Coppicing and hedging …

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After last month’s collective sigh (from both the forest garden and from me!), December has been a very active month, and a large part of it has been spent on coppicing the Goat Willow (Salix caprea) on the north-eastern boundary.

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Time for a rest …

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The predominant feeling this month has been one of shutting down. It’s obviously something that we know happens, but being so closely involved with Nature’s processes in the forest garden here, it has struck me more than ever how remarkable this is, and how clear the change is. That having made the supreme effort of growing, flowering and fruiting over the last six or seven months, both the land and the plants need to rest and marshal their resources for the next season.

For this reason, I have decided to suspend the wild flower census until maybe February, when the winter crocuses should show themselves again. There have been a few individual flowers, such as dandelion or clover, with the mild weather we have been having (see below), but really nothing to speak of. They too are having a well-deserved break!

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René, the cèpes, and a busy month!

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Forest cèpes (Boletus spp.)

There’s been so much going on this month, it’s difficult to know where to begin, but I think my neighbour René and his cèpes deserve pride of place. (You’ll have to imagine what he looks like as he doesn’t want his picture to appear on ‘The Internet’, and I respect his wishes).

For me he epitomises the spirit of still being able to gather what Nature has to offer us, and he does it in a sustainable way, on his own, using his local knowledge of where and when a pigeon will be flying over, or the forest mushrooms will appear in the undergrowth. A modern-day hunter/gatherer, he takes just what he needs for himself and I get to share some of his bounty!

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SFGP fait peau neuve!

Have a look here to check out the ‘new skin’ for the Sombrun Forest Garden Project website!

It’s been a lot of work, but well worth it, and I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out. Thanks to WordPress, couldn’t have done it without your help!

If you are an email subscriber, don’t forget to go to the the site itself (link above), rather than stick with just the one notification.

Ouf! (as you say in France) …

….. meaning phew!, or expressing relief. We’ve had some rain (68mm), and more is forecast in the next few days. We had to wait until the third week of the month, and until then summer continued, with another heat peak around the 15th. And now we are getting noticeably shorter days (equi nox), the mornings and evenings are a lot cooler, and right at the end of the month I lit the woodburner in the evening for the first time.

Although over the last four months we have had about 190mm of rain, two-thirds of the published local average for this period (see the paragraph on weather recording below), the ground has been very dry to quite a depth, and together with the several heat peaks this constitutes a drought for the land here, not good news for young trees.

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The bigger picture

No. 3 in an occasional series of articles covering agroforestry-related topics in greater depth

With all the uncertainties and misconceptions in today’s post-truth, post-growth (see below), post-carbon era, it’s easy to see everything just from the point of view of one’s own locality, country or continent, and not to take into account what’s happening in the wider world. For example, is the view of the farmer in the drought-stricken plains of central Tamil Nadu in India on, say, poverty the same as the French farmer harvesting his irrigated maize? No, in all probability! The bigger picture is relevant to our own situation, in that we can broaden our own experience and understanding, and face the challenges now confronting us, by looking at other approaches from other regions and cultures, and Covid 19 is a stark reminder that the whole world is in the same boat.

Recent world history, let’s say the last 75 years, with the effects of fossil fuel use, corporatisation, globalisation, greenhouse gas emissions, agro-industry, pandemics and climate change, has shown us that the current model isn’t working, and that we need to change course. Indeed, the latest health crisis is forcing us to adapt in ways that we never even dreamed of six months ago – internet home schooling, for example, and all that that will lead to.

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Drought, harvest … and lizards!

The weather has to be the main topic of this month’s blog. It has been very dry, but we have also had heat peaks of just under 40°C. These have stressed my plants considerably, but it is the underlying dryness of the land which is the main concern; in sum, we have had three months of drought, and it will be interesting to see if we get any significant rainfall in September.

We have had 50mm of rain, but half of that fell in the last four days of the month, plus a further 11mm on the 22nd. We had a short canicule (Blog post, August 1st) during the second week of August, but after that it became cooler and by the last week it was time for trousers and shoes again.

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Dry July!

I would like to dedicate this month’s blog post to James Lovelock, who celebrated his 101st birthday a few days ago. By any measure an extraordinary person, this independent scientist/inventor/engineer has been publishing original and challenging ideas on the future for our world and the planet for half his life (yes, 50 years), shows no sign of letting up, and just keeps on getting better! The paperback edition of his latest book Novacene (2019) – my bet is that the name will stick – was published on Thursday, and he is already working on the next one.

With two doctorates and innumerable awards over his lifetime, he was employed by NASA in the 1960’s inventing equipment for space exploration, and famously designed and built a ‘homemade’ gas chromatograph in three days (the Electron Capture Detector), a highly sensitive instrument which measures industrial poisons in parts per trillion, signalling the dangers of CFC’s in the 1970’s and revolutionising our understanding of the atmosphere and pollutants.

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Summer!

Summer is here at last, although for the first three weeks of June, I was beginning to wonder! Then the cool, wet weather we had been having turned warm and sunny just in time for the official start of summer, and the season has definitely changed. Despite the dull weather, we didn’t have as much rain as in May, around 60mm.

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Sustainability: what does it mean exactly?

No. 2 in an occasional series of articles covering agroforestry-related topics in greater depth

‘Sustainability’ has become a buzz-word in everyday conversation. But I wonder how many of us have thought about what it actually means? If we buy food labelled as organic in a supermarket, for example, does that mean we are supporting a more sustainable form of agriculture? Unfortunately, the answer is probably “no”.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘sustainable’, in the context of development or agriculture, as “not leading to depletion of resources or degradation of the environment”, and I guess that the concept of sustainability has been around since time immemorial, in the sense that humankind has always needed to manage its resources and environment to make sure of the next meal. The word itself seems to have originated in 18th century European forestry to mean never taking more from the forest that it can itself regenerate.

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