Completion of the Site Evaluation – the map tells all …

By far the most significant, and exciting, event this month has been the completion of the the Site Evaluation for the Sombrun Forest Garden Project. Started over a year ago, it ground to a halt because of my indecision over making a map (pure Libra)! But now the Site Map has been done, showing the actual situation of the Forest Garden in terms of infrastructure and existing trees/new planting to date, and I can see that I needn’t have concerned myself over committing to a design. The map (and Nature) will suggest the way to proceed.

In fact, reaching this stage has prompted me to reflect on how we got here, and I have written an article about this (go to Articles in the menu, or click on Articles in the right-hand column). As usual, I prefer to keep the Blog to what has been happening in the garden, and an article allows me to express opinions and views on this and related subjects. So I recommend a read; at times autobiographical, at times botanical, at times thought-provoking, you’ll find all sorts of opinions and views on my approach to forest gardening and what it means to me. I have also included the complete Site Evaluation there – evaluation, satellite images and site map.

Let’s start this Blog too with the Site Map itself:

I’m more than happy, and rather surprised as well, at the way this has turned out. It gives a clear idea of where we are to date, and I think it will be a good thing to update it every year to show new planting, probably in the summer after the winter/spring work has been done. There is one more thing to add – a key to identify what is where. This should be simple enough to do, probably letters or numbers on each plant ‘bubble’ on the map, with a list underneath giving corresponding names. There is also a site inventory (link below) of every plant, started at the end of last year (Blog, January 1st, 2021), so it might be an idea to modify this to include the Site Map key, we’ll see.

The map could also indicate where nitrogen-fixing plants are, and I would need to emphasise this in some way, maybe with the use of colour. For example, the top western corner is a nitrocosm (I don’t think that’s in the dictionary yet!), with albizia, autumn olive and two types of alder, and there are robinias along the driveway and in the Coppice. Incidentally, there are only two of the five Italian alders originally planted along the hedge on the upper western boundary remaining, which is surprising as they are the one species of alder which is supposed to tolerate poor soil and dry conditions. Red alders, planted elsewhere, however, seem to like it here.

Likewise, it might interesting to show carbon biomass areas, the major one for the moment being in the eastern corner where the map shows a future outbuilding, but there are smaller piles dotted around the garden also. However, these won’t be permanent like a driveway or a tree, so I may decide not to include them. Pathways are important too; not only do they define areas of the garden and provide access to all plants for harvesting (hopefully!), but they also ensure that foot traffic is kept mostly under control to avoid any risk of damage or compaction.

Uncovering Carré 1 and spreading bark mulch over it was also an important step this month (photos below). In fact, there is enough bark left over to do Carré 2 (top right in second photo) next year, although some will be required this winter for plants that are not going in Carré 1. Plant delivery should be in December, and planting will either be at the end of that month or at the end of January (using the lunar calendar for best planting times). Among plants planned for Carré 1 are apricot, sea buckthorn, ground-cover raspberry, perennial spinach, Szechuan pepper and jostaberry. Carré 1 will also have a carbon biomass ‘hedge’ around it – parallel stakes containing twigs and branches stuffed down between them, to be left to decompose slowly. I’m hoping this will also give some measure of deer protection.

Opinion seems to be divided over whether to leave carbon biomass above ground or to bury it. With the former you’re contributing to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, with the latter you’re robbing the soil of nitrogen, which is needed to break the carbon down. On balance, I think I prefer the former, as the soil here is badly in need of the nitrogen. The left-hand photo above also shows the lentil haulms from earlier in the year, already beginning to decompose nicely.

A ‘heeling-in’ area was created this month, as trees are delivered bare-rooted and need to be covered prior to planting (see below left). It is basically a trench back-filled with its own loosened soil, and some posts to attach the trees to and stop them falling over. These three trees are walnuts, a French variety Franquette, which produces large nuts. One is for here and the other two for the Yaouzé Project. You can also see the carbon biomass piles mentioned above in this photo.

The Sombrun walnut was planted on the last day of the month (above right) in the driveway bank. It will be quite imposing at the entrance to the property and is close enough to the existing walnut for there to be cross-pollination, when the time comes. I decided to support the tree until its roots get established because there is quite a lot of weight already above ground, and it is also quite exposed to wind in this position. The earth in the bank is good, as it was the topsoil removed for the driveway.

