Establishing the Forest Garden

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Yes, it has been a long while since I updated this blog, but that does not mean that no progress has been made. We’ve done a lot in the last few months and the garden is coming along nicely. First of all, I thought I should include an update on the forest garden area I am establishing slowly in a portion of the existing orchard. It is finally beginning to come together this year and, while it is still very much a work in progress, it is already providing plenty of food.

The largest challenge with the creation of this space has been the gradual reduction of the existing grass cover. Grass is not ideal beneath trees as it will compete for water and nutrients with the trees roots and also helps to create a bacterial environment – where a natural woodland will have a fungal environment.  To suppress the grass, I covered much of the area with cardboard and with some membrane left over from when we erected the polytunnel. Of course there is still some grass but I am generally working on edging it out with other dense planting and mulches over time.

The area had to be fenced as the chickens were causing absolute chaos and ripping anything up as soon as I put it in. A wood-chip path leads through the area to allow for harvesting. At present it is quite sparsely planted but shrubs will fill out over time and I will be bulking up the ground cover layers as we go along.

When we arrived, there were already three mature trees, two apples and one wild cherry, in this quadrant of the orchard. I added a damson sapling (yet to fruit).

I have added a range of fruit bushes and shrubs. We now have blackberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, blueberries in pots with ericaceous compost, bay, fuchsia, and elaeagnus x ebbingei and elaeagnus umbellata scattered throughout as nitrogen fixers. The latter two types of shrub will provide fruit further south but not usually this far north. Whether these will fruit here in coming years remains to be seen. In any case, they are a useful part of the garden ecosystem.

Comfrey is, of course, one of the predominant plants in the herbaceous layer. I split my existing plant and grew new ones from crown and root sections. There are also borage, dandelions, and a few other dynamic accumulators.  One of the main additions that I made in the autumn were some perennial vegetables. We have nine star perennial broccoli, ewiger kohl (perpetual cabbage), sorrel, Good King Henry and some little perennial onions growing from seed. There are also shallots, and a whole lot of strawberries. In a sunny patch, I am growing some potatoes this year, though eventually all the annuals will be grown elsewhere and all of this area will be taken up with perennial crops and beneficial companion plants.

The spring here was very dry (which is typical for here) but colder than it has been the previous two years and it has been interesting to note the difference this has made in the garden. Last year, all the tree blossom from the plums, cherries and apples came out at about the same time! This year, the apples budded after the others are pretty much done.

Unfortunately, the dry spring led into a horrendously rainy summer. We’ve had a few warm and sunny spots in between, but this has been one of the wettest summers I can remember, and very dull. Sill, we have had good fruit harvests of the summer fruits, especially raspberries, of which we have had an abundance!

I am keeping notes and will be interested to see what this odd weather will all mean for the harvest from the fruit trees in autumn. Last year we had loads and loads of plums, though they were not quite as tasty as the year before. It was also a bumper year for apples last year, and those were very good. This year, the apples look pretty good again but there are far fewer plums… how they will taste remains to be seen…

There is still a lot of work to do and plants to buy/ propagate to fill the forest garden but I am pleased with the progress I have made so far and look forward to harvesting fruits in the summer.

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