Very welcome rain, at last, and I move indoors …

November has been wet, so a quiet month in the Forest Garden, although there has been plenty of activity indoors. Soup- and bread-making continued, and I have been improving my understanding of both the levain and the dough, and trying different flours. The one I am using at the moment comes from a water mill close to the Pyrenees, where they still use the traditional stone ground method. Fascinating to see, and the flour is good, but sadly it is the only mill of its kind left in my département.

I have learned to refresh the levain for just a few hours (four or five) before starting the dough, so that it is at its peak activity. And I have tried making and baking in a single (long!) day, as well as leaving the dough to proof overnight in the fridge and baking the next morning, as mentioned last month. On the whole, the overnight proofing seems to work best, as there is more time to fit in other activities during the day with this method. It also gives the yeasts and gluten a longer and gentler development, and the resulting loaves seem to be more consistent.

Outside in the garden, while waiting for the digger man to create the new hügelkultur beds in the Upper Garden (see the previous two months’ Blogs), I decided to create a mini version on Carré 4 in the Lower Garden (photo below). This area outside the polytunnel has been under black plastic for a year, which has already created a more workable soil, aided by the recent rains (see below). There will be five beds running across the slope, to capture the maximum amount of rainfall, and the photo shows three finished ones and a fourth with the woody biomass in the trench. Each trench has, from the bottom upwards, branches, twigs, dried grass, compost and nettles (to speed up decomposition and add minerals), all from the garden, and finally the earth replaced on top to form a mound. Straw mulch will be placed on the mounds themselves, and bark mulch is spread on the walkways between each mound.

Besides planting some wild strawberry and hop plants already in pots, I can also benefit from the proximity of Carré 4 to the house by including some annual crops for kitchen use. And because this area is partially shaded by a cherry tree and two plums, the Upper Garden soft fruit bushes which suffered a lot in the drought this year, will be moved to the lower end of Carré 4 (just out of shot in the photo), where they should be much happier. Provision of partial shade will probably become a general strategy in the Forest Garden, if we are going to get long, dry and hot summers. Here in Carré 4 there is ready-made shade, but in the Upper Garden, I need to allow time for this to develop.

Carré 3, on the western side of the Upper Garden, also had its black plastic replaced with bark mulch, see below, and I planted two of the cider apple trees grown from seed here. All four Carrés are now in their next stage of development as productive forest garden areas, providing fertile oases from which the rest of the garden will benefit.

In terms of trees, this western part of the Upper Garden is now beginning to look more populated, and there is a good mix of fruit, nut, biomass, salad leaf and nitrogen-fixing trees here. On the other side of the garden, in the northern corner, the Coppice is also beginning to look worthy of its name, again with a good mix of trees, this time local forest varieties such as oak, chestnut, ash, goat willow, acacia, hornbeam and hazel. I will even be doing a bit of thinning here this winter, leaving the prunings on the ground as biomass.

The rain came back in bucket loads – after just 10mm in October, November totalled 193mm! Despite the amount, we didn’t really have storm conditions at any point, just persistent heavy rain, which was most welcome. However, we would need another couple of wet months to bring water levels back up again after the drought, and this is probably not really likely. It was also quite a mild month, with average temperature 3° higher, at 10.4° degrees, than for the same period last year, and a 24° high mid-month. Mornings and evenings were seasonally colder however, and the woodburner is now well into winter mode, and Chanua has claimed her spot in front of the fire! See the full Monthly Weather Record below.

On the media front this month, I came across two inspiring TED talks with the common theme of respect for Nature, which are full of hope and common sense in these dark days, and are well worth watching. Lyla June is a native American of the Diné tribe and talks passionately about the millennia of care for the planet by indigenous peoples all over the globe. She proposes four key strategies to help us all – working with Nature, expanding habitats, removing humans from the central focus, and designing for perpetuity. ‘Nature-based solutions’ is a phrase that I am hearing a lot these days, and it certainly applies to this talk.

Another passionate speaker, Australian Damon Gameau, focuses on the power of story-telling, and posits that we live by the narratives that we create. It is especially the larger ones that shape our behaviours, for example that we are separate from and superior to Nature, the myth on which 10,000 years of agriculture is founded. He proposes that we now need to tell a new story, which is in fact the re-telling of an old one, to survive. Both these talks stress the urgency of the present situation and the need for collective action, and that we can all – from individuals to nations – play our part.

I get forestry and agroforestry newsletters from all over the world, as well as from all the United Nations’ various organisations dealing with forestry, food, and climate, I attend online conferences, and get news of scientific papers, and I’ve noticed over the last few months a marked increase in the promotion and acceptance of agroforestry and forest gardens in the wider world. Agroforestry takes many forms, of which forest gardens are one, and it’s good to see its prime value for the future of our food production systems finally being recognised.

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