Sunday, 23 October 2016

Plants, trees and leaves


 We are heading towards the end of our first year on the smallholding and we are taking stock of what we've achieved in the last twelve months and thinking about what we want to do over the next year.

This week I've been planting the plants, rooted cuttings, bulbs and trees that we've been given, bought or propagated so that none are sitting in pots outside the greenhouse unless that's where they will be for the next couple of years. I have a few tree seeds in pots that can stay by the greenhouse where it is light but sheltered until they are large enough to plant into their permanent positions. There are also several pots and bags of plants that I've put there with the intention of getting them into the ground, but as yet they haven't made it into the borders or field.

Several of the perennials that need to go into the perennial border have been put into a raised vegetable bed that otherwise would be empty of a crop over the winter. I've heeled in some perennials that I've divided and that I've been given and will scatter some buckwheat seeds in too, to be a green manure and ground cover over the winter. Then in early spring when I've weeded the perennial border, I will add the new plants in spaces between the existing clumps.

The perennial border has had little or no attention from me this year, other than to appreciate everything that has flowered in it, including the weeds! I've been delighted with the show of colour that we've had throughout most of the spring and summer, even the feverfew-daisy type weeds have added a welcome splash of white and yellow. The border has had different types of grains growing in it, these are from the wild bird feed that the previous owners put out for the local birdlife and as my focus has been on setting up the vegetable garden, I've left the grains to grow, enjoying the structural element that they have added to the border.

 As I started to clear some of the pernicious weeds from the border earlier this week, I noticed that the seed heads from those grains and also the herbs that I've planted look very much like a firework display hovering above the rest of the plant growth. The dill and fennel seeds with their umbilical like seed heads and the millet and oat plants offer different shapes and sounds as the wind moves through them. I take such pleasure in these simple moments of observation and appreciation and I'm glad that this pleasure hasn't lessened over the years.

I'm still gathering crops from around the smallholding to store for use over the autumn and winter. The apple trees that were here when we moved in have had varying degrees of sucess. One hasn't produced any fruit at all, but then I can't remember it having any blossom on it either. One has produced some fruit but the whole tree has black spot and the fruits do too. The third apple tree has produced some nice fruit which I have gathered and stored in the barn and the last tree's fruit is still not quite ready to pick. When I try to twist the apples from their branches, they do not come away easily which means that they are not ripe enough quite yet, but they look fabulous. The six new apple trees which we bought earlier in the week are unlikely to produce any fruit next year, but in a couple of years time we should, I hope, have an abundant harvest of apples.

The huge sycamore trees that grow to the side and back of the piggeries are starting to lose their leaves in the early autumn breezes. Yesterday I started to rake them into large piles with the intention of using them to create leaf mould or adding them to the food forest to improve the soil structure there. I filled a large green compost bin with them, pressing them down to fit in as many as I could. When that was filled I started to pile them up on the ground. After half an hour of raking and piling I had still only partially cleared an area about forty feet by six feet and there was an awful lot more to go! The trees look like they have hardly lost any leaves and yet the ground is starting to get covered with dried crunchy leaves. I can only imagine how deep the layer of leaves will be once the trees have shed all of them.

I think the best approach to the leaf collecting will be to take the wheelbarrow to the area and fill that a few times, taking the leaves to the food forest area and the rest can go into a compost bin or be piled up on the vegetable beds to rot down over the next few months. Last year, by the time we had moved in and I felt up to wandering around outside, the leaves were soggy and I didn't have the energy to rake up most of them. I cleared a small pathway to the chicken field, but left the rest to rot where they landed, this year I hope to gather the majority of them to help improve the condition of the soil in other productive areas of the garden.

My daughter and grandson number two came to visit on Thursday and we spent a delightful couple of hours chatting, laughing and putting the world to right. She is coming back again on Monday with both my grandsons and I'll be asking grandson number one to gather some leaves with me and then we can choose some with which to make an autumn collage.

Today there is a distinct chill in the air and although the autumn sun is trying to shine, I'm finding it hard to spend much time outside doing gentle chores before I need to come back in for a cuppa.

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