Sunday, 22 December 2013

Garden Allies - The "Megadriles"

During this series of posts we will be looking at a range of beneficial organisms commonly known as bugs, critters or creepy crawlies,  that can contribute to a healthy, productive and pest free growing environment in your temperate garden. As well as identifying  key species that serve as allies to our efforts in the garden, we will look at ways to attract and keep these organisms around.

"It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized organisms." Charles Darwin (1881)

Old Charlie boy is not referring to the environmental activist but to animals belonging to the order Megadrilacea, the earthworms :)

So why are Worms so important and what makes them a garden ally?

There are many species of earthworms on our planet,  each specie specially adapted to particular soils and particular areas of the soil. Their chief role is that of the decomposer, keeping nutrients flowing through life and death, but all play other very important roles in our ecosystems.

Plumbing and Ventilation  
Worms spend most of their life tunnelling through the soil. In a healthy soil the top 20 cm or so contains an extensive network of such tunnels created by the worms. This is also the layer of soil that contains the majority of plant roots. Plant roots need a good supply of oxygen to maintain growth and the worm tunnels allow air to circulate freely among the roots ensuring a good supply. At the same time the tunnels allow the delivery of rain water into the root zone whilst allowing the excess water to drain away.
As well as helping the plant roots directly, this aeration encourages the decay of dead material which releases nitrates and other plant nutrients into the soil.

Mining and Redistribution of Minerals
Certain worms are active deeper than the top 20cm of the soil. This deeper tunnelling provides another  major contribution of the earth worm. Their vertical movement through the soil can bring nutrients washed deep into the soil by rainwater, where they are unavailable to the majority of plant roots, to upper levels within reach of the plant roots.

The worm casts that are often seen on the surface of the soil are also deposited throughout the soil profile. These castings are rich in minerals. In fact, the worm castings are of such benefit to plant growth, that breeding worms to harvest these castings has become a very successful biological method of supplying fertiliser, known as vermicomposting. Some of the benefits of vermicompost include,
  • Microbial activity in vermicompost  is 10 to 20 times higher than in the soil and organic matter that the worm ingests. This microbial activity ultimately provides mineral nutrients to plants.
  • Improves water holding capacity of the soil 
  • Enhances seed germination, plant growth, and crop yield
  • Improves root growth and structure
Eisenia fetida 

I use worm castings mixed with river sand 50/50 for the nursery plants we produce here. Its a great medium providing water retention, slow release fertilisation and keeps the young plants healthy and pest free.  

Where you will find worms in your garden ecosystem.

There are some 3000+ named species of earthworm on this planet, researchers have broken them into three categories, largely descriptive of their habits in the soil. These three categories are Endogeic, Anecic and Epigeic.

Endogeic worms build complex lateral burrow systems through all layers of the upper mineral soil. These worms rarely come to the surface, instead spend their lives in these burrow systems where they feed on decayed organic matter and bits of mineral soil. They are the only category of worm which actually eat SOIL and not strictly the organic component. Endogeic worms tend to be medium sized and pale coloured and make great miners and re-distributors of valuable plant minerals

Anecic worms such as Lumbricus terrestris build permanent, vertical burrows that extend from the soil surface down through the mineral soil layer. It is not unusual for these burrows to reach a depth of 2 meters or more. The anecic species feed in decaying surface litter, so come to the soil surface regularly, which leaves them exposed to predators. These worms require a stable burrow environment in order to thrive. In the absence of this burrow, anecic worms will neither breed nor grow. There deep burrows contribute greatly to the redistribution of plant minerals

Epigeic worm are the guys  used in vermicomposting systems, like Eisenia fetida. In nature epigeic worms live and feed in the top soil and duff layer on the soil surface. These small, deeply pigmented worms have a poor burrowing ability, preferring instead an environment of loose organic litter or loose topsoil rich in organic matter.

How to encourage earthworms

Worms like the type of soil that the majority of our fruit and vegetable crops like i.e not too acidic, not too alkaline, moist but not bone dry or sopping wet. If your soil is of moderate pH and moistness you will almost certainly have a healthy population already. If you do not have many earthworms in your soil, introduce some of the practices described below. It is surprising how quickly they build up in favourable conditions.

