Drought, harvest … and lizards!

The weather has to be the main topic of this month’s blog. It has been very dry, but we have also had heat peaks of just under 40°C. These have stressed my plants considerably, but it is the underlying dryness of the land which is the main concern; in sum, we have had three months of drought, and it will be interesting to see if we get any significant rainfall in September.

We have had 50mm of rain, but half of that fell in the last four days of the month, plus a further 11mm on the 22nd. We had a short canicule (Blog post, August 1st) during the second week of August, but after that it became cooler and by the last week it was time for trousers and shoes again.

The mulch/compost/watering can system (Blog post, August 1st) for the new trees has worked well, with no casualties, but one or two are looking pretty stressed. However, even the Lime (Tilia cordata) in the picture below has buds in the leaf nodes for next year, so all is not lost. It also has some ‘critter excavation’ under it (or perhaps I should say holes by moles or voles), which I firm down frequently, but which is no doubt not helping!

The Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) below has recovered after a shaky start including bark-stripping by deer (hence the protection), but I am not sure of the wisdom of planting the Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) quite so close in view of likely competition for water. In principle, later on, this would be fine, since they will have different root zones, but to start with I think I might move the Comfrey this winter.

It’s very good to see that along the lines of the swales in the Upper Garden (Blog post, June 30th) the vegetation is still a dull green as opposed to ‘parched’ all around. Thus, despite the very dry conditions, there is still some moisture here, so they’re doing their job, and fruit tree planting is a must along them.

All the above really brings climate change into focus, as I mentioned last month, because what we are now experiencing have become yearly events, not just occasional ones. This will be challenging but inspiring, to prepare for what will probably turn out to be a Mediterranean Savannah, and I look forward to following, observing and adapting …..

As a postscript to this, I have noticed fewer bees, wasps and hornets this year – the latter are usually crowding on to the figs by now. This may be as a result of agro-industry practices, but I imagine the effects of climate change also come into it. There is another possibility of course; that the biodiversity is building up in the Forest Garden to the extent that the insects’ natural predators are keeping the populations down. I have no way of knowing this for the moment, but it is an interesting thought.

The solar dryer (Blog posts, June 30th and August 1st) hasn’t really been a success so far, and September will see it dismantled and stored for the winter. We made several of these in India, and they worked well, but of course the conditions were slightly different! Produce drying is an important part of the Project, so I will be pursuing this, but for now let’s put this year down to experience!

One major event this month was the log delivery. This has all been stacked and the store compartments in the garage filled up, so bring on the winter – well, maybe not quite yet!

So to the harvest: Blackberries have been the main crop this year, and I have over 6kg in the freezer – there could easily have been double this amount, but I decided to leave the rest for the ‘neighbours’. The main invertebrate on them was butterflies – apparently they love this fruit, particularly when it is overripe. I have also had raspberries, hawthorn berries and figs (ongoing, 6kg and counting).

The annual vegetables were a patchy affair – not surprising really, given my lack of devotion to the idea and an undoubtedly poor soil, but there were nevertheless several reasonable crops, and I have a good supply of tomato purée doses in the freezer. But for the future, I am going to wait for the right conditions before growing any more – for example, a raised bed for tomatoes and its companions, since they are so demanding for nutrients. And there will in any case only be limited production, since, as mentioned in previous posts, they are not the main focus of my Forest Garden.

The wild flower census showed a total of just 23 species this month, including six or seven of the ‘old faithfuls’ (Dandelion, Dock and Burnet Saxifrage for example), but included two new ones – Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and Canadian Fleabane (Conyza canadensis). These two are common around here, but the Loosestrife is new to my garden.

I am not short of plans for the future, and these include a weather station, completing the evaluation and design stage (mapping, planting layout, topography, geology, hydrology, climate, etc), getting more fruit trees in (apple, pear, quince, plum, almond), some ash for the Coppice, and coppicing one of the large Goat Willows (Salix capria) on the eastern border of the garden (below). This is completely overgrown and I’m sure my neighbour will be relieved to see it reduced to its stump for regrowth! The foliage/twigs will be useful for biomass, and the branches are mostly long and straight, so will be good as poles (for a raised bed, for example) or small wood for the woodburner.

I think the weather station will be first, because I really want to see more than just the rainfall, and to keep records for comparison year on year. This will be invaluable for the ongoing development of the Forest Garden.

Oh yes, the lizards! I have a large family in the wall between the kitchen and the garage. Mum and Dad got in through a small hole in the outside wall and tunnelled through the interior wall (which is just cob), and produced probably about six infants. I noticed because they started ejecting their waste through a small hole at the bottom of my stairs, and there were a lot of small lizards playing in the sun outside. I tried to encourage them to leave by removing the waste and their debris, but they very determinedly kept blocking the hole up again, on one occasion moving a large stick and a 4cm chunk of concrete! So I gave up. Good luck to them, I have ended up admiring their persistence and organisation. Not quite sure what to do about the wall though. Hopefully they have just made a small tunnel!

You might have noticed by now that food, cooking and nutrition are important for me. It is something I have been interested in all my life and it was brought sharply into focus when I was working on forest gardens, food security and livelihoods with tribal people in the tropics. It is an inseparable part of my work here, and I will be developing and reporting on this in future posts.

Vegetable protein/carbohydrate/trace/vitamins are becoming much more a natural part of my diet too, as a result of working on this Project, and eggs, fresh pasta, soya, lentils, beans and rice, along with a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, are gradually becoming as important as, if not more so than, meat, fish and potatoes. I still eat small amounts of these, probably fish more than the others. Those of you who know me, know that I don’t like labels or boxes, and so to try to be a ‘Vegetarian’ is not important. It’s the balance of nutrition that is the key.

To return to James Lovelock (Blog post, August 1st), who, when a journalist observed that he ‘thought outside the box’, replied: “Box? There is no box!”

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