This year has been a shock. The garden has suffered from severe frost and drought and as mentioned last month, I have realised that there has to be a fundamental shift in my approach to the Sombrun Forest Garden Project. Frost I can’t do much about, as this will vary from year to year, and will no doubt continue on a ‘win some, lose some’ basis. But there is a high likelihood of extended summer drought from now on due to climate change, and I can at least plan to mitigate this.
It means that the immediate focus needs to be on water management, to develop further from the swale ditches already installed in order to help the trees, shrubs and other plants to survive. This will now take priority over further planting (although there will be some, see below) until I can see the way forward to resume. My thinking is that unless I can give Nature a helping hand to improve the conditions for survival, the Forest Garden will always struggle, given the initial poor soil and the slope on this site. I was even watering this month, September, which has never been needed before.
Once again, the weather has been a major preoccupation this month, and my thoughts on species future for the Sombrun Forest Garden Project have moved from the back of my mind to the front! As you will see from the monthly weather report below, most of the month has been dry and hot, and I think I have to accept now, given everything else that is happening with climate change as well, that this will become the norm. Not only have temperatures been higher than ever (40° and higher on three occasions already this year, two of which were in July), but rainfall has been minimal and we are in a severe drought. Couple this with the fact that the soil here is very porous and lacking in organic matter due to its composition with pebbles and stone (see the Site Evaluation, Articles, December 1st, 2021) and you have a recipe for struggle!
Of course, over time, the forest garden system will itself overcome these difficulties, by increasing shade and underground mycelial networks, and by improving soil humus, fertility and structure with the better water retention that that brings. But it will take a good few years and until then, I need to think seriously about providing more drought resistant species. This will mean researching genus and species which are also compatible with the aims of this Forest Garden, namely biodiversity, symbiosis, utility and resilience. I am taking this seriously enough to think in terms of putting this winter’s planting on hold, and maybe getting in touch with other forest gardeners in neighbouring Spain and Italy for their advice.
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 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.