Friday, 18 May 2018

Planting out and bird life in and around the gardens. Week 6 - The Polyculture Project

It's been the driest Spring I can recall  but we finally got some rain this week. Very refreshing and relieving and the perfect weather for planting out. 

Tomatoes , Beans, Squash and Tagetes planted into the raised beds on an overcast day. 

We did suffer some seedling losses in the cloches, the very hot and dry April combined with a few windy days seems to have taken it's toll on them.  Here's a tray of the survivors-  Climbing Bean 'Cobra' that we plant out on tripods as part of the Zeno Polyculture. 

For more info on Zeno a vegetable and herb polyculture illustrated below that includes Tomatoes, Basil, Beans, Squash and Tagetes see our previous post here 

My brother Pete and his family we're visiting this week.  Pete has been keeping records of bird life in and around the gardens. You can find his reports at the bottom of this post. 

Oecophora bractella is a species of gelechioid moth - photo by Peter Alfrey

The legless lizard, Slow worm - Anguis fragilis are great pest predators consuming slugs, snails, caterpillars and ants. Unfortunately the local cats are partial to hunting the Slow worms  -  Photo by Peter Alfrey

Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes Photo by Peter Alfrey

 Red-backed shrike - Lanius collurio perched in a walnut tree. Every year these wonderful birds patrol the gardens on look out for grubs. They breed around the gardens and each year they bring their young into the market garden where they perch on the tomato stakes and train the young ones  in the arts of fly and grub catching.   Photo by Peter Alfrey

Fire salamander - Salamandra salamandra . We never see these in the gardens as they prefer the dense and cooler woodland of the mountains but at night time and on rainy days you can find them  walking along the forest tracks.   Photo by Peter Alfrey

The herb layer in the forest garden full of flowering grasses this time of year 

Gingkobiloba!! we still have a few places available on our seven day course coming up in June.
For more info and registration click here

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways. Make a purchase of plants or seeds from our Bionursery, consider joining us on our upcoming Regenerative Landscape Design Course. You could also donate directly to our Polyculture Project


Monday, 7 May 2018

Vegetable Polycultures, Biodiversity Surveys and Plants. Week 5 - The Polyculture Project

Wow! can't believe how quick that week went. Here are some photos and news from the gardens this week :) 

Market Garden

We're continuing our polyculture trials in the Market Garden, and this year will be the 4th year of the study. You can find the results of previous year's studies here. The below image is the general garden layout which includes various vegetable and herb polycultures, and control beds where vegetables are planted in block sequences in a more traditional system.  You can find out more about the vegetable polycultures we grow here.

Angela placing the tomato stakes and bean tripods in the polyculture and control beds. We'll start to plant everything out next week.

We continue to experiment with our annual polyculture Epictetus.  Swede, parsnips and beetroot seedlings sown in strips are germinating, and we plan to plant out dwarf beans, kale and marigolds next week 

Add caption

An illustration of  Epictetus  It's basically a strip pattern of various vegetables from different plant families arranged to reduce pests and diseases, optimize space and nutrient share whilst respecting the individual plant needs for space and light.

In the home garden we're trying broad beans with garlic. Fabacea (Bean family) and Alliacae (Onion family) are not a recommended mix according to common companion planting knowledge, so far they appear quite friendly. 

Broad Beans and Garlic Companion Planting 

Forest Garden

Observed this week was Chicken of the woods - Laetiporus sp. growing from a fine old Damson Tree - Prunus insititia  in the hedgerow of the market garden. A choice edible mushroom and a very beautiful specimen. Last days for the Damson though.  

Lesser Celandine -  Ficaria verna flowering on the edge of the wildlife pond. 

The herb layer in the emerging forest garden  Melissa officinalis - Lemon balm in the foreground with  Allium schoenoprasum - Chives behind and Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry shrubs in the background.

Two favourite biomass plants Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey growing from the base of a  Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree stool. The four poles are last year growth. They reached over 2m in one season. 

Biodiversity Survey 

It was great to have Chris Kirby-Lambert back in town. Chris is working on the invertebrate diversity survey for the polyculture project. You can find the results of the May and June surveys from last year here

Chris Kirby-Lambert

Checking the sweep nets after sweeping the bed margins for invertebrates in Ataraxia - the perennial polyculture garden.   

Some  common invertebrates from the gardens

 The Bionursery 

An image here of Grape - Vitis vinifera cuttings taken in late winter of this year, buried 20 cm deep into a 50% river sand 50% sieved compost mix. Looks like a high strike rate this year. I take the cuttings at the same time I prune the vines. This 25 cm diameter 25 cm deep pot will take around 12 - 15 cuttings. Keep the mix moist like a wrung out sponge and 60 - 80 % of the cuttings should develop roots and be ready to plant out by the Autumn.   

