New tree planting …

The new trees arrived just before Christmas and were planted between December 26 – 28! They have been added to the Forest Garden Inventory (see link below) and there is now a total of 79 species here – that is, trees and shrubs only, as herbaceous plants (apart from three with special uses) and wild flowers are not included in the inventory. The latter, as regular readers will know, have their own census and amount to some 120 species over the course of a year (see Blog, July 1st, 2021 for the last complete census). When I start to include perennial vegetables in the Project, these will probably merit their own inventory for the sake of clarity.

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The Sombrun Forest Garden Project, three-and-a-half years down the line …

No. 5 in an occasional series of articles covering agroforestry-related topics in greater depth

With the site map mentioned in the November Blog, the site evaluation for the Project is at last complete; I have reached another milestone and a new departure, and very exciting it is too! Now I want to document the background to the Project, up to this point. This will also inevitably include some autobiographical details, since my life leading up to the purchase of the property, the launch of the Project in 2018, and the many things I have either learned or had confirmed along the way, are all interwoven. This article is a story of hope and redemption in these dark times, and from now on, the real work begins! Read on …..

Let’s look first at what has been achieved so far. I reproduce here not just the newly-completed site map, but also the Site Evaluation and satellite images published in previous blogs (November 1st, 2020 and June 1st, 2021), to give the complete picture from which the Project will be moving forward.

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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.

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Paulownia hedge, results of the harvest, flying the agroforestry flag …

A major event this month has been the completion of the paulownia hedge, a total of 42 plants in all, so there are plenty left over in case of failures. The leaves have all now started browning and dropping in preparation for winter; hopefully they will all reshoot in spring. See previous blogs for the history of this adventure. The picture below gives a clear idea of the job the paulownias will do in erosion control of the terraces (left) created three years ago to move the earth bank back from the house, and in providing a screen from the road (right).

The trees will be pruned back regularly, probably two or three times a year as it grows very quickly, to form a hedge, and the biomass used on the terraces to help build the soil profile there. I have also put a line of sheep’s wool along the hedge, in the hope that the smell will deter any interested browsers! Apparently deer in particular don’t like the smell of ‘raw’ wool.

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Harvesting, digging and birthdays …

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Harvesting dominated the month’s activities again in September – figs, hawthorn berries and walnuts. There was a good crop of red figs but fewer ‘white’ ones (which are actually green!). They were all halved and dried in the dehydrator (around 40 hours at 40°/45°); satisfactory, a bit too dry at first for my liking, but after storing for a short while they became softer and pleasantly sweet. Online recipes for drying figs suggest about 55°, so maybe next year I’ll try this, for a shorter period. In general, instructions for dehydrator fruit processing specify the 40° – 45° range to conserve their raw nutritional value, but maybe figs are a special case. Work in progress, any comments gratefully received!

I also made several batches of fig compote for the freezer and dried more apple slices from Jane’s garden for vacuum packing.

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Fruit harvest and processing, reflection on priorities …

The main event this month has been fruit harvesting, and considering that we are still at the beginning of the Project, I think this qualifies as A Result! There have been greengages, mirabelles, raspberries, blackberries, autumn olive and white beans, plus some apples and pears from friends’ gardens. These have been processed in a variety of ways – jams, compotes, stewed, dried and leathers – and I am very pleased with them all (photos below), especially the mirabelle ‘prunes’, which were dried to a point where they were still slightly soft and are very tasty. They have been vacuum-packed, so any moisture content remaining should not be able to develop into mould. And there’s more to come: figs and hawthorn berries in September, and walnuts the following month. I have also read that hawthorn berries are very high in pectin, so will be trying them for jam-making. At the moment I use chunks of quince, which also work very well in helping jam to set.

Some processed fruit and vegetables. Top, mirabelle ‘prunes’, dried apple and pear rings and autumn olive fruit leather, and below them some haricot Tarbais, the local white bean. Bottom, greengage and mirabelle jam, bramble jelly and apple and mirabelle compotes.