Have plenty of worm food available 
Many worms eat dead or decaying plant remains, including straw, leaf litter and dead roots and will breed exponentially in the presence of such organic matter. Applying these materials to the surface of the soil i.e mulching, will increase your populations. Leaving the stubble and roots of annual plants to rot down in the soil will provide a good source of food. Permanent pasture such as a lawn provides plenty of organic matter as leaves and roots die and decay, worms love this kind of habitat.
Animal manure is also an attractive food for many species of earthworms. A pile of animal manure is a great way of attracting and breeding up worm populations in your garden. You may have to wait 3 months or more if using fresh manure before the worms start to move in.

Do not use fertilisers and fungicides
Highly acidifying fertilisers such as ammonium sulfate and some fungicides reduce worm numbers. Researchers have found that orchards sprayed with bordeaux or other copper sprays contain few earthworms.

Keep soil moist
Worms can lose 20% of their body weight each day in mucus and castings, so they need moisture to stay alive. Ground cover such as pasture or shrubs and herbs reduce moisture evaporation as will applying mulch to the surface. In dry times some species burrow deep into the soil and are inactive until rain 'reactivates' them. Having a good steady supply of organic matter cycling through your soil and building humus will also provide higher water retentive properties in the soil.

Reduce soil compaction
It is difficult for earthworms to move through heavily compacted soil and no tread beds are a great way to avoid compaction. On larger sites it is necessary to keep vehicle and animal traffic to a minimum, especially in wet conditions.

Reduce cultivation
Digging the soil is obviously going to create disturbance and stress for our elongated comrades. No dig gardening , no till or minimal till agricultural practices are all excellent ways to keep the megadrilles around and happy. Researchers have found that after four years, zero-tilled paddocks had twice as many worms as cultivated soils. However, shallow cultivation may not affect worm numbers.

Part 2 in this series looks at Wasps click here to take a look.

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Spring. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.

Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :)

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Annual Vegetable and Herb Guild/Polyculture : Zeno and Introduction and Overview

For the last 9 years we have been experimenting with growing annual vegetables and herbs in polycultures. Over the years I have stuck with what works, discarded what has not, and now have what appears to me to be a good model of productive ecological design. Productive in that it provides us with a harvest from early spring until early winter, ecological in that it provides habitat and food for many other organisms too.

Garden produce   
This post is an introduction and overview to our Annual Herb and Vegetable Guild/Polyculture that we call Zeno. If you would like to find out how much food we have harvested from this polyculture and how much time it took to grow this food you can read the results of our polyculture study here 

Introduction to our Annual Vegetable and Herb Guilds

Our Annual Vegetable and Herb Guilds are situated in six raised beds each 1m x 6m and approx 30cm high with 50 cm paths between the beds. Surrounding the beds are  a diversity of  perennial plants including herbs, shrubs and trees with some small ponds and various micro habitats such as rock piles, old tree stumps and stick plies. These Six beds are dedicated to annual herb and vegetable production and are the most intensively cultivated areas in the garden providing us with the majority of our annual vegetables.

The Annual Vegetable and Herb beds, early morning in mid spring.


The 1m x 6m bed dimensions enable access to the soil and plants without ever having to tread on the beds. The beds are laid out on contour, lengthwise running east to west. This provides the plants within the beds with the maximum amount of sunlight and determines that rainfall will collect on the northern side of the bed and permeate into the soil slowly rather than draining away. This layout also enables us to flood irrigate the beds.


We are fortunate to have access to water channeled from a nearby mountain stream. When needed, we can divert the water into the garden where it flows along the paths between the beds. We raise the water level to 15-20cm  in any particular bed by simply placing a barrier (sack filled with sawdust) at the end of a bed. The water is absorbed into the soil and can travel vertically via Capillary Action.

Paths/irrigation channels in the garden


In the early Spring when the temperature starts to rise we place a 1m x 3m  bottomless chicken coop, with 8 hens inside, onto one half of a bed. The chickens will stay there for 3 or 4 days and each day we throw them in kitchen scraps, grain, straw and a few shovels of compost. The chickens will relentlessly scratch among the soil and mulch picking off the eggs of slugs and larvae, pupae of various arthropods. This helps to keep pest populations down. They also forage for seeds in the soil and thereby reduce the emergence of undesirable plants in the bed. The chicken's scratching  mixes up the organic matter we throw in daily and the birds contribute a ready supply of droppings as they go.

