A nitro-fest, bread-making and a controversial new book …

It’s always pleasing when a particular technique works out, and this has been shown this month by the two squash plantations in the Forest Garden, below.

The plants on the left are in Carré 1 in among all the other trees and shrubs planted there this winter. Those on the right are in the heeling-in bed nearby, which hasn’t had the same preparation. The two photos were taken at the same time, and the difference in the colour and size of the leaves is quite remarkable: evidence of the nitrogen, carbon and other trace elements provided by the preparation work done on Carré 1 over the past couple of years – black plastic cover, lentils sown and the plants left to decompose, bark mulching – all of which has increased nutrient levels in this particular patch.

It remains to be seen if in fact the Carré is now so nitrogen-rich that all its energy goes into producing vegetation at the expense of fruit, or whether we will get giant horse-drawn carriages, sorry, pumpkins, as well! As you can see from this second, more recent photo of the Carré 1 area, all the plants are sending their shoots well outside the mulched area!

The success with Carré 1 (and hopefully with Nos. 2, 3 and 4 already in preparation) only represents a small area of the whole Forest Garden, but they are oases of hope for the future. Over time, coupled with the mycelial development often mentioned in the Blog, plus the gradually spreading tree and shrub cover, the fertility of the soil will increase naturally over the whole forest garden. Time I have, patience I need! It will be fascinating to see how it develops in the years to come.

The weather in June has been remarkable for its contrasts. After an unusually dry May, we have had a scorching and a dowsing! One afternoon (18th) the temperature got up to just under 43°, when all you can do is stay indoors with the shutters closed and a large glass of water. The house itself remained relatively cool at around 25° without the need for fans. Remarkable too for the fact that it came so early in the season. This was followed by a dull, wet week when on one day the afternoon temperature struggled up to 16°! There was a lot more rain this month (92mm), although during the very hot period I was obliged to give my new trees, shrubs and comfrey plants some water. At least with the wet end to the month they are now in good shape for the probable drought period to follow in July and August. We’ll see. See the full Monthly Weather Record below.

I was able to take advantage of being confined to the house during the hot spell, by extending the work surfaces/cupboards in the kitchen to include a bread-making area (photo below). The alcove means that the preparation surface is sufficiently deep to cope with the mess and clutter that I inevitably make! I haven’t made bread for four or five years (and I’m still a beginner), so I am looking forward to getting started again. I have already got the levain (yeast culture) going and it will be ready to use early in July.

The moringa seeds sown last month (Blog, June 1st, 2022) germinated in nine days and have already put on quite a lot of leaf (photo below). I bring them inside at night as they will still be quite fragile, being a tropical plant. The seedlings in the background are thyme, sown at about the same time. These will be going in what is becoming the ‘kitchen garden’ in the courtyard.

There has been quite a bit of maintenance work this month, strimming, hedging (the roadside laurel hedge getting its yearly trim), bramble thinning and ….. the perennial cutting back of the knapweed! I decided to get back to scything and sickle-ing the knapweed as its stems are tough and the strimmer, whilst quicker, makes a mess and the cord is used up quickly, quite apart from the noise pollution. I find scything relatively effortless and very satisfying once you get into the rhythm, and it is extremely efficient provided you keep the blade sharp. It deals with the knapweed stems easily.

There is no Wild Flower Census this month, as the main flush of plants has passed for the summer. There were a couple of new arrivals nevertheless – Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) – below left – and Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola), below right, the former bringing to three the species of hypericum here, the other two being St John’s Wort and Rose of Sharon.

I was also introduced to the PlantNet phone app (better late than never!) which will revolutionise wild flower identification here. Gone are the days of toiling round the garden with four books and a notebook trying to decide what that particular plant is!

The media event this month has to be George Monbiot’s new book, Regenesis – Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet, which has just been published. As you might expect from this celebrated environmental campaigner, perhaps more widely known for his hard-hitting articles in the UK Guardian, the book is brimming with facts and figures, pulls very few punches, and proposes startling changes to our industrialised food production systems in order to recover land that has been degraded by modern agriculture, to allow it and countless species of flora and fauna to regenerate.

As the title says, Regenesis is primarily concerned with ‘feeding the world’ and while that means larger scale agriculture, the author includes agroecology and agroforestry as ‘new’ practices within that. For me, it should be a recommended read for anyone concerned about what we eat, the state of our nutrition, our health in general and the future for us all. It is a prodigious work, with over one-quarter of its 320 pages taken up with references, certainly not bed-time reading, but well worth the extra concentration needed.

3 thoughts on “A nitro-fest, bread-making and a controversial new book …

  1. Anni Kelsey July 1, 2022 / 11:08

    Hi Jonathan, I am in awe that you are so diligent and punctual with your monthly blog posts!

    I think the question of fertility and how the garden chooses to spend it is very interesting. Originally my garden was only lawn with grey and stony soil above hard clay. I have fed EVERYTHING back to the garden, nothing has left the premises so there has been a HUGE amount of biomass incorporated back into the soil over the years and it really shows in the size of plants and the generally lush / luxuriant growth.

    However I have been wondering more and more this year about how the garden uses the resources now available in the soil. Some bushes and fruit trees are perhaps putting out a lot of vegetative growth rather than going for fruit. But there are so many factors involved in an ecosystem that I don’t think it would be possible to fathom it out. So it will be interesting to see if you get massive leaves and small pumpkins or gigantic Cinderella sized pumpkins!

    I have been cutting back some jostaberry bushes that are sky high and have much less fruit than usual, in part because they are crowding and shading the adjacent fruit trees and I never knew they could grow so big. I think the relative lack of fruit may be weather related, but again, can’t be sure. Red and white currants and gooseberries are also much less laden than previous years, but blackcurrants are already sagging to the floor with the weight on their branches!

    I spotted George Monbiot’s new book in the shops the other day and it is definitely on my list to read. Am currently working my way through a lot of herbalism books and looking to develop the medicinal aspects of the garden as well as the food side.

    I hope you manage to keep cool, with best wishes, Anni

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  2. Jonathan July 1, 2022 / 11:48

    Hello Anni, thanks for your interesting comments – we seem to be aligned in many ways! Biomass is important for me too, and I have just put my laurel hedge trimmings in the new swale ditches to do their stuff. Interesting also that a large pile of woody biomass that I made only about three years ago is already crumbling when you walk on it. I planted my jostaberry bushes this winter in among other fruit trees, as I imagined they grew to about the size of currant bushes. Help! We too are having a ‘rest’ year for fruit, not helped by the early April frost which I reported on at the time. Hope you enjoy G. Monbiot’s book. Jonathan

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jonathan July 1, 2022 / 12:26

    I guess the ‘punctuality’ comes from my days in magazine publishing – press day was press day, come what may! And to be honest I still enjoy the commitment that involves.

    Liked by 1 person

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