I still can't get over the fact that Gingko biloba has been knocking around this planet for 100 million years or so !!  It would make a great exclamation - for example, upon seeing a plane crashing into a sky scraper - "Gin ko be lo ba"  or "oh my Gingko" or perhaps "for Biloba's sake" 

Gingkobiloba!! we still have a few places available on our seven day course coming up in June.
For more info and registration click here

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways. Make a purchase of plants or seeds from our Bionursery, consider joining us on our upcoming Regenerative Landscape Design Course. You could also donate directly to our Polyculture Project


Sunday, 29 April 2018

Forest Gardens, Wildlife and Water Harvesting - Week 4 of the Polyculture Project

With the new perennial garden plantings in, raised beds prepped and seeds sown for the market garden, this week was mainly maintenance (watering, weeding) and time to start work on an unfinished project. 

Check here for Week 1Week 2  and Week 3 updates

Water Harvesting Reservoir 

We're looking to supply the irrigation needs for the garden at the volunteer house with just rain water by storing the water collected from the roof in a reservoir. This will be the first pond/reservoir that we've made with a rectangular shape (approx 2.5 m deep 2 m wide and 6 m long). The rectangular shape and depth of this reservoir will reduce evaporation but it's unsuitable for attracting the diversity of aquatic plant life and insects that we usually have in our ponds. We do plan to introduce some habitat in the way of floating islands and land/water interfaces for frogs and other aquatic wildlife Rectangular shape reservoirs often become breeding grounds for mosquitos and the habitat should provide control for the mosquitos and offer some pest control and support in the gardens.   

Last summer we excavated the hole for the reservoir. The pond is located on the highest point in the garden. The guttering as seen on the left side of the photo, will be extended over the grape arbor and into the pond. 

Angela and Malcolm using the transit level to establish a level bank around the reservoir.

Stakes in and string tied around each stake to mark the level of the pond


Quite a bit of soil had washed into the hole over the winter so we cleaned the hole up removed sharp stones ready for applying the liner.  Here's Malcolm undertaking the vital role of selecting a playlist before the digging commences :)

We still need to level the banks of the pond but we thought we'd get the liner in before the spring rains come down. We're using a trilaminate  LDPE liner for this pond 

Last year I wrote a series of blogs on small pond installations for farms and gardens, so if you are interested you can find much more detail about the process there.

Planting in the Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden - Ataraxia 

Seeing as it has not rained for the last 3 weeks or so we checked this season's plantings and watered where necessary. We also planted the last of the plants for this spring into an overflow swale that we prepared last year on our Regenerative Landscape Design Course. 

The lovely folk from last years Regenerative Landscape Design Course creating the overflow swale.  

The swale takes the overflow from the pond. The basin (low section) was sown with nitrogen fixing ground cover and the berm (high section) was planted with various trees, shrubs, herbs and bulbs.

The above photo does not capture the diversity of planting but this 2.5 m x 10 m swale is currently inhabited by the following plants




 Green Manure of Onobrychis viciifolia - Sainfoin  and Trifolium repens - White Clover has established well since the sowing last June. 

Wildlife in the Gardens

Been seeing these bagworms around recently which despite the name are actually moths. These guys are quite the architects  building mobile homes with pieces of twigs, leaves and other plant matter.  The larvae begin to build the case as soon as they hatch.  The females will remain in the case their entire lives while the males will eventually take flight for a day or two, find a mate and then perish. 

Psychidae - Bagworm or Bagmoth - genus, species unknown 

Carpenter bee - Xylocopa sp. - Photo by 
Lyubomir Durankiev 

European green lizard (Lacerta viridis) taking cover in a hawthorn shrub in Ataraxia. We've had to remove some of the shrubs in the garden to make way for the raised beds but we pile the branches at the side of the garden to provide the cover these amazing reptiles require.   

Lacerta sp. taking cover in shrub  

Lacerta sp. taking cover in the piles of sticks from the shrubs we removed 

Here's a short video from Dylan of some wildlife in the gardens last week


Forest Garden

Despite the fact we have had next to no rainfall since April, the forest garden is looking lush and all the plants are doing great.  The forest garden is composed of several layers and when planted appropriately, a forest garden allows for a greater density of resources and can be a  largely self- fertilising, and healthy ecosystem. In the picture below I have labelled the tree and shrub layer ,although there are probably over 300 species in this photo if you include the smaller shrubs, herbs and ground layers. Profiles of some of the plants we grow in each layer in our forest gardens can be found here.
Forest Garden / Food Forest

Comfrey among the Raspberry and Blackcurrants.  As Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey Bocking 14 starts to flower is the ideal time for cutting to ground level and applying as mulch but it's always good to let a few plants flower for the bees and beauty.

Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey Bocking 14 

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways. Make a purchase of plants or seeds from our Bionursery, consider joining us on our upcoming Regenerative Landscape Design Course. You could also donate directly to our Polyculture Project