Chickens at work

After 3 or 4 days we move the chickens onto the next half of the bed and the process repeats. The area the chickens have just moved from is forked over, soaked well (or we wait for a rain) and then mulched with a few buckets full of compost and a 20cm layer of Straw mulch (approx 3/4 of a bale). The mulch provides a good habitat for Toads and Lizards (in the spring, summer and autumn) which are well positioned to pick off any slugs that venture in for the young seedlings.

Common Toad clearing out the slugs before the plants go in

 Once mulched the stakes for tomatoes and beans are put into position. Large reliable germinating seeds such as Beans and squash are sown directly into the beds by pulling back the mulch and sowing into the soil. The other plants (see below) are reared in pots and planted into the beds when approx 15cm tall and when the weather is suitable. Any "weed" plants that grow  around the edge of the beds are cut back before they set seed and used as additional mulch  throughout the year.  "Weeds" that grow within the bed are treated the same way. Note that the "weeds" are not uprooted only cut to ground level. The roots are allowed to decay in the ground or left to regrow until they are again ready to "chop and drop".

Around July the vegetable and herb plants are all well established with little room for "weed" plants to establish. The attention the beds require after July is mainly irrigating and harvesting until October. When the last of the harvest is out of the beds the stakes are removed and the chickens are brought in for another 3 or 4 days to pick through the vegetation. None of the plant material is removed from the bed, what the chickens leave behind is cut into small pieces and applied to the surface as an overwinter mulch.    

Plant Selection

The plant selection differs slightly from bed to bed, all feature Tomatoes, Beans, Basil and Squash.  Below is a representation of one planting scheme that shall be the focus of discussion here

Representation of Annual Vegetable and Herb Guild 

 This guild consists of  11 Tomato plants (a different cultivar is usually planted in each bed) on the edge of the raised bed for easy picking and to be in close proximity to the water when we irrigate. the tomatoes are tied to round wood Hazel and Alder stakes approx 1.5m high and 6cm diamater. The stakes provide perches for a number of bird species such as Red Back Shrike and Spotted Flycatcher that can be observed feeding from insects in flight around the beds as well as grubs and slugs on the bed surface and vegetation. The stakes also serve as snail traps. Snails will retreat up trees after a nights feeding in search for a shady nook to shelter from the coming sun. The snails climb the stakes expecting to find the shade and are easy to spot and remove in the morning.

Snail, just before becoming chicken food
In between the tomatoes are planted 11 Basil - Sweet Genovese which are reported to have a happy relationship with tomatoes in the garden as well as the kitchen.
Beans are grown up wigwams forming large clumps of vegetation dripping with beans and flowers that tend to clamber onto the surrounding plants by mid summer. The beans can potentially supply their own nitrogen via an association with Rhizobium bacteria that inhabit the soil. These bacteria extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and deliver some of this nitrogen to the roots of the bean. In exchange the bean provides the bacteria with sugars produced via photosynthesis. At the end of the season the nitrogen taken from the atmosphere by the bacteria and fixed into the tissue of the bean plants is added to the soil when the remains of the plants decompose in situ.

Polyculture crops 

Tagetes erecta/petula -Marigolds are sown throughout the bed, they repel and confuse pests that are attracted to plants by smell and they attract hover flies, the larvae of which feed on aphids. They also provide a beautiful sunset orange to the vegetable beds and the flowers can be used in teas and salads.
Centaurea cyanus - Cornflower was trialed in the guild for the first time this year. The Cornflower attracts Bombus spp. (Bumble Bees) which also pollinate tomatoes and squash, the flowers can  also be used in salads and for tea, specifically an ingredient of Early Grey tea.

Bombus spp. Bumble Bees- Tomato Pollinators
Crawling along the ground and between the plants are the Squash. The broad leaves from these plants shade the roots of the other plants and prohibit the emergence of "weeds".

The plants growing around the edge of the bed are self seeded native plants, around 15 different species. Many of these plants are edible some can fix nitrogen and others accumulate minerals from the subsoil. They also serve as soil stabilizers, provide a buffer between the tender young plants and the slugs and snails, provide habitat and forage for beneficial insects and provide a source of mulch and rabbit food.  We simply chop and drop these plants before they produce seed.


