don’t do anything until you have to and then only do the minimum

I am working on a new book and hence all my writing effort has gone into that and there just hasn’t been sufficient spare time to keep this blog up to date.   Nor has there been much time to spend in the garden, but as my main maxim for interacting with the garden is (as above) ‘don’t do anything until you have to and then only do the minumum’ it has not mattered!  In fact it is an good demonstration of the ability of a forest garden to just get on with being what it is and I dip in and out as I am able or as there is need.

However one thing I did before it was too late was to plant more fruit trees at the end of the winter.  It was a cold and frosty cum snowy day when Pat and I planted a medlar, two apples (Newton’s Wonder and Cox), two gages (Cambridge and Dennistons), two plums (Marjorie’s seedling and here in the picture the veritable Victoria plum).  I cut them back hard to keep them tiny.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Since that wintry day we have had lots of super hot weather – much more than usual for Wales and also a notable lack of rain.  Nevertheless the garden has grown wonderfully well with plenty of flowers and fruits.  On the downside there have been fewer flowers than in previous years and some aphid infestations that I have never had before, both of which I am putting down the the drought.

Polycultures July 2018

This ‘triangle bed’ near the entrance to the house is intended to be flowery and colourful and it has been lovely all year.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

flowery ‘triangle bed’

One of my original hopes for growing a forest garden was that there would be more harvesting than working and this summer that has proved to be the case.  I think the warm weather definitely helped the garlic do well and it was all ready by July this year.  And this was the year when the fruit bushes and trees that have been here for some years began to get into production.  Accordingly there has been a good harvest of soft fruit, tree fruit and also the ever reliable greens.

garlic harvest July 2018

chokeberry (aronia)

raspberry canes

redcurrants

Taunton Deane kale

 

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Good King Henry Grain — Blog – The Backyard Larder

I have been planning to harvest some Good King Henry seed for grain, but haven’t done so yet so I was very pleased to read that Alison from The Backyard Larder has just done a great post all about it.

Good King Henry is closely related to quinoa – they are both members of the ‘goosefoot’ (from the shape of their leaves) or Chenopodioideae sub-family. So I was interested in using Good King Henry as a pseudocereal just as quinoa is used (a pseudocereal is a non-grass plant whose seed is used as a grain…

via Good King Henry Grain — Blog – The Backyard Larder

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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.

 

Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Polycultures, Principles of forest gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

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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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