The year in perspective …

I think 2022 was the year that the climate crisis really sank in for me. Quite apart from all the extreme events the world over, served up in copious helpings by the drama-hungry media, if I look back over the year, the one thing that really stands out is the drought we experienced here for over four months. As I wrote at the time (Blog, October 1st, 2022), it was a shock! It made me imagine all sorts of scenarios, right up to whether the land here would be able to support the Forest Garden Project if this was repeated regularly in the future.

The good thing to come out of this was the idea of installing hügelkultur beds in the Upper Garden, coupled with rainwater harvesting. This is still planned, but I am no further forward, waiting for the digger man to arrive. Unfortunately he is very good at his job (he has already done some work here), and so I think I must be further down the waiting list. I will wait until later on in January and then try him again. If that’s still no good, I will have to consider looking round for someone else, as the beds really need to be done before the spring. This involves such a fundamental change of direction, both physically and mentally, that until I can start, I feel as though things are in limbo, although my enthusiasm for the Project as a whole, and my overall long-term hope for an ecologically viable future for the planet, remain undimmed.

December has been damp, with a moderate amount of light rain at intervals through the month (61mm). Apart from one morning at -4°, it has been an exceptionally mild month, and as I write, the media are saying that there has never been a New Year in recorded history in France with temperatures as high. Unfortunately, my weather station decided to stop functioning on the 29th, and although I have most of the data for the month, I’m not sure whether to replace it, or to get some more reliable ‘manual’ instruments – the station only lasted a couple of years, which is disappointing. It’s a pity, because it automatically transferred data to the computer, which made record-keeping a lot simpler! The (nearly) full Monthly Weather Record, including the summary for the year, is included below.

Despite the weather, there has been a fair amount of activity in the Forest Garden this month. All the newer fruit trees in both Upper and Lower Gardens were pruned, mainly to eliminate unnecessary branches and give the trees direction. The red fig in the Lower Garden was also cut back quite hard on its right hand side (photo below left), because it had become very straggly, encroaching on the neighbour’s barn and land, and was completely shading out an Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata), which you can just see in its protective netting in front of the barn. From this angle the tree looks a little one-sided, but from further up the slope (below right), you can see it has retained a certain balance!

All the soft fruit bushes – gooseberry, raspberry and blackcurrant – were transplanted from where they almost died in the direct sun in the Upper Garden – to sites in the Lower Garden (below) where they will get a fair amount of partial shade near the mature plum trees there.

Soft fruit bushes transplanted to the Lower Garden – raspberry (foreground), gooseberry (middle ground) and blackcurrant on the lower edge of the straw mulch.

The mini hügelkultur beds (see last month’s Blog) were completed (photo below), including straw mulch for the beds and bark mulch for the walkways. I managed to get a big round bale of straw; this wasn’t easy, as arable farmers’ main crop around here is maize for cattle feed, and anything they do have they generally want to keep for themselves. I was thinking ahead to the need for straw to mulch the planned beds in the Upper Garden, but I think even this large bale will probably not be enough for that.

Another new activity this year, bread-making, has continued (mostly) successfully, and I feel now that the basics are sorted out! It is fascinating, satisfying and challenging all at the same time, and it is enjoyable to be eating my own bread. Experimentation with ingredients and methods will be on-going, and I will of course be recording developments in the Blog.

I have decided that from now on I will stop doing the Blog on such a regimented basis. Based on what I read, I must be the only person in the world to publish on a fixed date (a remnant from a time long ago when I was in magazine publishing and Press Day was Press Day regardless!), and I think the Blog will benefit from a more fluid approach!

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