 The 6 beds together will provide us with fresh tomatoes from Mid July - Early October as well as 30 Jars ( approx. 30kgs) of preserved chopped tomatoes and 6 Jars of sun dried tomatoes.
Basil is also abundant and available fresh from Late April-October, we dry a jar or two and make a few jars of Pesto.

Fresh Beans are available from May-October and we managed to harvest around 4 KG of dry beans this year as well as plenty of fodder for the rabbits and seeds saved for next year. Each bed will provide at least two large Squash.

 The self seeded native plants often consist of edible salad crops during the spring and autumn such as Chenopodium album, Malva neglecta , Chichorium intybus  and Plantago major.


It is possible to grow a succession of crops in the beds. The cold winters in Bulgaria restrict winter crops that can be grown, however, garlic planted in the Autumn can be harvested young (similar to spring onions) in April.

Garlic in Late Feb, planted in November.

The chickens, obviously, can not be used if you intend to have a yearly succession of  produce within the guild and the quantity of compost added to the beds would need be higher to support the increased production.

If you would like to find out how much food we can harvest from this polyculture and how much time it takes to grow this food you can read the results of an Input/Output study here.

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :) 

The Bionursery

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Research Database For Organic/Agroeco Growing

The Organic Eprints archive is a tool to further develop research in organic agriculture. The main objectives are to facilitate the communication of research papers and proposals, to improve the dissemination and impact of research findings, and to document the research effort.

The first research paper I came across  looked at the potential and limits of pesticide free apple growing by a self-regulating orchard set-up. You can read the full paper here  in case you are interested, but you will have to wait until 2016 to find out the results.

Great to know this kind of research is going on.

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Spring. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :) 

The Bionursery

 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Planting Out Guide

Planting out Guide  

Autumn is a great time to plant out. The adequate rainfall and, consequently soil moisture levels at this time of year are perfect for the newly establishing plant roots.  Although it may be cold above ground, the warmer soil temperatures make it possible for plant root growth to continue for longer and settle in before the spring growth bonanza.

 Here's a step by step guide to planting out including a few things to consider before and after planting.

A few things to consider before planting 

  • The best time to plant is when the soil is moist after a rain. If the soil is very wet, treading can cause compaction so avoid working on very wet soils particularly if you have clay.
  • In choosing the position for your plant bear in mind the light, fertility, water, temperature, space and community needs of the organism.
  • Consider the maximum size of the plant and how it will relate to the surroundings of the position you have chosen.
  • For plants that require cross pollination  or are  dioecious you will need to consider the pollination needs and make sure you have a pollinator in the vicinity.  
  • If you are planting bare rooted plants ensure that the roots are not exposed to direct sunlight for too long and that they do not dry out.
  • Soak your plant roots well before planting. I have had no problems leaving the bare rooted plants submerged in water for up to 12 hrs. Cover so that sunlight cannot harm the roots when in the water.    

