May and the Wild Flower Explosion

This month has exceeded all my expectations, since the wild flower census revealed no fewer than 60 different species! For me, on an area of just 3000 square metres, this is really astonishing! The photo above is of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which seems to be coming in abundance this year, and which is for me the definitive wild flower, full of symbolism, resilient and yet capricious, producing hundreds of tiny seeds per plant, but fussy on where it establishes itself. Named for the Christian saint’s day at the start of summer, it represents long, sunny days and also an aid to good health, since it is an important medicinal plant. To see the full list of this month’s wild flowers, click on the button below.

The monthly flower census takes up quite a bit of time, but this is really only the beginning! I have a feeling that an insect census will be equally surprising, given what I am noticing every day – around six or seven butterfly species I guess, and some really beautiful insects. I had a female Spotted Cranefly in the house this month, with really deep, rich golden yellow and black colouring, the black almost enamelled in appearance, and with delicate black-veined wings. A work of art. And then there are the birds and the small mammals, not to mention all the grasses I haven’t identified yet ….. !

Talking of small mammals, I have started a relationship with a bat! Earlier this month he/she arrived one evening, and since then I have gone out every day at dusk (about 10pm at the moment), and the bat comes to greet me by zooming around my head for a few minutes and then disappears. I’m not sure yet whether he or she is living in the bat box (see May 5 post).

May was a busy month for planting out the vegetable seedlings. This year will be pot luck, because the soil here has not yet had time to regenerate, and I have also planted in unprepared beds. However, so far not too bad. Some wasps have decided to take up residence just next to my maize/beans/squash patch (May 5), which is a bit inconvenient when it comes to watering!

As I have said before, annual vegetables are not really the main focus of the Project, but it is fun to grow some and preserve them, nevertheless. There are also excellent organic vegetable growers around here, and they do it much better than I do! Perennial vegetables, on the other hand, is a topic largely ignored by most people, but they form one of the pillars of the forest garden, and these will be included as time goes on. There are thousands of varieties of nutritious food that Nature has provided for us, and yet we are persuaded to stick with the Big Four (wheat, maize, soya and rice), which to a large extent are hybridised or modified beyond recognition from their original ancestors.

The month started and finished with warm, dry weather, in fact for the last week we have had clear sunny days and summer temperatures. The middle week was dull and wet, with just over 100mm of rain, sometimes persistent. However, some of my new trees are now beginning to flag, and while resisting watering them too much so that their roots search deeper, I may have to help them out a bit this year if it stays dry.

I have noticed some deer damage this month to one of the wild cherry saplings near the entrance to my drive, and also to an oak sapling right up in the opposite corner in the Coppice. Whilst I obviously welcome the fact that the forest garden is beginning to attract flora and fauna (I have forest on a steep ridge on the other side of the road from my property, so in terms of a developing landscape mosaic, it will be important that this happens), I would prefer not to lose my new trees! Some urine at the entrance will probably help deter the deer, but I will have to keep a watchful eye.

I am building a solar dryer for fruit and vegetable crops; I managed to find two small cupboards and an old window in a local second-hand warehouse for 19€, and with my good friend Bob, am adapting these into the dryer (Bob is a handy guy to have around, an ex-engineer with his feet on the ground, keeping my imagination in check!). The window is fixed on top of a box placed at an angle on the ground, with a vent in the bottom which takes in air. The sun heats this up under the glass and it rises to pass out through a flexible pipe at the top, which in turn goes into the bottom of the drying cabinet above. The cabinet has six mesh trays with the produce on for drying, and the moist air from these moves upward and out through a vent at the top. The aim is to have drying temperatures of between 40° and 60°C, but I think we may well exceed this. I will post further on this, and also put up some photos.

One positive result of the Covid-19 situation has been the increase in online conferences. These are on particular topics that interest me, from agroforestry to climate change to nutrition-sensitive farming, and they are world-class, free and at home! Long may they continue.

The post that follows this one is also new – it is the first in a series of slightly more in-depth articles, which will eventually have their own place on the menu; for now they will appear in the blog.

I am aware that the format of the website is fairly basic at the moment, but this will improve as time goes on, with more interesting layout, photos and illustrations, and with widgets to previous posts and relevant links. Bear with me!

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