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Knapweed, mulching and potting-on the paulownias

(For my email subscribers: Remember to read this on the website – better design, more information, updates included, altogether a better experience!)

Early this month I decided I needed to cut back the Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) severely if it wasn’t to take over the whole garden! Last year it was just along both sides of the driveway, but this year it had set itself in swathes over a lot of the Upper Garden, restricting other plant growth. So the majority of it has been strimmed at what I judged to be the best time – after most of the other wild flowers were over for the season, and before the knapweed itself had a chance to set seed. It will of course come back, but it should be controllable now and should be greatly reduced.

There is also the question of ecosystems and ecological change. As mentioned in earlier Blogs, I have already noticed changes to the ecology of the Forest Garden in the short time it has been in existence, and controlling (but not eliminating) the knapweed will obviously have an effect too. But as more plants are added as the years go on, there will be change anyway, planned disturbance, so I consider this approach justifiable.

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The International Forest Garden Symposium

(For my email subscribers: Remember to read this on the website – better design, more information, updates included, altogether a better experience!)

No. 4 in an occasional series of articles covering agroforestry-related topics in greater depth

The First International Forest Garden Symposium (see Blog, June 1st, 2021), which ended on June 4th, was a huge success and raised many important issues, and it brought into sharp focus the significance of agroforestry/forest garden systems in the current difficult environmental situation.

The Symposium also marks the coming of age of the temperate forest garden as a discipline (and of online conferences, come to that, a fine job!). Agroforestry and forest gardens in general have been shown to be a realistic alternative for sustainable food production, ecosystem management and biodiversity (in the tropics this has been known for many thousands of years), and those who still consider it be ‘hobby farming’ would do well to think again! The coverage and scope of the event was huge, with speakers and attendees from all around the globe, and the organisers (Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon, UK, and his team) are already talking about the next one, probably in early 2023.

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The Symposium, the lentil patches … and design!

(For my email subscribers: Remember to read this on the website – better design, more information, updates included, altogether a better experience!)

No apologies for beginning this month’s Blog ‘away from home’. The First International Forest Garden Symposium (see Blog, June 1st, 2021) more than lived up to my expectations. It ran for the whole week from May 31st to June 4th, was a huge success and raised so many important issues, that I have written a short article about it; the Blog needs to concentrate on what’s happening here in the garden, and in an article I am free to express views on the bigger picture and on what the Sombrun Forest Garden Project symbolises in the wider world – a global ‘landscape mosaic’ connection that I think is important, as regular readers will know. To read this, go to the Articles page in the menu above.

And so, to more local matters! The design ideas discussed in last month’s blog (June 1st) have moved on a stage, and it’s now clear that the lentil patches will become the focus of development here. They have been re-named Carré 1, Carré 2 etc (from the French for ‘square’). Carré 1 has this year’s lentils and beans (plus some self-seeded tomatoes from the biomass I added last year, which have been removed as they would have used up all the nitrogen the bed is creating!) and is behaving very well – see below.

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There’s a word for it … evolution!

(For my email subscribers: Remember to read this on the website – better design, more information, updates included, altogether a better experience!)

I have had more time to just be in the Forest Garden this month, observing everything that’s going on – and there’s a lot! It’s so pleasing to see the developments, even though to the casual observer it may seem that not much has changed (it still looks like a field!). Living in and among and around the garden I notice how much has happened in the three years since the Project began. And especially this month, I have suddenly realised that what I’m witnessing is the ‘constant evolution’ in the sub-heading to the website’s title. I’m not even sure if I fully realised when I wrote that what it could really mean!

For example, I’m seeing more bugs, beetles and insects in general, and evidence of mycelial networks, this year than before – mushrooms, the caterpillars mentioned below, but also grubs rolled up in tree leaves and ladybirds and beetles to feed on them. It’s good to realise this is happening and that the natural cycles of plant and insect ecosystems and food chains that I know will come, are beginning to get established.

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