     Planting instructions

      • Dig your hole sufficiently big to allow some space around the root ball or roots i.e do not cram the plant into a small hole. Twice the diameter of your pot is adequate.  
      • When digging, separate the top soil and sub soil layers. This is best achieved by placing two boards or tarps next to your hole. Dig the top soil out and pile it on one board/tarp, now dig the subsoil out and pile it on the second board/tarp.
        • Make sure the bottom and sides of your hole are not compacted from digging. If there are any smeared surfaces, scrap them loose with a fork. This ensures easier access into the soil for the establishing roots as well as providing good drainage and air spaces.    
        • Water the empty hole well and allow time for the water to drain away. If your plant is in a container then rough up the sides of the root ball. The purpose of this is to ensure the fine roots make good contact with the soil when you infill the planting hole.
        • Due to the fast draining sandy loam I normally work with I plant a little lower than ground level to provide a dish for water to collect in. If you have poor draining soil (heavy clay)  in an area of high rainfall and/or a  high water table then you should consider planting higher then ground level.
        • If your planting site has a history of intensive application of fungicides you should re-establish the Mycorrhizal community.  Mycorrhizas are symbiotic relationships between fungi and plant roots (the term means literally 'fungus root'). They are very common on crop plants as well as in wild plant communities, and in several cases they have been shown to be important or even essential for plant performance. The fungus obtains at least some of its sugars from the plant, while the plant benefits from the efficient uptake of mineral nutrients (or water) by the fungal hyphae. You can reestablish the Mycorrhizal community  by simply adding half a spade full of soil from a  healthy soil ecosystem nearby which should contain many of the beneficial fungal organisms. Mix the healthy soil with your pile of top soil.   
        Picture shows how the plant can draw upon a much larger pool of soil resources with the assistance of  mycorrhizal fungi 
          • Back fill the hole with the sub soil first, pack the soil in firmly around the roots or root ball and then add the top soil, again tampering the soil firmly to ensure good contact is made between soil and roots. The idea behind keeping the soil layers in order is to create minimum disturbance to the existing soil ecology. It may just look like plain earth but there are a myriad of organisms at work in there.       
          • You can remove surrounding vegetation to approx 50cm radius of the plant stem so you end up with a circle of bare earth approx 1m diameter with your plant in the centre.  If your plant is small then you can make this area smaller.       
              • Imagine which way the water would flow across the land surrounding your plant and pile up the organic matter you have scrapped away from the surface along with any left over soil  to create a barrier that will  block the water from moving away from the plant. You want to keep the water around the plant where it can drain into the soil slowly and soak through to the roots below ground. It may be that on flat ground you need a barrier surrounding the plant creating a dish in which the water fills. If you have a low water table,  lots of rain in your area and poor draining clay soil then this is not advisable.   

                • Water the plant again applying more water then you think you will need and watch to see how well the water stays around the plant root zone. If you see the water escaping make some amendments to your barrier. 
                • Once the plant is watered apply mature compost, approx 2-3 cm deep, covering  the bare earth and  place wet card board sheets or old clothing or cloth over the compost. If more than one piece of cardboard is needed overlap the cardboard so there are no gaps. This layer  provides a barrier to prevent weed seeds in the soil from germinating and will decompose to add extra fertility to the soil. You can also use proprietary organic mulch mats, i've heard they last a few seasons.  
                • Cover the cardboard/cloth/mulch with a further 3cm of well matured compost and then cover this with a 10cm layer of straw mulch (or other seedless mulch).   
                  • If trees are planted too deep or too much mulch is placed around the base of the tree, the constant moisture against the bark will create a condition called collar rot. Once the protective bark has rotted away, insects, micro organisms and fungi can easily enter the tree and begin to damage the plant. Make sure that the soil and mulch layers are not in direct contact with the bark around the base of the stem (the collar).  Be sure to clear away the mulch and compost from that area so that you end up with a visible gap of at least 5 cm between stem and soil. You should check this every so often as the mulch usually makes its way back around the collar.
                  Collar Rot in a Apple Tree from -

                    Aftercare considerations   

                      • If planted in Autumn it is likely that your new plants will not need watering until the mid spring. Keep an eye on your plant and water if you see/feel the soil below the mulch is dry. Its important to keep the plant from drying out in the first few years so plan time to monitor. 90% of all problems with newly-planted trees are because the steward didn't water them.
                      • If planting a tree whip, according to some reports and contrary to popular belief, staking is not necessary.  It is claimed to be counter productive and discourages a young tree from forming strong and secure anchor roots. Large container trees will however need staking. 
                      • Tree barriers are recommended to prevent herbivores committing planticide and according to the manufactures have many other purported benefits ;) I have never used these so cannot comment.     
                      • Check your plant from time to time and make sure the mulch has not made its way back around the stem collar. Keep the area weed free for a few years by topping up the cardboard and if you have planted a tree with high nutrient demands apply extra compost the following autumn. 
                        • Finally, enjoy your plant.       

                        If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Spring. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

                        We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :) 

                        The Bionursery


                         If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

                        Saturday, 21 September 2013

                        Windbreak/Shelterbelt Design


                        Protecting your garden from the wind will increase productivity and decrease workload. Often overlooked, it should be one of the first things you consider when designing your garden or choosing a site. Wind can be a major suppressant of plant growth desiccating the soil and increasing the transpiration rates (water loss) of  plants considerably. Strong winds can cause soil erosion, damage to plants and deter beneficial winged insects.