There have been mushrooms everywhere this month. One particular example was interesting, as it was a clump of mushrooms in the upper swale next to the peach tree planted at the beginning of this year (photos below). The tree didn’t have a very extensive root system and in fact the top of it died back, leaving branches developing from about halfway up the trunk. These mushrooms are just at the base of the tree in quite a significant group, indicating a more extensive network of mycelia underground. They could well be an example of mycorrhizae coming to the aid of the tree to help it develop its root system, by bringing it nutrients from the soil in return for the sugars that the tree produces through photosynthesis. The right-hand photo shows the dead branches at the top of the tree, and the mushrooms are the white specks in the swale next to it. It is also evidence that the swale itself is functioning, as it is usually damper there than everywhere else and it has decomposing biomass in the bottom which favours mycelial development.

There has been some general maintenance work this month – strimming the swale and the driveway banks, where the famous knapweed was beginning to grow again, clearing out drains and gutters before the winter, pruning back a wild rose in the coppice, which was beginning to spread everywhere, and covering the rhubarb patch in the Lower Garden.

November was also a time for soup-making, and I think I’ve made more than ever before. There have been several variations on butternut and pumpkin soup, often spiced up with ginger and turmeric, plus kale soup, and cabbage and tomato. Plenty in the freezer for cold winter nights. There were still one or two walnuts falling, but I have left these for my friends, and on November 29th, I harvested a raspberry! Delicious.

There has recently been a series of programmes on France Culture, one of France’s talk radio channels, called ‘The Land Speaks’, four hours of documentary based around the dichotomy that has been created in France between industrial agriculture and forest ecology. ‘We have created an industrial field of France’, the programme makers say. ‘How, under these conditions, can we bring back the feeling for forest life and biodiversity?’ There were plenty of in-depth interviews with scientists, ecologists, foresters and farmers around topics such as degraded soils, biomass, new life for the forest, and the possibilities for bringing together the best of both worlds. Excellent production and excellent listening if you are a French speaker, and subject material that applies worldwide, not just in France.

And talking of biomass, which we hear a lot about these days, it needs to be said that it is not always synonymous with the sustainable. In situations such as in the Forest Garden here, where nitrogenous (leaves, grass) or carbonaceous (twigs, branches) matter is used as mulch or compost, there is no problem, it is a valuable contribution to soil improvement. But where stands of conifers are planted on an industrial scale and clearcut after a short time, say 20 or 30 years – or worse, existing forests felled – for bio-fuels such as wood pellets it is a different matter. This is a questionable practice, because it is depleting soils and biodiversity through monoculture plantations or clearcutting established forest, and the production process for the pellets creates greenhouse gases. It is also not sustainable because it is depleting wood stocks far faster than they are regenerated, and yet it has become big business, with huge factory units set up the world over to satisfy the demand that has been created.

November’s weather has been quite wet, cold, cloudy and dull with rainfall peaks at the beginning and in the last week of the month (81 mm total). Average temperature was 7.6°, with a maximum of 19.4° and minimum -0.6°, a couple of air frosts and three mornings below zero. Pressure was highest in the middle of the month. Quite a normal November, actually! See the link below for the full details. There is now nearly a year’s-worth of data in this table, and I am looking forward to the time when yearly comparisons, which will show how weather patterns are evolving here, can be made.

3 thoughts on “Completion of the Site Evaluation – the map tells all …

  1. lisinmayenne December 2, 2021 / 13:12

    Two very interesting updates, Jonathan – thanks for sharing once again. It’s fascinating to watch your progress (and future plans) for the forest garden project and it must be satisfying to see it grow and mature. I’m totally with you about homo sapiens, I think wisdom was left behind some time ago in so many aspects of life. Thanks for the link to the radio documentaries, I listened to ‘La terre s’est tue’ this morning (whilst cleaning the kitchen!), a beautiful production and so much food for thought. A landscape without ladybirds and swallows? Yep, we’re really not so ‘sapiens’, are we?’


  2. Jonathan December 3, 2021 / 08:12

    Thanks again Lis! It’s really nice to have the feedback. I’ve listened to that series twice already and still feel I want to listen again. Thanks also for your blog, I guess we’re going to have a leather competition!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan December 3, 2021 / 12:51

    And thanks for describing the hawthorn leather taste – I couldn’t nail it! You’re spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

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