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The predominant feeling this month has been one of shutting down. It’s obviously something that we know happens, but being so closely involved with Nature’s processes in the forest garden here, it has struck me more than ever how remarkable this is, and how clear the change is. That having made the supreme effort of growing, flowering and fruiting over the last six or seven months, both the land and the plants need to rest and marshal their resources for the next season.
For this reason, I have decided to suspend the wild flower census until maybe February, when the winter crocuses should show themselves again. There have been a few individual flowers, such as dandelion or clover, with the mild weather we have been having (see below), but really nothing to speak of. They too are having a well-deserved break!
It has also made me think that this is a time for allowing time! And November was a time for lighting the woodburner, preparing and savouring that special coffee,
and for making a butternut squash soup, saving the seed for next year …..
Then there was a delicious wild pheasant (Blog, November 1st), and some organic pork, a whole Porc Noir de Bigorre, (similar to the Iberian Black Pig, see the article Agroforestry and the Forest Garden, May 31st), prepared ready for the freezer. This was reared under the best conditions on a farm near here, where they also make excellent bread. I realise this knocks my vegetarian credentials for six (Blog, September 1st), but with meat this good, it’s very difficult to refuse and it does contribute towards a balanced diet!
November was a mild and calm month, and the first full month’s records from the new weather station confirmed this, with an average wind speed of around 0.5km/hr. It was also very dry in terms of lack of rainfall (22mm only), but humid (average 88%), giving heavy dew most mornings, keeping the ground moist. We did have our first major frost (-2°C) on the 22nd, but also a high of 26° right at the beginning of the month, and a monthly average temperature of 10°. There were only two or three days without sun, and many days were cloudless.
Below are two examples of the charts I get on the computer now, showing maximum, average and minimum temperature, and total and maximum rainfall, for the month of November. There are other permutations available, for example, daily or weekly charts. Besides this, the Sombrun Forest Garden Project is now a published weather station, and so data from here is going into Weathercloud’s database for local, national and international weather reports and forecasts.
And just to be a complete geek, here is a radial diagram of November’s wind speed and direction! This chart reports calm weather 77.54% of the month!
I have been doing some ‘garden maintenance’ such as strimming roadside ditches and upper and lower garden pathways and planting an Indian Bottlebrush (Callistemon spp.). ‘Indian’ in the sense that I brought some seed back from India several years ago and this tree has now become too big for a pot. It has yet to flower (perhaps a cutting would have been better), and maybe it will need protecting from frost (although the parent was growing at an altitude of 2000m). As far as I am aware, it has no real practical use in the forest garden, apart from being spectacular, but I am keeping it for sentimental reasons!
Next month will be the major period for coppicing (see Blog posts September 1st and October 1st), and pruning fruit trees, but the new fruit trees have been ordered this month and these will be heeled in and planted progressively in December and January. There is a wide range of trees coming – apple, pear, cherry, peach, plum, apricot, fig, quince and almond – about 15 trees in all. I already have six more apple trees from last winter (another generous neighbour), so all these will be placed according to my design (still not down on paper!). Eventually they will form an integral part of the forest garden as a whole, in and among other plants (trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and so on), and as a part of this, there are also several soft fruit bushes (gooseberry, raspberry, blackcurrant), bought last winter and planted temporarily awaiting the major fruit tree plantation. They will be mixed in and around the other fruit trees in companion planting.
I now have a battery-powered telescopic hedge trimmer, which is much lighter than the two-stroke model and fine for the small amount of hedging I do. It is basically for the hedges along the roadside of the property, one a laurel hedge which gets done twice a year, and the other a mixed wild hedge, including brambles for blackberries and hawthorn for tisanes, which is trimmed just once a year.
I have at last got the Sombrun Forest Garden Project sign up! It was a major job, and there was always something more important to do. I constructed the posts and cross-bars, prepared the hole at the entrance to the drive, concreted the whole thing in, sanded and stained it and finally put up the sign.
A glass display case will be added under the sign, with information on the weather and climate, the biodiversity surveys, excerpts from the blog, and so on. These will all be mostly in French and will be constantly updated, for the flocks of passers-by!
The latest must-read for me is Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life (Bodley Head, London, 2020), a fascinating book about fungi written in an engaging style but soundly scientific at the same time. For once, the reviewers’ hyperbole is fairly accurate (“Not just for mushroom heads … science at its most uplifting” says The Times, and someone “with the imagination of a poet and a beautiful writer”, says author Michael Pollan).
The book fits perfectly into the ethos of the forest garden and the author is my kind of scientist, someone who understands that the scientific method can never tell the whole story, and the account of his adventures with Italian truffle hunters is hilarious.
“The more we learn about fungi, the less makes sense without them” announces the book jacket. Definitely.
I can’t end the November blog without introducing my new assistant, Chanua (from the French ‘chat noir’), who has been helping me type this! She arrived last Friday from the forest, on the heels of my neighbour René (he of mushroom fame, Blog, November 1st). He had found her a long way from any houses in the middle of the woods, and she had followed him for over a kilometre back to his house. We think she must have been dumped in the forest, sadly. Clearly she had been in someone’s home, because she is in good condition and is very affectionate, not phased by people or noise. I guess she is only about 2 months old. I have adopted her temporarily in case someone comes to claim her, but I think this is unlikely. So I guess she will be staying. Not so sure about the effect on the biodiversity of the Sombrun Forest Garden, but we’ll see!