Summer is here at last, although for the first three weeks of June, I was beginning to wonder! Then the cool, wet weather we had been having turned warm and sunny just in time for the official start of summer, and the season has definitely changed. Despite the dull weather, we didn’t have as much rain as in May, around 60mm.
One of the main events this month was the completion of the solar dryer (thanks, Bob!). The photos above show the result; air is taken in at the bottom of the glass-covered heat box (right), moving up the box around the baffles and out through a flexible pipe at the top into the drying cabinet (left). The air continues moving upwards through the drying trays, and moist air goes out through the chimney at the top.
On a couple of days at the end of the month, I had temperatures of around 50° in the cabinet, which means the dryer principle is working as I hoped! I am going to move the whole thing to the Upper Garden where it will get sun for as long as it shines; in the courtyard at present, trees and the house shade it at the beginning and end of the day. However, there will probably be only a few hours in the day when these temperatures are achieved, and outside of that they will drop and maybe humidity will increase. So we’re not there yet, Version SDII will be next year!
I am pleased with how the annual vegetables are growing, considering the lack of preparation. The maize/beans/squash patch has overcome early slug and ‘critter’ setbacks and is performing well. I put up the bamboo pyramids for the beans as they were growing faster than the maize, but since the latter has caught up, the beans have transferred themselves across in most cases. The tomatoes and squash have comfrey and a couple of young trees (Black Cherry Plum and Chaste Tree) for company, and are growing up the wire mesh on the cage. The butternut in the top picture decided it liked the look of the biomass pile. I was expecting it to grow along under the tomatoes (top right), but it had other ideas!
I have mentioned the swale ditches before, and it’s nice to see them working; I had two dug in the slope of the Upper Garden along contour lines that I had marked out. This was done with an A-frame and plumb line that I made, rather as the Egyptians might have done a few thousand years ago! The idea is thus not to drain the rainwater away when it runs down the slope, but rather to keep it in place to interrupt its flow and to gradually infiltrate in the soil. Biomass is also placed in the swales. Trees and plants are then planted on the mound created with the ditch soil, keeping them in water and nutrients for longer. The blue-topped posts indicate underground water channels, running from right to left down the slope. A water-diviner came and showed me where these were. Water management is an important part of the forest garden process, and ecosystem processes in general, and I will be writing more about this in the future.
Unfortunately, the two birds above did not survive. They were just lying in the courtyard (on two separate occasions) with no apparent injuries. Maybe it was the neighbour’s cat, maybe they had flown into a window at speed (it happens), I don’t know. I include them not because they are unusual around here, although the Oriole is secretive and rarely seen I am told, but because their markings are so beautiful and delicate. The merging of the colours on the Golden Oriole’s breast was so fine. This one was a young female I think; it is the male that is ‘golden’.
I also found a dead couleuvre (grass snake) on the pathway in the Upper Garden, again with no apparent reason for its demise (cat, buzzard, magpie?). However, I was glad to see it – snakes are an important part of the food chain, both as predators and prey, and this one was probably living under one of the biomass piles, like in the butternut photo above. People are understandably wary of snakes, but aside from their importance in the ecosystem, they are very shy and generally harmless with one or two exceptions.
The bat story continues – one morning I found ‘my’ bat on a windowsill between window and shutter. I picked him up and put him in my palm, where he sat quite happily half-asleep, and then I put him at the entrance to the bat box (May 5). He crawled slowly up into the opening right to the top corner and stayed there all day. However, the next morning he was gone, although I do still see him and his friend at dusk. Maybe next year they’ll decide to move in.
The top two photos above illustrate the transition to summer; the grasses ripen and many of the spring flowers are gone for another year. The old faithfuls (Daisy, Dandelion, Herb Robert, Ragwort) soldier on and new ones (Agrimony, Self-Heal, Teasel) join them. I’m glad that Agrimony (photo above) has decided to come this year, it’s an attractive plant. I also have to keep an eye out for self-seeded trees like the Walnut above and decide if I want to keep them; at the moment this is only on the pathways through the garden, but at the end of the year when everything has seeded and families have dispersed, the dried grass and flower stems in the whole garden are cut back by hand and that’s a bit more tricky!
The number of wild flowers in this month’s census has inevitably reduced slightly (see link below), but I still managed to find 52, including eight newcomers.
There is something of a Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) invasion this year which can be seen as green patches in front of and beyond the St. John’s Wort (above). They are now coming into flower and last until the autumn. Fritillary butterflies love them, so I should have a whole host this year!
These photos show the progression of the Forest Garden trees so far: at the top are the mature fruit and nut trees I inherited with the house. The cherries are done, the plum trees are getting ready to ripen and the persimmon and walnut are building up for the autumn. I had a ‘mast’ or bumper crop of walnuts last year (I was still eating them in April), so this year there will be fewer. The persimmons I usually leave for the birds and the decorative effect, but use one or two when I feel like it. The numbers of birds they attracted last winter was lovely to see, especially a whole clan of Long-Tailed Tits, who allowed me to stand quite close to watch.
The middle photos are some of the trees I planted earlier this year in the Coppice area, and they have got off to a good start, although I have needed to add a little more compost and mulch to encourage them and keep them moist.
The two alders are part of last year’s planting programme along the western border of the Forest Garden (see my Agroforestry post, May 31) as pioneer species providing nitrogen fixing and windbreaks. They are growing well, although again I decided to renew the mulch on the Italian Alder.
I also have to keep an eye on the bramble situation – I don’t want to eliminate it, but on the other hand I need to persuade it not to take over completely! It too comes under the heading of Pioneer Species, and also the flowers are a good source of nectar and the blackberries are very nice!
One of the main aspects of a forest garden is that it provides, among many other things, nutritious food! We are now moving into the season when I will begin harvesting, starting with courgettes in a few days’ time. This to me is also one of the pleasures of the Project, and with a solar dryer and a new freezer I will have produce to last me through the winter. Variety and quantity will increase as the years go by – fruit, nuts, perennial and annual vegetables, herbs – and perhaps then I might have a surplus to sell!