                        This tree signifies a prevailing wind coming from the right side of the picture. The growth directly exposed to the wind has been suppressed.    

                        The advantages of a windbreak are many, however there are some disadvantages and if designed poorly one can create a bigger problem rather than finding a solution. So lets take a look at the potential problems first.
                          Poorly designed windbreaks can encourage frosts and although generally are no problem during the winter as the plants have adapted protection, late spring frosts can be a problem for sensitive plants.
                          On a cold night the air nearest the ground is colder than that up above. The wind mixes it up preventing the lower layer from reaching freezing point. Sheltered areas are at more risk of frost than exposed areas. A windbreak that stops wind completely can increase the risk of frost and may even do more damage than good to the land it is protecting. By thinning out the shelter belt as it develops we can provide enough air flow to prevent this.

                          Root competition 
                          The plants used within the shelter belt will obviously require their share of ground water and nutrients. The root system of certain trees can be prolific and extend way beyond the visible above ground spread. Care should be taken to avoid planting too close to the edge of the shelter belt especially if heavy demanding crops are the intended beneficiaries of the shelter belt. A good understanding of the root systems of the plants you are using can ensure that invasive and heavy feeding plants are kept away from the leeway edge. On larger sites the inside edge is sometimes used for road access thereby making use of the land that would otherwise give a poor return. 

                          Pests and diseases
                          Consideration should be given to the ecology of the windbreak and how this may affect the surrounding areas. Certain trees will attract insects and wildlife not necessarily beneficial to other plants and trees. For example, Prunus cerasifera - Myrobalan Plum makes a great windbreak tree, growing fast, tolerating drought and wind. However fruit  from these trees, if not collected, may provide breeding grounds for large populations of  fruit boring organisms, such as Grapholita funebrana (Plum Moth), to establish. Once established these organisms may spread  to all other Prunus spp. in the garden and surrounding areas.      

                          Bear in mind the shadow the shelter belt will create when mature. The shadow cast, root competition and the space taken by the belt itself will use a considerable amount of viable land and this will need to be weighed up from the benefits gained from a shelter belt.

                          As mentioned above, if designed well, these potential problems can be avoided leaving you with all the advantages of a windbreak such as
                          • Protection of plants
                          • Preventing/reducing, wind erosion
                          • Reducing evaporation from the soil
                          • Reducing transpiration from plants
                          • Protecting buildings (reducing fuel and maintenance needs)
                          • Providing habitat and increasing biodiversity 
                          • Creating soil fertility 
                          • Productive potential, food, fodder, fuel, biomass, mulch, timber etc
                          • Ornamental value 
                          • Moderating extreme temperatures 

                          Design - Where to Start 

                          Before establishing a windbreak or shelter belt it is important to make a thorough study of the local winds and to plot on a map the direction and strength of the winds.

                          Observing the wind 
                          Wind can flow from any direction from horizontal to vertical depending on the energy balance. Wind can also curve or even rotate, a tornado for example. The units of measurement for wind speed is normally km/hr (kilometres per hour). Direction of wind is determined as a bearing angle from N. It is sufficient to use the eight points of the compass as a basis for determination of wind direction. Wind direction is noted from where it approaches, not where it is heading. There are many different types of instruments that measure wind speed and direction. However, the most common instrument used is known as an anemometer. It consists of three cups on arms that can rotate measuring wind speeds based on rate of rotations and a vane which indicates the wind direction.

                          Basic forms of estimating wind strength and direction.

                          The movement of fast moving low clouds normally indicates the approximate direction of the wind. Fog also will move in the direction of the wind.
                          Wind can raise dust and other light objects and therefore following this movement is yet another technique that can help you estimate the strength and direction of the wind. It also can reveal eddies created by objects as wind flows around them. The same technique applies for blowing snow but this normally requires higher wind speeds.

                          If you are around a body of water, it is possible to observe surface flow of wind based on the changes in water texture or ripples. Relatively stronger winds will disturb the water surface causing ripples. This region of ripples or darker texture can be observed moving as the wind progresses.

