April 2020

One of the main reasons for starting a blog is to give a monthly update on the activities of the Sombrun Forest Garden Project. There will be other occasional posts on more technical information such as the biodiversity surveys (see previous post), or discussion of fundamental topics related to forest gardens.

The weather in the first half of April was mostly warm and sunny, although marked at times by a persistent cold easterly wind peculiar to this area of France, while the second half was mostly overcast, with showers and some more persistent rain at times.

One of the benefits of working on the garden and living without central heating is that I am much more conscious of the weather and the seasons, and so feel much more closely related to the project. Interestingly, this year so far has seen a very ‘normal’ progression from winter to spring with classic (in western European terms) March and April weather.

This has been a productive and satisfying month, with seed propagation in the polytunnel, seeing my winter tree planting starting to shoot, beginning weather and climate recording, the start of the biodiversity censuses, the first major ‘planned disturbances’, and not least, the start of the Sombrun Forest Garden Project website!

It is not a main objective of the forest garden to grow many annual vegetables, but some at least are required! I now have tomato, maize, haricot and squash plants growing, as well as some useful herbaceous plants such as comfrey and borage. The maize, haricots and squash are a demonstration of the ‘Three Sisters’, an ancient Mayan forest garden technique, where the beans grow up the maize and fix nitrogen, while the squash grows all around and keeps the weeds down.

In 2019, I planted alders and robinia for windbreaks and nitrogen-fixing, and this winter I have concentrated mainly on providing more diversity in an area that had already begun by itself in the north-east corner of the garden, with oak, goat willow, bramble, dog-rose and blackthorn. Thus I have planted chestnut, small-leaved lime, hazel, robinia and hornbeam here. The idea here is to establish a Coppice for small and medium wood production plus biomass.

I have started weather records by measuring rain from about the middle of the month, but I really need to begin more comprehensive recording as soon as possible.

As my previous post says, April was a very good month for the wild flower census, with 50 different species recorded just in the garden alone. It is also good to see that this is slightly up on the same period last year, when I did a very rough census.

Disturbances, both planned and natural, are a fundamental topic for ecological development, and will be discussed in more detail in a future post. However, planned disturbances in the last few months have been the creation of permanent pathways and the digging of two swales on the slope of the Upper Garden. Both these will have an effect on the ecological development here.

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