementing these principles

It may not be immediately clear from these principles what a forest gardener would actually do in their garden!  It is not a matter of planting a forest garden and then ‘gardening’ it like any other garden with a set list of tasks and activities so here is a brief guide to the activities that will be needed from time to time which falls into three types of activity:

  • Introducing additional trees or plants
  • Reducing or removing trees or plants
  • Harvesting produce

New introductions

Plans to introduce new trees or plants will be in support of one or more of the following and relate to the ecology of the garden:

  • Implementing the forest gardener’s vision for the garden
  • Filling additional niches or functions
  • Increasing biodiversity
  • Increasing biomass
  • Keeping the soil planted /covered
  • Increasing harvests

If nature brings new plants into the garden (that may in other contexts be called ‘weeds’) the forest gardener will not remove them by reflex action.  S/he will watch and wait to see how (or if) they fit into the garden’s ecosystem.  In general the presumption is that because they have grown there in the first place that they probably are filling a niche, even if the gardener cannot as yet identify it.  At the very least they are additional biomass and often additional diversity as well.

However they arrive in the garden once they are established most trees and plants will live out their entire life cycles concluding with a natural ending thereby maintaining the maximum number of productive and useful plants (increased biomass and harvests) and allowing the next generation of plants to establish naturally without the forest gardener’s assistance.

Reducing or removing plants

When a plant or tree dies naturally they fall to the ground where they grew.  When the forest gardener needs to remove some or all of a plant or a tree s/he emulates this by placing the plant on the soil where it grew or as close by as practically possible (out of sight beneath a bigger plant if need be).  This is also part of doing the minimum.

Harvesting

The forest gardener harvests only enough.  For example leaving some fruit for the birds or, as above, allowing some plants to remain in order to flower and produce seed for the future.

[1] A ‘niche’ is one way of describing the purpose or function a plant fulfils within the system.

Posted in Forest Gardening, Principles of forest gardening | 7 Comments

An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson — iSustainability Project

I love this post by Carole – about human purpose and consciousness and what guides our decision making …. I hope you do too.

 

Sometimes it’s good to pause, and consider what makes us think the way we do. I’ve recently been re-reading the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) which I first read in 2002. I remember that it had a significant impact on me at the time, and re-reading it […]

via An ecology of mind: Gregory Bateson — iSustainability Project

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Hope Wood

I began this blog to write about my experiments with perennial vegetables and polycultures.  A lot of vegetable biomass and words have been generated over the past seven years on that topic and will no doubt continue well into the future.  However there is news afoot and another topic to write about because the day before we went on our holiday to New Zealand my partner and I became the very proud owners of a woodland.

I call it (her) Hope Wood.  She is in Shropshire in a quiet valley, surrounded by beautiful hills with an open aspect to the south.  She is accessible from both of our bases – in Shrewsbury and our borderland home – making it easy to visit and also to stay over if we want to.

This is a dream I never expected to come to fruition and I am so excited about it!  The opportunity came along and we took it eagerly without too much thought or forward planning, just instinctively knowing that this was something we would love to do.  Accordingly there are no specific plans for how we will use the wood although it is likely to involve visiting as often as we can to spend time and get to know the place and the surrounding countryside rather than travelling further afield to visit other beauty spots.  We will be sharing our joy with friends and family, and when the fine weather comes there will be gatherings and lots of cooking on an open fire.  The wood is also very definitely for grandchildren to run about in.  It is for them to get muddy and to briefly forget their ipads and phones, to climb trees and make dens and eat slightly singed food with relish.

The pictures below were taken on our first visit in October from one spot as I turned round and snapped what was in front of me.  The final picture is looking over the open boundary when we visited just after Christmas.  The wood was just on the snowline and looked and felt enchanting.

Hope Wood will be for dreaming in and dreaming of and I am now going to dream on!

 

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Reviewing 2017

My previous reviews of the year just gone have been more factual and measured than this one will be.  However much of my focus through 2017 was not so much what was growing in the garden or how much produce I was getting but on how I was interacting with the garden and whether or not that interaction boiled down to some basic principles that would translate to other situations.

The answer to that question is yes and I have a folder full of notes and lots of scrap paper and notebooks covered in more notes confirming it!  I am in the process of writing up what I have discovered from watching myself interacting with the garden – how I watch  it, what I notice, how I make decisions to do something or to refrain from doing it.

But of course I have also very much enjoyed actually being out in the garden and both harvesting and eating the produce as well as enjoying the flowers and the bees and birds and other creatures that come visiting.

There has been kale virtually all year round, more than we can eat and the neighbours have been enjoying it too.

variegated Daubenton’s kale

Daubenton’s kale

Many of the fruit trees and bushes bore their treasures for the first time this year and I harvested – jostaberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, whitecurrants, gooseberries, raspberries, cherries, wild strawberries, apples, plums and one very precious and delicious mirabelle.

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There have been onions a plenty from the first months of the year to its’ finale – three cornered leeks, few flowered leeks, perennial leeks, chives, Welsh onions, tree onions, garlic.  I have been able to save bulbils and offsets to make more plants for next year.

perennial leek bulbils swelling nicely

 

tree onions amongst marjoram

And this year there will be even more of these lovely perennial plants to come through all the wondrous seasons in their turn.

April cowslips

salsify, nasturtiums, love in a mist, onions (of some kind) having a ball in the July sunshine

 

Fennel and Taunton Deane kale on a misty November morning

But right now this is what I am looking forward to quite soon:

snowdrops in a local churchyard on a sparkling February day

 

 

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Singapore – A Garden City

Whenever I have heard other people speak about Singapore they have generally had a stopover to break up a long journey and despite only a brief visit they have said what a lovely place it is.  Now I know why.  It is clean, well organised, has lots of interesting things to do and there are trees and plants everywhere!

I had not realised before that Singapore is a garden city and has been for over fifty years now.  Everywhere I go I am always noticing spare places, unkempt corners, unused spaces that to me seem to be crying out for something green to be planted on them.  In Singapore I couldn’t see any spare or unloved space at all – everywhere that was not in use for roads, paving or buildings was green.  The roads are lined with graceful trees – as shown below, I don’t know the species.  Most of these trees have other plants such as ferns growing in between the boughs.

Fort Canning Road, by back entrance to Singapore National Museum – hence the sculptures!

The garden city includes an emphasis on community growing and there are over 1000 community gardens.

The pavements are lined with plants, often on two sides so you walk along surrounded by shrubs, trees and flowering plants.  Many of the plants looked to my British eyes like massive pot plants!  Despite being so pleased to see the street planting I didn’t take any photos of it, but this link takes you to a search which demonstrates what I mean.

The city is making an effort to increase biodiversity in the city by planting habitat for birds and insects.  We walked past this entrance to a butterfly area on our way from Orchard Road (the main shoppping and hotel area) walking to the Botanic Gardens.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find the actual way into the area!

Nassim Green butterfly trail

Much of the expertise for the garden city is rooted in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  This 82 hectare garden was originally founded in 1859 and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2015.

This scene is on the publicity leaflets, but I don’t know the significance of it!

It is huge and has many lovely gardens within the one site.  Unfortunately as it was so very hot my partner and I were wilting after just a couple of hours and we only saw a fraction of what was there.

Orchids in Singapore Botanic Garden

New Zealand is home to 4.8 million people living on 103,360 square miles, Singapore is home to 5.6 million people on just 278 square miles! For comparison the UK is 93,600 square miles with 63 million inhabitants.  I will leave any calculations of population density to you – but clearly Singapore is incredibly densely populated which makes its green environment even more of a wonder.

 

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