                          Signs and patterns to help you determine the direction of prevailing winds

                          Often you will find higher vegetation such as trees and tall shrubs seemingly leaning in one direction as shown in the picture above. This neatly signals the occurrence of a prevailing wind. Weather vanes and Wind Socks are easily accessible tools for measuring wind direction

                          Wind in mountainous areas  
                          Wind traveling across a mountainous region will move in waves. When clear of obstruction the wind can continue its wave motion creating eddies in the open plains.

                          Motion of wind blowing across mountainous terrain

                          Design - Essential Points 

                          Windbreaks can be effective on a small and large scale. They can be used for the temporary protection of annual crops and in this case can be as simple as a row of Helianthus tuberosum - Jerusalum artichoke planted to screen wind sensitive crop or they can be as complex as a multi-row perennial plantation of trees, shrubs ,herbs and ground covers to shield a broad acre plantation.
                          • When considering windbreak or shelter belt planting, three zones can be recognized: the windward zone (from which the wind blows); the leeward zone (on the side where the wind passes); and the protected zone (that in which the effect of the windbreak or shelterbelt is felt)
                          • A barrier should be established perpendicular to the direction of the prevailing wind for maximum effect. A checkerboard pattern is required when the winds originate from different directions. This applies mainly to broad acre sites.  
                          • The effectiveness of the windbreak or shelter belt is influenced by its permeability. If it is dense, like a solid wall, the airflow will pass over the top of it and cause turbulence on the leeward side giving a comparatively limited zone of effective shelter  compared to the zone that a permeable shelter creates. 
                          • Optimum permeability is 40 to 50 percent of open space, corresponding to a density of 50 to 60 percent in vegetation.
                          • It is generally accepted that a windbreak or shelter belt protects an area over a distance up to its own height on the windward side and up to 20 times its height on the leeward side, depending on the strength of the wind.

                          • Gaps in the barriers should be avoided as they tend to channel accelerated wind through causing damage. If a gap is needed for access then further shelter should be provided to mitigate the wind passing through the gap.  

                          Design - Selection of tree and shrub species

                          When selecting plant species for windbreaks or shelter belts, start by observing plants in your area that are in windy positions already. Look for healthiest specimens and if possible propagate from these specimens or obtain the same specie from a nearby nursery. 
                          You may desire a larger diversity of plants within your design. When selecting plants the following characteristics should be sought:
                          • Rapid growth
                          • Straight stems
                          • Wind firmness
                          • Good crown formation
                          • Deep root system, which does not spread into nearby fields
                          • Resistance to drought
                          • Desired phonological characteristics (leaves all year long or only part of the year).
                          • Productivity: timber, fruits, nuts, medicine, biomass, fertility  

                          Design - Layout of Plants 

                          There are a number of different ways to build a Shelter belt. It is generally accepted that multiple rows of plants provide increased protection. If using multiple rows, there is greater opportunity to obtain significant amount of food and resources from  within the shelter belt as well as creating excellent habitat for a range of organisms many of which are beneficial allies to the gardener/farmer. 
                          One method, pictured below, includes a windward row of small- med  wind-firm trees with row of taller trees behind on the leeward row.

                          Windward Row 

                          If the prevailing wind is blowing from the north then the windward row should be established first as the faster growing central trees will reduce light availability. The plants in this row need to be somewhat shade tolerant, fast growing and wind firm. Plants already growing in windy positions around your site should be first choice. A selection of nitrogen fixers, evergreens and wildlife plants should be selected. This layer needs to provide a lower screen for the higher canopied next layer so should consist of bushy trees and shrubs that fill out low to the ground.

                          Suitable Plants for Windward Row
                          Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry  

                          Leeward  Row 

                          The leeward row should consist of fast growing taller trees and include nitrogen fixers , conifer species and tree’s that sucker freely. This area can provide coppice wood for fence posts or fuel and consist of upper canopy fruit trees such as White Mulberry-Morus alba and Hackberry-Celtis occidentalis.      

                          Possible species selection for a three row Windbreak/Shelter belt 

                          You can also find a good selection of suitable plants at the plants for a future database .

                          If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience join us this Summer. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

                          Registration for our June course is now open with 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more).

                          Would you like to be involved in the project? We are currently offering 1 - 6 month positions on our polyculture study.

                          Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships 

                          We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :) 


                           If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.